Films & Videos about (and/or featuring) Album Cover Art & Artists
As you know by the number of interviews we’ve done with some of the people who’ve created many of your favorite album covers, often times those stories – and the people involved in the process – are often as interesting as the works themselves. Over the years, a few of these stories have been told on film or video – some by the artists themselves (as a number of them are also film-makers) and others resulting from the inquiries of journalists interested in bringing these stories to a larger audience. While you’d think that, based on the visual art-based aspects of the album cover business, there would be a number of documentaries on the subject, as of today, we’re only aware of the following (all are available on DVD):
1) Under The Covers – A Magical Journey: Rock N Roll in L.A. in the 60’s – 70’s (2002) –
Promo copy from the DVD package – “Return to a classic era of rock-n-roll with the community of artists making legendary music during the ’60s and ’70s. Get to know these musicians and the music they created as they unlock personal memories of those carefree times. You’ll be amazed to see how this group of musical artists became a family of friends. Seen through the eyes of world-famous photographer Henry Diltz and three time Grammy-nominated art director/artist Gary Burden, Under The Covers contains a remarkable selection of touching and amusing stories, interviews and photographs, which humanizes these rock-n-roll icons. Under The Covers features legendary music, never-before-seen home videos and photos, and candid conversations with these renowned artists. Hang out with the Doors, Eagles, Mama Cass, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Jackson Browne and many more!”
Running time – 2 hours 10 minutes. Written by Bill Day & Terry Schwartz. Executive Producers – Gary Burden, Henry Diltz and Peter Blachley. Copyright 2002 – Triptych Pictures, a Lightyear Entertainment released, distributed by WEA/Warner Bros.
2) Taken by Storm: The Mind Movies of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis (2011) –
Promo copy from the web site – “Taken by Storm: The Mind Movies of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis is a film about Thorgerson life’s work as told through his own reflection, his personal archive of never-before seen photographs and films, ex-partner of Hipgnosis Aubrey Powell, and through first hand narratives from some of the most important musicians of our time: David Gilmour and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel, and more recent collaborations with Scottish group Biffy Clyro, Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel, Dominic Howard of Muse, Cedric Bixler Zavala of The Mars Volta and many others as well as the numerous photographers, illustrators and assistants who have helped execute the work from the days of Hipgnosis to his new company StormStudios.
Running time – 1 hour 35 minutes. A film by Roddy Bogawa. Produced by Rob Roth, Roddy Bogawa and Chris Brokaw. Financed in part by a 2010 Kickstarter campaign, the film had its world premiere at the 2011 SXSW Festival in Austin, TX.
3) While not solely about album cover art/artists, Paolo Compana’s Kickstarter-funded 2012 film Vinylmania (“a 75 minute feature length documentary about an object that has never lost its soul: the vinyl record”) does include several scenes that fans of album cover art will want to see. The first, at approx. the 42:00 minute mark, shows a number of fans doing what so many of us have done – i.e., making the pilgrimage to the famous “Z crossing” in front of London’s Abbey Road studios, where the cover image of The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP was shot. Then, at about 43:45, we’re treated to a short interview with famed record cover designer Peter Saville, who shares a bit about how the cover of the 1974 Kraftwerk album Autobahn served as his inspiration to explore the limits of album package design. Finally, at 47:30, you’ll find the film-maker’s interview with designer/collage artist Winston Smith, whose works for musical acts such as the Dead Kennedys and Green Day were designed to make us think beyond what’s obvious or expected.
More info on this film project is available at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/edwinstepp/vinylmania-when-life-runs-at-33-revolutions-per-mi/description
4) The Cover Story: Album Art (2013) –
“The untold stories behind some of the classic covers of the vinyl era” – includes interviews with “the Blind Faith cover girl”, “the Nirvana baby”, Yoko Ono on the cover for the Two Virgins record, artist Roger Dean on his covers for YES, artists Mouse and Kelley on their work for the Grateful Dead, artist Victor Moscoso on his psychedelic album covers and much more.
Running time – 1 hour, 51 minutes. Produced, written and directed by Eric Christensen. Copyright 2013 – Album Art LLC.
On a related note – there was a film released in 2009 titled American Artifact by director Merle Becker about rock poster art and artists and, as many album cover artists also have earned a living making promo posters for musical acts and venues, a number of them were included in that film as well.
