COLLECTABLES / With their art on their sleeves: Before 1967 album covers came with two-piece suits. Psychedelia changed all that, producing a rock art that has outlasted the vinyl it covered. John Windsor reports

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IN 1967, year of the 'summer of love', rock music and graphic art floated together in a haze of LSD. Record album covers overflowed with mystic, swirling, multi-coloured 'rock art'. Before psychedelia, cover design had been stagnant, the product of record company marketing men whose maxim was, 'sell the image, sell the record - put the star on the cover'. That meant suits. Even the rebellious Rolling Stones' sleeves came with two-piece suits. In 1967, however, on the cover of Their Satanic Majesties, they appeared in silk kaftans and dissolved into a fuzzy profusion of flowers.

Flower power was battered to death the following year. Police batons came out in Chicago and Paris and muggers' batons on the hitherto peaceful streets of Haight Ashbury. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot. But rock art rocked on. Only with the demise of vinyl records - W H Smith sold its last in 1992 - did nostalgic baby-boomers, now aged 35 to 54, begin to suspect that they had seen the last of a unique product, as distinctive in the way it looked as in the way it sounded. CD packs, small and unobtrusive, are attracting hardly any new art.

The first album cover art to be marketed in this country without the music goes on sale on Tuesday 7 June when EMI mounts a three- week selling exhibition of 29 limited-edition lithographs of album covers at the HMV store at 150 Oxford Street, London. The editions are of 9,800, numbered and framed; 50 of each will be on sale in Britain, at prices ranging from pounds 125 to pounds 175. The publisher is Denny Somach, author of the Beatles' history Ticket to Ride and America's biggest producer of syndicated music programming for radio.

Somach's venture coincides with a resurgence of interest in 'Zimmer Rock' groups such as the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Traffic, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd.

In the Sixties, music and art collaborated subversively in the same youthful, underground scene. Many of the greatest British rock musicians came out of art college - John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Ray Davies, Jeff Beck.

The most original album covers created a lasting image for their bands. Some made a bigger impact than the band. The group Yes became a recognisable entity through the magical cliff-castles on their 1974 album, Relayer, by Roger Dean, a graduate of the Royal College of Art. The original artwork of Relayer bears a price tag of dollars 650,000 (about pounds 435,000) in a California gallery and the V & A owns his original artwork for Yes's logo. Dean's are among the few mass-produced album covers that command high prices; his designs on obscure labels like Vertigo have fetched pounds 600.

Some buffs cite the 1967 design by the Dutch artists Simon and Marijke, for the Incredible String Band's 5,000 Spirits, as the seminal psychedelic design. But it is the ever-fascinating Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band of the same year, with its host of cut-out characters, that epitomises the Sixties integration of music and art. Simon and Marijke did the inner sleeve but Robert Fraser, proprietor of the art gallery where John and Yoko met, persuaded Paul McCartney to hire as cover designer the pop-artist Peter Blake, who had been producing media-inspired rock images for a decade. Blake was paid pounds 200. Jimmy Page of Led Zep says of Sgt Pepper in his introduction to Record Art, the book that accompanies the exhibition: 'With one dramatic sweep, the whole territory of record art became as hotly debated as music.'

Sometimes, the artwork preceded the music. Mati Klarwein's picture, The Annunciation - 1970 but unabatedly psychedelic - was spotted by Carlos Santana, who put it on the cover of his all-time best-seller Abraxas. Klarwein says: 'It was the first I painted after my initial New York awakening. I was 28 years old and at the peak of my bio-energy. In the last 20 years of my nomadic life I have seen that album cover pinned to the wall of a shaman's hut in Niger, inside a Rasafarian's ganja hauling truck in Jamaica, on the floor of the Duchess of Bedford's living room in Woburn Abbey, on the wall of a set in Miami Vice, in the bar of the Darling Massage Parlour in Bangkok, and pirated on the cover of a cheap novel in Brazil. It has knocked the moustache off the Mona Lisa for popularity.'

Emerson, Lake and Palmer were taken by their Swiss promoter to meet the surreal artist H R Giger at his home in Zurich and chose two of his works for album covers. Keith Emerson says: 'Straight away, Giger struck me as heavy, to say the least. The interior decor was overpowering, Gothic in the extreme. From floor to ceiling his unique airbrush technique had transformed a simple room into a cathedral, and it was all around you. His toilet had arms coming out, almost engulfing the sitter.'

The title of the album, Whip Some Skull on Ya, was later changed to Brain Salad Surgery (1973). Giger says: 'I was dismayed - until Keith Emerson explained to me that this expression, likewise, connoted fellatio.' Giger had to be persuaded to transform the phallic object in front of the woman's mouth into a shaft of light.

The surreal cover that delivered the decade's biggest shock was photographer Bob Seidemann's Blind Faith (1969) - pubescent girl toying with model spaceship - which gave its name to Eric Clapton's band. It became a favourite image of rock enthusiasts 'coming through' on acid and was a precursor of the artistic photo-realism of the early Seventies.

Seidemann lodged for a time at The Pheasantry, studios in the King's Road, Chelsea, that were, for a time, the hub of the rock art scene. Clapton lived there, as did Martin Sharp, who designed the heavily psychedelic Disraeli Gears cover (1967) for Clapton's earlier band, Cream. Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch there. It was, according to Seidemann, a 'never-ending, day-for-night, multi-coloured fling'.

He spotted his ideal subject for the Blind Faith cover when 12-year-old Sula Goschen, wearing school uniform, came into the same carriage on the underground. He invited her there and then to pose: 'Everyone in the car tensed up. She said: 'Do I have to take off my clothes?' My answer was yes. I gave her my card and begged her to call.'

He visited her parents, David and Angela Goschen, at home in Mayfair, finding them wealthy, distantly related to royalty, friendly with Allen Ginsberg and with Bohemian sympathies. They gave their consent. In the end, it was Sula's 11-year-old sister, Mariora, who posed. She asked for 'a young horse' as payment but instead received pounds 40 from Stigwood, Clapton's management organisation.

Mariora, now a 36-year-old computer graphics programmer with an 11-year-old daughter of her own, was on holiday with Sula in Big Sur, California, when I spoke to her. 'I have only just started to find the thing amusing,' she said. 'At the time it was a nuisance, being recognised in the street.

'The nudity didn't bother me. I hardly noticed I had breasts. Life was far too hectic. I was mad about animals and much taken up with family and friends. But now, when people tell me they can remember what they were doing when they first saw the cover, and the effect it had on them, I'm thrilled to bits.

'By the way, I'm still waiting for Eric Clapton to ring me about the horse.'

Seidemann now has a studio in San Francisco where he designs covers for company reports and is completing a book on aeronautical engineering. He has kept Mariora'a identity a secret until now. 'That picture of her was almost miraculous,' he says. 'When I saw it on the re-toucher's table I felt a shock as if I had been struck by somebody, a sense of detachment that was almost transcendental'.

No such experience descended upon Bob Jones, designer of Elvis's 50,000,000 Elvis Fans cover. Eager to give Elvis covers a new look he approached the King's mentor, 'Colonel' Thomas A Parker, with samples of work by big name illustrators, including the young Andy Warhol's covers for Velvet Underground. He had hardly got them out of his case when the colonel barked: 'Damn it, I've told you I don't want any of your artistic stuff]'

EMI order department (0762-41059). 'Album Cover Albums' by Roger Dean and others is published by Dragon's World.

(Photographs omitted)