Musically I never really got The Tubes. “Rock theater, multimedia, and scathing social criticism of America’s television culture…” maybe didn’t translate too well to industrial South Yorkshire in the mid-1970s, or perhaps it was the Glam Rock imagery which deterred me. But I certainly admired their sleeves, particularly the packaging for their self-titled 1975 studio debut shown here, which I would suggest is one of the great covers of the era. The art director was Roland Young, who filled a role similar to that of Ed Thrasher at Warners, and worked for a decade at A&M overseeing sleeves and associated promotional campaigns.
The actual design was undertaken by M. Cotten and P. Prince at Airamid Designs. You will look for the name in vain on design databases as it was two musicians in the band who put the cover together, Prairie Prince and Mike Cotten. They went on to do most the the band’s other sleeves (Prairie is still designing merchandise for the reformed band to this day).
I assume that they also came up with the band’s ‘logo’ but have not been able to confirm this. Curiously it was dropped after the first two albums and when they signed to Capitol around 1980 the cover designs became less surefooted.
This cover though plays with reality very cleverly. The squeezed paint logo has been photographed on a pale blue background; a print was then made of this and mocked up into a shrinkwrapped album sleeve. This was then in turn ripped apart and rephotographed, to produce the final shot used on the actual cover. And the illusion was well executed too; it would have been very easy to overdo the effect but it is very believable. The woman’s bright red nail varnish (which would reappear on their second album) matches the logo colour and helps blur the boundaries still further. Given that the album was probably sold shrinkwrapped in America, the end effect would have been very confusing.
The cover photo itself was put together by Harry Mittman, a studio photographer who worked on several other sleeves for A&M during the seventies (and did the band’s next cover shot). He also took the video freeze frame images which appear across the inner lyric sheet inside the album.
The back cover photograph is different again, another play on the band’s name. It was taken by Austrian born Ian Patrick and features a Skin magazine-style fetish image of a woman using an inflated tyre inner tube as a bikini top. It was shot using flash besides a swimming pool and is both a great image yet quite dark at the same time, in part due to the woman’s face being cropped at the top of the sleeve. She also modelled her hands for the front cover (and lets not overlook the acrylic bracelet), but remains uncredited, though her agency ReStyles is. Ian has gone on to have a long career in high end photography and photo journalism in Europe.
My copy still has the regular A&M inner bag of the time, which is worth a mention (there are people out there collecting and talking about inner bags). A grid pattern, with a sort of story-board design of clouds, and half a dozen sleeves from the A&M catalogue on either side. And printed on 100% recycled paper too, long before such concerns were mainstream.