Welcome to the long awaited Microdot blog ‘Microdot Speaks’. We will try to update the site as regularly as possible and welcome contributions from anyone who thinks they have something interesting to say. So without further ado…..
Seeing as Microdot has been known to design a record sleeve or two over the years we decided to kick the whole thing off by taking a look at some covers we wish we’d done. The list is in no way exhaustive but gives an insight as to where we have been coming from since we began in 1990. Some of the pieces you will know, others perhaps not, some are included because they are undeniably brilliant, others because the tale behind their creation is worth hearing – in any case for one reason or another we think they are all ace. All comments welcome – and feel absolutely free to share this post wherever you like.
Therefore, in no particular order follows 20 sleeves that we wish we’d done….
Released in 1976 and packaged by the legendary Hipgnosis creative team, How Dare You! is the quintessential 70’s narrative led album sleeve. Clearly laden with a dark sense of humour and telling a tale of suburban emptiness, we think this is an exceptional effort. Photographed in a very 1970’s classic American advertising agency style, the questions it poses still remain unanswered to us. For example, why are the couple getting out of the car in the background pictured on the businessman’s desk? 10cc ‘How Dare You!’ Is a sleeve we wish we’d done.
In our opinion the greatest typographical album sleeve of all time. Designed by Jamie Reid in 1977, the colour scheme is based on the dayglo ‘sale’ signs seen in supermarkets at the time, implying a cheap hype. The ransom letter style Pistols logo was imitated by a thousand other punk bands but equaled by none. On Saturday November 5 1977 policewoman Julie Dawn Storey noticed the artwork in The Virgin Record Store in Nottingham and was clearly offended by the use of the word ‘Bollocks’. She confiscated a couple of examples of the sleeve and arrested the shop manager for contravention of the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act, two days later, Virgin Records boss Richard Branson was told he would be facing similar charges. The case came to court on the 24th of November 1977 and called as witness for the defence was Reverend James Kingsley, professor of English studies at Nottingham University. Rev Kingsley stated ”The word (bollocks) has been used as a nickname in the last century for clergymen. Clergymen are known to talk a good deal of rubbish and so the word later developed the meaning of nonsense,” he said. ”They became known for talking a great deal of bollocks”. After a 20 minute spell of deliberation the Magistrates returned to give their verdict, this is what they said “”Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchases of commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty of each of the four charges.” The Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ is a sleeve we wish we’d done.
Designed by Peter Saville in 1985, the sleeve for New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ was based on a computer floppy disc. The cover featured die cut holes and a print process that exceeded the usual 4 colour pass. Famed for the fact that each unit cost more to make than the profit that could be recouped from it’s sale, it still remains today an undeniable classic. New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ is a sleeve we wish we’d done.
Depicting a portrait of lead singer Shaun Ryder on it’s cover, the whole album packaging for Happy Mondays ‘Bummed’ is a great piece. Central Station design from Manchester aka brothers Matt and Pat Carroll combined their original paintings, archive photography and unusual choice of fonts to create a visual broth that totally suited the record. Microdot creative director and our leader, Brian Cannon bought a first edition copy from Camden Market, London in 1988 only to take it back as he thought the record had the incorrect inner sleeve. The inner sleeve in question featured a shot of a naked woman taken presumably in the 70’s. The shopkeeper informed Brian that that in fact was the correct packaging and had been fielding such returns all week.
Released in America in 1966, The Beatles ‘Yesterday And Today’ found itself being withdrawn from sale almost immediately due to the controversial nature of it’s cover. As a statement against The Vietnam War and record company manipulation, this image was a dramatic departure for the band. The withdrawn copies were hastily repackaged by pasting a more ‘consumer friendly’ shot over the offending sleeve. Known now worldwide as ‘The Butcher Sleeve’, The Beatles ‘Yesterday And Today’ is a sleeve we wish we’d done.
Made in a Salford bedroom in 1977 using a sheet of glass, a scalpel and a pile of women’s mags, the sleeve to Buzzcocks ‘Orgasm Addict’ is the epitome of the Microdot spirit and approach. Linder Sterling who compiled the collage said ‘Well, the iron came from an Argos catalogue and the female torso came from a photographic magazine called Photo. I never cleared the copyright but no one noticed, so it was alright.’ Sterling supplied the collage to design legend Malcolm Garrett who gave the cover its iconic colour scheme.
Quite simply a world class sleeve by the legendary Hipgnosis studio. We need say no more.
Often to be found in the list of the worst sleeves of all time, Heino’s ‘Liebe Mutter’ is a personal favourite here in The Microdot Studio. Admittedly a typographical disaster, the sleeve is included here because of the outrageous photograph of the German legend. One American pundit famously wrote ‘Can you imagine what this album sounds like? Really? For my money, all the booze, weed, shrooms, smack, rock, ice, airplane glue, gasoline, Knightmare Juice and shoe polish in the world wouldn’t even get me in the same ballpark. Thank you, Heino. This is truly most unsettling album cover I have ever seen.’ Each to their own we say.