4) The Album – Still in production (as of 2020), with rough cuts of interviews that’ll be included in the finished product, is a film about music marketing – with an emphasis on the designers and producers of album covers/record packaging by a designer with a nice portfolio of cover credits himself, Kevin Hosmann. With a working title of “The Album”, this documentary, according to its creator, “focuses on the album cover and its lasting emotional connection to the audience. ‘What was it like to be there?’ is answered by the most prominent music industry veterans of the time. The main theme of the documentary is digital disruption and how it abruptly altered our livelihood; the introduction of the CD, the computer, Napster, the sell off of A&M/Capitol and Geffen, the introduction of iTunes, the internet, download vs. streaming, social media to the rebirth of vinyl; coming back full circle. And throughout the entire time, the art department, and the need for great art, persevered. The interviewees collectively create one character; telling the art department’s story of survival.”
In addition to several dozen interview segments with art directors, illustrators and designers (including such notables as John Van Hamersveld (and his partner, Alida), Craig Butler, Chuck Beeson, Ernie Cefalu, Mick Haggerty, Neil Preston and Roland Young (among many others), there are interviews with younger designers such as Lawrence Azerrad, Frank Maddocks and Gavin Taylor as well as industry marketing gurus including Tim Devine, Jeff Gold, Eddie Meehan and Bob Merlis.
Here’s hoping that this film ultimately sees the light of day – https://vimeo.com/user9960212/videos
5) Originally produced for U.K. audiences in 2020, the six-episode TV series ICON: Music Through The Lens premiered on PBS in the U.S. in mid-July, 2021 and delivered its last two episodes on the 13th of August. Each episode was built around a particular topic – concert photography, magazine covers, producing art prints for gallery sales, etc. – but the one that really caught my attention (as you might figure) was Episode 3, which focused on the photos and designs done for album covers. In addition to the knowledgeable commentary provided by industry experts such as Dr. Michael Pritchard from the Royal Photographic Society, Govinda Gallery’s Chris Murray, Terrence Pepper (former curator of the National Portrait Gallery) and Vikki Tobak, who curated the critically-acclaimed Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop exhibition, included anecdotes and stories by image makers including Aubrey Powell, Rob O’Connor, Kosh, Kevin Cummins, Mick Rock, Martyn Goddard, Bill Smith, Colin Lane, Brian “B+” Cross, Roger Sargent, Michael Spencer-Jones, Frank Stefanko and Elliott Landy.
Congratulations on a job well done to Gered Mankowitz – who served as the series curator – and Executive Producer, working alongside Executive Producer Andy Saunders and music director Dick Carruthers for bringing this series to life and to audiences around the world. Not sure what their plans are for a follow-up but, in the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the series and watch a video intro to the series, click on over to – https://iconmusicthroughthelens.com/ (check with your local PBS station to see if it’s available on-demand or might be re-run at some point),
Videos about “the making of” album cover images –
There have been a host of short films made over the years detailing “the making of” specific album covers. Sometimes done alongside “the making of” music video documentaries, while other times done while documenting (better word?) album cover photo shoots, these video shorts can also be quite revealing as they highlight the varying states of the relationships between the designers, illustrators and photographers and the musical acts they’ve been hired to work with.
Here are a few examples we’ve found, along with links to the video clips online:
1) Jon Sarkin (re: Guster’s Easy Wonderful) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g837CY9xN4
2) El Mac (re: No Doubt’s Push and Shove) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYFzNQLlvhs
3) James Marsh – Spirit of Talk Talk – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSwgHxMLX_c
4) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp-1pgzTbn0
5) Zebra Dots (debut album) – from Slovenia, so you might not be familiar with their music, but they showed a lot of creativity in crafting their album cover – http://vimeo.com/54353836
6) Peter Saville (re: Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures) – http://vimeo.com/51365288
7) Glass artist Dave Smith (re: John Mayer’s Born & Raised) – http://blog.fidmdigitalarts.com/blog/the-making-of-john-mayers-born-raised-artwork-album-cover/
More films and videos that feature album cover imagery –
Over the years, there have been a number of music videos released from which the featured musical acts’ record covers have been derived (or, conversely, in music videos for singles such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”, “Vacation” by The Go-Gos and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, the videos incorporate cover images as backgrounds, design elements or, in both Queen’s and Springsteen’s cases, a re-creation of the cover to begin or end the video).
