Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
This Ain’t No Disco: New Wave Album Covers

The best thing about McNight-Trontz’s book This Ain’t No Disco is the fact that it’s loaded with page after page of album covers. This Ain’t No Disco reminded me of why I wanted to be a graphic designer: between the late 70s and early 90s, I would sit for hours on end in my father’s music studio, sorting through album after album to admire the cover art. I know I’m not the only one out there who experienced music in this way.

Peter Saville’s work always made me stop and ask, “What’s this all about”; his cryptic covers for Republic and Power Corruption and Lies made me open up those sleeves and listen to New Order, who I probably never would have paid any attention to. Years later, the same thing happened when I stumbled over a Joy Division album in a music store (the CD now has a yellow flood to it), and when I learned that Saville was responsible, I connected the dots between those two bands. In McNight-Trontz’s book, you can look forward to hundreds of exuberant visualizations beyond Saville’s minimalism and mystery. Witness leopard skin, off-axis type, spandex, narrow ties, condensed sans serifs, sexual ambiguity, and even pixels. Flipping through this collection, you’ll revel in the way icons were created in a twelve-inch-square space, like the glowing shoes of Michael Ross’ cover for Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp. Adore Adam Ant, Debbie Harry, Billy Idol, Toni Basil, and Pat Benatar, no matter their hairstyle.

McNight-Trontz peppers each image with details about the cover artist and photographer, as well as the year of production. It was new to me that Kraftwerk had used a different creative team for each of their albums (Autobahn, Trans-Europe Express, and The Man-Machine), even though together they look very unified in art direction. Kraftwerk had a definite style, and with The Man-Machine, they used form language similar to Kandinsky and even Zwart. Quoting Nick de Ville, as cited in This Ain’t No Disco, “…there was a reaching out for other graphic forms with revolutionary credentials… [including] Russian constructivist tropes—bold, simple forms (including cut-out photographic elements), a restricted range of primary colours, emphatic sans-serif typefaces and liberal use of diagonals underpinning the dynamism of the layout.” McNight-Trontz feels that there was no singular style to be found, but one thing is certain, there was character, and the albums that came out of the New Wave in the 70s separated themselves from the pack with their appearance and sound—outrageous, to say the least. With some of the musicians being designers (or designers being musicians or designers being interested in music), it’s easy to understand why these artists were so image conscious: Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music controlled some cover art; Peter Saville was a founder of Factory Records; and three of the Talking Heads met at RISD.

Three hundred album covers fill the pages of This Ain’t No Disco, and I waxed nostalgic reading through who did which cover, but still wish the book was bigger and able to give a true depiction of scale. For every Saville or Kalman, lies an “Unknown” cover artist, who created something hip and bizarre at the same time. It’s easy to brush the whole movement off as nothing more than a gesture, but New Wave music was neither a style nor marketing tool. It was a reaction—a rebellion—and it sent much-needed electricity through the wallowing Top 40 music scene. This Ain’t No Disco reminds us that the cover art from the New Wave generation possessed as much power as its sound, and this is something we could use more of in our music marketplace today.

Book Information
This Ain’t No Disco: New Wave Album Covers
Jennifer McKnight-Trontz
Hardcover: 256 pages
7.1 x 7.1 x 0.9 inches
Publisher: Chronicle
ISBN: 0811845427
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Nov.08.2005 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Kevin’s comment is:

Nice review Jason. In case any are looking, here's an amazing reference for Factory records graphics and history:

Cerysmatic Factory

On Nov.08.2005 at 12:09 PM
Brian S’s comment is:

I hate to be the annoying guy who points out mistakes or misinformations but it was actually Tony Wilson who founded Factory however I don't think I'm alone when I say that Saville was as integral to the company as any of the bands. Nice review Jason. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the book.

On Nov.08.2005 at 12:32 PM
pk’s comment is:

it's a great book. assorted images' album covers for duran duran kicked me into design in the first place—this showed me the rest of what i didn't find back then.

On Nov.08.2005 at 01:33 PM
Doug Bartow’s comment is:

I'd prefer to see larger 'plates' of the album artwork with the essay (or descriptive text) at the end (or in another section) rather than having the text dominate pages (as it does on the Eurythmics and Joe Jackson pages as viewed on Amazon).

On Nov.08.2005 at 03:15 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

The Saville / Factory connection was on page 10 of the book, and, yes, he was a founder, not the founder.

On Nov.08.2005 at 09:14 PM
Graham’s comment is:

Very cool stuff...this sounds like it could be the companion for the movie "24 hour party people." If you are a fan of the new wave/alternative movement then you should see that movie.

