Although most of us associate the work of illustrator Roger Dean with sleeves for the band Yes, they had been going some time before he became inextricably linked with the groups imagery. Of the three pre-Dean sleeves the most notable was for their 1969 debut album Yes; indeed it’s one of my favourite sleeves full stop. I was in a vintage vinyl store a couple of years back and while browsing they had the album playing on the in-store speakers. It sounded so good I asked what they were playing; the answer not surprisingly perhaps was a vinyl pressing. I bought it; the price was very good as it was the 1972 second pressing and lacked the (quite dull) inner bag but I figured I could live without that as it’s very hard to find in such nice condition. The gatefold cover is printed on a tactile semi-matt card in three solid colours give a lot of depth to the design, especially on this unfaded copy, and in the right light the op-art effect can make it almost look 3D. The sleeve is credited to design agency Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes; Theo Crosby, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes, who came together in 1965 and quickly built up an impressive client list. It was Alan Fletcher who did most of the work for the Yes cover.
He treated it like a commercial campaign and came up with a memorable logo which had a distinct hint of sixties underground about the lettering. It was used on posters, press adverts, flyers, the band’s drum head and of course the sleeve. Other nice touches abound on the cover. Because the Yes logo took a central position, they moved the Atlantic logo box to line up nicely with the spur of the speech balloon and gave it a coarse dot pattern to reinforce the idea of a newspaper cutting. The back cover is a repeat with no track details or extra credits. Inside, the sleeve notes are handwritten right down to the catalogue number (later versions typeset the record company details). The right hand half of the inner gatefold is given over to a group photograph.
I only found out that Fletcher did the work when I caught a retrospective of his fifty year career at the Design Museum in late 2006. Full of wonderful projects, pride of place on one wall was given to the Yes logo, with an original poster and other printed examples, as you can see in the photo below.
Quite who at Atlantic decided to use the agency we don’t know (the Americans went with a different design altogether), and the relationship was short lived. After using the Graphreaks crew for their second UK album (designers more usually associated with Polydor) and photographer Phil Franks / designer Jon Goodchild for the third, Roger Dean arrived on the scene and his work became synonymous with the band’s sleeves from then on. The speech balloon reappeared on the back of the American edition of their second LP but then disappeared. Fletcher’s Yes logo was thus short lived.
As was his sleeve career. I cannot find him or the agency credited on any other sleeves and suspect record company budgets were a long way behind those of corporate clients. There is one small exception; Pulp’s We Love Life sleeve used a decorated typeface designed by Fletcher, based on an early C19 original.
Three years after the Yes album, Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes brought in two more partners and changed their name to Petagram, one of the most influential design agencies in Britain. Fletcher died while his restrospective was being put together but his work lives on and he had a huge influence on Peter Saville during his own time at Pentagram.
Easy On The Eye are currently helping on a projected book of Yes interviews by music journalist, DJ and writer Jon Kirkman – who has spoken to just about every member of the band past and present as well as some of the people involved in their album sleeves. You can see how the cover for this evolved here.