Make room for squares

Phil Ford

In response to my "Taboo" article David Cavlovic suggested I should check out LP Cover Lover. Whoa. That's a lot of crazy covers. How to pick? Out of so many extremely strange and grotesque covers, I kind of liked this one:


But actually I want to direct your attention to another, more specialized album-cover site. A couple of months ago my student Alisa (who is writing a dissertation on the Blue Note jazz label) sent me a link to a Japanese site that has every Blue Note album cover (recto and verso) scanned in at pretty high resolution. So you get both the album cover art –  Reid Miles' designs for Blue Note are justly legendary — and the liner notes, written by heavyweight jazz critics like Leonard Feather and Nat Hentoff. So this is quite a find!

Once again, I find myself with an embarrassment of riches on my hands. But how could I not include the cover for No Room for Squares?


Or 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia?


Or Judgment!


There are the bold experiments in using typography as an element of abstract design:


And, it must be admitted, the occasional plagiarism:


Cf. The Man With the Golden Arm (from this post)


Though god knows the Blue Note look has been plagiarized often enough:



I assume that most of these borrowings are intentional — either homages or else attempts to recreate something the cultural mood associated with the original design. One of the albums I've been listening to a lot over the summer is Madlib's Yesterday's Universe album. Madlib is a hiphop producer probably best known for making the beats for the Madvillainy album with MF Doom. A few years ago Madlib making records as "Yesterday's New Quintet," playing and multitracking together all the instruments of a fictional early-1960s Blue-Notey jazz group a la the Three Sounds. What's always been interesting about Yesterday's New Quintet is that the music doesn't really sound like the music of the era it samples even though it perfectly conveys the ambient flavor of that era — or at least period flavor as someone like myself, born a few years later and armed only with grainy low-fi memories of the time that followed a few years later, might imagine it. Yesterday's Universe moves the frame of reference forward to the late 1960s and early 1970s — there's a lot of Mwandishi-era Herbie Hancock in the sound  — and splits Madlib's alter egos into a number of different imaginary groups, each outfitted with its own album cover (complete with wear marks and discount stickers).


Here is a good blog post about the album design from The Cover Up, yet another excellent album cover art site. The writer of this post points out that the Stones Throw art director, Jeff Jank, did a neat homage to an old Ornette Coleman album on Atlantic, Ornette!


As the guy at The Cover Up says, Jank (like Madlib) is "creating identities for artists that don't exist. The covers have a vintage feel that would have some to believe they are long lost albums from the 70's, found in someone's dusty basement."  This is very cool.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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3 Responses to Make room for squares

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    A lot of Verve covers in the 50’s featured line drawings by David Stone Martin, who as far as I can tell had no other visible career. A very different, more playful feeling than the Blue Note covers, which I remember (inaccurately of course) as always including an upward-drifting plume of cigarette smoke under a strong spotlight in a darkened space. I sometimes think Alfred Lion, if he were around, would owe me some of the cost of my chemo a few years ago.

  2. ben wolfson says:

    MIT Press’s logo looks to be copped from that Hubbard album cover.

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