Jones, S. and Sorger, M. (1999). Steve Jones and Martin Sorger: Covering music: a brief history and analysis of album cover design. Journal of Popular Music Studies.
“When Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols proclaimed, “if
people bought the records for the music, this thing would have
died a death long ago” (Dean 6 Howells, 1982: p. 2 3 ) , he illus-
trated the importance and power people place on “the look of
music.” Using all forms of mass-media exposure, popular music
has increasingly relied on visual style to present and sell itself.
The visuals of music have been most permanently stored and
most widely displayed on the packaging of prerecorded musical
products-album covers. While the basic role of music packaging remains the protection of the prerecorded medium, it also
functions as a visual mnemonic to the music enclosed and as a
marketing tool.” (Jones y Sorger:1999;68)
“despite a great deal of writing about the visual dimensions of popular music, it is clear that most scholars have overlooked analysis of album covers and music packaging. We seek to acknowledge this art as deserving serious scholarly attention. Our goal is not to present a content analysis of album covers, but rather to begin to recover the history of their development as a form of art and commerce, and as an integral part of the production and consumption of popular music.” (Jones y Sorger:1999;69)
“When considering the physical packaging and design associated with prerecorded music as a whole, the album cover serves as an important focal point for a number of reasons. In a purely functional sense, the significant history of prerecorded music packaging has centered around the presentation of record discs,
whether 78s, 45s, 33’j3 LPs, or CDs. The album cover remains the most visible form of music packaging. In addition, LP album covers have not yet lost their cultural status for designers and consumers alike. Visually, the 12-inch square of the album cover has proven a fertile forum for the development of a rich sense of cultural, artistic, and social history. As musician Patti Smith said, “Man,
if you want to see where the world’s been, just look through some old album covers” (Record Album Art, 1978). Singer Tony Bennett said in regard to LPs, “They were large enough to make you feel like you were taking home your very own work of art” (Kohler, 1999, p. 7).” (Jones y Sorger:1999;70)
“If new digital forms, particularly ones that involve the Internet
for downloading, become popular means of acquiring music, what might become of the visual elements of music packaging?” (Jones y Sorger:1999;70)
“As Kohler noted, it was important to find ways to get a consumer’s attention to sell records, because “A store that sold only records was a rarity, as they were typically sold in music or appliance stores along with phonographs and sheet music” (1 999: p. 11). Sleeves functioned as decorative frames for the labels but, despite attempts
at enhancing their appearance, they often were referred to as tombstone.” (See Figures 3-9, record labels and sleeves, at http://aoir.org/covering/.)” (Jones y Sorger:1999;71)
“The first covers to be individualized according to recording
medium were classical 78s. Due to the length of classical pieces of music and the relatively short length of discs at the time, multiple discs were used to cover the recordings of whole operas or longer orchestral works. These works generally consisted of three to five discs and, because of the weight of the shellac used to make them, required stronger boxes made of pasteboard. The similarity, in ap-
pearance and function, of these boxes to photo albums led to them to become known as albums. The earliest albums used only typography with the name on the front and spine. Later, they incorporated photographs, scenes, and portraits of the composers or performing artists. These two means of packaging, the paper sleeve and the album box, continued until the 1950s.” (Jones y Sorger:1999;71)
“The earliest post-Depression covers were not particularly popular. Decca’s covers of the late 1930s resembled abstract wallpaper (Schmitz, 1986: p. 88), and RCA Victor used a series format incorporating elaborate paintings with designated spaces for the title, composer, and any other relevant information. By the end of the 1930s, gaudy colors, drawings, and pictures of artists abounded.
The images on all of these packages were printed on paper slicks that were pasted onto sleeves” (Jones y Sorger:1999;72)
“American covers of this era were dominated by three distinguishable styles.
The first were the painterly covers made by RCA. Using traditional imagery on their classical releases, RCA tried to promote a conservative, quality-oriented corporate image. The company incorporated various genres of painting on its covers, alternating from Surreal or Cubist to Romantic. Frank Decker, one of the more productive freelancers used by RCA, attempted to match his cover designs to the music historically (Schmitz, 1986: p. 92; see Figures 13 fr 14, RCA-Victor album covers, at httpp://aoir.org/covering/.)
The second direction was toward poster-like covers, used by CBS Columbia and introduced by Alex Steinweiss, whose work incorporated the principles of various European design movements (Schmitz, 1986: p. 94). These covers became the models for other companies, and RCA adopted this style for their 73 popular and jazz albums when the painterly covers became considered oldfashioned. (See Figures 15-1 7, Steinweiss/Columbia album covers at httpd’ aoir.org/covering/ .)
Kohler noted that Steinweiss was, in many ways, responsible for album cover design becoming part of the production process in popular music:
It was Steinweiss who came up with the idea of specially designed
cover art. . . . These new covers were an instant success, and Colum-
bia soon realized that the extra production cost required was well
worth it when sales figures of albums with the Steinweiss covers rose dramatically in comparison to those same albums issued earlier with conventional plain covers. The popularity of Steinweiss’s work prompted Columbia’s marketing department to request cover art for all subsequent releases. (1999: p. 13)
The third style of album cover, used mainly by smaller, independent labels, consisted of a more purely graphic approach (Schmitz, 1986: p. 90). This direction was epitomized by the work of David Stone Martin. Working for Moses Asch, Martin was probably the best-known and most emulated of the designers working for independent labels. He imbued his stylish covers with a sense of social consciousness (Schmitz, 1986: p. 96). Out of his work grew a new image for “colored” or “race” music, as it was then called. Prior to Martin, the images of black musicians, if they were portrayed at all, were stereotyped because their pictures were not regarded as an incentive to sales. More commonly, covers included abstract images and geometric designs. (See Figures 18-2 I, race records by David Stone Martin, at http://aoir.org/covering/.) (Jones y Sorger:1999;72)
“One of the major changes that emerged in the mid-1940s was the rise of self-service selection at record stores. Shelves that displayed only the spines of records were replaced by racks that brought customers face to face with covers.
Slowly the importance of the cover as a “silent salesman” was noticed by record company executives and marketing personnel. By 1945, nearly every popular record had a designed cover” (Jones y Sorger:1999;73)