Black Vinyl Rituals and the Madness of Crowds

Lou Reed's 1971 debut solo album.

You know, if you’d asked me yesterday, “What fascinating topics do you expect get all excited about tomorrow?”

I would have probably guessed things like: “The rise in domestic US police helicopter surveillance, attendant budgetary concerns ramifications for displacement of military helicopter forces with turboprop aircraft in counterinsurgency operations and smuggling interdiction!”

Or….”Supreme court obscenity decisions!” Or “The terminal ballistics of the .223 Remington round vs. the 5.7 NATO, as compared to .30 caliber in terms of their wounding capability against zombies vs. werewolves vs. leprechauns in Kevlar body armor!”

Or ” “the heat death of the Universe,” or “Frozen human heads,” or “metastatic renal cell carcinoma” — you get the idea.

Would I have guessed “Typography in album covers?” Probably not.

Yet this wonderful article by Sonalia Vora at thoroughly fascinates me. Titled “50 Years of Typography in Album Covers,” it surveys some of the more interesting and innovative examples of how type can be used to unique effect, and specifically how it has been used in one of the most influential popular arts of the second half of the 20th Century.

While the article itself is fascinating just from a typography-nerd perspective, it also got me thinking about how much energy my friends and I used to put into vinyl.

Today’s “album cover art” usually apes the general format of the LP — as did CD covers. But there’s no reason for it. As a digital sound artist today, you can create whatever images you do or don’t want to accompany your work, both in marketing and artistic terms. You can slap them up wherever you want in whatever style and aspect ratio you please, with no guarantee that anyone will ever see them or pay attention if they do. The musical artists and their music-industry representatives have even less control today over what images get seen with music than they did in the days of my youth — when the biggest problem they had was that someone would “illegally” home-tape their hard rock album on one side of an TDK SD90 b/w Harry Bellafonte’s Greatest Hits.

This was, of course, back before “irony.”

And when I say “music industry representatives,” I am of course including every stratum of the “industry,” since there’s nothing even remotely close to a monolithic one-tiered music-industry structure today. (READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON TECHYUM)


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