Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Best Album Covers: A Hard Day’s Night

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This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. As has been referred to, the first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. However, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually, they became a cultural stamp on the music of the time. First catching the eyes of potential record-buyers and later melding the musical and audio experience with the artist into a distinct visual form. Hear the song, envision the album cover.

Why Compact Disc versions of album art don’t exactly engender the same reaction these days was covered in the previous post. Music label artwork continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today on CD. It hasn’t lost purpose, for either new and old items. But without the same vigor or tactile passion of the past. Hence the reason for this series. Some register more with me musically than others, though. Yet, the artwork will always take center stage, at least here. Let’s continue shall we?

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Without a doubt, this was the game-changer in my life (as I pointed out in another series). The third album for The Lads (Please Please Me and With the Beatles preceding it), A Hard Day’s Night impressed like no other. All original material, not one cover song or filler in the bunch. Plus, it was the soundtrack for the Richard Lester film that became a world-wide sensation and launched the group into the stratosphere. Pretty impactful. And like the previous albums, the cover artwork stood out. And did so simply. Yes, just photograph stills. But iconic nonetheless.

This was nothing like the bizarrely creative expression of surrealist H.R. Giger and the likes I covered in the previous post (which arrived the next decade over as it happened). It was a clean representation of the music group with uncomplicated imagery, but one that hadn’t been done hitherto. Much like that distinctive opening chord of the title song. The 60s brought that out. And we’re talking about the artwork for the British album, to be sure. Nothing wrong with the North American release. Like many, I’m just partial with this one.

It should be noted when the album was released to CD (1990 and later remastered for 2009), it was with the British Parlophone artwork. United Artists Record’s cover art for the American version was left by the wayside.

Laid out much like a proof sheet (aka contact sheet), the album cover represented a similar illustrative theme that was at once familiar and wholly new to album artwork. Something you don’t see anymore, as in the analog technology of the time. Straightforward, yet distinct. A test as it were. Much like the mission of a contact sheet:

“… made to allow the photographer to view a mini-preview of all the film to determine which photographs are best to print.”

Just heads on a page. Simple. Yet, it was a clever graphical premise representing a group just beginning to take its place in history. The second of the five album covers designed and photographed by the famed British lensman, Robert Freeman. Ultimately, A Hard Day’s Day was visually, musically, and culturally elegant. And imitated ever since.

a-hard-days-night

Artist: The Beatles
Title: A Hard Day’s Night
Date: 1964
Label: Parlophone
Track Listing (and yes, they did have sides to these things and you did have to turn them over to listen):

Side 1

  1. A Hard Day’s Night
  2. I Should Have Known Better
  3. If I Fell
  4. I’m Happy Just to Dance with You
  5. And I Love Her
  6. Tell Me Why
  7. Can’t Buy Me Love

Side 2

  1. Any Time at All
  2. I’ll Cry Instead
  3. Things We Said Today
  4. When I Get Home
  5. You Can’t Do That
  6. I’ll Be Back

The entire series can be found here.

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22 Responses to “Best Album Covers: A Hard Day’s Night”

  1. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael:

    My older sister (by 15 months) was more of an early Beatles fan than I ever was. I preferred the Stones and didn’t start noticing the Beatles until ‘Rubber Soul’ (another great cover).

    Their early albums covers all leaned minimalist (As did The Yardbirds, Kinks and Simon & Garfunkel in the US) and this one is cool. With a possible precursor to ‘Abbey Road’.

    Good choice, my friend.

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  2. Fogs' Movie Reviews

    Basically ALL of their covers were legendary. 😀 I think Revolver may actually be my favorite. Though youre right, the simplicity here goes a long way. Great cover!

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  3. Paula

    Great post Michael. I didn’t realize until I was studying design how very very influential this cover was. The older I get, the more I realize how very very influential The Beatles were.

    “He’s a nice old man…he’s very clean”

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    • le0pard13

      That’s a great line from the film, huh? Love this film, album, and artwork. It was influential, and never gets old. Great to hear from designers like you and Ruth in this series. Thanks, Paula.

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  4. ruth

    Great post, Michael! I totally concur with your pick, great design indeed, simple but distinctive!

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  5. Chris

    I love the idea of the album design, but George with a cigarette I think was a poor choice of image. Could encourage the fan’s to think that it’s cool to smoke.

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      • Morgan R. Lewis

        What amuses me is the ubiquity of it in that era… the Beatles started off with it, the Rolling Stones started off with it, the Animals, even more obscure bands such as the Enemies… I guess whoever was managing the British Invasion bands figured they should all get their hair cut the same way…

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