Fifty years ago (give or take a few decades), when vinyl was the primary medium for recorded music, a lot of attention was paid to the visual presentation of the product. Album covers were designed to pique the consumer’s interest through images and, in some cases, creative packaging. Unusual shapes and materials were occasionally utilized instead of the standard square cardboard jacket. Extra inserts (beyond the inner sleeve) often accompanied new releases. Nowadays, it seems that only boxed sets and reissues include such bonus material.
Another idea for making a standard cover stand out from the pack was to affix 3-D artwork. Lenticular printing is a technique that utilized a thin, finely ridged plastic “lens” layer over a specially printed image. This gives the appearance of depth, and/or the ability for alternating images to appear depending on the viewing angle, all without the need for special glasses.
Captain Beyond – Captain Beyond
The original release of this album featured a cover with a glued-on 3-D image of the band’s avatar (?), a sort of space pirate. The surrounding pattern mimicked the background often seen on lenticular prints. This overlooked group from the 1970s featured vocalist Rod Evans (from the original Deep Purple), Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and Lee Dorman (both of Iron Butterfly), and drummer extraordinaire Bobby Caldwell (from Johnny Winter’s band – not the crooner). Their first album was progressive hard rock with odd time signatures. Personnel changes led to their second album, Sufficiently Breathless, having a Latin feel. More changes brought a return to hard rock with Dawn Explosion, albeit with a different vocalist. The band is apparently still going, with only Caldwell as an original member.Johnny Cash, The Holy Land album cover.
Johnny Cash – The Holy Land
This 1969 album was inspired by a visit to Israel. Johnny Cash wrote almost all of the material, which combined songs with narrative tracks. The image on the cover shows Cash standing in front of a church (mosque/temple?), and the building appears to be behind him while the trees seem to be in front of him.
The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request
The Rolling Stones’ answer to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper is probably the best-known album with 3-D artwork. As the Beatles album cover featured an allusion to The Rolling Stones, Mick and company returned the “favor” by hiding tiny images of the Fab Four amongst the busy floral piles surrounding the band. They are pretty hard to spot in the 3-D image, but subsequent 2-D issues clearly show Paul and George on the left side with Ringo and John on the right.
The Hollywood “Pops” Symphony – Motion* in Percussion and Orchestra
In the early 1960s, stereo was starting to catch on and many recordings sought to show off the spatial characteristics made possible by this new technology. Sound effects recordings featured trains and other objects moving from side to side. This one combines music with effects that include a flamenco dancer, a roller coaster, and horses’ hooves. Extensive technical notes detail the microphones, mixing and mastering equipment used along with the recording techniques employed. The cover gives an example of the alternating-view aspect of lenticular prints.
Pop-Up and Fold-Open Covers
Jethro Tull – Stand Up
Pop-ups had been popular in children’s books for years, but this was one of the first rock albums to utilize the concept. As the title implies, the band “stands up” when the cover is opened.
Man – Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day
Man was a Welsh jam band from the 1970s. This one actually startled me when I opened the gatefold jacket. It unexpectedly unfolded into a two-by-two cartoon map of Wales (no one expects a map of Wales…). You could put an eye out with this one.
Original Soundtrack – The Andromeda Strain
This truly unusual shiny silver cover housed a hexagonal disc. You had to unfold the front “petals” to reach it. Although you might think otherwise, re-folding it was no simple task – it always seemed to take me a few attempts to get it right.
Sometimes an album cover design incorporated a thin plastic “window” through which additional artwork was visible.
The Doors – L.A. Woman
The original issue of this LP featured a rounded-corner shape with a yellow-tinted window on which was printed the images of the band members. It was one of the earliest rock records (if not the first) to feature this technique.
Gentle Giant – In a Glass House (Import)
The window of this album had negative images printed on it of the members of the band playing instruments. Behind that was an insert with different negative images where the members were playing (mostly) other instruments. It gave a classy and creative look. The inner sleeve featured the lyrics printed on a background image of the Giant logo.
Mott the Hoople – Mott (Import)
British rockers Mott the Hoople were no strangers to eye-catching covers when this follow-up to All the Young Dudes was released. Their debut album, Mott the Hoople, had used a colorized version of M.C. Escher’s arresting “Reptiles,” an illustration of lizards crawling out of, and back into, a two-dimensional black-and-white jigsaw pattern of lizard bodies. For the UK version of Mott, they chose to use an image of a head like a classical Greek sculpture, set off by a swath of fluorescent pink across the lower half of the cover. The die-cut outline framed a silver and black face printed on the clear window. The US cover was a very generic shot of the group.
Uriah Heep – Look at Yourself (Import)
Technically, this isn’t a window cover; it’s a “mirror” cover, in keeping with the album title. You can see my blurry reflection in the photo. There are many more covers to feature. If you have some suggestions for future inclusion, please leave them in the comments below.
Header image: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jean-Luc.