Few designer’s names make it into the public arena, but I doubt there are many vinyl fans who do not know the name of Hipgnosis. I’m sure there will rightly be a lot of columns written following the death this week of Hipgnosis design founder Storm Thorgerson, but I thought I’d just pull together a few of the Hipgnosis album covers which were in my album collection as a teenager by way of marking his passing. Indeed I hadn’t realised just how many sleeves which I remember from those days they were responsible for until I began looking.
Love Sculpture – Blues Helping – always fascinated me. My brother had a battered second-hand copy of this 1968 Parlophone album (which featured Dave Edmunds of Love Sculpture fame). It’s a very simple concept but has the trademark Hipgnosis traits – the unusual photograph of seemingly everyday life, a cut-out image of the group, and the menu prop.
Pink Floyd – A Saucerful Of Secrets – came out in June 1968. Looking at it now you can see how their blending of found images predates the sort of Photoshop blending which is now relatively easy to achieve. Just the slightly edgy way they’ve used extra letters from the band’s name makes it for me.
Various – You Can All Join In – Island’s samplers were always interesting and popular as you got a good selection of material at a bargain price. Albums could cost you 40/-, nearly three times the stickered price of this 1969 offering. Just such a simple idea, getting all the artists together for a cover shot, though I can’t imagine it was easy to co-ordinate.
The Nice – Elegy – from late 1970, this enigmatic cover shot was one of their first forays into surreal landscape images which marked a lot of their later covers. They got to position the red footballs across a Sahara desert dune, a photo shoot which would have been unthinkable for an album cover just a few years before. The inner gatefold had all sorts of Nice memorabilia, to mark the passing of the band before this retrospective of unissued live bits and bobs.
Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother – I’m sure most press comment will centre on the more famous Dark Side Of The Moon, a sleeve which never did very much for me. I prefer this 1970 cover, a strange choice of image but one which remains very memorable. The band wanted a photograph which didn’t attempt to convey the music within. This was shot in a field near Potters Bar. The cow’s name was Lulubelle.
Audience – Lunch – there was a bit of a thirties fad during the early 70s across all sorts of media, books and record sleeves. This 1972 cover certainly leans on that decade, with a great vintage fashion shoot and simple type. You could easily imagine this on a Factory Records cover ten years later.
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – a 1974 album I have still to buy. I think because I saw the band perform the album live, at a concert so remarkable that I doubt the album could ever quite match up. But I ought to pick it up for the elaborate fold out cover, where Hipgnosis cleverly linked all the black and white stills to help describe the story of the album’s central character. Still not sure about the band logo though.
Flash – Flash – Did girls really wear Paisley patterned underwear in 1972 you ask? Well yes, as any school kid at the time will tell you! This cover cleverly captures the thrill, and producer Derek Lawrence (who used Hipgnosis for a lot of albums he was involved with) told me he feels the cover helped sell it as much as the quite complex jazz rock which Flash lead guitarist and ex-Yes man Peter Banks went off to do. A gatefold sleeve we all wanted on our wall back then.
Wishbone Ash – Argus – comes from the same year, and is not an obvious Hipgnosis cover, but really works well on this progressive rock album, capturing the slightly mythical concept of the title track through the brooding cover sentinel. The guy on the front is one Mark Allen and it was photographed in the South of France. “I’m wearing Ken Russell’s helmet and cloak from The Devils and Roman Polanski’s sword from Macbeth!” Some even claim the shot inspired the look for Darth Vader.
Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy – the impressive cover scene was shot in Ireland over ten days (due to lousy weather!). And as proof that Storm didn’t get it all his own way, his original cover concept was dismissed by the band, who instead used Storm’s partner Aubrey Powell to take the shots (Hipgnosis also produced the band’s next two sleeves.)
Hipgnosis were Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, with Peter Christopherson joining later on. The partnership dissolved in 1983, though Thorgerson continued to design covers right up until his death. Their company name from graffiti found on the door to their flat where they lived.
Quatermass – Quatermass – An album sleeve which I absolutely poured over as a kid, and which I recall inspiring some strange ‘pop’ prints at art college. Such a strange cover but very memorable. Not knowing much about the band (who sprang from the ashes of pop outfit Episode Six), it was only much later that I was able to afford an original Harvest Records gatefold original. Many years on the band reformed and I actually did the CD cover for their second album, Long Road. This album is looked at in more detail on the site.