Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Rolling Stones Complete Studio Album Covers

At some point in the last half-century or so, the Stones became notable less for the material they (intermittently) produce than for the sheer incredible fact that they are still producing it, all these years later. Longevity has become their single defining trait, and while that's impressive, the fact remains that everything they've done since, oh, 1974 or so has been a footnote.

But obviously their catalogue is going to be long. This is the core studio-album catalogue. No compilations, no live stuff, no boxed sets. Just the main albums - and when we look at the 1960s, that means the British albums, not the American ones. In the 1960s a lot of artists had completely different album releases on either side of the Atlantic. But these are the ones the Stones themselves say when shopping for albums.

The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones album cover

The Rolling Stones: The first one out is a beautiful one. The contrast with the Beatles' tackier early covers is clear: this is a classy group portrait, with a tinge of mystery - heightened by the entire lack of text. How did Andrew Loog Oldham get Decca to agree to that?

The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones No. 2 album cover

The Rolling Stones No. 2: This repeats the trick, with diminished returns. They're well-dressed and handsome (interesting that Charlie Watts is most handsome), but the portrait has less character. It's almost a snapshot.

The Rolling Stones - Out of Our Heads album cover

Out of Our Heads: Ah, here's the mystery back again: evocative black and white, a well-framed shot of them perhaps peering between two dumpsters, and text for the first time. Why an asterisk? Oh, that's the mystery, is it?

The Rolling Stones - Aftermath album cover

Aftermath: The American Aftermath is more psychedelic - and that itself is newsworthy, since we're talking early 1966. But this purple-and-black duotone is attention-grabbing. Album title but no band name is curious. And I think the title looks a bit cheesy. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons album cover

Between the Buttons: Vaseline on the lens, autumnal mood. Charlie is again the cover star, and even the sublect of the album's title with those two shiny white jacket buttons. And Brian Jones is a character from a J.R.R. Tolkein book.

The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request album cover

Their Satanic Majesties Request: The Stones at their acid-inflated silliest. Apparently early versions had a lenticular cover, which is impressive, since 44 years later I still find lenticulars cool. But they look like they were playing in a Hallowe'en costume shop, and none of it is even slightly sincere.

The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet album cover

Beggars Banquet: The 'return to roots' album now has that toilet cover. You might call it more 'authentic', since it's the design the Stones themselves originally wanted, but when this album was released, this is what it looked like in stores. Plus, I didn't fancy a picture of a filthy toilet on my blog.

The Rolling Stones - Let it Bleed album cover

Let It Bleed: Only the second cover not to be a group portrait, incidentally. It's a bit overdone: a faux 78, studio tapes, a clock, a tire and a birthday cake. If it's meant to 'mean' anything, it seems to fail. Just silly, really. And nothing to do with bleeding, perhaps thankfully.

The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers album cover

Sticky Fingers: One of the most famous album covers ever. Designed by Andy Warhol and originally released with an actual working zipper. Plus the belt is die-cut to 'work' as well, and if you feel like destroying the album cover, you'll get the same crotch in tighty-whities. Did I mention I've always hates this album's childish title?

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St. album cover

Exile on Main St.: Their double-album opus, and as double albums are meant to juxtapose different styles and sounds, this juxtaposes images. Many are freakshow. The end result doesn't look nice on a shelf.

The Rolling Stones - Goat's Head Soup album cover

Goat's Head Soup: Mick is back on the cover - his first solo cover (Keith is on the back), and he's wrapped in, er, pantyhose or something. Intriguing, slightly.

The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'n' Roll album cover

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: This is the album where the Stones really start to become hacks. This is their take on glam, with an overdone Sgt. Pepper-style cover. Unattractive.

The Rolling Stones - Black and Blue album cover

Black and Blue: This weird 'transitional' album has a strange cover, barely a snapshot really, with three of the five Stones on the front, Mick and Bill wearing precisely the same blank expression and Keith looking silly whispering something in Mick's ear. No idea why they chose this picture, though the ocean in the background looks attractive.

