In Praise Of… The Album Cover
Everyone remembers their first. It’s a statement that holds true for so many areas in life: hangover, lover, car, heartbreak, mortgage. Here’s another you can add to the list… album that you bought with your own money.
At the risk of being rampantly nostalgic, I reckon this experience carried greater heft back in the days where vinyl was the only game in town, as opposed to the current hipster affectation. (BTW, any LPs you do have accumulating dust in the attic will score you major cred with the grandkids – as will using the acronym BTW.)
For me, it was Roxy Music’s Avalon, which not only featured the hit title number but the brooding ‘More Than This’. However, perhaps its most striking feature was its cover.
Before detailing specifics, it should be pointed out that the sheer size of a long-playing record necessitated a protective sleeve the size of a squared-off dinner plate upon which were emblazoned many of our generation’s defining images.
For this outing, Bryan Ferry chose a shot of a helmeted Viking captured from behind as he looked over a still lake reflecting a cloudy sky. Naturally, he was holding a falcon.
And here’s the thing. Because this wasn’t a jpg the size of a postage stamp on your phone – which at that stage was still firmly tethered to your home – it invited examination. Especially since you had to leave said house in order to obtain it.
The whole purchasing process was a more hallowed and rewarding experience. If the record shop owner was convinced you were more than an audio tyre kicker, you were granted a pair of often off-puttingly well worn headphones and granted the opportunity of listening to a track or two.
Thus tempted, you then carefully transported the album home and on that long bus or train ride had nothing else to do but examine the album artwork and liner notes for allusions, metaphors and messages. Which you could first convince yourself of and then debate with friends in the competition of kudos.
Of course the two plump characters behind Bowie’s emaciated form on the Diamond Dogs cover represented the way the pop industry devoured its talent. The manner in which Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks regarded each other on the sleeve of the mischievously named Rumours album was a clear nod to the salacious stories of affairs between band members and don’t even get us started on the labyrinthine meanings behind Sgt. Pepper's or Dark Side Of The Moon.
This was of course just a teaser. Something to tide you over until the fabled moment where needle met wax. It was then and only then, when you could listen to the lyrics while scanning the cover for synchronicities, hints and explanations.
That’s not to say all these mini artworks were exercises in cipher sophistry. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the Stones’ Sticky Fingers – complete with image of Mick Jagger’s denim-clad crotch – is all about. Namely, the importance of always having a serviette handy when eating so that you don’t have to wipe your hands on your trousers.
Many, however, revealed deeper meanings to the clued-in listener. And sometimes they were even intended. Last of all, these domestic record collections were not only large in size and format, they also revealed so very much about the tastes, aspirations and pretensions of their owners.
Try getting someone to hand over their iPhone so you can do the same.
What was your first vinyl record purchase?
Feature image: Dean Bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com