Continuing in that vein, there have also been several videos released that use album cover imagery as the bases of their approach to sharing their creative inspirations. While we’ve all seen examples of album covers that drew their inspirations from other well-known covers, such as the many parodies or homages done using record covers from albums including Sgt. Pepper’s and Let It Be by The Beatles, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and others, since it takes more time and resources to craft a video (and let’s not forget the work it takes to obtain the permissions required to use certain images), there have been only a few music videos made in this fashion.
In each case, it’s fun to watch how each director approaches the task – sometimes incorporating the featured musicians in the scenes, other times, bringing the previously-static images to life. I’m sure that, as time goes on, we’ll be seeing quite a few more of these but, for now, I hope you enjoy watching the shorts featured in this list:
1) Our first example is from country singer Aileeah Colgan, with her music video for the 2017 single “Country Scene” taking us through an homage to the album covers of 21 well-known country music records from stars including Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty. According to a quote found in Chuck Dauphin’s recent article on the subject for Billboard.com, the young singer was motivated to re-create these covers for her video because “being able to pretend to be in their footprints was an honor, because these people have done so much for me and for country music. I’m just grateful for the chance to pretend to fill those shoes. It’s been a great experience all the way around.” While she did “stick to the script” in her efforts to insert herself into the scenes pictured on these iconic recordings (“Dedicated to Country Music’s Finest”), she certainly had a little fun in bringing the previously-still images to life in her video.
2) With the principal character in video director Michel Gondry’s latest promo video for the Pandora music service jogging past the Morrison Hotel, stopping to take a look at Prince’s purple customized Honda motorcycle and the graffiti-covered toilet seen on the Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet before traipsing through the cemetery found on Metallica’s Master of Puppets (and that’s just in the first 20 seconds!), you have to be impressed with the care taken in the staging and sequencing of these scenes that use memorable album art to exemplify the wide variety of music available via the service.
Yahoo Music contributor Lyndsey Parker provides us with an intro to the director, including his previous work for musical acts including Bjork, Foo Fighters and the White Stripes, among others, as well as his take on the challenges he faced in both conceptualizing and then bringing to life his ideas for the promo for Pandora’s Premium service. #SoundsLikeYou is” a journey through the most iconic music albums from both the past and the present.”
3) Back in 2015, Kallie Mattson dug into his own collection of records to choose 35 of his favorites to re-create – casting himself and his bandmates as the principals – in a music video for the single “Avalanche”. Beginning with a Bob Dylan “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video-inspired flipped-through intro, he and his crew then scramble through a variety of studio-built settings, pausing long enough during each set to capture the new image. You’ll find references to records by The Ramones, Jay-Z, Harry Nilsson, Captain Beefheart (!!), George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones and many others, both classic acts and much-newer ones. If you can name all 35 without looking at the answers submitted by fans on the YouTube page this flick is found on, you’re a much better person than me…
4) Even further back (in 2014), a multi-talented musician/artist based in Tel Aviv, Israel – Roy Kafri – released a single titled “Mayokero” in which he brought an impressive number of album covers to life in a rather unusual way – he had them all singing parts of his song. Fans couldn’t help but be impressed with having the cover image subjects from records by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jeff Buckley, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Prince, Lionel Richie and others present Kafri’s song in such a compelling fashion. The animations for the video, which shows the protagonist getting rid of his vinyl collection to make room for all his new digital gizmos, were created by a crew of actors and fledgling animator Vania Heymann. The editors for the Spanish publication Creation gave its readers a capsule summary of the entire production, which you can read via the link (includes a link to the video itself) – http://www.creation.com.es/roy-kafri-mayokero/
5) To finish off this summary, the earliest example of an album art-based video that I’m aware of was released online back in 2008 by an animation team known as Ugly Pictures and, at the time, caused quite the sensation. The object of the video was to bring a number of well-known covers to life in order for them to participate in a bloody battle where only the strongest and most well-armed covers would survive. Watching “Album Cover Wars” left me in stitches the first time I watched it and, in this era where TV ratings wars are won by the bloodiest of series (Game of Thrones marathon, anyone?), I can only assume that this music video will always have an appreciative audience.
If you’re aware of other examples, please forward them to our attention (send them to mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll update this article.
– Mike Goldstein
originally published January 29, 2013 and updated June 12, 2017, June 11, 2020 and December 10, 2021