CLASSIC ALBUM COVERS, STAMP SIZE
It’s probably not the popular point of view, but sadly the UK’s Royal Mail recent stamp collection of classic album covers misses the mark. Sure it’s a subjective subject, but this somewhat compromised collection of record covers pays little homage to the impact or development of this influential medium and its craft. Honestly, it seems the criteria for the final selection, came about though a somewhat hippy-turned-pop-tastic-my-old-man-thinks-he’s-hip-yes-we-must-include-that-PC-perspective. I know it was probably painful for the jury to choose just 10 record covers that are worthy of this honor, but perhaps they should have asked for some more experienced help.
It’s got nothing to do with the fact that nothing I ever worked on was included – that would be obvious. It’s amazing and right they included Peter Saville‘s Power Corruption and Lies, it’s amazing and right they included Ray Lowry‘s London Calling (even though he’s not credited) and truly significant that they included (also uncredited) photographer Trevor Key’s pioneering cover for Tubular Bells – although probably for the wrong reasons (as a side note, Key also helped photographer Don McAllester create the Stones ‘cake’ cover featured). It’s fantastic that they recognized Rob O’Connor‘s Park Life, but there are more important examples by O’Connor than Blur, in my opinion. It’s truly amazing that Keith Breeden‘s sculpture for Pink Floyd’s Division Bell cover is included (credit to Storm Thorgerson), although I think I would have chosen, for this context, something in the Hipgnosis tradition of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here or Atom Heart Mother etc, and something from Breeden’s earlier work for Scritti Politti for instance. But if we’re talking ‘classic album covers’ then we need to throw a few more, more important and much more influential covers into the remix. For sure it’s debatable and I know we all have our favorite record cover of all time because-it-was-the-song-we-lost-our-virginity-to-or-includes-that-song-they-played-that-night-we-were-out-of-our-heads, but … there’s actually a little more significance to this story than initially meets the eye.
OK, to cut a long story short, during the early 70s and some of the late 60s, the record cover as a medium to communicate an artist’s ‘brand’ message, really came into fruition. Yes (not Roger Dean’s Yes), a lot of amazing and important work came out of this period, but the real long-term impact of album cover design actually began during the summer of 1976. It was hot and sweaty and everyone was angry, unemployed or disenchanted, or a combination of all three – significantly four young men (and members of the infamous Bromley Contingent) appeared on prime time live national UK television swearing and calling people names. This tipping point led to the doors of change ushering in a tidal wave of creative talent, including (but not least), Barney Bubbles, Jamie Reid, Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett, Neville Brody, Vaughan Oliver, Steve Averill, Alex McDowell, Rob O’Connor, John Warwicker, Keith Breeden and many more. In fact these ’21st Century Pioneers of Modern Design’ in turn not only influenced a second generation of influential record cover designers – who emerged during the late 80s and early 90s with equal influence and impact – but the trajectory of their inspiration can also be traced to the strip malls of America today: think Target’s ‘Design for All’ mantra and the fact that everything is now ‘designed’ and you start to get a glimpse at the big picture.
But I wonder if the Royal Mail stamp committee even went that far. Again, I know it’s a completely subjective subject matter, but honestly, popular opinion should not have been used as a benchmark in this case. The result? An apparent lack of respect for the true forefathers of record cover design (especially, Oliver and Garrett), IMHO. It simply smacks at a lack of true understanding and appreciation for the significant long-term impact this generation of album cover designers made on the evolution of our visual landscape today.