A record sleeve (also known as an album cover ) is a printed cardboard sleeve for packing records . From the mid- 1950s to the end of the 1980s , when records were the main format for music recordings , the design of the record case was of great importance for the marketing and sales of the records. The English term album cover nowadays often also refers to the title pages of the booklets of CDs (see also CD and DVD packaging ), as they serve to identify the album like the front of a record cover. Explanations of the recordings, the musical line-up as well as comments on the music of the album or other information on the back (or, in the case of hinged covers, also on the inside) are called cover text or liner notes .
In 1940, the young graphic artist Alex Steinweiss , who worked at the Columbia Records headquarters in Bridgeport (Connecticut) , had the idea of customizing the color of the album cover for shellac records that had previously been in uniform packaging: Since the beginning of the industrial In production, plates were mostly sold in simple cardboard or paper sleeves that were printed with advertisements for other plates from the manufacturer.
The first gramophone records, for which a draft was used by Stone Weiss was a recording of songwriter Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart titled Smash song hits by Rodgers & Hart , published in February 1940. Stone White went for the photo the New York Imperial Theater on 45th Street and persuaded the owner to set the light panel for an hour so that his team could photograph the words Rodgers and Hart . Thanks to the artistic design of its records, the Columbia label was able to increase sales many times over.
A record case has several functions:
- It is intended to protect the product from harmful physical influences such as scratches, dust or extreme heat. In addition, a cover is also required for transport and storage.
- Carrier medium for information
- Information about the music (recording dates, participating artists and technicians, various information about the music itself, acknowledgments, etc.) can be given on a record sleeve.
- Means of identification
- From a marketing point of view , the case should advertise the content with an appealing presentation, especially since the record itself hardly offers any space for images. In addition, it can be seen at first glance which product is involved, so that it is unmistakable due to the external design.
- Medium of art
- From an artistic point of view, the shell should visualize the demands and ideas of the musicians, and possibly also the publisher for business reasons. The cover became an important part of musical culture, soon being seen as a unit with music. As a marketing instrument and a means of artistic expression, double-folded record sleeves in particular have repeatedly become independent works of art.
For practical reasons, there are strict limits to the design of record sleeves in terms of size, weight and material. A distinction must be made between a cover for singles and long-playing records . In the case of the former, square 18.5 cm × 18.5 cm, a distinction is made between the so-called perforated cover (the circular open area in the middle of the cover was the size of the label and thus allowed a view of the label lettering) and the so-called picture cover , which was often printed with photos of the performers. The standard dimensions of an LP record sleeve are around 31.5 cm × 31.5 cm, the weight of a simple sleeve is around 60 to 80 grams. While CDs are packed in jewel cases and cardboard sleeves, records came on the market in cardboard sleeves.
Gatefold covers and boxes
Simple albums can be found in both non-foldable and so-called gatefold covers. These can be opened like a book. (A “gatefold” is actually a fold-out insert, for example in a magazine.) The inner part can be used to insert inserts between the covers. With double and triple albums, the additional flaps are used to accommodate additional long-playing records. When folded, gatefold covers have the same external dimensions as the standard covers. In descriptions of antiquarian long-playing records in particular, these covers are also referred to as FOC ( fold out cover ).
Larger editions than triple albums usually came on the market in a cardboard box. Examples from the field of popular music are the “ Boxed ” collection by Mike Oldfield (1976) or the live album “Chicago at Carnegie Hall” by the band Chicago (1971), which, in addition to four albums, also has a 20-page booklet with photos and a large poster of the band. Such box editions were found more frequently in the field of classical music , where complete recordings of operas or other complete editions were repeatedly offered in this form.
Long-playing records are not put directly into the cardboard sleeves, but are also in a further sleeve (English (inner) sleeve ; in German also inlay ) made of white paper, thin cardboard or a transparent plastic film, often in a combination of paper and inside Packed in foil. Unprinted paper sleeves often have a circular hole in the middle on one or both sides the size of the label on the record. Hole-free covers are very often to be found printed, and they are also used for advertising purposes by showing an excerpt from the range of the respective music label on them . Cardboard covers are usually printed and seen as a single unit with the actual record cover. The lyrics of the album are often printed on them, just like on paper sleeves . The first album that provided the lyrics of the songs was " Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band " by the Beatles from 1967.
The visual design of the record cover can influence the external form, and the artistic claim can be mixed with original marketing ideas. For example - in order to stand out from the multitude of products on offer - covers made of corrugated cardboard (e.g. "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull (1971)) could be found. Another design form, for example, was the cover of the double album “ Babylon by Bus ” by Bob Marley & The Wailers (1978), which had two large holes in the shape of a double windshield of a bus to match the illustration. Additional elements could also be attached to the cover. Examples of this are the record cover of Rolling Stone LP “ Sticky Fingers ” (1971), on which a pair of pants was depicted and provided with an actual zip, or the cover of “ Led Zeppelin III ” (1970), which contained a volvelle . Jethro Tull's album "Thick as a Brick" (1972) was delivered with a cover that was shaped like a ten-page newspaper. Such elaborately designed covers were mostly replaced by simple covers in later editions of the albums and are now considered collector's items.
