When The Cribs asked Rob Crane to design the cover for their latest album Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, they wanted him to use an image from This Sporting Life, the 1963 film starring Richard Harris.
But getting the rights turned out to be tricky, so Crane hunted through image libraries to come up with a photograph with a similar impact. He settled on an atmospheric black and white photograph of a couple in silhouette standing outside a Granada picture house by night.
He touched up the image by changing the names of the films showing to phrases suggested by the band and by attaching the name "The Cribs" in neon lights to the front of the cinema. The result has been voted the best record cover of 2007 in a poll of 3,000 people carried out by Art Vinyl, whose gallery of record-sleeve art is in east London's Broadway market.
"The design was plan B," Crane says. "I was quite surprised when it won. Maybe it just resonated with people; it's quite a nostalgic image."
Three other pieces of sleeve art by Crane feature in the top 50 record covers. They include a simple graphic design using Morse code for The Rakes' album Ten New Messages; a design for the Bloc Party album A Weekend in the City, adapted from the work of the German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg; and the sleeve for PJ Harvey's album White Chalk.
Crane has designed Harvey's last five albums – all of which use a photograph of the singer taken by her long-term collaborator Maria Mochnacz.
Andrew Heep, the director of Art Vinyl, said the Cribs album sleeve "conveys an emotion. It's quite striking and simple; a beautiful sleeve."
At No 2 is Editors' LP An End Has a Start, a digitally altered photo of an industrial structure, which also features on the covers of singles from the album.
Previous poll winners include Hard-Fi's Stars of CCTV in 2005 and Thom Yorke's The Eraser the following year.
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Heep believes the attraction of sleeve art is that it is a democratic form. "Ours is not like a normal gallery where the art might be out of people's price range. They can have that piece of art on their wall," he says.
"It's important people understand that records are still out there. A lot of people probably weren't aware that this list is all available on vinyl and for less than £15."
Despite fears that the rise in music downloading would kill off sleeve art, Crane believes the form is as popular as ever. "There's as much demand. What has really changed with the digital revolution is that there are so many people able to produce artwork. One of the good things to come out of it is that people are now buying physical formats for the packaging and design."
Joe Pilbeam, who designed the cover for The Nextmen's "Let It Roll" 12in, at No 3 in the poll, agrees. "If anything, downloads have spurred people on," he says. "It pushes me harder to create nice artwork."
The Nextmen cover features a section of a bigger illustration used for the band's album This Was Supposed To Be the Future. Pilbeam commissioned the Brighton-based illustrator Alex Young to create an image showing childhood fantasies of what the future might be like.
At No 4 is the "No Memory of Time" 12in by Eva Be – one of a three covers for singles based on paintings by the singer's grandfather. "Somewhere There's an Angel", by the Maidstone-born, Vancouver-based one-man band Dan O'Connell, aka Thurston Revival, which comes in at No 5 in Art Vinyl's poll, is the most expensive single ever produced. Only 100 copies of the record were made and each was sold for £100, to make a point about the devaluing of music in the internet age.
The 100 singles were put on display for one night only at the Sartorial Art Gallery in Notting Hill in August last year. But Record of the Day, the music company that organised the show, insisted that the value of the product lay in the concept, not the artwork.
Art Vinyl, 13 Broadway Market, London E8s (020-7241 4129)
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