Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

One of the things I love about vinyl LPs is the relatively expansive canvas the foot square jacket provides to make a real statement.  Here–sometimes–cover art earns the appellation.

There are, of course, artists who are famous for their work on rock albums, posters and other rock memorabilia.  Alton Kelly, Stanley Mouse, R. Crumb and Roger Dean come instantly to mind.  Visual artists from other disciplines have sometimes roamed into the cover art world as well.

Then there are recording artists who do their own cover art. Some of these are marvelous; while with others I get the idea it’s a case of yet another indulgence granted a coddled rock star. But more on all these in later posts.

The cover I want to celebrate today falls into none of the above categories. Poco’s Legend  was designed by Phil Hartman.  Yes, the Phil Hartman who went on to Saturday Night Live fame–and who did the best Bill Clinton impression ever–and who later moved on to movie, television, voice and pitchman work.

Before he became a performer the Ontario native was a graphic designer whose work included record covers for Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steely Dan, America, Poco and others.   He was known as Philip Hartmann back then.  Tragically, lamentably, Hartman died in 1998, the victim of gunshot wounds inflicted by his troubled wife, who later committed suicide. 

The drawing of the horse on the jacket of  Legend  absolutely fascinates me.  How amazing that a few quick indicative lines on a snow white cover can so totally evoke the horse “known as only Thunder Road” in the song “Legend.”   “Icy fingers hold the reins, while hoofs come poundin’ so insanely on and on…”  Yes, I see it all in those scant few lines.

 As for the rest of the album?  Well, there’s a new poignancy, post-Katrina, to the first song on the album. “Heart of the Night” is a love song to New Orleans.  Then there’s the other hit, the sadly neurotic “Crazy Love,” the upbeat melody making it seem as if the singer is enjoying his misery maybe a little too much.

Poco was nearing the end of its band-life at the time this album was made and I’ll probably never listen to the rest of it again.  But, I can’t let it go.  I love that stallion and his “eyes that dance like burnin’ embers” too much.

What are some of your favorite “original artwork” album covers? 


  1. I've always thought the Flaming Lips do a great job with album covers. I love the cover of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but my favorite is At War with the Mystics, which you can see here:

  2. I hope Bobby's drawing from the first Heifer concert could be an album cover someday. It was an amazing mix of animal/vegetable/musical!:)