Great covers

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The Independent Culture
13. Joni Mitchell: 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns'

What set 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' apart in 1975 was both the novelty of its non-Western musical influences (Mitchell elides jazz and its African roots in a mainstream rock framework a decade before the release of Graceland) and the startling modernity of the cover. The sleeve was all Mitchell's own work, and it served to emphasise the vital notion that music, lyrics and design could all be indivisible parts of a single expressive whole. Certainly, Mitchell's artwork bucked the period fashion for hippy graphics and intimated that rock might yet become a transnational corporation able to trade in cultures as much as styles.

The album seems to shuck and jive before the music ever reaches your hi-fi. On the cover the city is loosely collared by a greenbelt of swimming pools, porches and warm chrome, the skyline quivering in the haze to a different beat. Through this sunny suburban back yard, bare figures wrestle with a snake, as if they've just wandered casually off the pages of National Geographic. It's the assimilated ethnicity of Mitchell's illustration, coupled with the now trendy Helvetica font used for the title that, 21 years on, make this the best Nineties album cover in the world... ever.

ROBERT WEBB

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