When people lament the demise of the record store, or worry over the future of the album, they frequently mention, in some respect, the fate of the album cover itself. It’s not unique to the Internet era — even when CDs were supplanting vinyl, detractors of the new medium often cited (not wrongly) the drastically reduced cover size as a major drawback. Album sleeves came of age with the album, and have come to occupy similar places in our affections: The best scene in Almost Famous is the one scored by Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” after Zooey Deschanel has announced she’s leaving behind her family to become a stewardess, when her little brother (who will grow up to become Patrick Fugit and eventually Cameron Crowe) looks under his bed to find the stash of albums she’s left him: Blonde On Blonde, Blue, Pet Sounds, Axis: Bold As Love. The kid’s not even listening to the music, he’s just running his fingers over the covers, hypnotized, transported. The images alone have unlocked the doors to a new universe for him. Of course he becomes a rock critic.
Outside of maybe Andy Warhol, I’m not sure any single artist did more for the album cover as a form than Storm Thorgerson, co-founder of the great graphic arts group Hipgnosis, which he ran with Aubrey Powell from 1968 till 1983. The first cover created by Hipgnosis was Pink Floyd’s Saucerful Of Secrets, and from there, the team produced dozens of the coolest, most iconic sleeves in rock history. Thorgerson himself more or less came to define the visual aesthetic of prog rock (only Roger Dean can be included in the same class). Thorgerson’s most famous work is the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, perhaps the most recognizable album cover ever created. But Thorgerson was behind nearly every image in Floyd’s discography; he also created artwork for Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, and many others. Thorgerson worked on his own after the split of Hipgnosis, producing new sleeve art for the rest of his life (his final work was Biffy Clyro’s Opposites, one of my favorite albums of 2013). He passed away yesterday, after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 69.
Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour posted a short eulogy to Thorgersron on Floyd’s website, reposted here:
We first met in our early teens. We would gather at Sheep’s Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Nothing has ever really changed.
He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend.
The artworks that he created for Pink Floyd from 1968 to the present day have been an inseparable part of our work.
I will miss him.
In the gallery, I put together a slideshow highlighting 10 of Thorgerson’s album covers; I didn’t include Dark Side, because everyone knows Dark Side — it’s been seared into your subconscious as prominently as your own name. I did include some of his work of which I am especially fond, or some work readers might not immediately associate with Thorgerson (it runs in chronological order, starting in 1970 and finishing up in 2013). It’s all weird and immediate and beautiful: powerful visual echoes of — and invitations to explore — the music inside. It’s because of artists like Storm Thorgerson that these things still matter to us. R.I.P.