Sound and Vision
Remembering albums for the look as much as the music
The Art of the LP:
Classic Album Covers 1955-1995
by Johnny Morgan and Ben Wardle
$29.95 List Price
Maybe for you it was the old man with the bundle of sticks on his back, or the monkey with the halo and the floating numbers, or the two businessmen, one on fire, shaking hands. For me it was the woman on the frozen pond.
I looked at the cover of Joni Mitchell's Hejira a lot when I was sixteen years old—this was in the mid-1980s, a decade after the album came out. It wasn't the portrait of the singer on the front that so fascinated me, although her broad, triangular silhouette is what now comes to mind when I think of the album—has, in fact, become shorthand in my memory for all the music I consumed, the hours spent playing records and studying their sleeves, during that period of developmental listening. Hejira was released in 1976; the year before, Patti Smith had assumed a Frank Sinatra stance on the cover of Horses, with a man's blazer casually thrown over one shoulder. Mitchell wears a fur coat and beret and some discreet jewelry on Hejira, and her long blond hair is swept to one side, but her pose is pure Sinatra as well: one hand in a pocket, a cigarette sticking out from between two fingers. Eyes steady, jaw slightly set, equine nostrils flared. The word defiance has been used to describe Smith's expression on Horses, but I see softness and wonder there instead. It is in Mitchell's face that I detect a challenge.
Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that rock album art gave generations of suburban adolescents in the 1970s and '80s their first exposure to surrealism and open-ended narrative? The cover of Hejira presented the lightly cultured teenager I was then