This has really been a great week for me as a collector of Klaus Voormann‘s record and CD cover art. German musician Volkwin Müller has either read this blog or seen my list of Klaus Voormann‘s record covers on Rate Your Music and informed me of two recent releases of his–both with cover art by Klaus–that weren’t on my list. So, a big thank you to Volkwin. The CDs are Volkwin Müller & Friends “Strawberry Songs” from 2012,
and Volkwin‘s “Mit anderen Augen” CD from 2016
But the greatest thing was the arrival of Klaus Voormann‘s new book “Birth of an Icon-Revolver 50“. Well, The Beatles‘ “Revolver” album was released (in the U.K.) on 5th August 1966 and John Lennon asked Klaus Voormann, friend of the Fab Four since their Hamburg days and in 1966 living in London and playing with various bands including the Mike d’Abo fronted Manfred Mann, to design a cover for their new record. This book tells the story in comic strip form of how Klaus Voormann came to design the cover which earned him a Grammy.
Two of The Beatles‘ record covers have won Grammys for their design. First was Klaus Voormann‘s cover for “Revolver” and then the album that followed it “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“, which earned Peter Blake and Jann Haworth Grammys for their joint design. Klaus Voormann has been nominated for a Grammy one further time–for the design of his “A Sideman’s Journey” box set. He was narrowly beaten by Rob Jones‘s and Jack White‘s design for the White Stripes‘ box set “Under the Great Northern Lights“.
The “Birth of an Icon-Revolver 50” book is a beautiful production with many photos and text in English and German. It can be ordered from Klaus Voormann’s site http://www.voormann.com.
While researching the book, I discovered the August/September 2016 number of the German Magazine “Good Times” which has five cover variations of portraits of The Beatles by Klaus Voormann:
Thus Klaus Voormann (born 29th April 1938) is still going strong at the age of 78. May he long continue to produce great record covers.
This post is not so much about record covers as much as about advertising and focuses on a campaign by Absolut Vodka.
Apparently, Absolut Vodka is the third largest spirit brand in the world. It is distilled near Åhus in Skåne, southern Sweden, and was, until 2008 owned by the Swedish state through its company AB Vin & Sprit when it was sold to the French group Pernod Ricard for €5.63 billion (55 billion Swedish Crowns). Two things – apart from the drink itself – have contributed to Absolut Vodka’s international success; the first is the design of the bottle and the second is the inventive artistic advertising campaigns. And, related to the imaginative advertising was the Absolut Art Collection, started In 1985 when Andy Warhol was approached to paint a picture of the Absolut Vodka bottle.
Exactly how Warhol came to be involved is debated. According to Finbar Krook Rosato, in “Face It! Absolut Art Collection” (2012) One story is that Michel Roux who worked for Carillion importers was a regular fixture in the New York nightlife of the 1980s. Apparently he suggested the idea to Warhol at a dinner and Warhol was enthusiastic saying “I love the bottle. I’d want to do something with it”. Another story is that Titti Wachtmeister, daughter of Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, was a close friend of Warhol’s put the idea to him. Whichever is correct, Warhol painted his portrait of the famous bottle.
Warhol then suggested that Keith Haring make a painting and in 1987 his contribution arrived. Between 1986 and 2004 a total of 850 works were made for the Absolut Art Collection by 550 artists. The collection is now housed at Spritmuseum in Stockholm where regular exhibitions show the varied nature of the art.
A series of one-page ads for Absolut Vodka appeared each week in Time Magazine and many appeared in other magazines including Scandinavian Airways System’s “Scanorama”. A series that was particularly special for me, was run in Scanorama from February until October 2002 and used pastiches of famous record covers to advertise the famous Vodka. You have to really search in some of the adverts to find the Absolut Vodka bottle.
The series started with a reworked version of David Bowie‘s “Aladdin Sane“:
The second cover to be manipulated was Miles Davis‘s “Bitches Brew“:
The third cover to be manipulated was Nina Hagan‘s “Om Namah Shivay!“:
Next up was INXS‘s album “Kicks”
Number five was The Sex Pistol‘s “Never Mind the Bollocks, We’re the Sex Pistols“:
Then came Judas Priest‘s album “British Steel”:
Album number seven was Queen‘s “A Night at the Opera“:
The eighth and final cover to appear in the series was The Velvet Underground & Nico‘s “The Velvet Underground & Nico“:
A great combination of advertising and record cover art. No Beatles, perhaps, but at least there was one Warhol cover. I remember seeing a full-sized poster of the Absolut Pistols advert in Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport just when this campaign was running. I was sort of stunned as I hadn’t seen the any of the other adverts at that time! I wonder what other adverts have used record covers. Ideas, anyone?
