A Ticket To Sound: Beyond The Covers' Photograph
The One Block Down editorial archive is an ever-evolving resource detailing the cultures, movements and ideas that defined contemporary stylistic discourse. From unique takes on today’s leading pop-culture topics, to off-kilter stories that might have slipped through the net, our editorial archive is as fundamental as it is abstract.
Let's start this off with the following presumption: I believe that everyone has once bought or downloaded a musical project just for its cover's artwork. For many of us, combing through our parent's record collections was the initial encounter with music. I recall when my dad introduced me to his. I was probably not older than four when I first got exposed to records by Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Supertramp, and ACDC.
I remember one record that caught my eye within this musical treasure, leading me to ask my father to play it for me. It was KISS' Alive! LP. Enchanted by the done-up faces and shrill outfits of Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Peter Chriss, I wondered what type of sound might linger underneath the whimsical surface. I suppose almost everyone can recall an experience like mine.
For instance, Childish Gambino once reflected on his early encounter with Funkadelics' legendary album "Maggot Brain" - one of his favorite albums. The eerie cover, featuring a woman buried to the head, would later become the inspiration behind the remarkable artwork of the artists' critically acclaimed project "Awaken, My Love," released in 2016. In an interview with Amoeba Records, he recalled: "It [the artwork] used to give me nightmares when I was a kid. "There's a skull on the back, too, and I didn't know what it was about, but my dad loved it, really loved it. He used to be like, 'Eddie Hazel is the best guitarist ever, he's better than Jimi [Hendrix].'"
Album covers attract attention and spark our curiosity. They figuratively give us a glimpse of a projects' concept by depicting a theme, emotion, or inspiration. Hence, a cover's artwork serves as an invitation to an artists' corresponding tonal interpretation. If the invitation seems unappealing or dull, we presumably don't desire to discover more. Our eyes eat first! But the artwork is not merely an entrance ticket to a musical journey. In the wake of the experience, it remains an everlasting association reminding us of the thoughts and emotions we underwent.
One might argue that the significance of a visual representation of sounds may have been more critical in the pre-digital era. Before having affordable access to an infinite library of music, no matter time or location, people went to record stores with little money at hand. Customers were spoiled of choice, but their decisions were still connected to a monetary sacrifice. Consequently, an albums' first impression, the cover art, was critical in impacting consumers' buying behavior. Besides that, it made the record a collectible asset.
Even though this sacrifice is obsolete today, the covers' significance may be more crucial than ever before. In an era of social media, many people feel the urge to create a digital illustration of their personalities and lifestyles. A person's taste must be shared, in this case, by posting what one's recently listening to. Therefore, a screenshot of an albums' cover is utilized to convey one's affection for a project, perhaps leading others to check it out if the artwork seems interesting. Ultimately, it continues serving its marketing purpose as a pictorial association with an artist's musical output.
For One Block Down's latest Visual Essay, we discovered the making off, camera rolls, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of some of music's most iconic photographic album covers; From Biggie Smalls's "Life After Death" cover, shot by Michael Lavine in 1997 at the Cypress Hill Cemetery, to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," conceptualized by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell.
To receive updates on our latest editorials and documentaries, be sure to follow @oneblockdownon Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter below for more.