album art

An album is a musical work of extended duration, a collection of recordings, usually at least 30 minutes in length. Albums have been released across a range of formats, but became largely associated with the LP twelve-inch, 331/3 rpm disk, primarily between 1955 and 1985. The album became prominent as a format in the 1960s, but its vinyl form was largely displaced by CDs in the 1980s. Albums are distinct from may singles in that: singles are relativaly expensive, transient, and commercial, whereas albums are artistic, have greater longevity, and cultural value. Albums foreground the authorial intentions of performers, thereby contributing to their legitimization as serious artists. Most discussions of the popular music canon are based on albums.


Covert art

Part of the appeal of albums was the development of their covers as an art form, with some creative packaging and the inclusion of supplementary material in releases during the 1960s. The album covers of The Beatles recordings were especially notable: groundbreaking in their visual and aesthetic properties and their innovative and imaginative designs. They forged a link with the expanding British graphic design industry and the art world, while making explicit the connections between art and pop in the 1960s. The Grammys began including an award for best album cover, won by The Beatles in 1966 for Revolver and again in 1967 for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, undoubtedly the most celebrated album cover.


Album covers

Album covers perform several important functions: they are a form of advertising, alerting consumers to the artist(s) responsible, and thereby sustaining and drawing on an auteur/star image; and they make an artistic statement in relation to the style of music by association with particular iconography, e.g. the use of apocalyptic imagery in heavy metal, and the fantasy imagery of progressive rock. Album cover liner notes function as a literary and advertising form, while the practice of printing song lyrics on covers often signals a 'serious' genre and artist.


Cover art has come to be considered an art form (as have concert posters), with the publication of collected volumes of the work of artists such as Roger Dean. Particular record companies are associated with a 'house' style of covers, e.g. the jazz label Blue Note from the mid-1950s employed a talented graphic artist, Reid Miles, to design most of its album sleeves.


Concept albums

Concept albums and rock operas are unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical. In this form, the album changed from a collection of heterogeneous songs into a narrative work with a single theme, in which individual songs segue into one another. Concept albums first emerged in the 1960s as rock music aspired to the status of art, and some were accordingly termed 'rock operas'. Pete Townshend of the Who is usually credited with pioneering the concept, with the double album Tommy (MCA, 1969), although Townshend was partly inspired by the Pretty Things' P.F.Sorrow (Edsel, 1968) which had appeared the previous year. Subsequent examples included Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, We're Only In It For the Money (Verve, 1967); the Kinks' Arthur, or Decline of the British Empire (Reprise, 1969), initially planned as a TV musical, and one of several concept albums penned by Ray Davies, the leader of the group; The Who's Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973); and the Eagles' Desperado (Asylum, 1973), which equated rock'n'roll musicians with Old West outlaws. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) is often considered a concept album, for its musical cohesion rather than any thematic unity. These and similar efforts enjoyed various levels of success, and there is debate around the utility of the album format for such conceptual projects.