The album “The Velvet Underground & Nico” is remarkable for many reasons–not least the music. a. It is one of only two albums that I know of that names the cover designer rather than the band or the record’s title on the front (the other being Swedish band bob hund‘s 1996 LP “Omslag: Martin Kann“.) b. The cover provoked two lawsuits (more on those later). c. Gatefold covers had generally only been used for double albums. Elvis Presley’s “Elvis Is Back!” from 1956 is said to be the first gatefold cover for a single LP and “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was not released until two months after the Velvets’ album.
In 1965 Andy Warhol became The Velvet Underground‘s manager and he booked them into New York’s Scepter Studios in April 1966 to record the group’s first album which was de facto produced by studio owner Norman Dolph rather than by Warhol. Warhol insisted that chanteuse Nico (real name Christa Päffgen) sing on the album and she sang on three songs. For unknown reasons some songs were rerecorded and some new songs recorded by producer Tom Wilson in Los Angeles later that year. Wilson was a staff producer for Columbia (and later Verve) Records and had produced three of Bob Dylan‘s early albums (“Another Side of Bob Dylan“, “The Times They Are A’Changin’“, four tracks on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan“, “Bringing It All Back Home“) including the hit single “Like a Rolling Stone“. Warhol offered the album to Columbia Records, who turned it down! Then through the Andy Warhol association Verve Records agreed to release it. Logically enough, as Nico was not a member of the group the album’s title was “The Velvet Underground & Nico. The “&” emphasizing the fact.
Warhol gave his Banana painting to the band for the album cover. The removable banana on the front was difficult to produce and delayed the album’s release until March 1967. Acy R. Lehman, who designed the cover, decided on the gatefold to be able to include photos of the band members taken by Paul Morrissey, and colour photos by Verve photographer Hugo. I have seen the large band photo on the rear cover credited to Andy Warhol, so I am not sure it was by him or, as stated in the album credits, by Hugo.
The rear cover photograph showed actor Eric Emerson the lights projected behind the band with his inverted face superimposed on the picture of Lou Reed‘s head. This is commonly called the “Torso” version”. Emerson was in need of money as he had been charged with drug offenses and sued Verve Records to pay him for the use of his photograph. Verve refused to pay and recalled as many copies as it could and stuck a large black sticker over the offending photograph. On subsequent printings of the album sleeve the photograph was airbrushed to obscure Emerson’s portrait before the album could be reissued in June 1967. This delay badly affected the album’s sales; only about 30,000 copies being sold between 1967 and 1972 – I must be one of the early buyers as I bought my copy in late 1967 on the strength of the review in Rolling Stone. Brian Eno is quoted as saying in 1982 “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” – obviously, with one exception – me!
There were promo copies distributed with the “Torso” cover which had white or yellow record labels. I think all promos were mono versions with “Torso” rear cover. There are three versions of the cover of the original American release: a first state with the “torso” rear cover, a second state with the sticker over the upper part of the torso picture and the third state with Emerson airbrushed out.
This album has never been out of print since it was originally released. There have been several variations on the cover design and recent re-issues have once again reverted to the original “torso” rear cover photo. Some re-issues have appeared with coloured vinyl (yellow or red) and a limited edition by Newbury Comics is on black and yellow vinyl.
The original UK version was released with a single cover and the banana was not peelable. A later German re-issue showed only the peeled banana and other re-issues have added the album’s title to the front cover. There are at least three picture disc versions of the album; two from Russia on the Vinyl Lovers label (one in a die-cut card sleeve and one in a clear plastic sleeve. These have the title at upper left and “Andy Warhol” at lower right while the third picture disc has all the text at upper left, including “Andy Warhol”.
I mentioned at the start of this essay that the album was the cause of two law suits. The first was Eric Emerson’s suit for compensation for the use of his face on the cover. This was resolved by Verve airbrushing out the offending face. However it seems that the hatchet has been buried since as recent re-issues have reinstated the torso picture on the back.
The second law suit was when The Warhol Foundation in 2012 licensed the banana image for use on smart phone and iPad accessories. Lou Reed and John Cale sued the Foundation, claiming that Warhol had given them the image and that The Warhol Foundation did not have the right to license it to third parties. The case was settled out of court the following year. Neither party has revealed the terms of the settlement.
The Velvet Underground & Nico is a great album with a great cover that is one of the ten most recognisable covers, alongside “Sgt Pepper“, “The Dark Side of the Moon“, “Sticky Fingers“, Nirvana’s “Nevermind“, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run“, “Never Mind the Bollocks–Here’s the Sex Pistols“–and you can name the others.