Album Artwork Through The Ages: A Celebration of 70 Years of The Album

As of Monday 8th October, an exhibition commemorating 70 years of iconic album artwork was opened as part of the UK’s first National Album Day celebrations.

The public exhibition launched at London’s Waterloo Station before travelling to Manchester Piccadilly and Glasgow Central Station.

Spanning 7 decades of popular art, music and design, this exhibition marks the cultural milestone of the 70th anniversary of the album format. It will shine a light on the most iconic album designs in popular culture and explore the fascinating history behind some of the most renowned designs of our time.

In association with the Best Art Vinyl Awards, an expert panel of judges have been enlisted to select the best album artwork to represent each year from 1949 – 2004. These contribute to the last 13 winners of the Best Art Vinyl Awards which has been running since 2005 and the result, in many ways, is a definitive retrospective of UK popular culture one 12 inch at a time.

The exhibition begins with work from 1949 with a design by Alex Steinweiss who is regarded as the world’s first sleeve designer. In this case, it is for one of the very first LP releases of music by Beethoven. This marks the beginning of a visual journey which pays homage to classic album covers including the likes of Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’, Nick Drake ‘Pink Moon’, Grace Jones ‘Night Clubbing’ to more recent artistic designs including The Strokes ‘Is This It’ to Run the Jewels ‘Run the Jewels 3’.

Surprising highlights in the exhibition include The Beatles who are the only music artist to feature twice. One of the Beatles albums to make the list is ‘The White Album, whose minimalist thought provoking design brings in debate and questions on the importance of sleeve design well into 21st century.

Outside of these well-known names in music, there are also well-known names from the art world that have given so much of their time and talent to sleeve design. Most notably Sir Peter Blake for The Beatles Sgt Peppers, Banksy for Blur’s Think Tank and all the way back to the sixteenth century for Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose painting was used for the eponymous Fleet Foxes LP in 2008.

Alison Fielding, Head of Creative at Beggars Group discussed being a judge on the panel: This is a wonderful project to be involved in and very close to my heart, especially as I was researching some of the beautiful old vinyl sleeves. There was a real craft to them, hand drawn type, vibrant colours, collage (which would have all been hand done) and really out there photography. You can’t even begin to imagine how long these sleeves took to do. It’s interesting to see how sleeves have evolved, but also how many contemporary sleeves borrow from the past and genres are constantly recycled. I love so many of the choices on the list, The Beastie Boys, Elvis, The Miracles, Miles Davis, The Pixies, but for me the standout sleeves on the list are the Freddie Hubbard – Hub-Tones – any Blue note sleeve really does it for me – always has. Joy division – Unknown Pleasures – of course, the sound of my youth and the The Royal Blood cover featuring Dan Hillier’s work is gorgeous – I love his illustrations and bought a series of his prints as a result of seeing this sleeve.”

In a bid to find the nation’s favourite, the public will be invited to select 3 pieces of artwork from the 70 selected designs and can cast their votes at www.ArtVinyl.com. This will determine the UK’s ultimate album cover which will be revealed at the end of November.

Explore this FREE exhibition at the following Network Rail stations.

London Waterloo Station: 8th – 21st October

Manchester Piccadilly Station: 22nd October – 5th November

Glasgow Central Station: 6th November – 19th November

Andrew Heeps, founder of Best Art Vinyl, expands on the locations stating that “this is a very public exhibition honouring the visual expression and identity of the music contained within the album sleeve. It allows commuters and passers-by to experience the magic of cover art which they may already own or can afford to own themselves”.

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