In Peter Terzian’s essay anthology Heavy Rotation, twenty contemporary writers remember the record albums that influenced and inspired them. We looked at eight of the covers of those albums and found a handful of interesting stories about how they came to be.
Joni Mitchell: Blue (1971)
“Out of the side of my eye I saw the assistant opening a new box of LPs,” writes Colm Tóibín in his essay “Three Weeks in the Summer.” “I saw the album in her hand. Just one copy. And yes, the dark blue of the sleeve …” The famous, murky portrait of folk-rock singer Joni Mitchell on the cover of her fourth album, Blue, was captured by Tim Considine, a photographer who took pictures of many other performers of the era, including Mama Cass and Joan Baez. Still, Considine is probably best remembered for his work as a child actor—he was Mike, the oldest child on the TV show My Three Sons, and starred in the Disney film The Shaggy Dog. He currently writes about the history of cars and auto racing.
The B-52s: The B-52s (1980)
The jacket of the B-52s’ first album is credited to “Sue Absurd,” a pseudonym for British artist and illustrator Tony Wright, who also designed the covers of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English, and Bob Marley’s Natty Dread. In his essay, “Am I Getting Warmer?,” Clifford Chase writes: “As the brand-new record strummed its cockeyed beat, I stared at the five of them on the cover: angular cutouts on a flat, horizonless yellow—three boys, two girls—defiant in their thrift-shop clothes and poofy wigs.”
Kate Bush: The Sensual World (1989)
“On the cover of The Sensual World,” writes Stacey D’Erasmo in her essay “Beautiful Noise,” “[Kate Bush’s] shoulders are bare and her mouth is covered by an enormous flower that seems to be a camellia; the points and curves of Bush’s face are no less flowerlike.” The cover photograph was taken by John Carder Bush, the singer’s older brother, who also took the portrait on the cover of Bush’s album The Hounds of Love and has published a special-edition book of snapshots of his multi-talented sister as a child.
ABBA: Super Trouper (1980)
Pankaj Mishra, in his essay “Northern Exposure,” describes buying a bootleg of ABBA’s Super Trouper album at a small Indian bazaar. “There were, I remember, scratches on the cheap plastic cover, diminishing somewhat the glow of the white-clothed foursome standing under a broad arc light. … The small picture of ABBA on the cassette glittered with all their exotic blondness.” On the cover, designed by Rune Söderqvist (who had created the band’s backwards-B logotype), the band are surrounded by a bevy of circus performers and bask in the glow of the stage lights that give the album its name. Footage for an accompanying promotional video for the “Super Trouper” single was filmed at the photo shoot by Lasse Hallström, a frequent director of ABBA videos who went on to make the features My Life as a Dog and The Shipping News.
Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980)
In his essay “Tiny Big Dreams,” John Haskell recounts how the Talking Heads’ third album inspired his writing. As Michael Bierut and Peter Hall explain in their monograph Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist, the legendary designer offered to create a sleeve for Remain in Light for free. Kalman and the band unsuccessfully tried out different ideas until members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth arrived at Kalman’s studio with photographs taken by the MIT Media Lab of each Talking Head with digital red masks partially obscuring their faces.
The Jackson 5: Greatest Hits (1971)
In her essay “Just Like Me,” Martha Southgate writes: “The cover is almost as important to me as the album inside. The design is simple and memorable. The surrounding border is a dark blue, shot through with the fine crackling that age produces on old master paintings. Then an ornate filigreed frame of the sort found at the Metropolitan Museum. On the record jacket (but not on the CD insert), the edges of the frame around the photograph are perforated so that a girl can punch it out and hang the picture on her bedroom wall. But I never did that—I didn’t want to disturb the pristine surface of the sleeve. Within the frame is a photograph of the Jackson 5 in all their big-Afroed, pre-plastic surgery, brown-skinned adolescent glory. … The crackling motif carries over lightly onto the photograph, reminding the viewer that there is mastery here, greatness embodied in five black boys from the rust-belt town of Gary, Indiana.”
The Smiths: The Queen is Dead (1986)
Beginning with their very first record, the Smiths fashioned cover art from photographs of gay icons, such as Truman Capote and James Dean, as well as close-up stills of actors of underground cinema (Joe Dallesandro in Andy Warhol’s Flesh) and English kitchen sink films (Terence Stamp in The Collector). For the cover of The Queen is Dead—the subject of Benjamin Kunkel’s essay “Still Ill”—the band chose a still of French actor Alain Delon, in a suggestively prone position, in the 1964 Algerian War flick L’Insoumis.
Eurythmics: Savage (1987)
On the cover of Eurythmics’ Savage, writes Daniel Handler in his essay “I Love to Listen To,” Annie Lennox is
“pouting and rolling her eyes … [wearing] long shiny nails and a cheap wig that’s not quite 100 percent straight. It looks like you’ve paid for her time but not her attention.” Savage was also released as a “video album,” with each song made into a short film by the British video director Sophie Muller. In a few of the videos, Lennox plays multiple roles, including a plain, uptight housewife and the bewigged vamp who appears on the album cover. The video for the title song documents the cover shoot by photographer Alastair Thain.