An extraordinary artistic design usually has a high recognition value and ensures high, sometimes long-lasting awareness of the album, for example in the case of the LPs " Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band " by the Beatles (1967), " Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake ”by Small Faces (first round shape; May 1968),“ The Dark Side of the Moon ”by Pink Floyd (1973) or the cover of the debut album by Velvet Underground (1967) designed by Andy Warhol . In addition to artistic ambition and optical richness, deliberately used simplicity was also noticeable: For example, both “ The Beatles ” (called “White Album”) (1968) and “ Welcome ” by Santana (1973) were originally only in white, and the Title inscriptions were only recognizable as raised embossing without any color distinction. Later editions put the record titles in color.
Design as part of corporate identity
Some record companies used and still use the design of their sleeves as part of their corporate identity . The jazz label Blue Note Records, for example, had the covers of most of its records designed by graphic artist Reid Miles in the same concise design language. These are now considered classics of graphic design. Other labels such as Verve show suitable contemporary painting (e.g. on albums by Getz / Gilberto). In the field of (progressive) rock, for example, Vertigo Records used cover design to give many publications a typical design. The artist Roger Dean was often commissioned for this .
In the electronica scene, the designs of the British agency The Designers Republic for the Warp Records label or the covers of the German IDM group Funkstören are considered to be groundbreaking. The appearance of the Cologne record label Profan or Kompakt was largely shaped by the minimalist cover designs by graphic artist Bianca Strauch . In the techno scene, new releases are sometimes tested in advance as promos without a graphic cover. Such records are called white labels .
There are cover designs that can determine entire genres of music. For example, font collages are characteristic of the majority of punk covers, notably the cover design of the Sex Pistols records by Jamie Reid.
The corporate identity concept is also used insofar as the names of artists are designed in an unmistakable form and virtually function as a logo . Examples are the bands AC / DC , Chicago and Iron Maiden .
The cover text is the descriptive text about the content of a record, previously often printed in several columns on the back of the record cover. A music critic close to the respective artist was often commissioned to write background information and descriptions of the recordings. In particular, the instrumental accompaniment ( session musician , sideman ), discographic information on the history of the creation, texts of the pieces of music and personal information about the performers were given. With today's CD formats, the liner notes are included as an accompanying booklet ( CD booklet ).
In jazz in particular, there are often very detailed accompanying texts that are usually written by experts. These are mostly producers, journalists or authors. The best-known authors of liner notes include Ira Gitler , Leonard Feather and Orrin Keepnews . On other recordings, such as Miles Davis ' Kind of Blue , the liner notes also come from the musicians involved (in the aforementioned case Bill Evans ). Some of the first liner notes were written by George Avakian in 1939 ( Chicago Jazz ).
The authors often begin by explaining musical contexts. (Number of bars, key and gender , rhythm, expressivity, form of a piece, often for each individual piece). Marketing is sometimes taken ironically and is often indistinguishable from the author's actual enthusiasm for jazz.
In contrast to the blurb of books, comments or interviews with the musician are rather rare. The quality of the liner notes in jazz is sometimes used as a benchmark in the rock and pop genre. In the case of re-releases , the success and influence of the original edition are usually also the subject of the liner notes.
The Grammy Award for Best Album Notes has been presented for accompanying texts since 1964 .
In the field of classical music , detailed accompanying texts by experts are also commonplace. There are often detailed music-historical or musicological explanations of the respective works, the composer and, in some cases, the interpreters. Depending on the sales area of the record, the texts are often available at the same time as translations into other languages.
- Michael Glasmeier, Ursula Block: Broken Music. Artists' Recordworks. Berlin artist program of the DAAD. Yellow Music, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-89357-013-6 .
- Klaus Gier: Andy Warhol's record and cover design . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2001, ISBN 3-631-37418-6 .
- Antonia Kosseva-Göldi: Sound packed: record sleeves and their special preservation and restoration problems - with special consideration of laminated sleeves. HKB Bern 2012. Master's thesis.
- Michael Ochs: 1000 Record Covers. Taschen-Verlag, Cologne 2002, ISBN 3-8228-1978-6 .
- Burkhardt Seiler and Friends (Ed.): The Album Cover Art of Punk. Olms, Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-283-00355-6 .
- Martina Schmitz: Album Cover: History and aesthetics of record packaging in the USA after 1940. Designer - styles - content. Scaneg Verlag, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-89235-019-1 .
- Kevin Reagan, Steven Heller: Alex Steinweiss, The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover. Taschen-Verlag, Cologne 2011, ISBN 3-8365-2771-5 .
- Cf. Christian Meyer: The Wrapping Artist. (For the 70th return of the invention of the record cover). Süddeutsche Zeitung , No. 256, November 6, 2009, p. 10.
- Peter Blake: Notes on the cover , in the booklet for the Sgt. Pepper album, CD edition from 2009, EMI Records.
- A comprehensive lexicon of pop & rock music basic information in over 2000 drawers by Bruce Bruckmoser & Peter Wulff, Graphics & Typography, Frontenhausen, book edition: ISBN 3-9804816-2-X Ebr, here online .