Please Make My Album Cover!

While I’ve never had a musical project that escaped the confines of a jam room or apartment, I often find myself admiring album art in wonder of what artistic styles would be appropriate for any particular sound. As good as the work of many of the more heavily-utilized cover artists can be, I feel I’d want to go with someone who isn’t used as often as others. So I’d like to discuss a selection of creative visual artists whom I’d consider giving a call for a collaboration, or those whom I’m surprised haven’t been approached by more musicians to create cover art. I’ll add that I’m viewing price as no object here, as I’m sure that all those mentioned below are worthy of commanding a good amount of money for their time and labour.

 

Mort Drucker

 

 

What is He Known For?

Okay, so this guy is pretty damned popular, seeing that MAD magazine isn’t a well-guarded secret of mine. His delightful drawings were a large part of the childhood landscape for three entire generations: Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Gen-Y / Millennials. I’m only assuming that Gen-Z has a harder time becoming wise to Mort’s magic since the print industry as a whole seems to be dwindling with each passing year. Drucker is one of the more popular MAD men, but there are several others worth checking out that have also made the magazines worth opening decades after I first opened an issue.

Has He Done Album Covers Before?

Quite a few, but I honestly expected more. MAD did have a series of recordings he contributed to, and most of his covers are for other comedy records. The two non-comedy examples I have encountered first-hand are the portrait of the band inside of Anthrax’s State of Euphoria album, and the cover for The Bears’ self-titled album (Adrian Belew of King Crimson fame was a member). While I love his take on wider-known celebrities like in MAD or his art on Bob Booker and George Foster’s The New First Family, 1968, his unique spin on more commonplace citizens is evident on the cover of Pat McCormick’s Tells It Like It Is, which also pays homage to Gulliver’s Travels.

 

 

What Style of Music?

I think that the light, comical style of the art could mesh well with a sound that swings. Something with a good brass/wind section and a good back-beat, like you might hear in a suspenseful spy film of the 1960s. Possibly something not too different from the type of artists that made use of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s art such as The Stray Cats, albeit a bit less aggressive graphically. Perhaps a group with a ska tinge to it could also be a possibility as well.

 

John Solie

 

What Is He Known For?

He seems to be best known for making movie posters, though I can’t remember exactly which of his works I saw and instantly thought his work would be interesting use for an album. He did a great job of encapsulating the frantic and bleak future shown in the movie Soylent Green, but I only really had a general impression of his art rather than a focus on one specific piece. In summary, his work has captured men being macho, sexy people doing sexy things, and silly people at their silliest. Many of his illustrations are very life-like, and there’s something more charming and warm to some of them that reminds me of Norman Rockwell’s work.

Has He Done Album Covers Before?

Yes, fittingly enough, for various TV and film soundtracks. It seems to be a chicken or the egg type of quandary for many of these because I’m not sure which originated as cover designs and which began as art on posters, VHS boxes, or other media. The one album among them that I have in my collection is the fantastic Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. He also did the album cover for comedy classic Caddyshack, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there are other soundtracks with his art emblazoned on the front that the Discogs community have yet to tag him on.

 

 

What Style of Music?

This one could be rather open-ended. It would make the most sense if I was to have a movie spoof-style cover to play to Solie’s strength, with members of a band playing different characters (see the Beastie Boys Video Anthology for something else in that spirit). Lots of rap and hip-hop artists like showing off a sense of humour, and Solie has done a good variety of B-movie and Blaxploitation designs, so I think his work could find a good home within that genre.

 

Glenn Fabry

 

What Is He Known For?

Comic books. I know the man best for his work on covers for Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, but he also worked his magic on the pages of Judge Dredd and Sláine among other places.

Has He Done Album Covers Before?

