Another Look at SF/Fantasy Record Album Art

MDJackson_album art_3049267462_995a32ceffTwo weeks ago I wrote about science fiction album art and I focused on two bands; Klaatu and Hawkwind. This week I’m going to continue with the theme of album art but I’m going to do a broader overview and look at a few different albums that had science fiction or fantasy themed art on their covers, although not necessarily in the music that was recorded on the album.

Back in the 70’s and into the 80’s one of the heroes of album art was Roger Dean.

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Roger Dean is an English artist, designer, architect, and publisher. He began painting album covers in the late 1960s. His first album cover work was in 1968 for The Gun. He also did the artwork for Atomic Rooster’s album In Hearing of... This album cover hinted at the inimitable style for which he would later become famous. In the same year Dean produced the cover for the first album by the African/Caribbean band Osibisa, which featured a hybrid insect/elephant. This was much closer to Dean’s work as we came to know it and it attracted widespread attention. Later that year, he began the partnership with the progressive rock bands Yes (and Asia) for which he is best known. His first design for the band was for their album Fragile. Dean designed the now-classic Yes “bubble” logo, which first appeared on the album Close to the Edge, and continued to create covers for the band until as recently as 2011.

MDJackson_album art_the-final-frontier-coverKnown primarily for the dreamy, other-worldly scenes he has created for Yes, Budgie, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant and other bands, Dean has said, “I don’t really think of myself as a fantasy artist but as a landscape painter.” Characteristic landscapes show graceful stone arches or floating islands, while many paintings show organic appearing habitats.

Another band that has fantasy, or in this case, horror based illustrations on their album covers is the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Their covers feature a character dubbed “Eddie” and he has been described as a zombie or a mummy or even a cyborg. Eddie began life as a paper macho mask that was displayed onstage behind the band during their early live gigs. The mask was then incorporated into the cover art for their albums and “Eddie” has been the band’s mascot ever since.

MDJackson_album art_cover_5351199102009Blue Oyster Cult is a band that has had a close association with fantasy as far as their album covers are concerned but also lyrically. Their iconic hit Don’t Fear the Reaper is a mainstay song in horror pictures. Its theme of death and love readily lends itself to the unsettling atmosphere needed for the modern slasher film. Burt they have other fantasy and science fiction themed songs as well. Their song Godzilla is a paean to the Japanese giant monster movie, and Black Blade is a song about Michael Moorcock’s Sword and Sorcery hero Elric of Melnibone. Later thy would collaborate with Moorcock when he wrote the lyrics for their song Veteran of the Psychic Wars.

Other bands that have fantasy themed artwork (although not necessarily fantasy themed music) include Electric Light Orchestra with their spaceship-like logo and their Maxfield Parish/Arabian Nights inspired imagery, and Boston with their iconic UFO logo.

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Album art is not the same anymore because there is no longer a physical album. Even when music delivery moved from the larger vinyl albums to smaller compact discs, album art suffered. The smaller physical space meant that images had to have a tighter focus and made a different impact upon the buyer. Now there is no more album. Music is streamed electronically. Artwork, it seems, has little place in selling music except as a thumbnail image. While our experience of music has been, in many ways, enhanced by the new methods of delivery some aspects have been lost and this is one of them,

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les_baxter_space_escapade-scaled1000What are some of your favorite SF or fantasy themed albums?

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  1. I agree that there is something lost with the decline in importance in cover art. I also think there has been a decline in thematic albums. Some of my favorite SF/F themed albums not mentioned here:

    To Our Children’s Children’s Children – The Moody Blues – Made in 1969, oozes a sort of optimism for a space age that never quite happened.

    Olias of Sunhillow – Jon Anderson w/ Roger Dean cover – Aliens must build a ship and move to a new planet when their planet is doomed.

    Blows Against the Empire – Paul Kantner/Grace Slick (proto-Jefferson Starship) – Rebels steal a starship and set out in search of a new home.

    The Iron Man: A Musical – Pete Townshend, et al. – an adaptation of the Ted Hughes’ story

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