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls album cover

Some Girls: One of the Stones' most famous covers, this is die-cut, with the faces all actually on the inner sleeve. Remove it and they're all wigs with no faces in. The song titles are made to look like the names of wigs, in an ad in a fahion magazine or someting. Lucille Ball was upset at being one of the faces.

The Rolling Stones - Emotional Rescue album cover

Emotional Rescue: When I was a kid, I can remember going to a science exhibition that had a heat-mapping camera. You'd stand in front of it and your heat map would be projected behind you. I loved it, and described it as 'like the Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue'. I was actually referring to the video for the title track, but it has the same vibe as this messy cover. The Stones are not trying to mean anything, so 'that looks cool' is impetus enough.

The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You album cover

Tattoo You: The Stones' outtake album, masquerading as a new studio album. It's a person, who I always thought was a girl but now suspect is Mick Jagger, done up with elaborate squiggles all over his/her face. With an attractive red background.

The Rolling Stones - Undercover album cover

Undercover: I was told when this came out that the cover was actually a full-frontal nude picture, and that the 'decals' obscuring her naughty bits could be peeled off. I was too young to be able to afford to buy albums, and probably wouldn't have gone for this old-person music anyway, so I spent most of my life believing this, until realising now that a peeled-decal cover would certainly be easy to find by Googling now if such a creature had ever actually existed.

The Rolling Stones - Dirty Work album cover

Dirty Work: Colourful. They all look really ridiculous, the evoke the worst excesses of the 80s, and Mick Jagger doesn't look very comfortable at all there. No wonder they broke up - for a few years anyway.

The Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels album cover

Steel Wheels: The 'comeback' and the first of a stream of albums to be hailed as returns to form upon their release, only to become, within a few years, seen as the hackwork that requires a 'return to form'. Are these wheels? Are they steel? I don't get it - but it's not pretty, anyway.

The Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge album cover

Voodoo Lounge: Latter-era Stones made some strange choices not only in album titles but in album covers. This looks like a creature from Nickelodeon dancing... or something. Well, it's more attractive than Mick's face.

The Rolling Stones - Bridges to Babylon album cover

Bridges to Babylon: Another cartoon character: a blue lion with a King Tut beard-thing. Why? I get the sense that nobody in the whole Stones organisation asks that question. Why? Well, why not?

The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang album cover

A Bigger Bang: The Stones' most recent studio album returns to form, being most reminiscent of that pretty début all those years ago. A group portrait, lots of black and no text. There seems to be a small star going supernova, and their reflections are not the same mirror-images of their actual pictures. No more meaningful than any other cover, but not ugly either.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pink Floyd Complete Album Covers

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm doing Pink Floyd now because I think it'll bring lots of viewers here. That's not pure cynicism, though: in doing my three-part retrospective of Hipgnosis's best cover designs, obviously the Floyd are a constant. Perhaps the first rock group to cultivate a very individualistic visual element to their music, Pink Floyd were shrewd enough to understand the importance of iconic album art - the importance, that is, of an album as an objet d'art, with an intrinsic value as an object regardless of the music it contains. And to that end, every Pink Flod cover - even compilations and live releases - is worth a look. Several of the most famous album covers ever are to be found here.

As a side note, I've also decided to abandon the 'roll-over captions' I've been using so far on this blog. I think they're attractive and I think they've helped Google find this site and index it well. But (a) they're really labour-intensive, and (b) they require the covers to be a very particular size (too small for my taste) and not centred. I think this is overall a more attractive look, even if it's more basic. Let's see if Google will still be able to find me...

Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn album cover

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Yes, Pink Floyd were once hippies. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the only album they released with Syd Barrett as a full member, and it sounds like little else in their discography. Neither does the quasi-'kaleidoscope' cover fit in, though it certainly evokes 1967.

