The first album cover that comes to mind would be Kiss’s “Destroyer”.
In the Eighties, Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”, Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave”, Motley Crue’s “Theatre Of Pain”, Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil”, Megadeth’s “Peace Sells” and Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” are iconic images that remain in my head space over and over again.
Add to that list “Whitesnake”s self-titled album and Guns N Roses “Appetite For Destruction”.
The whole package of an album was crucial to me. It was an experience to look at the album cover, the lyric sheets and the credits, as I dropped the needle, kicked back with the headphones and digested the album.
The art was the doorway into the music of an artist. Sometimes it was a win and sometimes it was a complete waste of money.
Maybe I gravitated to heavy metal and hard rock because of my interest in the artwork and the stories I took out of the artwork. Seriously, who hasn’t thumbed their way through thousands of thousands of albums and stopped dead when an album cover caught our eye. On a lot of occasions, that was the difference if I purchased the album or not. The other key difference was who produced it or who was involved in the album. There was no “try before you buy” option.
Production guys like Keith Olsen, Tom Werman, Bruce Fairbairn, Bob Ezrin, Neil Kernon, Peter Collins, Martin Birch, Michael Wagener, Mutt Lange, Andy Johns, Mike Clink and towards the late Eighties, Bob Rock became key deciders if the album was a purchase or a leave for me. Especially if it was a band whose music I never heard before like Skid Row, Extreme, Guns N Roses, Bulletboys, Warrant, Tangier and even Whitesnake’s 1987 album was a NEW one for me in 1987.
Which brings me to the point of the post?
The artwork and the music compliment each other. It gives the music a visual that I could attach myself too. I see it in my kids when they go through my record/CD collection. They connect with the graphic first.
My first Dream Theater album was “Images and Words”. It was purchased based on three things.
The artwork – it looked cool, surreal and progressive.
The length of the songs – By the early nineties, I was looking for music that had some substance. As a fan of hard rock and metal, I was getting bored and fried with the 4 minute songs coming out from the acts I supported. Seeing an album that had songs between 8 to 11 minute range was like a ‘HELLYEAH’ moment.
The producer – Dave Prater. I actually enjoyed his work with the band Firehouse on their self-titled debut in 1990 and “Hold Your Fire” in 1992. Also Bill Leverty is one hell of a guitarist who has not received the recognition he is due.
When I tell my kids that I used to purchase music without hearing it, they look at me, like I am the biggest idiot in the world. It doesn’t make sense to them to spend money on music without hearing it. The fact that I needed to buy a CD to hear Dream Theater is unknown to them.
So the artworks once upon a time, assisted artists in selling music and enhancing their lyrical messages.
You see, a fan can make a connection with an artist in so many different ways. It could be visual, musical, lyrical or a combination of all. So when MTV came, everything started to change.
Can you think of the Motley Crue “Girls, Girls, Girls” album and not think about the uncensored video clip for the song?
Can you think of Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” and not think about the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock” videos?
What about Whitesnake’s album and the Tawny Kitaen poses in all of the video clips?
What about the performance videos of Bon Jovi during the “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” albums? What a shrewd marketing move to do each Bon Jovi video clip as a performance clip. It put their faces into houses around the world and turned the band into global superstars.
Music videos suddenly became another way for a fan to make a connection with an artist. Take this quote on music-related art from The Conversation website.
Music-related art helps us learn more about the intention of an artist, and with more music being released than can be heard, this is important. This can, as shown, be the absence of artwork as much as is its presence. As the so-called music industry continues to shift its gaze towards live music events, so too can artists. New ways in which musicians can move and excite fans will continue to emerge, and with them the opportunity to work with artists in innovative ways. Album artwork will continue to catch our attention and create recognisable brands. Music videos will continue to accomplish similar feats, albeit with smaller budgets.
Why do you think Spotify is moving into video and other forms of streaming?
They understand that for a fan of music or for a fan of an artist, it is more than just music. The ones that spend the money want more.