Discogs.com lists just two music credits, neither of which I have ever heard. Those mentioned are English electronic group The Qemists’ Spirit in the System album and Australian rock band The Hickey Underground’s third album. For the sake of being as safe for work as possible, I’ve chosen to share The Qesmists’ cover below. Admittedly, this winged being may technically be more naked than the coal-walking couple on his other album cover. Since I’ve never seen black bars or pixelation covering the chest or groin areas of a skeleton before, I think I’m in the clear.

 

 

What Style Of Music?

His depiction of Jesse Custer (Preacher) captures a down-and-out guy who carries a great burden on his shoulders, and he just so happens to be from Texas. Looking over this and Fabry’s other work, he usually doesn’t create overtly sexy or optimistic-looking characters. He shows humanity in often less-than-flattering conditions, those caught in a struggle or who have lived a hard life. This is why I think a blues or southern rock artist could do something with his art. His art and the lyrical nature of the blues embrace some of darker themes in life that everyone can relate to, but also use a diverse palette of colour to show that even dark clouds have a silver lining. However, the fact Fabry doesn’t have much of a musical association through his art leaves him open to a wider range of possibilities.

 

The Art(ists) of Atari

What Are They Known For?

If you grew up in the 1980s or are at least a casual gamer, you likely have a box of Atari cartridges somewhere in your house. If not, don’t bother asking your parents because you very well know they were sent to the dump years ago. Atari artwork helped tell the stories of the games where the graphical shortcomings of the actual video games failed to do so, and the company had their fair share of illustrators chip in to bring another dimension to the home arcade ports and exclusive titles.

You’ll notice the title of this section references the name of the popular coffee-table book, which also has a complementary book that has removable posters to showcase the detail at a better resolution. I find that squinting at the faded, water-stained stickers attached to the cartridges in my collection really doesn’t do them justice, thus why both books are now on my Amazon wish list.

Have They Done Album Covers Before?

With a gaming library of at least 565 titles on the Atari 2600, I thought that a number of the artists would have applied their craft within the music industry. However, there weren’t as many examples of this as I assumed. The late George Opperman, designer of the iconic Atari logo, has no album credits. Many other artists profiled in The Art of Atari, including Cliff Spohn (creator of the first batch of the company’s game covers), Susan Jaekel, Marc Ericksen, and Evelyn Seto (Atari package designer and co-lead of Atari’s design team), but I have found no album designs by any of them. Steve Hendricks’ creations (which include Missile Command, Defender, and Haunted House) are among those I most associate with the system, but I can’t find any album covers he did either.

Fortunately, I had better luck with a few other Atari designers. Hiro Kimura did a few game covers (most famously E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the comic bundled in Yars’ Revenge) but a number of visual artists have a similar name, making it difficult to determine what (if any) album covers he is responsible for. Nonetheless, his portfolio includes portraits of music legends Charlie Parker, Chuck Berry, and James Brown. Rick Guidice had some album credits prior to and after he put art to games, most prevalent being four covers for The Mystic Moods Orchestra in the late-1970s. Terry Hoff, whose gaming work included Star Raiders and Swordquest, did sleeve art for pop/bluegrass band Nickel Creek’s This Side.

 

 

What Style of Music?

I have a few Atari-inspired designs at home, such as the third season DVD set for the criminally-underrated The Venture Bros. cartoon, which made me take notice before I even saw a single frame of animation. The main draw to the Atari is the overwhelming sense of 80s nostalgia that it provokes, so a musical style that plays into that would work best. Although I don’t even have any of it in my collection, vaporwave is the first thing I thought about. I’m also thinking electronic/pop in general for this motif, particularly music that throws in elements with bit of a trippy, psychedelic vibe like The Flaming Lips or Air.

Here’s a bonus: If you want to take the lazy way out and throw someone else’s album art onto an Atari cartridge label, here’s a quick way to create one. What music fan can’t help but think of The Dark Side of the Moon when looking at the art of Super Breakout? Feel free to make that Floyd cartridge (or another) yourself.

 

Bruce Pennington

 

What Is He Known For?

