LP cover art is a dying art. In the times of CDs and downloads graphics are not important anymore. Cover art was crucial in portraying the image of the musicians and the music. In the times before music went digital, some record companies had their own distinct graphical look.
Graphical artist and photographer Ed Thrasherfor example was responsible for designing the look of most Reprise records. Another record company with a unique look was CTI.
I have a few CTI records and love the music as much as the graphics. But I never gave a second thought about the cover design until recently: On the JazzWax blob I discovered a wonderful interviewwith the artist responsible for the great CTI photographs. His name is Pete Turner. He’s a great photographer and the story of his professional career is very interesting.
When the first CDs came on the market in the nineteen-eighties, most music lovers were happy. The time of noisy and scratched vinyl LPs was over for good.
And the record companies were happy, too. Very happy. Because they could reissue their back catalogs at low costs and sell them on the then very expensive CDs. It was the last time that record companies made big money before music went on line and the downloading started.
What always troubled me, was the bad art work of the CDs. I’m not talking about the front cover. I’m talking about the back cover. Usually they reprinted the original vinyl art work. But on the back cover and on the CD itself they used ugly small square boxes in order to number the songs.
All companies used these ugly square boxes. Maybe the wanted to express with these boxes, that this sound carrier was digital indeed. Probably the square boxes were used as a symbol for digital, and should have indicated that this new thing is well organized, clean and modern. I don’t know. Over time the ugly boxes started disappearing. But you still can find them on a lot of CDs.
I also wonder why they came up with the ugly plastic cases. But that’s another story.
In the nineteen-sixties there was no MTV. Pop and rock stars had to rely on their album covers to build up an image. The LP album cover offered plenty of space to do so. One of the great American album designers and photographer was Ed Thrasher (1932-2006).
In 1957 Ed Thrasher started as graphical artist at Capitol Records and later became art director. In 1964 he went to Warner Bros. Records, where he was responsible for many Reprise Records covers (Reprise Records was founded by Frank Sinatra in 1957 and sold to Warner Bros. Records in 1963).
Ed Thrasher helped initiate a change of paradigm in album design. Until the early nineteen-sixties album covers were not considered art. Usually there was a more or less nice picture of the the artist on the cover. In many cases the artist wasn’t even on the cover, but a female model or dancing teenagers. During the nineteen-sixties cover designs changed. The covers became more diverse and were essential in portraying and marketing the artist’s image.
Ed Thrasher had the talent to adjust to his clients. He found the right approach to every artist. This versatility explains, why he could work for artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix. For the Joni Mitchell LP “Clouds” Ed Thrasher stayed in the background and used a self-portrait of her for the cover. He also worked as photographer, specializing in music and movie artists. Not only did he shoot the iconic Nancy Sinatra picture for the “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” cover, but also many pictures of her father Frank Sinatra.
For your daily dose of trivia you may want to know, that Ed Thrasher was married to actress Linda Gray for twenty years (“Dallas”).
So keep your eyes open when you browse through a stack of old records. On many covers you will certainly find written in small letters “Art Direction: Ed Thrasher” or “Photo: Ed Thrasher”.
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