Goodbye, Blue Sky – A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson
The death of artist Storm Thorgerson, creator of seminal cover art for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and countless others should give us pause to remember the importance of the graphic arts to the recording industry argues Simon Tucker.
On the 18th of April, the sad news that Storm Thorgerson had died was announced. I was not prepared for the strength of feelings that this news would provoke in me. Why would the passing of a gentleman who didn’t play a note of music affect me so much? Well, I got to thinking about it and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Storm’s work was just as important as the music itself.
Growing up with music obsessive parents, I would spend hours flicking through their record collection just looking at the sleeves without a clue about what the actual music inside sounded like and I really couldn’t care less. I remember loving covers of albums and 12” singles such as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, The Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra, The Specials Ghost Town (this sleeve was a particular obsession as it scared the life out of me), and of course, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.
There was something about THAT prism and the blue tinged photos of the pyramids that evoked such weird and wonderful thoughts for my young mind, then of course I got to an age where my dad would let me actually play his records, so I took out the record, placed the needle on it and the slow pulse of a heartbeat began…
Be honest, when someone mentions DSOTM, the first thing that comes to mind is not the music, it’s the cover, it’s not just this album that this applies to. Other Floyd albums like Wish You Were Here, Animals, or Saucerful Of Secrets also invoke the same image-first feelings.
Although intrinsically linked to Floyd, Thorgerson and his company Hipgnosis were also responsible for seminal album covers like Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, The Pretty Thing’s S.F Sorrow, and Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
Storm and Hipgnosis’s work influenced so many artists even if some reacted in a reactionary way. Peter Saville’s work for Factory Records was the complete antithesis of Hipgnosis’s output (favoring minimalism over extensive and complicated works), but without Storm’s work there would be nothing to react against.
Also, the fact that a lot of Storm’s work was done in camera (he actually DID set a guy on fire for WYWH, and he did make a pig fly for Animals), is vital in the modern day digital/photoshop era.
The passing of Storm also brings into even more focus the whole buy from shop vs. download debate.
Album artwork should not be condemned as a relic of the past. Many fantastic artists currently working, would benefit hugely from a band commissioning them to create an entire package for their next release (and I’m not just talking the front cover, I’m talking the whole thing).
If artists are losing work due to this insistence on downloading, where will we find the next Thorgerson, Saville, Bubbles, Jamie Reed, or Central Station?
I am not a vinyl purist (most of the music I purchased myself growing up was on CD), but even CDs have inlays and lyrics, which generations of people have poured over as they listened. You cannot do this with MP3’s.
Trust me, it will be a massive shame if generations of children only sit on the floor pressing skip through songs and not pouring through the whole package. It would also be a shame if people stopped buying albums purely based on the cover not knowing what the music sounded like (famously, John Peel bought The Ramones debut LP based solely on the cover and we all know what happened next).
I for one am eternally grateful people like Storm existed and that I grew up in a time when the artwork was vital as I feel I would seriously have missed out on the importance of a bands entire ‘identity’ and maybe, just maybe, would never had fallen in love with one of the only art forms that speaks to us all.
R.I.P Storm – Shine On x