Album Art – Andy Warhol Covers

A leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art.

This is where I’ll be talking about the Album Art that I like. That is one of the benefits of 12″ vinyl albums, the cool packaging that surrounded the record. Here I’ll research the creations that we all loved as children, teenagers, and adults. I’ll try to find as much information on the artists as I can.

Iconic album covers can be the thing that propels an album to the top of the charts, but it’s not an exact science. Cultural relevancy and shock factor can make a huge difference in how an album cover is received. Andy Warhol put his touch on several albums during his career. In the late 1950s, as the record industry began to expand at an extraordinary rate, he was hired by both Columbia and RCA Records on a freelance basis.

The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will.

Andy Warhol

RCA’s, art director Robert M. Jones remembers that Warhol was paid $50 a piece for his first creations. At the age of 21, he did a drawing for Carlos Chávez, the Mexican composer, conductor, and music theorist’s 1949 LP “A Program of Mexican Music” for Columbia Records. This cover is noted for the use of the blotted line technique, one that Andy Warhol use throughout the 1950s for artistic and practical reasons.

The primitive print-making method involved copying a drawing from a tracing paper to an absorbent paper, adding ink to the drawing, and then transferring the ink to the copy. The process resulted in the dotted, broken, and delicate lines that are characteristic of Warhol’s illustrations. He discovered the technique by mistake when he spilled ink during a transfer.

He created an apple with an arrow through it for Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” in 1953. This 45 EP was for RCA and certainly told the whole story.

Warhol created a portrait of Count Basie for his self-titled 1955 45 EP. The record contains “Seventh Avenue Express”, “My Buddy”, “Basie’s Basement”, and Lopin’. This was the first time Warhol created a celebrity portrait, well before his much better-known images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Mick Jagger and others.

For the Prestige label, in 1956, he created a cover with very simple 4 giant block letters for “Monk” by the legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. This engagement introduced Warhol to legendary album cover designer Reid Miles, who is estimated to design 500 album covers over a period of 15 years. The album on which he entrusted Warhol to work on was the second that Thelonious Monk recorded for Prestige.

In 1956 Warhol did the cover for the Prestige album Trombone by Three, featuring Jay Jay Johnson, Kai Winding, and Bennie Breen. He was inspired by an 8th-century drawing of King David surrounded by musicians. Keeping the same poses, hairstyles, and rolled-up sleeves, he created a drawing with India Ink, replacing the trumpets with horns sculpted from elephant tusks.

Also in 1956, Blue Note asked Reid Miles to help design the new enlarged surface now available for cover art. He called on Warhol who drew the album cover for Kenny Burrell. He drew a close-up of hands playing the guitar, influenced by the many photographs taken by label founder Francis Wolff. Henri Matisse[1] is an influence here.

Kenny Burrell’s “Blue Lights” album conveyed class and music for an adult audience. Miles hired Warhol who sketched a full stretched feminine figure in perspective influenced by photographs of Hollywood pinup starlets from the previous decades.

In 1960, Warhol created the cover for a spoken word album by Tennessee Williams, “Reading From the Glass Menagerie, The Yellow Book and Five Poems” on Caedmon Records. The lettering was done by Andy’s mother, Julia Warhola, whom he often used for her decorative handwriting to accompany his illustrations.

Being a close friend of photographer Edward Wallowitch, Warhol created the cover for his brother’s 1964 debut album, songwriter and cabaret performer John Wallowitch’s LP “This Is John Wallowitch!!!”. He wrote over 2000 songs and for over 50 years he played and sang a catalog of original songs at nightspots around New York City.

In 1967, Warhol created a deliberately provocative design for the self-titled debut record for The Velvet Underground’s LP, “The Velvet Underground & Nico”. Early copies of the album even invited the owner to ‘peel slowly and see’ and, when peeling back the banana skin, revealed a flesh-colored banana underneath which didn’t leave much to the imagination. A special machine was then needed to manufacture the covers, a decision which led to the album release being considerably delayed.

