Featured Fan Portfolio – writer/photographer David Hamsley’s Favorite Gatefold Covers
(intro by Mike Goldstein, Curator/Editor, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com)
Earlier this year, I received an email from a photographer and author named David Hamsley. He was looking to track down an artist that he thought I might know in order to talk to him about including an example of his work in a book that David was working on. After talking a bit more about his project, we agreed to stay in touch, but after thinking about it a bit (and about his talents and background and what he shared with me about his current work), I pitched the idea to him that he should consider working with me on an article that I’d feature in the ACHOF’s “Featured Album Cover Fan Collections” section – something that would allow him to share his knowledge about – and passion for – album cover imagery.
Spring ahead a few months and I received another note from David, this time telling me that his project – a comprehensive book about Disco-era record art – was nearly complete and that he’d be open to working with me on the article I’d proposed. Rather than focus on Disco covers, though, he suggested that we work on presenting a collection of images in another segment of album art production that, since the rise of the CD and other digital music delivery mechanisms, has been pushed to the back burners of music packaging history – i.e., “gatefold” covers.
Intrigued with the notion, I asked David why this particular segment in the chronicling of album cover art was of interest to him, to which he replied that “gatefolds were a natural stretch of the boundaries for designers to have experimented with, especially as album art evolved into something that was more like a packaging “event” that included postcards, booklets, posters, etc. When thinking about putting this together for you, I decided a spotlight on gatefolds in particular would be another thread that weaves a disparate group of images together”. After looking at the records he proposed that we would include, I agreed that this would be a great opportunity to show what talented cover art producers could do when given a much-larger-than-normal canvas to work on and so, for your pleasure and education, here are David’s selections, along with both the results of his research into each cover image and his own anecdotes about what made each so compelling and memorable.
Featured Fan Collection – Gatefold Album Covers, by David Hamsley – (interviewed December, 2014)
I’ve been in love with records since I was about five, and with photography since I was fifteen, so it comes as no surprise that my two loves should meet. I have always have been interested in the photographer/illustrator/designer credits on album covers, but, years later, when I actually start looking into the life’s work of some of these artists, I fully appreciate the outstanding, groundbreaking talents that were at work in the field.
And why these particular images? I wanted to pin up for review some covers that you don’t see every day….
CREAM – Wheels of Fire, 1968
Australian-born underground artist Martin Sharp had the good fortune to meet Eric Clapton at a London nightclub in 1967. The meeting resulted in Sharp creating the cover for Cream’s second album Disraeli Gears– for which he won the New York Art Directors Prize for Best Album Design in 1969 – and contributing the lyrics for the song “Tales of Brave Ulysses“. He also did the very fluid gatefold-spanning drawing for Wheels of Fire. Circles inside circles, image dissolving into image, Sharp visually expressed the essence of an LSD trip. All of this was printed on metallic silver wrapped on heavy cardboard; the package felt substantial.
Sharp was one of the founders of the satirical Australian underground magazine Oz. He brought the magazine with him when he moved to London in 1966 and, through the use of wrap around covers, pullout posters and pages of stickers, quickly established it as one of the most visually-exciting things going. The poster was a very important element is psych-décor and he contributed dozens to the realm through his association with The Big O Publishing Company, a poster, calendar, art card and book publishing company. His vision was enormously influential in the Pop Art world, and his impact on it is too great for a mere caption. A recently published book, The Art Of Big O by Robert Fishel, with a foreword by Roger Dean, has a much more in depth look at his work.
