When was the last time you lovingly soaked up the album sleeve, or devoured the liner notes, of your favourite new downloaded album?
It doesn’t happen, does it?
When the CD rose to prominence in the mid 80s, talk of the death of the album cover lit up the pages of Q, Sounds and Melody Maker. It was, mostly, exaggerated. The artform mutated, and some digipaks were, themselves, works of art.
You’d find it hard to even recall the album cover of the last album you downloaded, or streamed through Spotify. And, with digital downloads overtaking physical formats two months ago, the time is right for a reappraisal of the fast-disappearing artform.
In ‘The Art of the Album Cover’ Paul Du Noyer lovingly surveys 50 years of album artwork. It’s a subject close to our hearts – as it will be to those of us who spend Saturday afternoons thumbing through the goods in Probe, The Vinyl Emporium and Birkenhead’s indefatigable Skellie Records.
“The album sleeve was a great popular art form that flourished in the 50-year reign of vinyl LPs,” Du Noyer tells SevenStreets. “Cover designs caught the mood of the music and told a story about their times.”
“Last year I was asked to talk about them for the V&A Museum in London, and now I’m doing a new version for Liverpool. I’ll explain album art’s evolution from the early packaging of 78rpm discs, through to CDs and the digital age.”
Du Noyer’s talk will take in album art of the famous, the infamous and the deservedly obscure. A Little Atom production (the people who bring us the In Conversation series), the event will feature live performances by Candie Payne and a couple of ex Zutons, inspired by some of the handpicked vinyl spotlighted.
We can hardly wait. Despite the physical format gloom, vinyl is making a slight return – with artists from Jack White to Kate Bush releasing gorgeously packaged 180 gram pressings, and almost every cool film we’ve seen this year featuring some bloke placing the stylus on the black stuff in a sickeningly cool apartment.
As the Beastie Boys so rightly said ‘I’m still listening to wax, not using the CD…’
“I’ll be showing lots of examples, good and bad,” Du Noyer says. “I don’t want to do another “best of” list because they bore me to death. We all have our favourites and that’s fine. Album sleeves turned every record shop into an art gallery, and you could bring it home with you. I just want to celebrate that era, because it’s passing into history now…”
“While you wait, here are seven I love with a Liverpool connection…”
Billy Fury: The Sound Of Fury (1960)
When the spirit of Elvis Presley moved across the Atlantic its first stop was the Dingle. Billy Fury was the coolest star outside America, and just like rock’n’roll, this design was cheap, flashy and wonderfully direct.
The Liverpool Scene: Amazing Adventures Of… (1968)
Adrian Henri’s group were art, poetry, theatre and music combined. Here’s a long-lost afternoon outside O’Connor’s Tavern in Hardman Street. Try to find the gatefold sleeve for the full hairy horror.
Cilla Black: Surround Yourself With Cilla (1969)
The paisley dress and the swirly writing tell us that pop had recently gone psychedelic, not that Our Cilla really noticed. Her voice divides opinion but she always had the legs for panto.
Deaf School: 2nd Honeymoon (1976)
They tumbled out of the art college in Hope Street, down to Eric’s on Mathew Street and somehow landed a vast record deal. Deaf School were a satire on glamour that Liverpool loved but the world misunderstood.
The Real Thing: 4 From 8 (1977)
Great soul-pop from the shadow of the Anglican cathedral, including a song-cycle about the Stanhope Street area, written just a couple of years before “riot-torn Toxteth” entered national consciousness.
Echo & The Bunnymen: Crocodiles (1980)
Their artwork gloried in the grandeur of huge skies, underground lakes and glacial wastes, but the debut is best remembered for the evil rabbit head formed by that twisted tree on the right. Can you see it? (main pic)
Half Man Half Biscuit: This Leaden Pall (1993)
No marketing department could have come up with this. While the Biscuits are almost always funny they’re never merely wacky, and they can be downright moving. But don’t attempt a pilgrimage to this obviously gorgeous pub in Halewood. It’s gone.
So, there are Paul’s. What’s yours? Tell us below.
Paul Du Noyer’s The Art of the Album Cover
Bluecoat, School Lane