This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. The first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. Yet, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually, they became the cultural stamp on the music of the time. 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 raise the same reaction these days was looked at in this post. Although, music label graphic artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today, even though it’s mostly in the realm of digital these days. It hasn’t lost purpose, for either old and new items. Perhaps, without the same vigor or tactile passion of the past says the former. The latter argues otherwise today.
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?
As allmusic stated:
“Probably the first album to successfully merge the seemingly disparate sounds of rap and heavy metal, Rage Against the Machine‘s self-titled debut was groundbreaking enough when released in 1992, but many would argue that it has yet to be surpassed in terms of influence and sheer brilliance — though countless bands have certainly tried.”
The Wachowski siblings would go on to use the Wake Up track from this album as a startling musical conclusion for The Matrix (1999).
While I’m not too much into either style of music, I can see why fans connected with the group and were influenced by their music.
What’s equally audacious though, was the unexpected and expressive use of journalist Malcolm Browne’s famed and notable photo from another time and place for the cover artwork. It’s one of those that has come to symbolize so much across different generations and people. No doubt, its use remains controversial to this day. I mean, the image of Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese monk in 1963, protesting the oppression of Buddhists under President Diệm’s administration through self-immolation is not easy to fathom. A viscerally and politically effective act, to say the least.
Similarly, the cover was ‘graphic’ artistry at its most in-your-face. Like it or not. I think its layout only accented the reaction the label and/or artists intended to achieve. That of railing against the system. Corporate or otherwise. And they did, in spades. Cover designers cropped Browne’s original photo by a substantial degree and stressed the figure and moment at its most grainy and ghastly. Capturing, as well, the flames as they so frequently are on film. Both mesmerizing and malefic. With the stark album title pasted along the bottom keeping it all in context. I can’t honestly say I love this cover, but I cannot forget or ignore it either.
I pushed this album cover piece up from my list byway of reading The Economist’s recent look at Buddhism and self-immolation in their blog post, The theology of self-destruction.
- Killing in the Name
- Take the Power Back
- Settle for Nothing
- Bullet in the Head
- Know Your Enemy
- Wake Up
- Fistful of Steel
- Township Rebellion
The entire series can be found here.