The Pier: Album & Cover Art History Vol. 2
Welcome to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History – Volume 2! We take a look at another five iconic album covers & releases with their concepts & back-story. In case you missed Volume 1, you can read that by clicking HERE!
In this feature, you’ll read how the album’s art has more depth to its meaning than just cool visuals thrown together. They’re cultural statements bringing the visual aesthetics to the music; further branding the band. There are great stories to these covers & the albums. We pulled the curtain back with how the aligning art plays an integral part to the overall meaning of the album.
Enjoy the read below & let us know in the comments which Album & Cover Art you’d like us to explore in the future! If you find you’re not familiar with or don’t own any of these albums, then we encourage you to read this feature as a recommendation of what to add to your music collection!
Read all volumes to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History:
Sublime – Robbin’ The Hood
Record Label: Skunk Records
Release Date: March 1st, 1994
During the early 90’s, taking still shots from video was considered a new technology. Sublime producer, Miguel Happoldt, decided to tap into this new science with the cover of Robbin the Hood. Using a still shot of Opie Ortiz from the group’s music video, Miguel gives inspiration to the idea saying that, “(The artwork) probably had a lot to do with our friend Greg Abramson, because he had made the video for the song ‘Secret Tweaker Pad’. It was at the end, with the still shot & Opie Ortiz saying ‘Runs like a beast’. Well, it was new science at the time to make stills from video, so Greg had made a bunch of them and he just brought them over. When we were at Kinko’s, all of us just laughed and put it on the cover.”
Home computers weren’t common in the early 90’s, as Miguel explains “We did everything at Kinko’s back then. Nobody had a computer we didn’t have anything. With ‘Robbin the Hood’, we were homeless, we had nothing, we didn’t have a place to live. Spending the day at Kinko’s was great, it was air-conditioned.”
Opie Ortiz, who painted & designed the Sublime 40oz to Freedom sun, would now find his face on the cover. Opie reflects that, “You’re searching for something that you want to be cool and I think that’s where Miguel comes in, where his ideas are different from ours! He wanted Robbin the Hood to be more underground looking.”
In true underground fashion, Robbin the Hood was recorded in living rooms around Long Beach, CA. Of the 22 listed tracks, there were 13 4-track recordings that spotlight the early foundation of Sublime’s music. This includes the song “Lincoln Highway” that would later evolve into “Santeria” & a fan favorite from the self-titled album. You will also notice a guest appearance from Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, on the song “Saw Red” in a not so Holler Back fashion. The album was first released independently under Skunk Records and later re-released under Gasoline Alley/MCA Records.
Opie continues, “My favorite Sublime album and not because I’m on the cover, is ‘Robbin the Hood!’ It developed the rawness of what Brad’s ideas were. You can hear him, raw on those 4 track recordings.”
What makes the album unique, contributing to it’s underground appeal, was the mysterious case of Raleigh Theodore Sakers and his psycho semantic rants that make frequent appearances throughout the album. No one really knows who Raleigh was, but he showed up on a random tape that ended up being sampled. Miguel explains, “I don’t really know where the tape came from, it just sort of started circulating and then we just thought it would be funny to put it on the album. I guess for some people, it makes the album even greater, but it’s not exactly a family affair.“
Written by: Mike Patti
Watch: Sublime – “STP”
NOFX – Pump Up The Valuum
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: June 13th, 2000
The millennium was a good year for Punk-rockers NOFX. That year NOFX booked their 3rd headlining spot on the Warped Tour along with a huge international tour. All in support of the band’s eighth studio album, Pump Up The Valuum, their last release through Epitaph, before signing with Fat Mike’s own Fat Wreck Records.
A play on words, the title altered the spelling of Valium to avoid legal issues. After a long 3 months of recording 22 songs for the album, 8 tracks ended up canned, leaving an album that featured some of NOFX’s more shocking lyrics. Though the title track was cut, blunt drug references and sexual references fill the record’s 14 tracks.
Fat Mike explains “I guess a lot of the songs on this record are about drugs. I guess that’s because we like drugs and like singin’ about them even more.” Musically, the tracks don’t include any Ska, Reggae, or Jazz, just Punk and a bit of Polka. Mixed by Ryan Greene, the man at the helm of many Epitaph and Fat Wreck albums, Pump Up The Valuum has that signature sound Greene was able to boil down to a science.
Released initially as a blue color vinyl, a limited number of clear vinyl was also distributed. The albums cover art was created by Tim Burton’s younger brother, Danny Burton. The meaning behind the art as Fatty describes, “it’s just a pervert nurse handing out drugs. Its the kinda thing I’m into.” No word on whether or not the Red Cross is into it, as the nurse is sporting a Red Cross nurse cap.
