Monday, 27 May 2013
A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands Hipgnosis Worked With
I’ve spent much of this 10cc review discussing the album cover. Now, that’s not because there’s nothing to say about the music (there is) and that’s not to say that I’ve run out of things to say (I haven’t...chance would be a fine thing you’re probably mumbling to yourself?...), it’s because the Hipgnosis cover for ‘Look Hear’ is such a clever, multi-layered one. When we lost Storm Thorgeson (founder and chief of Hipgnosis) the other week, we lost more than just another album cover artist, we lost the person who – more than any other – understood the link between music and art and how best to package albums so that they retained their mysterious, intellectual appeal. Place ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ inside a plain cover and it would not have had the same appeal – it took visions of that prism in those shop windows for the album to excite people’s curiosity and encourage them to embrace a band who’d been dismissed as fading summer of love hangovers. I was overwhelmed by the coverage Storm’s death got from everywhere, but in a good way – the BBC news didn’t even bother informing us all that key founder and nearly life-long member of Pink Floyd Rick Wright died, but they spent almost five minutes discussing Storm’s artwork on the news, even roping in Graham Gouldmann to say a few words. He’d sure come a long way since being known as ‘the guy who got the gig making the second Floyd album artwork because he was a friend of the band’. In fact Storm ended up doing artwork for some 50-odd bands and artists over some 40 odd years, including five AAA ones. So here’s our guide and tribute to the master of images and visual interpretation... (p.s. We at the AAA fully recommend Storm’s book ‘Mind Over Matter’ if you want to see his work at its best, even if it is dominated by his work with the Floyd and doesn’t contain that many examples of the other work listed here).
PINK FLOYD (1968-1994)
The Floyd’s debut record ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ is one of those debut records that gets almost everything right – pioneering, groundbreaking, yet accessible and melodic, it sounds like nothing else ever made. However even its biggest fans reckon the cover art (a kaleidoscopic vision of the band layered over each other) is gimmicky and false, hardly approaching the true psychedelic zeal within the covers. The band decided to ask their old college friend Storm Thorgeson for a favour for the second album ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ and – creating the business Hipgnosis after reading some ‘hip’ graffiti written outside his office – he came up with a much better cover, full of alluring mystery and images that mixed notions of the past with some bold, brave future. Storm continued to make album covers for the Floyd up to 1975, despite his work with other clients, coming up with such strong covers as Lulubelle III, the cow who placidly stares out at the listener from ‘Atom Heart Mother’, the ‘pictures within pictures’ of ‘Ummagumma’ (where if you look carefully each picture of the band on the wall finds they have moved out of position) and ‘Meddle’, the close up of a pig’s ear under water (well, it was the early 70s...) However the best known covers are that famous prism for ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ which reflects all light (actually one of dozens of designs Storm came up with – but about the only thing Pink Floyd agreed on in 1972 was the cover design, which took them less than five minutes to choose – some of the ‘other’ designs end up on the Floyd re-issues of ‘Piper’ and ‘Saucerful’ under the term ‘A Nice Pair’ in 1973) and ‘Wish You Were Here’ which features a series of people who ‘aren’t all there’ (the album cover features a businessman literally on fire, while inside inserts feature a man swimming in sand, a piece of clothing bobbing about on a windy day and a businessman with a suitcase without a face, arms or legs). Most uninformed people have been writing about what a great idea for cover art the other key image of Pink Floyd was – a flying pig over Battersea power station for ‘Animals’ in 1977 – but while Storm helped with the actual picture this was a Roger Waters idea and Roger took over cover design for the next two albums ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Final Cut’ (both of which lack Storm’s wit and skill). Storm returned when Roger left, though, helping cement 1987’s ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ as a bona fide Floyd LP (despite it being little more than a David Gilmour solo album) with its ludicrous cover of two miles of beds on a sea shore (the shoot was done for real – twice, in fact, when the tide came in and ruined the first shot; given that the album was only made because the Floyd had no money you wonder what they said to the bill!) Personally, though, my favourite of Storm’s Floyd covers might well be the various different versions of the 100foot ‘talking’ heads for ‘The Division Bell, a loose concept album about non-communication, which were built in a variety of materials (wood, stone, metal) for the different formats of vinyl, cassette and CD and feature the Floyd’s home town of Cambridge twinkling away in the background between the two mouths. Few album covers were ever this clever, as intelligent – or as fitting to the music within, showing Storm kept his touch right until near the end.
