I’m not a massive James Taylor fan, and from what I have read in reviews even some people who are struggle to find much to get excited about on his ninth album Flag, released in 1979 (it still went Platinum mind). The cover is rather striking though and I picked it up recently for a couple of pounds. I’ve since seen it discussed in ‘most boring sleeve’ threads on one forum, but to me it’s quite an adventurous concept and predates the sort of 80s graphic work best captured by The Face magazine (whose original cover masthead was very similar).
I was always interested in the symbols used by the military to designate their various regiments on the side of vehicles, and the two colour square split in half diagonally which was often used is reflected in this cover. I assumed this had been the kicking off point for the front but in fact the design is taken from naval sources. The image on the front in yellow and red is apparently the signal flag for the letter ‘O’, which stands for “man overboard”, so something of an in joke between the singer and the designer I guess (always assuming Taylor knew about this!).
Few labels would risk sleeves which did not have the name and title visible on the front, which says something about Taylor’s commercial power.
The cover was designed by John Kosh, who did The Beatles Abbey Road sleeve and worked for Apple Records (isn’t it weird, I would once have just used the word Apple, now I need to qualify it) before moving to America where he continued to do sleeve work (amongst much more) through the seventies and eighties. He’d worked with Taylor before, the first time being a very simple cover for a 1976 hits collection which used just type – an album which sold over 12 million copies.
The same flag motif is used on the back, in turquoise and dark blue, with the track titles run around the very outer edge. The design appears on the lyric bag inside (and on the labels). Otherwise the inner gatefold has some good portraits of the band (and particularly Taylor himself) by Mark Hanauer (a prolific sleeve photographer in the 70s and 80s).
In all the sleeve manages to be somehow of the time without having dated (beyond the fact that it would now be on a CD), which is always a difficult trick to pull off .