While technology has put music at our fingertips, retrievable right from our cellphones, I can’t help but think that we’ve lost something creative along the way. Consider a partial history of recorded music – from 78 rpm records in plain brown sleeves containing no art (with the obvious focus on the music), to record albums with cool jacket art, to CDs with much smaller art, and now to downloads with no accompanying art (with the obvious focus on the music.) At least that’s the way I see it, anyway. I like to think that folks who love music have more artistic minds, so to me the lp jacket art provided additional stimulation to my advanced mind while I listened to my new record album.
For a brief time the jacket art got even more creative, with additional parts to the jackets or special die-cuts that must have added to the cost of production. Here are four of my favorites. Interestingly, for the most part, other than some oldies on the Fonzie compilation, the music on these albums is not that memorable, with no real chart success. But at least with the physical albums, and their creative jacket art, there is something that can be remembered and appreciated long after the music is forgotten. Which I guess you can't say about digital downloads.......
Jethro Tull – Stand Up
This album was released in 1969 by Reprise Records, the second studio album for Jethro Tull. When opened, the original gatefold album reveals a pop-up of the group, similar to children’s pop-up books. The cover was printed from woodcuts by New York graphic artist James Grashow. The album won New Musical Express’s award for best album artwork in 1969. I personally love the front jacket woodcut art more than I appreciate the cheesy pop-up, but still the pop-up is a bonus feature of this gatefold album.
Ambrosia – Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled
The second Ambrosia album was released in 1976 by 20th Century Records. The album was produced by Alan Parsons. Parsons and the group had strong musical ties, and you may know that all four members of Ambrosia appeared on the first Alan Parson's Project album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. While not the topic here, that is without a doubt my favorite Alan Parsons' Project album, with the stories of Edgar Allan Poe put to music. The original gatefold for that album contains lyrics, illustrations, and even parchment paper, so if you haven't seen or heard it you might want to check it out.
The unique feature of Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled is the custom “pyramid” cover, with three fold-out panels that form a pyramid. While that feature is pretty cool, it didn’t improve the charting, as the album peaked at #79 on the Billboard 200, with none of its singles charting in the Billboard Hot 100.
This compilation album was released in 1976 by Ahed Music, Inc., to capitalize on the popularity of Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz, from Happy Days. The jacket notes provide some relief for would-be listeners, stating, “No!!! The Fonz has not taken to singing on this album. Better!!! He has chosen favorite 50’s records to share with you.” Pretty funny disclaimer, you must admit.
Before reading that disclaimer, I never knew that “The Fonzarelli Slide”, “The Fonz Song”, and the “Happy Days Theme”, all included on this album, were hits from the 1950’s. But what do I know? The added feature of this album is that part of the back cover folds out to form a stand, so the listener can stare lovingly at the Fonz while listening to supposedly, the Fonz’s favorite 50’s songs.
Family - Bandstand
This die-cut gatefold album was released in 1972 by Reprise Records. Bandstand was the 6th album released by the British progressive rock band Family. The original cover, shown here, was die-cut in the shape of a Bush TV22 television set, with a black and white image of the band onscreen. The front of the gatefold (or left side when opened up) also has a clear plastic sheet for the tv screen opening, with the title, Bandstand, written across it. Note that the inner sleeve obviously has to have the same die-cut to fit properly into the jacket.
There are many other interesting album designs out there, so be on the lookout. Just because it's not an artist you are familiar with, doesn't mean it's not worth taking a closer look. Good luck hunting!