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?
Let’s get this out of the way, first. I’m fully aware I’m spotlighting an album of The Beatles from the disparaged Capitol U.S. set. Dave Dexter, Jr. infamously rejected (as noted here) the group’s output for over a year, thus played catch up (along with other legal proceedings to attend) when the tide could no longer be held back. U.S. Beatlemania fed by Capitol’s newly recompiled LPs instead of the content Parlophone was releasing, with no concern for the Fab Four’s artistic choices.
Thus, Meet The Beatles became the first in a line of uniquely “U.S.-branded” records, with songs from their second UK release filling most of its track list1. Historically, some had added reverb, altered stereo picture, along with the practice of combining tracks from previous British albums. It only came to an end a few years later, after Revolver‘s arrival (recommend Bruce’s recent posts on its significance2). As Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted:
“Meet the Beatles! wasn’t the first Beatles album released in the U.S. (that would’ve been Introducing the Beatles, on Vee Jay), but as the first Beatles album released by Capitol Records, it was indeed the LP where many millions of Americans were introduced to the Fab Four. As an introduction, there could hardly have been one better.”
While looked down on by many, there’s a reason this set, in general, and this LP, specifically, still rocketed up the charts3. Although Capitol’s A&R rep Dexter wielded enormous influence in what made it on the stacks, he benefitted from the already bountiful crop to pick from, having held off the prolific band since ’63. Could almost do no wrong saleswise in what he put together — unless you compared them with their UK counterparts and understood their vision for the album4 .
Luckily, Capitol also reused the now famous photo by Robert Freeman of The Lads from the year before. He’d design five of their UK album covers when done, and they’re all matchless…except in this rare instance, I think. Looking like a montage (it’s not), the image gathered up the young men in half shadow against a stark black background. It’s stylish and moody, even uncannily balanced in its lopsided layout, and hard to forget once seen. This U.S. cover accentuated those aspects similarly, but with key design changes.
By enlarging the title — actually capitalized to add emphasis — and giving it a two-tone treatment (Stephen used “blue-tinted spin” to refer to the image itself and the LP’s altered content) it contrasted Freeman’s work to still greater degree. Indeed, even placing the famed Capitol logo within the image’s frame marred it none. Simply made the cover art more striking than its beautifully austere black & white older cousin, and gave the Yanks a rare artistic triumph when it came to that famous four-headed shadow cover.
- “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
- “I Saw Her Standing There”
- “This Boy”
- “It Won’t Be Long”
- “All I’ve Got to Do”
- “All My Loving”
- Don’t Bother Me”
- “Little Child”
- “Till There Was You”
- “Hold Me Tight”
- “I Wanna Be Your Man”
- “Not a Second Time”
The entire series can be found here.
- Typical for the period, UK LPs featured 14 tracks to 12 for the U.S. labels. ↩
- My Down Under colleague is no doubt aware the Australian release of With The Beatles featured a caricature of The Lads instead of Freeman’s photo, as EMI Australia didn’t receive the cover art in time. ↩
- “In the U.S., the album sold 4,045,174 copies by December 31, 1964 and 4,699,348 copies by the end of the decade.” ~ Wikipedia ↩
- Dex “…didn’t admit his mistake or change his views.” ~ Frank Sinatra – An Extraordinary Life by Spencer Leigh ↩
- Capitol grabbed The Lads’ biggest hit single that launched them in America, plus its U.S. B-side and the UK’s to kick off the LP; the rest came from With The Beatles, which was released by Parlophone 22 November 1963 (the same day President Kennedy was assassinated). ↩