On Nov.08.2005 at 09:28 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Any images from readers, who have favorite covers, should post links here. Additionally, if you've found images from the covers above, please do post links to those too.

On Nov.08.2005 at 09:36 PM
MCM’s comment is:

I hope this book doesn't do without mention of Ivo Watts-Russell (4AD) and Vaughan Oliver (V23).

On Nov.08.2005 at 10:29 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

This is probably old news to everyone, but those interested in Peter Saville's work should check out Designed by Peter Saville, which came out a couple of years ago—great portrait of the man and his work.

On Nov.09.2005 at 07:51 AM
mazzei’s comment is:

cool book..but the actual book cover..yuk!

I like when I have half of the book at home on vinyl!

On Nov.09.2005 at 10:08 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Seriously? Vinyl? I'd like to see that. Of course, you mean that you have most of the albums in your record collection, right?! Not that the book cover is vinyl.

On Nov.09.2005 at 06:10 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Having worked in the late 1970's for a "new wave/punk club" called "688" (Atlanta, Georgia) we used to get free records as a reward for keeping the musicians sober til showtime...R.E.M., Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, P.I.L., The Clash...

As inspirational as the covers were, I left them all behind when we evacuated the hurricane. If anyone wants to swim back to New Orleans and retrieve them, be my guest.

On Nov.09.2005 at 09:48 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Disregard that post,folks. Especially since I lied about The Clash or Anderson ever being at 688 (they were at The Fox Theatre) and there STILL being standing water back home...but I DO have the vinyl back there that was what I wanted to say... Don't ya wish Life had a Delete Button sometimes? That'll teach me to boast...

On Nov.10.2005 at 08:01 AM
mazzei’s comment is:

yeah I still buy all my music when available on Vinyl I have more albums than I should....I'm looking at my "Damned" (now there's a band!) picture disc right now..sweeeet.

On Nov.10.2005 at 12:20 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Okay Jason, this thread, and a recent guilt-inducing e-mail from BlueStreak wondering where I've gone, has brought me back to my dear SU, for better or worse. ;-)

Any-hoo, the early 80's was a great time for me and a lot of that incredibly innovative music I hold very near and dear to my heart. Studying design at CCA(C) from '80 - '83, I had a zeal for all things graphic and this dovetailed nicely with my equally boundless passion for the music of that time. Many of those album covers were indeed free and open testing grounds for new ways of thinking about design.

Besides New Order's Power, Corruption, Lies, another Peter Saville album that blew me away and opened up a whole new way of seeing and understanding design was Ultravox's Rage in Eden, as well as many of the album covers ('82 - '86) from Cabaret Voltaire, designed by Neville Brody--especially that Micro-Phonies cover. Years later, when Neville was redesigning Macromedia's ID, (for those who don't know, I worked there for many years) I had the opportunity to tell Neville, personally, how those covers were so very inspirational to me. His response: "Oh dear," with a slightly pained, perhaps a bit embarassed look on his face. In my mind I thought, "Hey man, no need for that look. It's all good. That was then, and this is now. In it's day, it was pretty damn cool! ...for me anyway."

Oh, and speaking of Power, Corruption, Lies... Did y'all know that along the side of the inner sleave (if I'm remembering correctly) there was a bar of 26 squares, each having a unique color and/or pattern. And yes, as you are probably thinking, this was a code for "secret" text. You can see a bit of this on the link that Jason provided.

On Nov.12.2005 at 04:52 AM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

Any images from readers, who have favorite covers, should post links here.

On Nov.12.2005 at 12:06 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

That looks like a film tin on the left and a laserdisc sleeve on the right. No?!

On Nov.12.2005 at 05:01 PM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

On the left is the original British package for Public Image Ltd.'s second LP, "Metal Box." It's what it looks like: a metal tin that the 3 discs just barely fit into. "Designed" by PiL, it's my favorite package because it's outrageous--nothing else like it. And it's great music too! I think there's a limited edition CD package that replicates this.

On the right is Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark's first British LP, designed by Ben Kelly and Peter Saville. All those orange lozenge shapes are diecuts exposing the inner sleeve.

Neither of these were in that book? Then it's hardly definitive. And, for sure, photos of these two packages just can't do them justice.

On Nov.13.2005 at 11:42 AM
tom’s comment is:

nice review!

one thing; joy divisions "closer" had an mainly white album sleeve, when i bought it in 81 or 82. Since when it is yellow?

regards tom

On May.03.2006 at 01:50 PM