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH – Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969
As if their tremendous success was preordained by destiny, CS&N had the good luck to release their debut album just a few months before their performance at Woodstock, which would catapult them to hippie God status, and help sell a few million more albums. The photo was shot by Henry Diltz, who was also one of the official photographers of the colossal event, and contemplating it made me reminisce for the days when you could be a photographer with little to no pretence. There was no stylist, no catering and no retouching. You were a guy with a camera who could fill the frame and make good exposures. You were trusted, discrete. Blowing up a tiny 35mm frame to 24” wide asked a lot of film, but the returns could be great: flaws dissolved into the soft grain. Then subjecting it to mass printing techniques of the day further reduced any flaws and, evidently, washed out much of the color; signed prints of an outtake from this shoot are available at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, and the colors are much more vivid, saturated. It’s also interesting to contemplate the hippie fashions/lifestyles of the era; wearing faded denim, hanging out on beat up furniture on the porch of your shack, was, like, wow, so cool and these guys were the last word on the subject.
THE BYRDS – (Untitled), 1970
The Byrds have garnered some really hardcore fans over the years, and most would agree this double album is not their best. Regardless, the cover deserves a second look. Cover art credit goes to The Cafe Society Dancing Bear/Babitz, and the photography credit goes to Nancy Chester. Searches for both yield little information, though it does seem that Chester did some other album cover photos and designs for acts such as Them (In Reality, 1971) and Rodriguez (Cold Fact, 1970). Symmetry is strongly implied, but careful comparison of the left and right reveals that it is not entirely so. The ocean, with massive islands rising out of it on the upper right, is replaced with blue sky and clouds on the left. More interestingly, the Byrds on the left, Skip Battin (rear) and Gene Parsons (front) undergo color changes in their clothing, suggesting that the images are actually hand colored black & white photos. One can only guess at the decision-making process that went into this cover.
EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER – Pictures at an Exhibition, 1972
Prog-Rock trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer was among the first to blend Classical music with Rock. Pictures at an Exhibition was a live recording the band’s arrangements of the music from Russian-born Modest Mussorsky’s 1874 piano suite. Graphic designer William Neal conceived the gatefold as a design strategy: the framed canvases, blank on the outside cover, would be revealed on the inside. Neal did all the paintings himself, and the group of frames was installed in the Hammersmith Town Hall, London, and shot by Keith Morris and Nigel Marlow. It must have been a very large field to light without getting any glare on the canvases, and I wonder if this concept would be executed in that manner today.
OSIBISA – Woyaya, 1972
Roger Dean created a visual vocabulary that was his alone, earning him cover-God status along with Thorgerson and Powell and, like them, several compilations of his work have been published. This cover for Osibisa’s second album is one of his early works. Fantasy landscapes and hybrid-creatures are the specialty of his house. He is possibly best known for his collaboration with YES, a relationship which is still intact; he designed the 2014 cover for Heaven & Earth. Dean’s works “inspired” the design team working on James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar. Many elements in the film resembled Dean’s work a little too closely for the artist and so, in 2013, he sued Cameron and the film’s backers for fifty million dollars. The case was dismissed by a judge in late 2014… so much for the independent/freelance artist…
ROLLING STONES – Exile on Main Street, 1972
Following Sticky Fingers’ accessible, radio-ready music packaged in Andy Warhol’s audacious cover, Exile on Main Street was something completely different. The music explored a wide range of genres – Country, Gospel, Soul, and Blues – leaving fans scratching their heads, but, over forty years later, it is now heard as quite authentic, real. The Unipak cover, designed by John Van Hamersveld (who’d done Magical Mystery Tour for The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation,) was controversial for its gritty, anti-glamour style. The right side is a detail of Tattoo Parlor, New York City, 1951, a picture by photographer Robert Frank. The collage mixes a world of beautiful Hollywood movie stars with the freakish and socially exiled. The left side seamlessly blends in pictures of the Stones by Frank, who was filming them in a seedy part of LA. It seems counter-intuitive to have put the band on the back, but maybe that was their point. An accordion-fold series of post cards was included in the Unipak. Shot by Norman Seeff, a dockside bon voyage scene goes awry, and the set falls apart. Perfect. The finishing touch to the package was the cover type as graffiti. The book John Van Hamersveld – Coolhous Studio: 50 Years of Graphic Design is an overview of the designer’s amazing vision.
