In Search of The Lost Record

Takumi Matsui

Graphic Sha Publishing / Japan / 2001 / ISBN 4 7661 1268 7

With the high price of books in Japan and scary shipping costs it’s rare for titles issued there to make it into UK stores, but this title got such a rave review that Waterstones decided to import it, albeit at a bonkers price. I can’t even remember how much I paid for it, as it was one of those grit your teeth, check with your partner, hand over the credit card and hope for the best moments. It’s not as if it’s a flawless piece of work either, but I’ve kind of warmed to the scatter-gun layout approach since my initial disappointment.

The subject is British Album Cover Art of the 1950s to the 1980s, though in practise it’s a glorious wallow in the designs of the sixties and seventies with just a nod to either end of those two very productive decades.

The sleeves are grouped round some loose subject themes. Some lose a little in translation – Programmatic Works, Transformed Works and Animal History are less well defined than Lettering, Portraits and Nude, which most of us would understand. In trying to group the material so rigidly they’ve ended up with a rather confused book in places and while you can see why they chose this approach there were probably better ways to assemble this wealth of illustrative material.

There are also problems in the designer trying to reduce often fabulous gatefold sleeves down to just 30mm high reproductions in many cases. Other pages use heavy background patterns and enlargements which can overwhelm the sleeves, and there is no logic to the size the covers are reproduced other than let’s fit that there.

Yet despite these distractions, as a visual overview of the era you’ll not find this many great sleeves between two covers anywhere else. Even for someone who was a regular habituee of record stores through most of the seventies, a lot of the albums illustrated remain vague memories at best, so fleetingly were they around.

As usual with Japanese illustrative books there is a full index, and I just love the idea of some shop browser going through this to make sure ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench are in (they are, page 12!) before handing over their Yens. In short, for anyone interested in album design, this is well worth going into debt for.

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