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 their ears and minds. Melding the musical experience with the artist into a unique visual form.
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?
“When Cheap Thrills appeared in August 1968 — sporting a Robert Crumb cover on its gatefold jacket that constituted the most elaborate album design ever lavished on a rock album from Columbia Records, as well as a pop-art classic rivaling the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s jacket — it shot into the charts, reaching number one and going gold within a couple of months, and “Piece of My Heart” became a Top 40 hit and helped to propel the LP to over a million sales.“
Listeners were hoping for something special following the group’s storied ’67 Monterey Pop Festival performance. The result was ultimately the springboard to a solo career for the group’s lead singer. The legendary Janis Joplin. Spirited, sad immortality awaited her, too. The likes of which she’d share with rock icons, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and others, the next decade over.
The overall greatness of the music (outside of a few songs) for the San Francisco psychedelic band’s second album remains debatable — its artwork was not.
Few illustrated album covers ever matched its creativity, vibrancy, or era cool. Robert Crumb‘s work as a cartoonist, illustrator, and musician was formative and quite distinctive. Sixties countercultural characters like Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, along with images from his Keep on Truckin’ strip, lead back to him. His underground comics background channeled as statement-making cover art for the unconventional hippy band.
Colorful, raw, and risqué, just what the counter-culture of the day wanted to portray — your mileage may vary — the result spoke for itself.
Originally, Crumb’s graphic was intended as the LP’s back cover. Janis was to have graced the front, but she pushed for it instead, as a fan of his work. The telltale sign being the album’s credits and track titles incorporated into its comic strip panels.
- “Combination of the Two”
- “I Need a Man to Love“
- “Piece of My Heart”
- “Turtle Blues”
- “Oh, Sweet Mary”
- “Ball and Chain”
The entire series can be found here.