Farewell to a record jacket visionary.
October 12, 2015 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Sly Stone leaping and kicking the air in his ultra-70s platform heel boots. Thelonious Monk at the piano, a weapon slung across his shoulder and surrounded by the accoutrements of underground resistance. Bruce Springsteen grinning and leaning on his buddy, sax man Clarence Clemmons. If you're any kind of music fan, these iconic album cover images will probably be familiar to you. And they are only the tip of the iceberg: there were so, so many more designed for Columbia Records, over the years, by art director John Berg, who has just passed on at the age of 83. So long, John, and thanks for all those killer record covers.
posted by flapjax at midnite (7 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I don't miss 12" LP's, but I do miss the album covers. There was a lot of really amazing art produced for LP album covers, some very long and very elaborate (i.e. Jethro Tull "Thick as a Brick"). Some of them were great art IMHO such as the Roger Dean album covers for "Yes".

There was a lot of garbage, too, but then Sturgeon's Law applies to this just as much as it does to everything else.

And with the transition to CD, that all ended. There ain't a lot you can do reasonably in 5x5 inches. With the transition to downloading, they don't even try any more.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:14 PM on October 12, 2015

I don't miss seedy weed, but I fondly remember cleaning the contents of many a nickel bag on my sister's Born to Run double album cover. The white background provided a good contrast for the task.

And with the transition to CD, that all ended. There ain't a lot you can do reasonably in 5x5 inches.

posted by three blind mice at 12:43 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are people out there doing good package design for the cd format, but yeah I miss me some 12" artwork. That Springsteen photo was utterly perfect, too. Sorry to hear of his passing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:47 AM on October 13, 2015


Always a favourite designer on a favourite label (CBS, as was, here) -- class all the way.
posted by On the Corner at 5:04 AM on October 13, 2015

I miss the visual component that a great album cover contributed to the experience of listening to a recording.

There was something about having a crowd packed into a tiny dorm room, passing tiny joints and album covers around, discussing lyrics and meanings and how it all made us feel. Mere descriptions of some of this guy's covers brought that feeling right back.

Thank you, Mr. Berg, for memorable work that will be forever linked in my mind with some damned good music.

posted by kinnakeet at 7:37 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

This interests me because I wrote about music for much of the 1970s, and Columbia (plus other companies, of course) regularly used to send me boxes of records. So I have thousands (literally), including many designed by Berg. I kept track of band member names, and even knew a lot of the cover photographers's names — Henry Diltz, Norman Seeff, Pete Turner's work for CTI, etc. — but never gave a thought to the person actually designing the covers.

That Monk cover for Underground especially is legendary; I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was shot actually in Monk's apartment, although it doesn't seem to say that anywhere online. The Wiki entry says that it's actually a very good album, but not that many people realize it, because they just talk about the cover.
posted by LeLiLo at 7:50 AM on October 13, 2015

> That Monk cover for Underground especially is legendary

Man, I hate that cover. The guy designed some great rock albums, but I'll never forgive him for that one, which is well described here: "Monk was 'known to be funny', so why not sit him at a piano with a shoulder-slung machine-gun interfering minimally with his arms, in a Maquisard hideout, grenades on the table, and a guy in a Nazi uniform roped to a chair in the corner." I'm a member of the very generation that was presumably supposed to appeal to (I was seventeen when it came out), but I say fuck that shit. Monk and the music he played had nothing to do with guns, grenades, or Nazis.
posted by languagehat at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2015

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