Pink Floyd - A Saucerful of Secrets

A Saucerful of Secrets: Hipgnosis was actually founded in order to deliver this cover, a beautifully lush piece of sci-fi and science-textbook images melting into one another. Just as era-specific as the début, the Saucerful of Secrets cover has dated much less. But who remembers the album?

Pink Floyd - Soundtrack for the Film More

Soundtrack from the Film "More": This is apparently Hipgnosis too, but it doesn't feel like it. It's a duotone image in orange and blue of two people and a windmill, perhaps a still from the movie "More" which this release soundtracks. But perhaps not. This is probably the single easiest-to-overlook album in the Pink Floyd's oeuvre.

Pink Floyd - Ummagumma album cover

Ummagumma: A mess of an album, a live disc together with a disc divided into four solo half-sides, Ummagumma has a silly name but an iconic cover. The design is simple enough, the four members of Pink Floyd in various locations near the back door of a house, with a frame on the wall housing the exact same picture excpet with the four members in different positions and with the frame on that smaller wall containing a third nested picture with the four in again a different position, etc. And for some reason there's the soundtrack to "Gigi" there too.

Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother album cover

Atom Heart Mother:The ultimate anti-design, even more than Hipgnosis's later Go 2. A cow. That's all. Yet it's gorgeous and iconic as hell. The best picture of a cow I've ever seen - a cow as cow-y as a cow could be.

Pink Floyd - Relics original album cover

Relics (original): The notoriously difficult-to-compile Floyd's first compilation, Relics is a decent trawl of early single releases and random album tracks, released at a tim when those tracks were barely relics at all. Drummer Nick Mason made the very 1971 sketch on the cover, a kind of Rube Goldberg-style 'impossible machine' that looks like it should have appeared in "Yellow Submarine".

Pink Floyd - Relics reissue album cover

Relics (reissue): Who knows why, but in subsequent years when Relics was reissued on CD, Nick Mason's original was replaced with an actual mock-up of the device he sketched. Clever, and an interesting thing to compare side-by-side, but a pointless exercise in history-rewriting, ultimately.

Pink Floyd - Relics American album cover

Relics (American): The Americans got something entirely different. It's completely different, but probably creepier: a four-eyed 'artifact' with a real live human tongue. It's a bit silly, but it works.

Pink Floyd - Meddle album cover

Meddle: This Hipgnosis design, a human ear in close-up overlaid with drops on water, has countless variations (just Google it and you'll see). At one end, mostly you notice the ear. At the other end (and the vinyl copy I personally have looks like this one), you can barely notice the ear at all. Not sure why.

Pink Floyd - Obscured by Clouds album cover

Obscured by Clouds: Another soundtrack, pretty obscure for being the Floyd's immediate pre-Dark Side release. The album itself is a minor entry, but the cover, which takes the word 'obscured' and flies with it, is attention-grabbingly fuzzy, bokeh years and years before that became a 'cool' word.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon album cover

Dark Side of the Moon: What can I say about this? While I'm at it, why don't I criticise the Mona Lisa too? Probably rock music's most iconic album cover, it leaves me with little to say except to point out that there are only six colours in the spectrum and that there are dozens of minor variations of this cover.

Pink Floyd - A Nice Pair album cover

A Nice Pair: Useless as a product, this was merely the Floyd's first two albums stuck together with a new cover. The cover is actually 36 different 'covers', arranged 3x3 across the front, back and an inner gatefold. Many are silly (fork in the road?), and overall the effect is underwhelming. But hey - boobs!

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here album cover

Wish You Were Here: In my Hipgnosis round-up, I used the original layout of this cover, not the subsequent CD reissue depicted above. No clue why they toyed with it, but the elements are the same: burning man burns the paper it's printed on while shaking hands in an abandoned Hollywood lot. More than anything, it's just an arresting visual image.