However, the connection to Warhol was viewed by their label as a major key to their success. The plans were earmarked as an investment by the record company who happily obliged to pay for the extra costs, believing that the tie to the iconic artist would boost sales of the album tenfold. The banana would become symbiotic with the group even some 50 years later

Someone had to sit there with piles of albums, peel off the yellow banana skin stickers and place them over the pink fruit by hand

Warhol’s artistic director, Ronnie Cutrone

It would be four years before Warhol was lured into another cover. This time it was The Rolling Stones‘ “Sticky Fingers”. Mick Jagger was thrilled with Andy’s concept of the zipper cover for their 11th studio album. The Factory[2] showed a picture of a man in tight jeans who had a working zipper that opened to reveal underwear fabric.

The cover was expensive to produce and damaged the vinyl record, so later re-issues featured just the outer photograph of the jeans. The photography was by Billy Name and the design was by Craig Braun. It has been rumored that the photograph was of Jagger but this is not true. Andy was also behind the artwork for the EP “Brown Sugar / Bitch / Let It Rock”.

In 1972, Warhol would create the album cover for The Velvet Underground’s John Cale’s “The Academy in Peril”. It was 25 “Kodachrome” slides that were actually a die-cut cover that opened up to show the photos inside the gatefold.

Warhol would craft a portrait of Paul Anka for the cover of his 1976 album, “The Painter”. This was United Artists’ first release to employ the new Sansui Electric QS Regular Matrix system[3] for Quadraphonic sound and 4-channel pressing technology.

Next was the 1977 live double album “Love You Live” again by The Rolling Stones. Warhol was angered when Jagger decided to add hand-written titles to his artwork. This was their third live release and includes music from their Tour of the Americas shows in the US in the summer of 1975, Tour of Europe shows in 1976, and performances from the El Mocambo nightclub concert venue in Toronto in 1977.

Other album covers included Liza Minnelli – “Live At Carnegie Hall”(1981) – Billy Squier, “Emotions in Motion” (1982), Diana Ross – “Silk Electric” (1982), Peer Raben – “Querelle – Ein Pakt Mit Dem Teufel” – (1982 film soundtrack), Rats & Star – “Soul Vacation” (1983), Aretha Franklin – “Aretha” (1986).

The 1986 posthumous “Menlove Ave.” compilation album by John Lennon has a Warhol portrait of Lennon made in 1980. The first side of the LP comprises session outtakes from the Rock ‘n’ Roll sessions with Phil Spector in late 1973, apart from “Rock and Roll People”, which is from the Mind Games sessions. The remainder features rehearsal recordings in mid-1974 for Walls and Bridges.

Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol. Photo: Chris Stein.

Debbie Harry’s “Rockbird” LP was released on November 15, 1986, with the Andy Warhol painted cover. There were four variations of the album artwork with the lettering in green, orange, pink, and yellow (with slight variations due to printing techniques). Andy tried to get Bebbie to pick her favorite photos that he took but she left it up to him.

Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol. Photo: Chris Stein.

  1. Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954) was a French visual artist, known for both his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.[Back]
  2. The Factory was Andy Warhol’s studio in New York City, which had four locations between 1963 and 1987. The Factory became famed for its parties in the 1960s. It was the hip hangout spot for artists, musicians, celebrities, and Warhol’s superstars. The original Factory was often referred to as the Silver Factory. In the studio, Warhol’s workers would make silkscreens and lithographs under his direction. [Back]
  3. In 1971, Sansui introduced the Quadphonic Synthesizer QS-1, which could make simulated four-channel stereo from two-channel sources. Sansui developed the QS Regular Matrix system, which made it possible to transmit four-channel Quadraphonic sound from a standard LP. The channel separation was only 3 dB, but because of the human way of hearing it sounded relatively good. In 1973, Sansui introduced the more advanced QS Vario Matrix decoder with 20 dB separation. [Back]


The Music Aficionado
Far Out Magazine

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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