LED ZEPPELIN – Houses of the Holy, 1973
Designed by Hipgnosis, the London-based design group founded by cover-Gods Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, this cover is an excellent example of photomontage in a pre-Photoshop world. Little bodies were posed and photographed in such a thoughtful way that they look like they were part of the landscape. The likelihood of being accused of making kiddy porn would put the kibosh on this cover being made today. This concept could only play out on the cinematic, letterbox format the gatefold has to offer. Type is conspicuous by its absence.
ERIC CLAPTON – 461 Ocean Blvd, 1974
Photographer David Gahr worked almost exclusively in black and white, so this color shot, credited to him, comes as something of a surprise. Still, it might as well have been B&W; except for the tiny strip of bright green grass at the bottom everything is sun bleached, monochromatic. How different this picture would be if the sky were blue. Art director Bob Defrin made the most of the opportunities a gatefold cover has to offer – stripping two pictures together, he very subtly presented EC twice. He’s not in your face like so much of today’s imagery must be to compete for attention. The custom logo is OK, but it’s artless intersection with the graceful arc of a palm frond, making the C look like it has a scraggy beard, has puzzled me for the last forty years.
JONI MITCHELL – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) and Hejira (1976)
Two consecutive concept albums from Joni Mitchell, and it is impossible to separate their cover art from the albums lyrical content. Mitchell, a painter as well as singer/songwriter, was no stranger to seeing a gatefold cover as a horizontal canvas, or to using her own paintings (like the one on Hissing) as cover art. In the liner notes, she writes, “This record is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally – as a whole.” The songs explore the complexity of life in both urban and suburban settings, and the cover art transitions top to bottom and from city to country. The color combination of martini olive green and silvery gray is so unexpected (ok, weird,) – it’s brilliant.
Never afraid to take musical risks, even at her career’s peril, this album contains one of her most unique songs, “The Poppy Line,” which is driven along by relentless African warrior drums. In it, and in several other tracks on the disc, the snake becomes a metaphor for drug addiction and slavery. The most prominent and only active element of the cover – the natives carrying the giant snake – are embossed, a detail that is, alas, lost here. The swimming pool, as symbol of suburban affluence, often figures in to the lyrics, and the pool pictured lower left is likely the one at her Laurel Canyon home.
Hejira is also pure concept. The songs trace her journey as an artist and performer, much of which plays out on the road. It surprised fans to see their hippie priestess in a fur coat and beret, holding her ciggy like a movie star. But, as she explained in “The Boho Dance” from Hissing, “Any eye for detail saw a little lace along the seams.” Her chic side had been there all along. Other characters from the lyrics are represented behind her.
Photography for this package is credited to both Norman Seeff, with whom Joni worked often, and to Gary Bernstein, who was also something of a photog-fixture on the scene. Other than the picture of Joni, I can’t say with certainty, who shot what (Editor’s Note – the cover image of Joni was, in fact, shot by Mr. Seeff). IMHO Norman Seeff is a genius – the one tenth of one percent of photographers who can get his subject to reveal themselves. Seeff was “post” before there was post, and often took his black & white photos to another dimension by bleaching and toning. In a pre-Photoshop world, this assembly of images is pretty good, only her hands look a little pasted on. Joni had the good fortune to have her cover concepts brought to life by the multi-talented Elektra/Asylum Art Director, Glen Christensen. He used the gatefold format to exploit spatial relationships in a way not seen on the other covers in this group. Joni is so close we only see half of her, but looking left the figures go back, back, back… on the horizon line are three tiny figures, so small they may look like noise at 72 dpi. Hejira was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1978 for Best Album Package.
BOB DYLAN & THE BAND – The Basement Tapes, 1975
Photographed by the late Reid Miles, who is best known for the hundreds of covers he designed for the Blue Note label in the ’50s and ’60s, this cover, like Hejira, attempted to illustrate – with models – the circus of characters – Mrs. Henry, Tiny Montgomery, Quinn The Eskimo and others – that were found in Dylan’s lyrics. Recorded in and around Woodstock, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, between June and October of 1967 (and rather primitively, using only one to three mikes), Dylan and The Band left behind the psychedelic swirl and roaring guitars of the West Coast’s “Summer of Love” and styled music that was more traditionally American. Much of this material circulated as bootlegs for years; this package officially released it.