Pink Floyd - Animals album cover

Animals: This is also in my Hipgnosis roundup. It's Animals, Pink Floyd's Orwellian dystopian take on modern society. It's not just the flying pig I love - it's that gorgeously bleak Battersea Power Station.That's what a dark Satanic mill looks like.

Pink Floyd - The Wall album cover

The Wall:Not Hipgnosis but still noteworthy: this is Pink Floyd's double-album opus The Wall. The vinyl version I had had the Gerald Scarfe handwriting on a label, and the cover was nothing more than that wall: white bricks and grey mortar. Very modish. We're so used to it that it doesn't mean much anymore, but it's Pink Floyd's second most immediately recognisable cover. And that's impressive.

Pink Floyd - A Collection of Great Dance Songs album cover

A Collection of Great Dance Songs: Hipgnosis again, for a pretty poor compilation. The cover is nice though, ballroom dancers tied to the spot with guy wires. In a pretty autumnal farmer's field.

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut album cover

The Final Cut: It might be a Roger Waters solo album released under the name Pink Floyd, but personally I'm much fonder of The Final Cut than many people are. I'm a bit more 'whatever' about its 'medals on a black background' cover, which doesn't always have the text in Courier New on front. It's just not bad. That's all.

Pink Floyd - Works album cover

Works: A tragically random compilation, with a 'retro' cover that might be visually arresting but frankly has nothing to do with Pink Floyd at all. As the band had essentially broken up by then, I guess no-one really cared either way.

Pink Floyd - A Momentary Lapse of Reason album cover

A Momentary Lapse of Reason: The 'comeback', a David Gimour solo album under the name Pink Floyd, just as authentic as The Final Cut but less interesting, musically. Not a reunion with Roger Waters, but a reunion with Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis, who actually arranged all of these beds on the beach. A lot of work for an albujm cover, isn't it?

Pink Floyd - Delicate Sound of Thunder album cover

Delicate Sound of Thunder: A live album. A guy wears light bulbs and someone else is surrounded by... well, I can't tell. This is typical Storm Thorgerson stuff, but it doesn't really work. It seems like the work of an imitator for some reason. I'm not sure why. It's just... underwhelming.

Pink Floyd - The Division Bell album cover

The Division Bell:Two huge metal statues talking to each other. Hm. This is the final Pink Floyd studio album, and it's rather easy to overlook. This is a real photograph, by the way. They really did build and erect these statues.

Pink Floyd - Pulse album cover

P*U*L*S*E: Another live album. This cover was famous for the flashing LED embedded in the spine. Those batteries have long since gone dead, and reissues are less flashy. Still, it's nice, if a bit overwrought: a human iris as the centre of the solar system, with fish and other stuff around it. It's all reissues from now on. Pink Floyd officially bow out with Pulse.

Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There album cover

Is There Anybody Out There? - The Wall Live 1980-81: A twenty-year-old recording of Pink Floyd playing The Wall live in concert, this is rather less than essential a release. The cover is nicely grotesque though, the 'life-masks' of the four members of Pink Floyd, worn by a 'fake Pink Floyd' on-stage. Not the most attractive band in the world, were they?

Pink Floyd - Echoes album cover

Echoes: By no small distance by far the most successful attempt at 'compiling' Pink Floyd, Echoes is a 2CD 'greatest hits' that makes a virtue of the band's remarkable transformation down the years. This is Storm Thorgerson with his one-millionth Pink Floyd cover, and its Ummagumma-like series of windows in windows hides dozens of visual references to Pink Floyd album covers, album titles, song titles and lyrics.

Pink Floyd - Oh By the Way album cover

Oh, By the Way: By now, the Pink Floyd reissue programme was being carried out entirely by robots, who every few years would put out something like this: this is a box set compiling all of Pink Floyd's original studio albums, with a 'meaningful images arranged together' cover that once again apes Ummagumma. Sadly unconvincing.