Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Best Album Covers: There’s a Riot Going On


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 becoming 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. Something for the eyes as well as the ears.

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 artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today. The bits and bytes are looking over their shoulder, though, because vinyl hasn’t entirely gone the way of the dinosaur. Online or at the record shops still out there. Cover art hasn’t lost purpose, either for old and new. Mostly, it’s my contention while digital reigns supreme, its vigor among fans lacks the tactile passion of the past LPs.

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?


With the 60s’ stream of creative music and consciousness, and the subsequent social upheaval that came hand-in-hand, it’s no surprise a group like Sly and the Family Stone formed. Flourished, in fact. Men and women, black and white, as one band onstage and in listeners’ ears. Jolting convention, and heads. There was something blatantly alluring and daring in their music. What allmusic described as the…

… fusion of soul, rock, R&B, psychedelia, and funk that broke boundaries down without a second thought.”

This group was a manifestation of the period. By 1971, Sly did the next unheard of thing. Designing their fifth album to feature nothing but an image of a familiar, but distinctly altered, banner as its cover. No band name or record title graced the front — just a red, white, and black American flag. Shot by A&R director Steve Paley, it was a photo of the stunning re-work of a standard no one felt indifferent toward. Sly described it thusly:

“I wanted the flag to truly represent people of all colors. I wanted the color black because it is the absence of color. I wanted the color white because it is the combination of all colors. And I wanted the color red because it represents the one thing that all people have in common: blood. I wanted suns instead of stars because stars to me imply searching, like you search for your star. And there are already too many stars in this world. But the sun, that’s something that is always there, looking right at you. Betsy Ross did the best she could with what she had. I thought I could do better.”

‘Nuff said.

There's a Riot Going On

Note: I was set to spotlight another LP this week. However, following the shocking, tragic event in Boston and the screening of ’42’, the Jackie Robinson biopic (occurring within a 24 hour period), this album cover drew itself to the top.

Artist: Sly and the Family Stone
Title: There’s a Riot Going On
Date: 1971
Label: Epic
Track Listing (and yes, turn that record over):

Side one

  1. “Luv n’ Haight”
  2. “Just Like a Baby”
  3. “Poet”
  4. “Family Affair”
  5. “Africa Talks to You ‘The Asphalt Jungle'”
  6. “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”

Side two

  1. “Brave & Strong”
  2. “(You Caught Me) Smilin'”
  3. “Time”
  4. “Spaced Cowboy”
  5. “Runnin’ Away”
  6. “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa”

The entire series can be found here.

7 Responses to “Best Album Covers: There’s a Riot Going On”

  1. Morgan R. Lewis

    Interesting reasoning behind Sly’s design choices. Not sure I agree about the star/sun distinction, but that sort of symbolic meaning always varies between artists. I’m pleased he viewed black/white by their “combination of light” values rather than their “combination of pigments” values. It would work out the same either way, and it’s not really important for the image, but it’s always nice to see that somebody understands how something works.


    • le0pard13

      It was interesting to read his thoughts on this, and your point on the light/pigment differentiation. Thanks, Morgan :-).



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