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For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis

To one or two generations — those that emotionally, socially and philosophically came of age between the late 1960s and early 1980s — of not just designers but civilians of all kinds, the album covers of that era, not to mention the music of course, played a monumental role in their cultural and visual literacy, and no album covers were as influential as those created by Hipgnosis. I say created much on purpose, because designed would not do them the absolute justice they deserve. I must admit though, that I am not part of the generation(s) I mention, I was barely born when the infamous inflatable pig took unmanned flight over the Battersea Power Station for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals, and it was mostly through my big brother’s musical infatuation of that era that in my teenage years I saw those album covers in his room: Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, among others. Even without an inkling towards graphic design nor enough advanced age to understand much of anything, the translucent prism of Dark Side of the Moon was irresistible. Still is.

For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis

Knowing what I know (and don’t know) now, and with an increased interest in the (hi)story behind graphic design, I was elated when I received in the mail this week a copy of For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis (FotLoV), the first book compiling the body of work of Hipgnosis, the studio formed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell in 1968 when they stumbled, not by luck but by proper social positioning, unto designing Pink Floyd’s second album A Saucerful of Secrets, and with the addition of musician and photographer Peter Christopher in 1974 they cemented themselves as one of the most progressive album cover groups of their time. What made the covers of Hipgnosis so memorable wasn’t the typography or the layout, it was the engaging narrative engendered by their surreal image compositions, whether illustrated or photographed. And given today’s propensity for Photoshop everything, it’s easy to forget that much of what Hipgnosis imagined actually existed, like the 120 inflatable red balls across the Moroccan dessert or the The Nice’s Elegy. And whatever couldn’t be actually photographed was masterfully put together by some of the best retouchers and paste-up artists in town who could bring to life the wilder concoctions of Hipgnosis.

FotLoV then, is a treasure trove of history and stories, with more than sixty album covers generously explained by Thorgerson and Powell — each gets its own typeface so that you can tell them apart quickly; it’s too bad that Thorgerson gets AT Sackers Gothic that only has caps and small caps making the reading experience slightly painful — where they almost gleefully relive the making of each album. If you ever wondered how they managed to create any given cover, this book has what you need and more. Perhaps some of the best parts are the interactions between Hipgnosis and the bigger than life artists they worked for… after all, it’s not everyday that you get to hear about pitching an idea to the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Ozzbourne.

The book is handsomely illustrated and even though I have many complaints about the book layout itself — where beyond petty, subjective preferences of my own, I objectively think that its legibility suffers — it is a pleasure to read, ogle and enjoy. Adrian Shaughnessy’s introduction is excellent and contributions by Paula Scher, Jonathan Ellery and Nick Mason lend a fresh point of view. And just like I sometimes start using a new electronic gadget without first reading the instructions I jumped right into the book without reading the introduction and was wondering what the order of the albums was as it wasn’t making sense, although it felt right. Of course, in reading the instructions, Thorgerson explains: “A brief note on the order of this book &mdashl neither chronological nor a thematic approach appealed much but it did feel natural somehow to mimic an LP, a vinyl record, wherein the running order is more related to flow, the need for a strong opener and the challenge of ending Side One with the customer wanting more.” And, yes, somehow, the book just flows. For the Love of Vinyl,” claims the web site of the book’s publisher, PictureBox, “will be THE rock book of 2008.” And you know what? I think they are right.

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.21.2008 BY Armin
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

I first became aware of Hipgnosis in high school, during the 70s, because one of my classmates had one of the "Dark Side of the Moon" stickers on his binder. Another one had made a drawing of "the Object," from Led Zeppelin's "Presence," on his notebook's cover. Eventually I ended up buying plenty of Floyd and Zeppelin albums myself, and got to admire the cover and poster designs up close.

Besides Thorgerson and Powell, credit must also be given to George Hardie, a wonderful illustrator, who left his mark on the work of Hipgnosis, too.

Thanks for posting this, Armin! I am stoked that there is a new book about Hipgnosis... Also, there actually was a previous one, Walk Away René, published in the late 70s or early 80s, but it's probably hard to find nowadays.

On Nov.23.2008 at 09:24 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Oh man. Just in time for...

Thanks for the review. Alas, I had so, so many of their records.

On Nov.24.2008 at 08:33 AM
Andy Polaine’s comment is:

It's a fantastic book on so many levels, not just the design approach but the culture and anecdotes are a great read. Things are so much more polished and uptight these days now that the marketing guys have got their hands on everything.

We did a review of it on The Designer's Review of Books too, if anyone is interested in reading/seeing more.

On Jan.27.2009 at 04:37 AM