"Never Judge A Book By Its Cover" - Genesis album artwork examined by Ted Sayers.
The story of Genesis’ album sleeve design is almost a history of record cover artwork in itself. With the band’s first album in 1969 and its subsequent re-release in the mid 1970’s the design was almost mid fifties in its blandness. The plain black sleeve of From Genesis To Revelation was almost a negative of The Beatles’ double White album though the band’s name is nowhere to be found on the cover and only the gold album title lettering breaks the blackness. Decca’s re-issue in 1976: Rock Roots with the extra tracks showed amore Sixties style of cover.
With 1970’s Trespass their sleeves took a giant leap forward. Paul Whitehead’s design was the first of a trilogy - Nursery Cryme (1971) and Foxtrot (1972) completed his work with them. The three were almost Victorian in style, none more so than Nursery Cryme. All three are rather surrealistic - a major feature of 1970’s progressive rock outfits - a style which was epitomised by the Hipgnosis sleeves of most of the major bands of the era. This surreal aspect matched the music perfectly but in Nursery Cryme, music and artwork seemed blended.
Trespass was a mixture of Greek and late 19th century Victoriana while Foxtrot was Victorian with futuristic overtones. Maybe that makes Nursery Cryme Victorian Victoriana? Whitehead managed to span the centuries in three paintings but it was the texture of the truly artistic trio that gave it the Victorian look along with the logo he created for the band.
Fore the band’s first live album, Genesis Live (1973) live photographs were used, taken by photographers Bob Green, Barry Wentzell and Armando Gallo, but the Whitehead logo was aptly retained, as the material on the album was from his period with the band. The sleeve is typical of live albums of the early 1970’s. By now, Hipgnosis were beginning to make a name for themselves and their involvement with Genesis (and Pink Floyd) took them to their peak in the late 1970’s. For now though, Genesis would release one more album before utilising the talents of Hipgnosis. That album was Selling England By The Pound (1973).
The minor hit single I Know What I Like was inspired by a painting by the sadly recently deceased Betty Swanwick. Each figure can be picked out of the lyrics, as the song progresses. The eccentricity of the lyrics and painting are most definitely English in style.
1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was the start of the Hipgnosis involvement which was to last until 1978. The Lamb… was punk before its time - surely Rael was the true Godfather of Punk? The plain white sleeve with some incredible black and white (surreal) photographs was almost punk too. Hipgnosis were also responsible for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here the following year,. And when placed together, the two are remarkably similar.
The first post Gabriel album was A Trick Of The Tail (1976) and again, Hipgnosis were responsible for the sleeve. It is a personal favourite of mine, it seems so minimalist and so detailed at the same time. Each character on the sleeve can be found in one of the album’s songs. Like Paul Whitehead’s earlier work, the cover seems Victorian in style but in a totally different manner.
Wind & Wuthering (1977) is a major change for the band. Hipgnosis came up with something entirely devoid of surrealism for the first time. Very little detail may be seen at first, but closer inspection reveals far more.
Seconds Out was the only non-Hipgnosis sleeve of the 1974 -78 period. Again, Armando Gallo was responsible for the photographs on this double live album and A & D Design produced the layout.
By 1978 Hipgnosis were beginning to feel the pinch created by Punk. Most punk bands wanted shocking sleeves to go with the rest of the image and the expensive detailed looking work of Hipgnosis was just not fashionable. Their last sleeve for Genesis was And Then There Were Three (1978) and while being a photograph, it manages to retain a rather strange (surreal?) air to it.
So punk finally affected the so-called dinosaurs of rock. Duke (1980) was the product of a new partnership for the band with the Bill Smith Studios. Duke is a series of child-like drawings with a band logo that was also punk-like. The drawings were actually executed by the children’s book illustrator: Lionel Koechlin.
Abacab (1981) has to be the most punk-like sleeve of all. The artwork is again by Bill Smith, but this time it is a completely abstract use of colours- speaking of which, the album was released in four different versions, all merely variations in the colours. Three Sides Live (1982) continued the theme with just the title and the name of the band stamped across a white cover, giving the impression of being a badly produced bootleg album sleeve. On opening it, there is something slightly more impressive, but most people judge a book by its cover.
Bill Smith’s last work for Genesis was the eponymous Genesis (1983) which was still a little minimal but a distinct progression. Smith now seems to be working towards the 1970’s style again. Marillion’s last two album sleeves came from him: Season’s End bears a distinct similarity to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Holidays In Eden is far more intricate than any of his work for Genesis.
Although Invisible Touch (1986) was designed by Assorted Images, it could well have come from Bill Smith. Again very minimal but not as abstract. The artwork does appear to have some relation to the music even if this is somewhat vague.
Punk had a most distinctive effect on album sleeves and now with the release
of Genesis’ We Can’t Dance (1991), the trend seems to have been
reversed. The new album’s cover is a pastel picture almost impressionistic
in effect and altogether a more visually pleasing effort than the brashness
of the last few covers. Some studios seem to be reverting to the 1970’s
style and others continue to push the limited artwork approach. This I feel
is all to the good; that is, if you like a bit of variation.