Chronicle Books / USA / 1999 / 0 8118 2121 8
Chronicle publish a lot of smart looking, highly illustrated books, and this title is a treat. Subtitled Vintage Record Graphics 1940-1960, it covers quite a narrow span of album sleeve history and concentrates on just eight of the most prolific and influential designers working through that period. As such you get to see many very early album sleeves and discover how these pioneering designers got to grips with the new medium and exploited the format to the full. People like Alex Steinweiss and Jim Flora more or less wrote the rules on album design and seeing so many of their designs rounded up you realise just how influential their output was on other designers and labels of the period. Not for them the boring dictates of the marketing department (or the need to ask the musicians what they wanted!), they just took a 12″ square of paper and filled it in whatever way seemed appropriate at that moment. And while you can pay homage to it today in a retro way these originals will never be beaten. This sort of unselfconscious and expressive work often later had to fight against the marketing demands of the record labels who would rather have glossy colour photographs of the stars.
The book layout is fine – a basic grid of one full page sleeve faced by four smaller ones – as is the reproduction quality and, while you might wish for a little more in the way of text and caption detail, this is a book you will just want to leaf through again and again.
The only real downsides are the rather dull cover (curious, given the richly decorative nature of the subject matter!) and the softback binding, which isn’t that strong, so be careful if buying second-hand to check this hasn’t fallen apart.