An Introduction to Album Art

Written by Jim Kroemer

die cutpicture01bWhile music might be the initial driving force behind record album (lp) collecting, many collectors find it harddie cutpicture01 to resist the sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre, and sometimes downright boring, jacket artwork that accompanies those precious vinyl platters.  Over 50+ years of collecting records, primarily for the musical content, I find that I have accumulated quite a few albums purchased over the decades solely for the jacket artwork.  Now, with a fairly decent collection of music for my listening enjoyment, finding unusual jacket art has become my primary focus in my quest for new albums. I will mention a few albums in this article that are not pictured, but images of them are readily available on the internet.

Being somewhat anal, over the years I passed up many great record jackets because the vinyl was trashed or missing (an empty original Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake round jacket always comes to mind), believing it had to be the complete package or nothing, and I oftentimes later regretted those decisions, primarily because you may never see a particular album again, or if you do, it may cost significantly more than the first time you saw it.  As records are usually cheap in thrift stores, at estate sales, and at garage sales, my advice is to buy it when you see it.  If you decide later that it doesn’t quite fit into your collection, no big deal.  Donate it, trash it, or give it away.

die cutpicture02aWhatever your preference when it comes to jacket art, there is a collection waiting for you out there, starting with one record at a time.  Used record stores, thrift stores, and garage and estate sales are a ready source for cool albums.  Jacket artwork has long been used to attract buyers to an album, especially when record stores were a fixture in every town across the United States.  Record companies, vying for your limited discretionary spending dollars, had to be creative to get your attention.

You have likely seen the many “cheesecake” covers out there.  You know, the ones that have scantily clad or even nude women on them, leaving one to ponder the possible connection between the music and the jacket art.  Or more likely just having you ponder about the young woman featured in the jacket art…..Many such jackets were made to entice buyers to buy truly horrible music or to an album filled with cover versions of popular songs. As they say, “sex sells,” and there are many collectors of such jackets, as evidenced by the many listed for sale on sites such as eBay under the search for “cheesecake lp”. I have to admit that I have a fair number in my collection, primarily because you are bound to run across them in your endless searching, but I find that other collecting areas can be as or more interesting. 

die cutpicture02bAnother possible collecting area could be albums with jacket art by great artists, such as Norman Rockwell (his known art was used on more albums than you would think, such as Pure Prairie League’s Bustin’ Out), or Salvadore Dali (strangely appearing on Jackie Gleason Presents Lonesome Echo, a 1955 release). The list goes on and on, but that’s a discussion for another day. As I briefly discuss possible collecting areas, you will note that some of these cross over into other areas.  For example, the Bedside Companion for Playboys record shown above as an example of a cheesecake cover also contains art by the famous pin-up artist Alberto Varga.

Perhaps you will choose to collect albums that look like or have matchbook covers on them?  As bizarre as thatdie cutpicture03 seems, I have three or four such albums in my collection, and you can bet there are more out there.  

The sky is the limit when you settle on a collecting area. For   example, you could collect albums: 

  • with cartoon-like jacket art, or humorous jacket art (for example, Josie Cotton’s 12-inch single Johnny Are You Queer?, released by Elektra Records in 1981); 
  • with moving parts (remember the spinning wheel inside the Led Zeppelin III album released by Atlantic Records in 1970, or the one that was part of the TV on the jacket of Bobby Sherman’s lp Getting Together? Or the pop-up when you opened Jethro Tull’s Stand Up album?), or 
  • that can be shaped into something else (remember Fonzie Favorites from 1976, where the back cover folded out to form a photo stand to hold the jacket upright on your bedside table, enabling you to gaze at the Fonz to your heart’s content while the record played his supposed favorite 50s and 60s hits?); or a lesser known album released in 1976 by Ambrosia, entitleddie cutpicture04 Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled, which folds out into a pyramid, thought by some to hold mystical powers.
  • that came with inserts.  Remember inserts?  They were like free stuff that came with the album.  Many Partridge Family albums came with some type of insert, whether it be a book cover with Keith’s photo on it, a photo of the group in front of their famous bus, a Christmas card, or even a plastic Partridge Family shopping bag.  Many albums came with lyric sheets, and many came with posters, stickers, booklets, etc., to enhance the listening experience. I am always thrilled to find the inserts in an old album, and in many cases those inserts are needed for me to “complete” an album I might have already found without the inserts.
  • that have die-cuts, or shaped areas cut out of the front of the jacket, typically to show some art or photos that lie beneath the front cover (for example Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti 2-lp set issued by Swan Song Records in 1975, with multiple tiny die-cuts where the building windows were; or the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls lp issued in 1978, with die-cuts showing famous personalities, which ultimately led to lawsuits and the reissue of the album without some of those personalities.  I don’t know what the preferred industry name is for a die-cut, but I call it that to differentiate between an intentional “hole” or cut area typically on the front of the jacket, versus a “cut-out”, which is later partial damage/destruction of an album jacket via a cut-off corner, a drilled hole, or a saw mark that indicates the album was reduced in price for quick sale.   Some die-cut jackets are cut in different shapes than the typical square jackets; others have lettering cut or larger areas cut out of the jacket to allow the viewer to see what lies beneath.

die cutpicture05For this article, let’s focus on die-cuts. Take a look at Squeeze’s 1979 release containing “6 Squeeze songs crammed into one ten-inch record.”  Note the left and right-side die-cuts, making it appear that someone is squeezing the middle of the album jacket with their hands. Quite ingenious, huh? 

