Sure…you buy an album (record, cd, download, whatever you call it) primarily for the sonic content held therein (I opted not to say ‘music’ so as not to offend anyone on either side of the “you call that music?!” argument). But one of the most vivid and memorable aspects of an album can be the artwork. Whether on the cover or inside the booklet/gatefold, many would agree that a deeper appreciation for a record is possible with the right artwork.
You may not remember the title of every song on Dark Side of the Moon, but you immediately think of the prism and refracting light against a black background. You may not even know the names of all the Beatles (and shame on you if that’s true) but you can pick out the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from a mile away. These covers represent one sensory medium with another: masterful sound through iconic imagery.
This is especially true with a concept album – think of almost any rock album made in the 70s that explores the concepts of dystopian visions of the future, the ills of society or the spectrum of human emotion. These are all topics that artists have explored on some great concept albums. And along with these thematic musical statements, we are often presented with bold visual artwork. Yes (the band) are a prime example…the same degree of complexity and epic nature of their songs is paralleled on the other-worldly covers of their albums (thanks to artist Roger Dean).
I’m so drawn to cool artwork that I’ve contemplated buying many a record based on the fact that the album cover is so hypnotic…which I do not advise on principle alone. It’s beautiful idea though, isn’t it? The complete package…you sit in front of your stereo, listening a record, looking through the artwork, absorbing every molecule of magic held within that physical material of wax, plastic and paper.
But think, for a minute…the attraction and association of artwork to a piece of music is an interesting concept. What if the Stones swapped album covers on Beggars Banquet and Exile on Main St.? Or if Zep put the cover of Houses of the Holy on Led Zeppelin 2? Would these records sound any less powerful? Would they be any less revered and influential?
That last paragraph was a lot of questions, I know. Go put on your favorite record, look at the artwork and get back to me.