As a kid, a lot of my time was spent either drawing or rummaging through my parents vast music collection. The latter becoming more of bed time ritual, as every night I would listen to an album(s) until I fell asleep, literally, until I fell asleep, which meant that the next morning my Dad gave me his usual: “Jonathan, you’re going to go deaf if you continue to fall asleep with those headphones on…” speech. This ritual turned to obsession when in 4th grade I received my first Sony Walkman. Night to night I would pick out a new tape to listen to. At first, I started listening to albums that I had heard my parents play on one of many weekend camping trips or long drives to our lake house, but when I started running out of familiar names, I would choose solely on a what the album’s cover looked like (unbeknownst to me at the time, this would be one of the main reasons I would become a Graphic Designer). As I got older and became more familiar with certain artists, photographers and designers, I came to realize that 90% of the album covers I had fallen in love with as a kid, were designed by a group by the name of Hipgnosis.
Hipgnosis was a British design group responsible for creating some of the most iconic and recognizable album covers of all times. Most notably for bands and artists such as Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Scorpions, Yes, The Alan Parsons Project, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, ELO, just to name a few. The group consisted primarily of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, and later, Peter Christopherson. The group would dissolve in 1983, though Thorgerson still works on album designs, and Powell works in video.
The groups approach to album design was strongly photography-oriented, and they pioneered the use of many innovative visual and packaging techniques. In particular, Thorgerson & Powell’s surreal, elaborately manipulated photos (utilizing darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques) were a film-based forerunner of what, much later, can be called “Photoshopping”. Hipgnosis used primarily Hasselblad medium format cameras for their work, the square film format being especially suited to album cover imagery.
Another trademark was that many of their cover photos told “stories” directly related to the album’s lyrics, often based on puns or double meanings of words in the album title. Since both Powell and Thorgerson were film students, they often used models as “actors” and staged the photos in a highly theatrical manner. Many of Hipgnosis’ covers also featured distinctively “high tech” pen and ink logos and illustrations (often by graphic designer George Hardie), stickers, fancy inner sleeves, and other packaging bonuses. One of the unique extras created by Hipgnosis was the specially printed inner sleeve for Led Zeppelin’s “In Through the Out Door LP”, a “black and white” affair that magically turned to color when dampened with water (tying in with the main cover’s photographic theme).
The groups contribution to album cover designs and packaging can best be described as more of a legacy than anything. A legacy that definitely shaped a generation and set the bar for future album design for years to come.