Brief biographical interview with the author, David Hamsley (interviewed early December, 2014) –
Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com – David, thanks so much for your help with this article. Can you tell me more about yourself – a little bit of your educational background, work experience, photo credits, etc.?
David Hamsley – I originally went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in the mid-1970s to study Architecture, but it wasn’t a match – you can’t make any mistakes in Architecture, and I’m a mistake-in-progress. I transferred into Photography, which was my true love anyway, and have been happily fumbling my way into some great results ever since. I can’t believe I’ve been a New York City-based still-life photographer for thirty-six years!
Fashion and beauty-oriented subjects are my fave to shoot as they allow me to participate in a fashion conversation without having to care about models and celebs – two things that bore me. In the late 80s – early 90s, I was best known for my cosmetic abstracts – shots featuring smashed lipstick, cracked powder, etc., – and I pioneered “the lay down,” which involves shooting clothing and outfits off-figure, inventing many of the styling techniques that editorial, catalog, and retail use today. Right now, I’m a hardcore accessory fan – jewelry, handbags and shoes in particular. A shoe is like music to me – you only have a few “notes” to work with, and yet both songwriters and shoe designers continue to come up with unique results, year after year.
Mike G – Do you have any opinions you’d care to share about the current “state of the art” in music product packaging and promotion? Do you think that there are better ways for musical acts to use album art and imagery – in any and all media – to build better relationships with their fans and promote their careers?
David H – I can remember listening to my father’s Big Band music on 8-track tapes in his car and thinking how I would always want to be interested in the latest music. As it turns out, I’m not! I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think it comes down to sentiment. Pop music with lyrics is almost always about “I’m in love, I’m outta love, oh woe is me, I’m so happy” and, while at my ancient age I, alas, still go through those sentiments, I’d just the same rather hear them expressed in song from, say, Janis’ or CS&N’s point of view. That’s whom I was listening to when I felt all that stuff the first time around, so it feels more authentic. And as for CD art? It just does not make it for me – it’s waaay to small to seriously engage me. Pappy needs a magnifying glass!
Mike G – Do you have anything you’re doing now that you’d like me to let our readers know more about?
David H – Next fall, I have a new book coming out called To Disco, With Love – The Records That Defined an Era, that will be published by Flatiron Books (http://us.macmillan.com/author/davidhamsley). A 2001 exhibit of album art in a New York City gallery inspired the book. I envied the curators opportunity to express their devotion to album art and dreamed about what I could do to contribute to the realm. To Disco, with Love is the result.
The book is based on the Billboard charts I found on microfilm at the Lincoln Center Library. The first chart appeared in November 1974 and I studied every one through 1980. Every time I came across a song I didn’t know, I went out hunting for it. It took four years, and in the end I had collected, cataloged and photographed 1600 albums! Good times. I edited the list down to about 280 and they are, in essence, presented chronologically. Each spread is a spotlight on a specific photographic, illustration, or design trend that was going on. It’s just as much about the album art as it is about the music. I picked Disco because it hadn’t been done before and because the genre has been such an underdog. It’s tempting to dismiss much of Disco’s album art with an eye roll, but that would be a mistake. When I looked into the careers of the contributors, I found a treasure trove of really great talents. True, for many of them, the cover was their first job, and many cringed when I confronted them today with their forty-year-old works, but it’s also true that many went on to have fantastic, award-winning careers.
To learn more about David and see his portfolio online, please visit his website at www.davidhamsley.com
All images featured in this story have been used for illustrative purposes only and are the property of their various rights-holders – All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2014 – Mike Goldstein, the AlbumCoverHallofFame.com & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.