Andy Warhol's Album Artwork: Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

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As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case an album, but sometimes it cannot be helped. Custom packaging is an extremely important with any kind of product but despite this album cover art has not always been used to record labels advantages. Up until the 1930s records were stored in paper sleeves bound in pasteboard covers, appropriately called tombstones, as a way to protect them from dust. Record stores were also rare, so albums ended up stuck in appliance stores near record players. At the end of the decade Alex Stienweiss began working for a small recording firm, The American Gramaphone Company, now known as Columbia Records.

As the art director for the label he was originally hired for promotional work, but he suggested spicing up a few of the sleeves. Columbia was reluctant at first but allowed him to carry on anyways. He started with Smash Song Hits by Rogers and Hart and using a photographer they both headed down to the Imperial Theatre. Steinweiss convinced the owner to temporarily swap out the letters on the marquee and the photographer did his job. This would go on to be the very first album cover. He also worked on the redesigning of the Third Symphony, Eroica, by Beethoven. From this alone sales went up by 900%. Since then over a span of 30 years he created thousands of record sleeves. 10 years after Steinweiss proposed his idea Columbia finally released the LP format to the public. This made it much easier for other companies to show off their own artwork.

Columbia records has signed many artists and are considered to be the biggest record label currently in the U.S. One of their biggest artists include The Rolling Stones. Their first few albums were just pictures of them with their band name deliberately missing. It was not until the mid-sixties when they first began messing around with the layout of the design and in 1971 the controversial album Sticky Fingers was released. It created controversy for the designer who was actually Andy Warhol. The close-up of a man’s crotch, which included a functioning zipper, dared viewers to listen to it. Nearly fifty years later, the image for Sticky Fingers expresses the core of Rolling Stones at their peak. They are impossible to ignore.

The stark black-and-white close-up of a man’s crotch captured a simple, straightforward approach. The red rubber stamp style of the album title and band’s name added extra grittiness. Not only was the cover art celebrated but it was also the debut of the classic Rolling Stones logo: the one of the cherry red lips and tongue, designed by John Pasche. Sticky Fingers became variety One merchant, reaching triple-platinum standing, and achieved many crucial accolades. 

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