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?
David Cleary summarized this album for Allmusic, clearly (sorry, couldn’t resist):
“Songs here take many moods, ranging from the sunny, easygoing “Morning Morgantown” (a charming small-town portrait) to the nervously energetic “Conversation” (about a love triangle in the making) to the cryptically spooky “The Priest” (presenting the speaker’s love for a Spartan man) to the sweetly sentimental classic “The Circle Game” (denoting the passage of time in touching terms) to the bouncy and vibrant single “Big Yellow Taxi” (with humorous lyrics on ecological matters) to the plummy, sumptuous title track (a celebration of creativity in all its manifestations). This album is yet another essential listen in Mitchell‘s recorded canon.”
As a high school teen when this came out, already enamored with rock and only fleetingly acquainted with its “folk” variety was I. Found myself figuratively run over by Joni’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. Maybe it was due to my favorite band breaking up at the time1 that I inexplicably sought something different; the kind of thought that enabled this album to come into focus. Brought another of the southland’s “canyon” communities that ring our basin into view; and this time, it wasn’t blood-drenched2.
Didn’t sound like anything I’d heard to that point, and voiced with an uncommon grace and wit by that “lady in the canyon” even those Led Zeppelin’s turntable sessions in my room couldn’t drown out. Would take a while, along with getting my driver’s license, to familiarize myself with the Laurel Canyon she described. What was the center of popular music culture in Los Angeles during the 1960s3 so formative to my youth, and only now was learning of. Funny how it works that way.
Its album cover notable not only its clean simplicity and line art but the fact that Joni Mitchell designed it herself. Maybe because she lived there and so associated with the scene, she could capture a bit of its essence within a hand-drawn self-portrait, splashes of watercolor, and a whole lot of white space. Corral the left corners of that paper board gatefold cover4 in the same way as that rustic setting did within the urban sprawl of a city that knew few bounds.
Offering a glimpse of a musical and cultural haven that’d be almost as fleeting.
- “Morning Morgantown”
- “For Free”
- “Ladies of the Canyon”
- “The Arrangement”
- “Rainy Night House”
- “The Priest”
- “Blue Boy”
- “Big Yellow Taxi”
- “The Circle Game”
The entire series can be found here.
- This had already been going on as the ’60s came to a close; John Lennon had told the band in September 1969 he was leaving the group and Paul McCartney in April a year later did the same. ↩
- On August 9, 1969, the Benedict Canyon home of director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate became the scene of the murders of Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent at the hands of the Manson “Family”. ↩
- As Wikipedia noted: “Laurel Canyon found itself a nexus of counterculture activity and attitudes in the 1960s, becoming famous as home to many of L.A.’s rock musicians, such as Frank Zappa; Jim Morrison of The Doors; The Byrds; Buffalo Springfield; the band Love; Neil Young; and Micky Dolenz & Peter Tork of The Monkees.” “Crosby, Stills, and Nash first met each other in her living room.” ↩
- The back cover, also designed by Mitchell, was equally eye-catching. ↩