Album Cover Album: A Tribute to a Tribute

Back when I was in college, someone–a relative, I don’t remember which one–gave me a book called Album Cover Album for Christmas. I was a record-shop hound and loved album art, but at first didn’t really see the appeal of a book of album covers. I mean, sure, nice, but I’d rather have music. Plus this was put together by the guy who did those fairly hideous covers for Yes. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I didn’t get it at first.

But as I returned to Album Cover Album its influence began to grab hold of me. The odd juxtapositions, the albums (usually old) I’d never seen before, the paintings of Mati Klarwein, which I loved, and a myriad of other delights offered me a chance to browse the record store from the comfort of my own bed. Not better than music, perhaps, but in the end a gift fully appreciated.

In today’s New York Times the music critic Ben Ratliff writes about his youthful encounter with Album Cover Album, in a warm appreciation that also provokes him to say: “Over the next 15 years or so I made my way toward most of the records in the book, consciously or not. As I started to learn something about what a Cecil Taylor record sounded like, as opposed to, say, a Ted Nugent record or a Michael Nyman record, the spaghetti of musical style represented on each page would accelerate my blood, as if each grouping represented a question you had to answer within yourself: What do these different entities have in common? How can you hear them all and think all of this has something to do with you?

“I distrust lists of records you ought to hear, even though making them is part of my job. When you see them, you’re usually reading someone with a well-meaning desire to protect and restrict the understanding of music; you’re reading a subtext of fear and anxiety as much as one of pleasure.”

Which seems to get up into the throat of our arguments about the Remnants’ Essential Albums list.

Album Cover Album, Ratliff concludes, “had no fear or anxiety.”

4 thoughts on “Album Cover Album: A Tribute to a Tribute

  1. I was looking for the first King Crimson album and there it is. But what I really want to know is whether the first Bloodwyn Pig album made the cut…

    • King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King

      Wikipedia had this to say about what is one of the great and memorable album covers: “Barry Godber (1946–1970), a computer programmer, painted the album cover. Godber died in February 1970 of a heart attack, shortly after the album’s release. It was his only album cover, and is now owned by Robert Fripp.[6][7] Fripp had said about Godber:
      Peter brought this painting in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from EG’s offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside it’s the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music.[8]”

      And then there is Blodwyn Pig, surely memorable:

  2. I decided to visit Roger Dean’s website. His pictures for Yes and Asia weren’t hideous. I was wrong about that. They’re nice and safe surrealism.


  3. Well, to start, I own Album Cover Art, plus Phonographics, Rock Art, and the Album Cover Album (which was done by Roger Dean and Hipnosis, who did Pink Floyd’s covers, and some Sammy Haggar as well: go figure).

    Plus, I own A Head Rings Out!

    I kind of loved the books with the album covers (obviously, I have four of them) almost as much as I love simply looking at the covers while listening.

    However, I think Dean is pretty much a cliche artist. Not so much hideous, but more overblown. Not close to as simple or clever as the Bloodwyn Pig cover.

    Like he is trying to be Hieronymous Bosch, but isn’t.

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