by Art Chantry:
this is another one of those record covers that i consider absolutely perfect, even exquisite. granted, it’s not a recent cover or even a very famous cover. but, it’s absolutely impeccable in concept, execution and intent. i found this thing about 30 years ago and have kept it among my treasures ever since. it’s not a bad listen, either!
after showing you that juliette greco cover yesterday and waxing on about how great i thought it was, it seems a little redundant to show you this one the next day and say the same thing. on the surface, the two covers look remarkably similar in style. but, that’s just the b&w photograph fooling you. once you get past that one conceit, comparisons start to fall apart fast.
both of these covers feature the artist posing for the camera solo (that’s another small surface similarity). greco’s is a total forcefull full-on power portrait. she’s even leaning forward toward the camera in an “i dare you to say anything” pose. her image was about outsider power and liberation. sinatra’s image is almost exactly the opposite. he’s at the peak of his pop career – a totally ‘made man’. he’s relaxing and grinning and confident. the music follows that theme, too. it’s one of his best and most relaxed and commanding recordings. a great record. both greco’s and sinatra’s images portrayed here are about power. but, greco is about claiming and striving for power while frankie is totally about dominance and comfort with power.
even today, the convention of a record cover is to “put a picture of the artist on the cover” to help sales. indeed, when you show the artist on the cover, sales actually do go up a small percentage (say like 5% or so). that’s enough to shove it over the line into profitability. so corporate record companies always insist on the performer on the cover. i can’t tell you how many times i’d do up a really amazing design – only to have some middle brow twit in the legal department start playing ‘art director’ and tell you put the “photo of the band on the cover.” most record covers even today show the performer on the cover. you have to get really HUGE to skip that issue now.
the only period of time when the desired design was to NOT have a picture of the band on the cover was when the underground managed to sneak onto the pop charts. the late 60’s psychedelic period was one period like that, and the punk era was the other. dicso had no performers (generally they had producers) so they also had no image to use. that’s why disco was so largely ‘image oriented’ rather than ‘artist oriented’ in their cover design.
both of these covers have tremendous, wonderful typography on them. in sinatra’s case, it’s the ONLY color on the cover! if you look closely (bad scan) you’ll see that the lettering (not actual ‘type’) is multi-colored – red/magenta/orange, etc. it’s great peppy fun and festive and tells you right away that it’s a gentle happy recording. it’s brilliant stuff and exquisitely placed. putting it ON TOP of frankie and even LOWER DOWN in the frame is astonishingly daring for the period this was made. defacing the performer? no way, dude. NOT placing it at the very tippy top of the page? that is like ‘against the law”!
records were displayed in record racks, not hung like artwork. the name of the band HAD to be at the top of the edge of the square cover, or the shopper couldn’t figure out who the record was by (in less that 3 seconds) while you flipped through the records in the bin. so, having the name of the act FIRST (at the tippy top edge) followed by the record TITLE was so standard that it is still the sacred rule today – even though we don’t use record bins any more at all. you always see the cd cover full face on the website or in the rack display.
but, WAIT a minute! something is definitely MISSING here! you may note that the name of the artist is not at the tippy top edge like i just said. in fact it’s NOWHERE TO BEEN SEEN!!! that is truly AMAZING! this may be the earliest record i’ve ever seen that did that little trick. frank sinatra was SO FAMOUS by this point that he actually didn’t need to place his name on the cover of his records, just his face was enough. you’ll notice that his smilin’ mug is placed near the tippy top, too. when you flipped through the rack, you saw his face! that was enough to do the sales ID trick.
to realize just how incredible a feat this was for the designer (utterly anonymous) to dare to even try (much less get accepted) – please note that even the Beatles and Elvis Presley always had their ‘artist name’ on the cover of all of their records. in fact, it’s really hard to come up with anybody else famous enough to pullthis nifty little trick. i think fankie actually did it a couple of times, too. not bad.
great cover, great record, but a total asshole dude. “truth in advertising?” you be the judge.
more accurately: “advertising makes it happen.”