The Lost Art of Cover Art



It’s been on my shelf since the Christmas before last, but I’ve finally got round to taking a good look at Michael Ochs’ 1000 Record Covers (Taschen 25).

The CD started the decline, and the MP3 age has sealed it, but will we ever see memorable cover art again? All the more reason for browsing through a collection like this. You might quibble about some of the selections, but there is no arguing with some of the picks, such as the classics by ‘real’ artists, such as Andy Warhol and Peter Blake:

Velvet underground


St Pepper


And then there are those, such as Roger Dean, who are known primarily as cover artists, especially for Yes, though Ochs has picked the rather dull Relayer rather than the more memorable Fragile, or even the rather less memorable than I remember Tales from Topographic Oceans.

But he saves himself by including one of our favourites, Osibisa’s, Osibisa also by Roger Dean.


On the whole, though, memorable covers seem rarely to have been designed by well-known artists. Another of our favourite covers, In the Court of the Crimson King, was based on a painting by the little known Barry Godber, who tragically died of a heart attack, aged 24 shortly after the album was released.
King Crimson

What are the other most memorable covers? A quick straw poll suggests Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (amazingly omitted by Ochs)Pink Floyd

and the Clash’s London Calling, Clash

with Blondie’s Parallel Lines and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells also making a strong showing.

But Ochs’ best story concerns the Mamas and Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Passing over the shocking misuse of the apostrophe in the name of the band, Ochs reports that the album was originally released with this cover:

This, Ochs claims, was considered too ‘dirty’ and so was replaced with a second cover. Spot the difference.

But this was still beyond the pale and a third cover was issued, with a close crop of the faces so you could no longer tell that the band were in the bath together.

This is what Pete has to say about the band (from The Folk Music Revolution in Greenwich Village, in More Family Trees).

Mamas and Papas

The Beatles as Social Commentators?

























I’ve been spending a bit too much time on planes lately, which may be why I can’t get ‘Back in the USSR’ from The White Album out of my head. Over the rising note of a jet engine, and throbbing drums bass and guitar, the song opens with:

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
Didn’t get to bed last night
On the way the paper bag was on my knee
Man, I had a dreadful flight

But what has happened to that paper bag? You always used to check that there was one in the seat-pocket in front of you, but now it crosses your mind only on an early flight after a long night. One of the unheralded wonders of our age: planes that don’t make you feel nauseous.

I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. The Beach Boy parody, the line ‘Georgia’s always on my mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi mind’ and the hint that while everyone else was meant to be Backing Britain the Beatles were backin’ the USSR.

Well, they needed to try to restore some credibility after the miserable Taxman, from Revolver, a couple of years earlier. True, it has a brilliant bass line and cracking guitar, and fair enough, a tax rate of over 90% on the highest level of income is hard to swallow. But did we really need a song about it?


Currently away from her job as Mail On Sunday columnist Founding Family Member, Mothership Connector Superstar in her own right Suzanne Moore certainly needs no introduction.

So here without further ado is her account of a showdown with the band that would become the subject of Pete Frame’s biggest ever Tree when he drew their (his)tory

They say you are meant to remember the first time but I don’t properly.  The first gig of my own choosing.  When I was little my gay “uncle” had taken me to the Beatles and the Stones in the Ipswich Gaumont. He wasn’t my actual uncle. His name was Peter and he was a hairdresser in the place where  my Mum was the receptionist . Anyway my Mum used to go to Majorca on holiday with him and always come back brown and happy.  They broke the bed in one hotel laughing so much she used to say.  She drew the line at him “interfering with young boys. You can go to Morocco for that” but Peter never treated me as child.  Of course I must see these bands. He would arrange it .Which was pretty fabulous really. I do remember those gigs as I was mostly frightened by the screaming. I was maybe about 6.

In those days they just used to hit the girls off stage with brooms . I kept changing in my head which Beatle I wanted to be though the bigger kids would ask it constantly in the play ground. But I do recall writing a very long letter when Ringo had his tonsils  out asking if I could have them.

Anyhow as a teenager I did go and see bands that I had never heard of or knew boys who played in bands no one would ever hear of. But my friend Julie was way more sophisticated . She said we must go to London to see Black Sabbath . This was in 73 . I had just turned 15. I recently found out that Julie has died of cancer.  Julie  Newman  became huge in the rave scene with bands like  Signs of Chaos and many others.   But then for us Black Sabbath well… they were just it . And thank you Julie for taking me there.   Thumping , howling , sweary ,possibly involving ritualistic magic. And sex.  We weren’t sure actually. But they were all we wanted from music. Your Mum would tell you to turn it down. “Warpig.”  I would yell  that right back at her  as you do.

We would hitch up to London to somewhere  called Ally Pally. Julie knew about these things in a way I didn’t though I was to become  all too familiar  with the Gants Hill Roundabout. I guess I should talk about music? Give you a set list?   But that was not what it was about for me then. It was alot about what was I going to wear and Christ now when I think about what I wore,it was really fucking horrible. Some kind of green and yellow kaftan type thing with huge silver platforms. .At least  my hair was big.

We got there and lots of other bands were playing.  Stray, The Groundhogs? People were sitting on the floor. I objected to this.  Smoking dope was boring I thought.  Sitting on the floor was  surely not the point of music.

Music was for dancing . At that time  I was also listening  to lots of reggae and funk.  Boys were always trying to educate to me into the sort of music you had to sit around to . But I loved Sly Stone . And I guess I loved Sabbath for the bass . The sheer funk of them.

So yes Ozzy was on stage in fringes and how did this gormless guy howl like that?  I don’t know now and I didn’t then but I liked  it. Though I spent most of the time snogging the guy who just happened to be standing next to me. Did they play Paranoid?  Possibly? This may be why I am not a music journalist?

Cos  gigs aren’t  just about music are they?  Only the boring ones.  How we got home in the middle of the night  I have no idea.  We were just freezing cold  as coats were for boring people  but we agreed it was the best thing we had  ever seen.

Because really it was the only thing we had ever seen.

My Mum who I had lied to about where I was going opened the front door. “Oh my god! You look like you’ve been eaten alive “ she screamed . I was apparently covered in huge lovebites.  As I had never had a love bite before or looked in the mirror I had no idea what  they were really. Why didn’t Julie tell me?

“What the hell have you been doing?”

“Black Sabbath” I replied nonchalantly as I headed up to the bathroom to inspect the damage.