THE HOLLIES (1971-72)
Few people know that The Hollies were one of the first ‘name’ bands other than the Floyd to come forward and ask for covers. I bet even the few Hollies fans who bought lesser-selling LPs ‘A Distant Light’ and ‘Romany’ noticed the ‘Hipgnosis’ name on the back either, as these paintings – of the same scene in Summer and Winter respectively – don’t look much like their other work. They are, however, both fabulous: the detail in colour on both records is amazing (naturally, like much of Storm’s work, the impact is lost when reduced to CD size) and the idea of nature burrowing away to keep safe or out on full display is a good one, with the same top-hatted figure keeping an eye on both in two entirely different scenes. Storm won’t have known it when he was commissioned to make two scenes for two records, but the Hollies had a major split in 1972, losing founding member Allan Clarke for a couple of years, and the record sleeves helped offer the continuity that, yes, this really was the same group even if they were minus their lead singer. I had both of these album covers on my wall for years (I even bought the vinyl version of ‘A Distant Light’ especially, as I bought that on CD first) and they brightened up and inspired many a day when I was collapsing under piles of coursework.
The Hipgnosis team did most of the album covers (all but the first and last) for 10cc over their 11 years as a band, starting with their second album ‘Sheet Music’, perhaps the most recognisable of Storm’s non-Floyd covers. The original band sit or stand round what looks like a stately factory, a modern building with a traditional; rug carpet on the floor, but if you look closely you see it is one filled with those little balls you see in paddling pools in the background. Lol Creme is holding a piece of yellow cloth that is pulled back towards the camera and magically provides the ‘frame’ for the whole scene, making the album cover magically 3D in a time before photo-shop and digital alteration. This album got so much attention Hipgnosis were hired for most of the rest: a rather lacklustre pencil drawing for ‘The Original Soundtrack’, a daring soap opera split into four scenes for ‘How Dare You!’ (with the same two characters cropping up in every scene in photos, on the TV, etc), three deep sea divers clutching an unconscious woman (a pun on the title of ‘Deceptive Bends’), a tourist being hit in the head by a newspaper (‘Bloody Tourists!), that album cover of a sheep on a psychiatrist couch mentioned above (for 1980’s ‘Look Hear’) and Gouldmann and Eric Stewart precariously balanced on a ledge for the anniversary album ‘Ten Out Of Ten’. However, Hipgnosis’ best 10cc cover might well be their punning cover for ‘Greatest Hits’ which includes such gems as the cricket ball that took out a pigeon in a 1904 test match and the Titanic meeting an iceberg...
PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS (1975-76)
Hipgnosis made three LP covers for Wings in all, which perhaps McCartney fell in love with after his close links with members of both Pink Floyd and 10cc. ‘Band On The Run’ had been a big talking point, with its cover art of a variety of TV stars and sports personalities of the day ‘on the run’ in prison uniform, actually a McCartney idea he hired one of his old friends from the Beatles days to shoot for him. Hipgnosis were asked to come up with something just as visually striking, which they did for ‘Venus and Mars’, cleverly using two billiard ballads to represent the planets of the title whilst still remaining ‘earthly’ (Hipgnosis may well have been hired on the back of their earthly cover for the similarly planetary ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’). The relationship followed for two rather lesser covers. ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ is the other studio cover, a rather dull and drab beige cover with lots of little men putting the words together like a billboard and a downright scary back sleeve where each of the band members have their features ‘jiggled’ to look as if they’re moving at high speeds. Finally, Hipgnosis also created the cover for ‘Wings Over America’, which included a rather dull shot of a plane door that opens to reveal a three-way shot of the plane (or it did in the days of being a triple vinyl LP anyway). Hipgnosis then took a break, before returning for Paul’s big comeback album ‘Tug Of War’, creating an interesting shot of a rather fragile looking McCartney listening to a playback on headphones, overlaid with then-modern digital graphics and colour. Long rumoured to be a picture of him taken the day he learnt Lennon had been murdered, it’s one of the more interesting McCartney album covers around, if not as inventive as Hipgnosis’ usual fare. Sadly Hipgnosis never did another Beatles-related cover, although works like John Lennon’s ‘Walls and Bridges’ and George Harrison’s ‘Somewhere In England’ show a similar style and humour.
JUSTIN HAYWARD (1977)
Finally, the only other group besides the Floyd to use such striking visual imagery on their albums were The Moody Blues, although contrary to popular opinion the closest they ever came to providing a cover for the band was this first Justin Hayward solo record. Unusually, Hipgnosis didn’t provide one single central idea for the cover but rather lots of them, each based on an idea from one of the songs (which are also used to illustrate the lyrics inside). These range from the sublime to the ridiculous and feature a wonderful reflective ball distorting time and astrology together in one round ball of confusion (illustrating ‘Nostrodamus’), a birds-eye view of a tightrope walker (illustrating, err, ‘Tightrope’) and a drawing of a rather sombre looking Hayward for ‘Songwriter’ itself.
Storm Thorgerson R.I.P., we salute you! May you find peace in a world of flying pigs, light-reflecting prisms, diving divers and talking heads. Join us for more news, views and music next week!