The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Fri Sep 10 06:15:53 CDT 2004

>From Metro Santa Cruz at:

Fall Sleeves 

A new show at SJSU recalls the days when album covers
were an art form 

By Gary Singh

WITH FULL support from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
graphic designer Craig Butler and music archivist
Michael Ochs launched a quirky but mind-blowing
project: "The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were."
They convinced 100 long-established designers to
create hypothetical album covers for their favorite
recording artists. The show originally debuted at the
Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and now a portion of
it runs in the Natalie and James Thompson Gallery at
San Jose State University. 

With the rise of CDs and the ubiquity of iPods, LP
covers are almost a forgotten art form. Before music
videos came about, record covers constituted the only
visual connection one had with the music, and many
people really did judge a record by its cover
sometimes. Folks identified with an album through a
singular image. And with the resurgence of Space Age
Bachelor Pad tunes and the "Incredibly Strange Music"
phenomenon, many folks are rifling through
thrift-store bins to purchase old LPs just for the

So the record cover as canvas triumphantly returns,
and the artists participating in the show run the
gamut. Josh Agle (Shag) contributed his trademark
swinger's lifestyle illustration for a Sinatra cover.
John Dismukes supplied a staggering 4-by-r4-foot mural
of a gothic-tech Ozzy Osbourne cover. Spend a few
minutes looking at this one—it's a doozy. 

Neal Ashby provided an alternative version of Led
Zeppelin II, a plain white album with a lemon on the
front—a la Warhol's famous Velvet Underground cover.
On Ashby's Zeppelin cover are the words "Squeeze
softly and see," with an arrow pointing toward the
lemon, referencing "The Lemon Song." 

Each cover also has a story behind it. Abbie Baron
Morganstein delivered a photo of two turtles doing the
wild thing. She intended it to be a Metallica cover,
but Ochs suggested it should be a Turtles album
instead. It's called, Happy Together: The Best of the

On a more controversial note, legendary Austrian
artist Gottfried Helnwein collaborated with Marilyn
Manson to produce a cover with Manson next to a little
girl holding a shotgun. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut also
painted a Phish cover, and Sebastian Kruger drew a
caricature of Pete Townshend. Other artists involved
include John Van Hamersveld, Art Snyder, Tim Gabor,
Dean Chamberlain and Ralph Steadman. 

"Record covers are fine art," said Butler, who
originally designed Frank Zappa's 200 Motels album and
created a Tom Petty cover for the show. "Artists love
doing covers. The freedom there is just enormous." 

What's more, all of the artists produced their work
for free. Butler and Ochs didn't make a dime either.
It was purely for the love of the project. "Working
with so many different artists on a project like this
is a delightful, memorable experience," Butler said.
"It opened the door for so many other things." 

One of those other things might be a discussion on the
future of CDs and the potential demise of cover art in
general. Butler and Ochs conversed about the subject
when they came to SJSU for the show's opening. They
argued that since many younger folks are downloading
music and organizing their own compilations anyway,
why not make the artwork and the packaging
downloadable as well? Cult author Chuck Palahniuk
already has fans designing their own book covers for
his novels, so why not do the same for the musicians? 

"Basically I've been talking to Apple iTunes," Ochs
explained. "I suggested that instead of scrolling
through a long list of Jimi Hendrix selections, it
would be nice to have a visual component, and on top
of that, generic J-cards. So you can make your own CD
covers. You could expand it by making liner notes
available and other things like that. If you're doing
a Best of Jimi Hendrix, you could have 50 images to
choose from." 

So don't think CDs are dead yet. A wide-open area lies
untapped here. 
The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were runs through
Sept. 24 at the Natalie and James Thompson Gallery at
San Jose State University.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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