Hands down, the best part of the WFMU record fair is the album covers. If it weren’t for the sullen or bored stares of the various salespeople and collectors, I could have spent the entire day improvising a slideshow out of crate after crate of collectable vinyl, and not just because it used to be a lot more acceptable to use semi-naked 13-year-olds to sell music.
Cover art is so integral that it’s hard to remember it had to be invented around World War II, that no one realized the record sleeve gave you a square foot of advertising space. As the music industry grew, the increasing number of albums catalyzed an explosion in visual creativity, some great, and some terrible. The most inspirational cover of all time has to be the one at right, for Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West“, which (no shit) inspired Mel Brooks to write a forgotten movie about a black cowboy. It’s called Blazing Saddles.
The packaging’s gradually shrunk since then, to the point where record labels are beginning to rely more on the postage-stamp-sized covers on the right than anything large enough to inspire anyone. Sure, they’re recognizable at almost any size, but no one really uses them to fuse an image to a sound. When was the last time you bought an album based purely on the cover? Even if it was one of the worst covers of all time?