In the new book “Put The Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute,” author Matthew Chojnacki shines a light on the artistry of picture sleeves. Here’s a sampling of the stories and images of the more than 250 picture sleeves featured in the 272-page book from Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
THE ARTISTRY OF KEITH HARING
Artist and social activist Keith Haring emerged in the early ’80s inspired by New York City life alongside friends and artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Grace Jones and Madonna.
Haring’s instantly recognizable bold lines and active figures covered the gamut — birth and death, love and sex, peace and war. Haring initially found a presence in NYC subways (his “laboratory” for experimentation), creating as many as 40 large, chalk drawings a day for millions of commuters to view.
By the mid-’80s Haring was an international sensation, appearing in numerous group and solo exhibitions, creating designs for companies such as Swatch and Absolut vodka, and lending imagery to charitable campaigns (e.g., “A Very Special Christmas”).
On rare occasions, Haring designed cover artwork for musicians that he admired, including disco icon Sylvester (of “You Make Me Feel [Mighty Real]” fame) and Emanon, Doug E. Fresh’s beat-boxing protégé.
Haring passed away in 1990, but his imagery and activism lives on.
Longtime friend Madonna paid extensive homage to Haring’s work during her 2008–2009 Sticky & Sweet tour (notably during “Into the Groove”). Madonna spokesperson, Liz Rosenberg: “It certainly goes without saying that Madonna’s feelings about Keith, as well as his art work, are heartfelt and passionate. Her homage to him, and the early ’80s when they spent time together, was so apparent in the show [Sticky & Sweet].”
A ‘SINGULAR’ MASTERPIECE
An impressive seven hit singles were released from Def Leppard’s “Hysteria.”
Each of the single sleeves comprised a portion of the album’s cover art. The two final puzzle pieces were sold in a limited edition U.K. box set for “Love Bites.”
"Hysteria" designer Andie Airfix:
“Those were the days when record companies stretched the limits of 7- and 12-inch single formats. Since Mercury Records had confidence in the success of so many singles from the album, they immediately agreed to the puzzle concept.”
The pieces: “Hysteria” (row one, center), “Love Bites” (row one, right), “Armageddon It” (row two, left), “Animal” (row two, center), “Women” (row two, right), “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (row three, center), and “Rocket” (row three, right).
Airfix vividly remembers the band’s reaction to her artwork:
“The band saw my preparatory sketch and absolutely loved it. They wanted to retain a powerful image in line with hard rock, but also to modernize it and avoid the clichés. The head was intended to express dark fears associated with the psychotic state of hysteria. The computer background was one of the first computer-generated graphics. Believe it or not, the image was a black-and-white drawing, fed into a computer, colored very primitively, and then output as an 8 x 10 transparency — essentially a screen shot (hence the screen texture).”
Airfix’s design seemingly inspired other artists to create similar pieces, including Winger’s “Madalaine.”
’80s NEW WAVE MEETS ’20s STYLE
Art Deco sleeves, such as “Rio” and “Drive,” were commonplace not only as vinyl covers, but also as framed artwork in the ’80s.
Artist Patrick Nagel (“Rio”) was internationally recognized for his elegant and stylish focus on the female form.
He would typically begin with a photograph and remove the intricate elements until a flat image remained.
Duran Duran’s John Taylor: “We had seen Nagel’s illustrations in Playboy magazine and approached him off the back of that. He did two designs for us, and we chose the one (on the ‘Rio’ cover). Then the other one appeared out of the blue on the Japanese single release of ‘My Own Way.’ No one had told the Japanese label that we had not actually bought that one.”
Simon LeBon: “‘Rio’ was always special to me. I do recall that I mostly spent the next two years, after the record was released, trying to locate and procure a girlfriend who looked like the one in Nagel’s picture on the cover.”
Pop artist Peter Phillips (“Drive”), sometimes referred to as the British counterpart to America’s Andy Warhol, juxtaposed familiar societal images into his collages and paintings. The “Drive” cover (featuring a ’71 Plymouth Duster 340) was from Phillips’ 1972 piece Art-O-Matic Loop di Loop.
EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK
The Stray Cats brought rockabilly back to radio with hits including “Rock this Town” and “Stray Cat Strut,” while The Ramones led the punk rock movement into the ’80s with “Baby, I Love You” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” among other tracks. Both bands also pulled underground cartoonists into the limelight.
Stray Cats’ drummer Slim Jim Phantom discusses the selection of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (creator of hot-rod icon Rat Fink) for their artwork: “We were very interested in tracking down classic people and things we admired. Ed Roth was certainly one of them. We just had a big hit in the States, so the label was accommodating.”
“We met Roth in a hotel in San Francisco. He had great ideas right away and did some stuff right there. Roth had been asked by quite a few bands to do artwork for them but turned everybody down. Apparently, he was religious and didn’t want to work with anyone whose music he considered unholy. He liked us and the music.”
“We used his artwork for a bunch of stuff — tour posters, other single sleeves, etc. [It was] one of those rare, impetuous moves that you make when you’re young that are now seen as strokes of genius. We just loved his work in the old hot-rod mags.”
Similarly, The Ramones helped bring illustrator William Stout’s comic style to the mainstream with “Rock ’N’ Roll High School.” Originally a contributor for Bomp! and Heavy Metal magazines, Stout eventually moved beyond illustrations and into other areas of design, including Disney theme parks, ZZ Top’s Recycler tour, and even Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.