Bruce Pennington is a British illustrator mainly known for work on science fiction and fantasy book covers, with much of his notoriety likely stemming from contributions to Frank Herbert novels in the Dune franchise. If you’ve been to a second-hand book store, you undoubtedly have seen his art. My introduction was through a book I borrowed from the local library that showed a variety of sci-fi artwork, and his pieces were among the ones that stood out the most. In fact, I liked a painting of his that features a skull on a desolate planet so much that a similar image has remained as my computer’s desktop wallpaper for over two years.

Has He Done Album Covers Before?

I didn’t realize that I actually own one until putting this blog together. Canadian death metal band Agony seem to have used a Pennington piece on their Apocalyptic Dawning album. Pennington is not mentioned in the liner notes (Filip Ivanovic gets the credit), but the image is eerily similar to Pennington’s work used on Brian Aldiss’ short story collection Space, Time and Nathaniel. Discogs also lists work for American death metal band Blood Incantation, British prog band Gnidrolog and psychedelic retro-rockers Valis among his clients. Even the skull art I commented on was used on an electronic music compilation.

 

There’s those skulls again!

 

What Style of Music?

Here’s another one who I can see a few fits for. On one hand, I can see this being applied to technical death metal bands like Ulcerate, Artificial Brain, or a sludier metal band like Sulaco, but it feels kind of expected considering some of whom have used Pennington’s artwork already. Why not go for something on the classical end of the musical spectrum? Lots of metal bands bands like those I’ve mentioned look to progressive rock for influence, who in turn took a lot from classical composers (see the list of adaptions of Gustav Holst’s The Planets for an example). Sprawling soundscapes built by orchestras with a bevy of instruments at a conductor’s disposal could do so much to enhance the imagery that portrays epic tales about those in fictional universes. Considering all of the sci-fi blockbusters that have used classical music to score it, it makes perfect sense to go with a fantasy/sci-fi artist to base the visual off the audio for a change.

 

The Artists of Hard Looks

 

What Are They Known For?

I clearly just stated that, but wouldn’t blame you if you aren’t familiar with them.

Hard Looks was a ten-issue comic book series created for the publisher Dark Horse Comics that contained adaptions of some of crime author Andrew Vachss’ short stories. I found myself at a comic book store in Hamilton (Big B Comics) on Free Comic Book Day (which falls on the first Saturday of May across stores North America), and I took a chance on the first issue (shown above) while going through their massive dollar bin. The character on the cover caught my eye, who was illustrated by Tim Bradstreet. The contributions of artists Rick Magyar and Gary Gianni on stories inside of said issue also captivated me, and is driving me to look for the remaining issues I’m currently missing the next time I comic shop, especially since I’m a bit burned out by superhero stuff lately.

Have They Done Album Covers Before?

Bradstreet has a couple of credits, both of which come well after his Hard Looks contributions. With 2005 came his cover for Iron Maiden’s A Matter of Life and Death, which I’d consider a great comeback visually for the band following the much-maligned Dance of Death cover, and psychedelic-prog instrumentalists vonFrickle’s Arrythmia. Here’s a case of an artist helping me find a cool band, as I’m digging vonFrickle’s sound while it’s playing as the backdrop to my keystrokes.

 

 

Rick Magyar has a few credits himself in the punk genre, and even has a performance as trumpeter on a high school big-band recording. To date, the sole cover art by Gary Gianni is by doom metallers Funeral Horse. As I complete this mini-series of comics, I have a good feeling that I’ll find more examples from other Hard Looks contributors.

What Style Of Music?

The type of grit achieved by these illustrators seems suitable for punk records. A minimal colour scheme or simply black-and white might work to match the tone of the comic panels. I’m reminded of a more renown artist in the music scene, Raymond Pettibon, in that regard. I could also see these art styles being adapted nicely on more avant-garde projects like a John Zorn project or other musicians associated with him or the Tzadik Records label. They aren’t necessarily all punk in sound, but punk in spirit.

 

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