This is the first in a series of features on album artwork. My friend, Ben, suggested I use some of my time with Radio Free Raytown to explore the topic. Artwork has historically been the selling point for many albums, and I find it to be a constant source of excitement when discovering new albums. In fact, the stories about the packaging (and evolution thereof) are sometimes as interesting as the albums themselves.
For these discussions, I have chosen particular albums to be case studies on various phenomena in the marketing of albums. The first topic I will discuss is drawing attention to the hit single, and I will use The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album, Time Out, as an example.
For the album, Brubeck experimented with uncommon time signatures, and the label chose to match it with “experimental” or modern art by Columbia Records employee, Neal Fujita, on the cover. As Brubeck continued the series, Columbia continued pairing the albums with modern artists (including Joan Miró, one of my favorites).
When saxophonist Paul Desmond’s composition, “Take Five,” became an unexpected hit, Columbia Records reissued the album, modifying the artwork to draw attention to the single. (Now, this was not an uncommon occurrence. Labels routinely changed artwork for artists, from Harry Belafonte to Elvis Presley, instead of just adding stickers to a package like they do now.) The scheme usually worked, and labels sold more of the reissues, making these originals more valuable.
I appreciate the original a little more because the painting was bigger without the extra text. The purist in me also cringes at attempts to commercialize art, as the art usually gets compromised. I hate it when labels add text or stickers to albums or CDs because it means that the audience can’t remember the songs it liked. (It’s like when companies use those as-seen-on-TV labels. Must you really advertise that? If I saw it on TV, wouldn’t I know it?) Then again, I know the occasional feeling of looking for a song I’ve heard but cant remember the artist’s name or song title.
Photographs by Denny Medley