LP Cover design

Dec 30, 2021 | Music

LP: the first types of cover

At the beginning, up to the end of the 30s, the covers of the disks were simple envelopes of paper or cardboard, usually brown, with a central hole that gave a glimpse of the label of the disk itself. At most, there were rarely simple advertising infos or the logos of the record companies. The envelope was mainly used to protect the disks, which at the time were mainly made of shellac or bakelite.

Alexander Steinweiss: new cover design

The intuition to exploit that space as a canvas to be painted or a sheet to be drawn was had by a young American graphic designer: Alexander Steinweiss. Hired by Columbia Records as a graphic designer/art director, he didn’t just fill the position he was hired for. He wanted to go further: “I love music so much and had so much ambition that I wanted to go above and beyond what I was hired for. I wanted people to look at the illustration and listen to the music.”

Success of new lp covers

Initially Columbia Records was not enthusiastic about the proposal, because it increased  costs and added nothing to the musical value of the record. The use of colors and the increased complexity of the packaging were seen as useless and expensive frills. However, in the end, the results proved the young Steinweiss right. The first album, which in fact changed the entire music market and beyond, was “Smash Song Hits By Rodgers & Hart – Imperial Orchestra Under Richard Rodgers”. And it was immediately a revolution. Other graphic works followed, from Gershwin to a famous re-edition of “Eroica”, Ludwig Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, which benefited from a 900% increase in sales.

Curiosity

it was Steinweiss who used for the first time, in 1941, the visual metaphor of the triangular prism that breaks down light into the seven fundamental colors (six in its graphics), in Ludwig Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (The New York Philharmonic Orchestra). This idea has been taken more than 30 years later by the famous Storm Thorgerson on the cover of “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd.

Many other talented creatives, such as Reid Miles in the late 40s, have followed the way Steinweiss paved. The world of records was changed and Columbia presented the “Long Playing”, the long-lasting vinyl record. Endowed with avantgarde vision and a strong artistic sensibility, together with the photographer Francis Wolff, Reid Miles created the famous covers for Blue Note Records. Photographs with vivid colors and use of brilliant and original lettering.

The covers of the records became cult works. They became an art form, complementary to the musical work: either minimalist and complex covers, psychedelic vibes, and photo compositions.. Many of these are now popular icons that have gone down in history. The ones that today we find printed in infinite representations and declinations: t-shirts, posters, and gadgets., IE., covers made by Storm Thorgerson and Andy Warhol.

In this series we will discover the covers and artists who have made history, not only of design, but also of music. Because often these great designers and photographers have been considered, probably rightly, an integral part of the musical work. Steinweiss has changed music history forever, showing to the whole world the paradigm shift can be an opportunity to offer a new experience to the listener: the vision of music.

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