The title of the album refers to its original packaging, which consisted of a metal 16mm film canister embossed with the band’s logo and containing three 12″ 45rpm records. It was designed by Dennis Morrisand was innovative and inexpensive, costing little more to the label than the cost of standard printed sleeves for equivalent 12″ releases (although Virgin did ask for a refund of 1/3 of the band’s advance due to the cost).Before the metal tin was finalised, there was discussion of the album being released in a sandpaper package that would effectively ruin the sleeve art of any records shelved next to it. That idea would later be realised by The Durutti Column for their 1980 Factory Records debut, The Return of the Durutti Column.
We have always believed record artwork should link directly (in one way or another) to the record in question. The sleeve of ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ by The Police is a superb example of our point. As well as being visually powerful (the image of a man stood on a block of ice in front of an electric fire with a noose around his neck is by anybody’s standards a thought provoking spectacle) the sleeve dovetails brilliantly with the song’s lament about lost love.
Sleeve by Damien Hirst 2011, included just because we are massive fans of Hirst, simple as that.
The first release from seminal hardcore punk legends Discharge, ‘The Realities Of War EP’ on Clay Records of Stoke on Trent depicts one of the band members photographed in a Stoke back alley, presumably by one of the other band members. This DIY approach totally sums up the punk rock ethos of the times and is still a big influence on us today, the iconic studded leather jacket and hastily scrawled discharge logo along with the super high contrast treatment of the photo (obtained not by the use of Photoshop, but a photocopier) became the bands trademark look.
In these digitally obsessed, photoshop edited, image comped days we find it refreshing to refer to a time when sleeve artwork was ‘done for real’. We have always strived to create compositions that had as little to do with ‘ones’ and ‘noughts’ as possible (forthcoming blog piece on this subject coming very soon). Another offering from Storm Thorgeson of the brilliant Hipgnosis studio, the image of two formally dressed adults in the back of a car, her exposed breast connected to his hand via bubblegum must have took some doing. Whilst no doubt deemed politically incorrect today it is still a fine sleeve.
Released by Belfast punks Stiff Little Fingers in 1978, ‘Alternative Ulster’ was a non sectarian comment on the day to day difficulties of life in Northern Ireland at the time. Seemingly an amazing moment captured in time, the cover is actually two shots spliced together, rather crudely by todays standards, a cut mark can be seen running horizontally beneath the small boy then diagonally off to both sides of the sleeve.
Personal all time favourite sleeve of Microdot head honcho, Brian Cannon, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma represents the fourth example of the work of Hipgnosis in this post. The band are pictured in the on the wall, which is in turn pictured within the picture, except the band members change position in each case, creating a recursion or ‘Droste’ effect. Brilliant.
Bearing in mind this album by jazz pianist Bill Evans and jazz guitarist Jim Hall was released in 1962, it’s cover art was clearly years ahead of it’s time. The combination of a use of spectacular photography and the courage not to use any type was a rarity in it’s day. Although not alive at the time, we wish we’d done it.
At Microdot we love a good urban myth. Legend has it that Sex Pistols designer Jamie Reid was on his way to the Virgin Records office to present the artwork for the Sex Pistols new single ‘Pretty Vacant’ and still had no visuals to show. He hastily nipped into a shop and bought a small empty picture frame, inserted two photocopied pieces of paper bearing the band’s logo and single title and smashed the glass minutes before his meeting was due. True or false? Who cares, great story and a great sleeve.
It is not often a record gets bought purely on the basis of the sleeve being good, and an even greater rarity that a record bought in that fashion turns out to be any good – this is one such an occasion, ‘A Trip To Marineville’ by Swell Maps is a superb record with stunning packaging, in fact they get on like a house on fire.
For our money, the best band shot album sleeve ever.Photographer Robert Freeman explains: “It was becoming very difficult to get the four together for a photo session. The photograph for ‘Rubber Soul,’ the last album cover in which I was involved, was taken in the garden of John’s house in Weybridge, the central point for three of them. The distorted effect in the photo was a reflection of the changing shape of their lives.” Paul fills in some of the details about the cover: “When we came to choose which of Bob’s photos we should use for the cover of ‘Rubber Soul,’ he visited us at a friend’s flat one evening. Whilst projecting the slides on to an album-sized piece of white cardboard, Bob inadvertently tilted the card backwards. The effect was to stretch the perspective and elongate the faces. We excitedly asked him if it was possible to print the photo in this way. Being Bob, he said, ‘Yes,’ and the cover to our album ‘Rubber Soul’ was decided.” So there you have it.
Undisputed classic. The front cover image comes from an edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy, and was originally drawn with black lines on a white background.It presents successive pulses from the first pulsar discovered, PSR B1919+21—often referred to in the context of this album by its older name, CP 1919. The image was suggested by drummer Stephen Morris and the cover design is credited to Joy Division, Peter Saville and Chris Mathan. The back cover of the album contains no track listings, leaving a blank table where one would expect the listings to be. The original release came in a textured sleeve. Those were the days, you could actually feel as well as see a record sleeve.
To see some of the sleeves we have done go to http://www.microdotcreative.co.uk/