Storm Thorgerson and the End of Album Art

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From The New Yorker:

The death last week of Storm Thorgerson at the age of sixty-nine was both the end of an era and the reminder of the end of another era. Thorgerson was one of the premier rock-album designers of the seventies. His company, Hipgnosis, worked with dozens of artists, including Led Zeppelin (“Houses of the Holy,” “Presence”), T. Rex (“Electric Warrior”), and Peter Gabriel (the first three eponymous records), but they’re best known for their work with Pink Floyd: Thorgerson and Hipgnosis created the cover for the 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” first and foremost, but also “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals.” The Pink Floyd connection stretched back into childhood: Thorgerson was a classmate of both Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, and he was later the best man at David Gilmour’s wedding.

Thorgerson’s death is a reminder of a larger transition in popular music: the fact that the visual accompaniment has changed drastically. During the nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties, the dominant language for LP cover art was portraiture. The vast majority of Frank Sinatra albums, for example, show Sinatra’s face, sometimes photographed, sometimes illustrated, with an eye toward the mood of the music. Some labels began to change the language of the LP cover, most notably Blue Note, which, under the direction of Reid Miles, used close-up, atmospheric photography (often by label co-founder Francis Wolff) and stark, bold graphic design. Things changed again in the late sixties, when Peter Blake created the high-concept cover for the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and even legitimate Pop artists like Andy Warhol supplied covers or concepts for bands like the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones. Thorgerson and other top designers of the seventies (Peter Corriston, for example, who was perhaps the most innovative of all, with his die-cut work for Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” and the Stones’ “Some Girls”) built on the backs of these innovations, and they paved the way for New-Wave and post-punk starts like Peter Saville.

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