Creator of the Gods

There was a time in the 1970s and 80s when record album designers were gods. If you saw one on the street you bowed down immediately and kissed his or her hand. They had the power to decide what was cool, and what was not. They could ignore budgets and demand the sleeve be wrapped in rubber. I had one teacher who would come to class and start with, “Sorry I was late. I was having lunch with Mick.” He didn’t mean Mick Hodgson at Ph.D. It wasn’t that way from the beginning. It started with Alex Steinweiss. Steven Heller, Kevin Reagan, and Steinweiss have written a new book, Alex Steinweiss: Creator of the Modern Album Cover

Working at Columbia Records in the 1940s he changed the industry. He replaced the previously generic stamped covers with remarkable 12x12 posters. These album covers reference European modernism, A.M. Cassandre, and Salavdor Dali in form.  They succeed in combining this high art aesthetic with wit and levity. Without knowing who made it, one of my biggest influences in high school was his cover for Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. I’m pretty sure I somehow transposed the Russian landscape here into a poster for the school musical, Oklahoma.