Now take a look at The Fantastic Strings of Felix Slatkin – Street Scene album, released by Liberty die cutpicture06Records in 1961.  The gatefold jacket has nine small squares cut out of the center of the album, revealing a man standing on a city street, reading a newspaper.  Why Liberty Records chose to do a die-cut for Felix’s album is anyone’s guess, but I’m guessing it was a novel feature at that time which may have attracted some buyers to the album.  Or perhaps it was so I could amuse myself while listening to the album.  Yeah, that’s me in the window…..

Let’s get back to Bobby Sherman records, first taking a look at his Getting Together album (pictured to the right of Led Zeppelin III in photo above), issued in 1971 by Metromedia Records.  The jacket contains a round die cutpicture07cardboard disc that has four photos of Bobby which could be rotated into the TV screen area on the front jacket cover.  This must have provided countless minutes of excitement for the young Bobby Sherman fan, at least until the small metal piece affixing the cardboard to the front cover wore through.  You can see that my copy no longer has the piece attached to the cover.  And no, it wasn’t me who wore it out…. 

A similar concept was used for the DialaHit album released by Bell Records in 1969.  However, the spinning dial is affixed to the outside of the album.  When the dial is turned, a group’s name appears through one hole, while the name of their hit song appears through the other hole. 

The Soft Machine’s self-titled lp from 1968 has a similar round cardboard dial with multiple cut-out shapes that slides into the front half of the gatefold cover, but the dial is hard to turn as it is not (and apparently never was) affixed to the jacket itself.  Through the smaller die-cut areas you can see various band members (and some body parts) photos.  A strange cover….

Bobby Sherman’s Greatest Hits Volume 1 album, also released by Metromedia in 1971, has an extra front flap with a die-cut going down the left side of his face.  die cutpicture08die cutpicture09There’s no real rhyme or reason why Metromedia chose to use the extra cardboard to form this front flap, because the previously released records shown on the reverse side could have easily fit on another part of this tri-fold jacket.  How many different colors of the same painting of Bobby do we need to see?

Now take a look at Richard Harris’s 1971 lp, Slides, released by ABC/Dunhill Records.  The die-cut area on the front flap of this gatefold jacket, filled with a clear plastic piece, makes the entire album jacket look like a Kodak slide, leaving youngsters wondering, “What the hell is a Kodak slide?” and leaving old folks wondering where the old days went.  Oddly enough, somewhere in my collection is another album made like a Kodak slide, although the name of the artist eludes me.

die cutpicture10The Foghat LIVE lp is one of my favorites, not so much because the letters in the word “LIVE” are cut out of die cutpicture11the front jacket, but because I was happy to find a copy with minimal damage to the small areas of the lettering that typically get torn up or off over time. You can see that while such die-cuts give an album a more unique look, without a plastic sleeve to protect them, with minimal handling they are eventually destroyed by the process of sliding them in and out from between the other records in your collection. Most copies of this jacket you will see likely have damage to the small flap at the top of the “V”, as well as the flaps on the right side of the “E”.  Even my copy is not perfect, and sliding it in and out of a plastic sleeve can cause additional damage if I am not careful. 

die cutpicture12The Red Hot Disco Express album, released by TeeVee Records in 1979, is another personal favorite.  The die-cut is in the words “RED HOT”, exposing that the die cutpicture11brecord was made using red vinyl.  Finding a copy with the cardboard pieces around the die-cut undamaged can be difficult, unless you locate a sealed copy. 

The 1981 Night Hawks original soundtrack, with music composed and performed by Keith Emerson, has similarly die-cut words.  Again, it’s nice to find this album fully intact, and you can see from the photo that there are many small tabs that could easily be damaged over time.

These are just a very small sampling of my die-cut albums.  None shown are particularly valuable other than to me and to whoever else might collect them.  But they bring me die cutpicture12bsatisfaction, as any collection should bring to its owner.  And if you don’t want to search for them for years, most are readily available online for reasonable prices.die cutpicture13

I will end with another personal favorite—the keyhole die-cut in Humble Pie’s Thunderbox lp, issued by A&M Records in 1974.  Through the keyhole a partially undressed young woman, appearing to be seated on a toilet, is revealed.  I would guess that the jacket is intended to bring out the voyeur, or “peeping Tom”, in each of us. While such jacket art would not be considered politically correct today, they are still amusing to collect. (That brings up another possible collecting area- non-politically correct albums, of which there are MANY) but that will have to wait for another day.  Anyway, good luck hunting!die cutpicture14

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