The album covers that made it hip to be square

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Richard Evans has designed albums for a huge range of musicians, from Abba's Agnetha to The Who. Here, he celebrates great sleeve art through the ages

If you're going to tailor-make yourself a job, you could do far worse than ask yourself, what are the two things you really like and how can you make a living out of it? In my case it was a love of rock'n'roll and a passion for art. Doing my sums, I figured that pop plus art equals Pop artist; but rock'n'roll plus art? Ah, yes, album cover designer. I'd previously been a shoe designer, producing stack-heeled platform boots in the early Seventies, selling my wares to Elton John, Roxy Music, and er, the Osmonds. When that all folded, my friends Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson asked me to come and work for them at Hipgnosis, the seminal design studio famed for its work with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

In a tatty first-floor studio in Denmark Street on the edge of Soho, I had the best of all groundings in album cover design. I already had the basics of graphic design and paste-up, but here I was designing logos and lettering, teaching myself how to airbrush and retouch photographs, and helping to produce artworks for what were later to become classic album covers.

By 1976 I decided to go it alone and open my own studio. I got my very first job – to design a tour programme for The Who. Now, I'd always loved The Who. I'd even blagged my way on to the social committee at art school in 1965 in order to book them for a college dance. My design would be a spoof of Playboy called "Bellboy", after the Quadrophenia song. If you're going to work with The Who, I thought, throw yourself in at the deep end, and so for the centrefold I took a photograph of a naked Keith Moon, resplendent in all his glory lying on a hotel-room sofa. Talk about a baptism by fire!

In the years since then, I've designed most of the material for the band: countless album covers, solo album covers, singles, T-shirts, badges, videos and DVDs, film posters, stage projections, sheet music and music books, and, of course, more tour programmes.

But I just love album covers. I love designing them and I love looking at other people's work. Over the years I've designed covers not just for The Who but for an extraordinary cross-section of artistes and music genres, from Bach sonatas to cool jazz, from Public Image Ltd to Van Morrison via King Sunny Adé, The Kinks, The Doors, Robert Plant, and Agnetha (that's the blonde one from Abba) – oh, and the Boo Yaa Tribe, a six-piece American-Samoan rap/hip-hop band of brothers from South Central LA. Now that was another baptism. I was terrified of them, until the A&R girl from Island Records said, don't worry; they really like you because you're helping them.

I often think how odd it is to be a designer constantly confined to working within a square format, but in the 70 years that album covers have been around, it's quite extraordinary to see what the designers of yesterday and today have made of it.

In writing and compiling The Art of the Album Cover, I was struck by how much there is to celebrate in album cover design, how much passion there was in the work of all the designers, photographers and illustrators over the years – a passion that is still very much in evidence today.

But are there still album covers today? For a start, they're not 12-inches square and they're not made of cardboard. Nowadays, they're little booklets about 4.75 by 4.719 inches. They're not even an exact square, for heavens sake. Nevertheless they are the covers of albums, regardless of their shape or size. So perhaps these little rectangles, viewed through the clear plastic of a CD case or scrolled through on the tiny screens of our iPods, are the grandchildren of the LP cover.

We often talk about the "golden age" of this and that and, yes, perhaps the golden age of album covers was the Sixties and Seventies. There certainly was a feeling of "anything goes" in those two decades. And yet every decade had its high points. Just marvel at the wonderful work of Alex Steinweiss, the father of album cover design, and his contemporary Jim Flora in the Forties. Then look at the highly original designs that Reid Miles created for Blue Note in the Fifties. During the cultural revolution of the swinging Sixties, covers such as Cream's Disraeli Gears, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and Peter Blake's groundbreaking design for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were truly outstanding.

By the Seventies, realising that a good album cover could significantly increase record sales, record companies were only too happy to invest large sums of money in the grandest and wildest cover concepts. Some of the most elaborate and innovative designs came out of this period, not just in terms of the front-cover visual but also the construction of the record sleeve, with covers that were shaped, hinged, die-cut, embossed, flocked, circular, and even albums that came in tins. Musically, the Seventies – more than any other decade – encompassed a whole range of genres, starting with the post-Woodstock of Crosby, Stills & Nash, through the prog rock of Yes and Pink Floyd, the glitter world of funk and disco, of The Bee Gees and Donna Summer, followed by the raw, guitar-driven punk of The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Damned; cover-wise from Hipgnosis to Barney Bubbles via Rick Griffin and Jamie Reid. What a decade of contrast.

The Eighties brought with it a slew of brilliant new designers, particularly in Britain, where the rave culture made such an impact. Designers such as Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett and Vaughan Oliver created some truly evocative work. The Eighties was also the decade that witnessed the introduction of the compact disc and (thankfully) the demise of the cassette. Overnight, the album cover shrank to 38 per cent of its original size. How odd, when you consider how vulnerable vinyl is, that it should be housed in a paper bag within a cardboard sleeve, whereas the CD, marketed as virtually indestructible, is protected in a hinged plastic box.

The beginning of the Nineties marked a major turning point in graphic design. Almost overnight, artboard, pencils and ink were rendered obsolete. Airbrushes were packed away in their cases; drawing boards and tee-squares became things of the past. And who was this gorgeous beauty that turned our heads? It was a drab, mushroom-coloured box called an Apple Mac. How tantalising it was, and how we longed to get our hands on one. And, rather like buying the new Stones album in the Sixties, how cool it was to actually own one, and to impress your friends with it.

Record covers are perhaps the timelines of our lives. They remind us of where we were, what we were doing, who we were with; they mark our student days, our holidays, our growing up, and our coming of age.

The golden age of the album cover may well be long gone, and perhaps the record sleeve is deservedly putting its feet up somewhere, but great art for music packaging will continue to be created by designers today and far into the future, whatever shape or format the delivery of music may take.

And as for that classic 12-by-12 album cover, I've often wondered, how can something so square be so hip?

Richard Evans has been art director for The Who for 35 years and designed album covers for a diverse range of artistes. 'The Art of the Album Cover' is published by Compendium (£19.95)

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project