Written by: Aaron Solomon
Watch: NOFX- “Dinosaurs Will Die”
Fishbone – Truth & Soul
Record Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: September 13th, 1988
With humorous yet socially conscious lyrics, and the use of trumpet, saxophone, and heavy bass lines, Fishbone became one of the first profound ska bands of the ‘80s & ‘90s. They developed a very strong cult following in the ‘80s and were able to reach some mainstream success with the release of their second studio album in 1988, Truth and Soul, reaching #153 on the Billboard 200 charts. Truth and Soul was critically acclaimed for Fishbone’s ability to add a heavier rock component to their sound, but it became the socially conscious lyrics that made the biggest impact on the band’s direction.
I had a chance to speak with bassist John Norwood Fisher, who filled me in on the details of the album. The cover, which boasts a literal fish bone wrapped in a circle with the colors black, green and red actually “represented our place as American blacks and [black history], who we are, the culture of what it was.” Originally on the vinyl, the logo was actually raised, “with the band coming up with the concept of giving the album a ‘spinal tap’ like feel.” The Fishbone logo for Truth and Soul was designed by producer David Kahne, who also worked with the band on EPs Fishbone, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Set the Booty Up Right as well as albums In Your Face, and The Reality of My Surroundings. “He designed the logo on one of those old Macintosh computers” says Fisher.
With an overall assumption that the album took on a more serious tone, Norwood comments “The logo came as the symbol of satisfaction, a dinner plate. You ate all the fish and all that was left was the bone. There was definitely a more a serious aspect.” However he filled me in and told me that the album’s title “Truth and Soul” was based on the 1969 movie Putney Swope, written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. Fishbone’s 1988 release was named after the fictional business in the movie, titled: “Truth and Soul, Inc.” Norwood jokes “we couldn’t completely lose our humor and decided to name the album after that movie.”
It seemed to be a new direction for their music, and added a new creativity that fans really latched onto. But it was more then that, in fact, Norwood comments: “we were super fans of the music our selves. We participated and played, but we also admired a lot of other bands and peers like, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Untouchables, and Steel Pulse.” Through their early reign in the late 80s and 90s, Fishbone and their Truth and Soul cover art became more then a an album, it became a symbol & represented a movement.
Related Fun Fact: The 1989 movie, Say Anything staring John Cusak as “Lloyd Dobler” holding a boom-box over his head, blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” during the movie’s most pivotal scene. In the movie, everyone hears Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” but during the filming of the scene, John Cusack is actually blasting Fishbone’s “Bonin’ in the Boneyard”. When the movie was put together, it was decided that Fishbone’s song didn’t make sense for the scene and that Lloyd Dobler just looked like a crazed Fishbone fan outside this girl’s window. So they over-dubbed Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, instead.
Written by: Andrew McClatchy
Watch: Fishbone – “Bonin’ In The Boneyard”
Easy Star All-Stars – Dubside of the Moon
Release Date: February 18th, 2003
Record Label: Easy Star Records
Covering one of the most loved albums of all time is a bold and challenging task. But, of all bands to do it, the Easy Star All-Stars dedicated an immense amount of energy for four years to do it right, and it certainly paid off. Their magical reggae twist on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon brings a new laidback style.
The idea came to the band as co-founder, Lem Oppenheimer, was walking around NYC, bouncing from record store to record store, trying to sell one of their first releases. Lem explains: “I was listening to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and it occurred to me that it could make a cool reggae cover album. After discussing it with my partners Eric Smith and Michael Goldwasser, we all thought it could work.”
The process of making this idea a reality involved getting approval from Pink Floyd, fine-tuning the arrangements, recording, and then scraping together enough money to pay for it all. Lem explains the group’s dynamics during this time: “Up to that point, Easy Star All-Stars had always operated more as a collective of musicians who we called on for sessions or for live shows. It was kind of a catchall name for our house band, but it always had Michael on guitar and Victor Axelrod a.k.a. Ticklah on keys. After that record came out, that was when we formalized a touring band version of ESAS to support the record, and many of the musicians who played our first gigs in 2003 are still playing with the band today.”
Getting the cover artwork right was crucial for the album because of the fame and recognition the Pink Floyd artwork has gotten all over the world. This popularity also meant that it was impossible for the band to get permission from Pink Floyd’s design team. The band wasn’t going to let that hold them back and Eric Smith and Lem worked with their friend Retsu Takahashi in order to rework the image to capture the essence without infringing on copyright.
“Our concept of the eclipse worked well, as it tied in with the album lyrics, while still giving us the classic, mostly black feel of the original. We kept a beam of light splitting into red, gold, and green to evoke that aspect of the cover. Then we spent a LOT of time figuring out the text/font treatment, like how the color gradient would go across the letters, etc. In the end, we managed to create something that was timeless in its own way.”
This album was a huge success and lasted on Billboard reggae charts for more than 7 years and sold over 250,000 copies. Dub Side of the Moon also spurred several other reggae tribute albums such as Radiodread, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, and Thrillah.
Written by: Erin Walsh
Listen: Easy Star All-Stars – “Any Colour You Like”
Operation Ivy – Energy
Record Label: Lookout / Hellcat Records
Release Date: March, 1989
Energy by Operation Ivy is an essential addition to any ska or punk fans collection. Energy’s timeless presence bridges the gap between all sub genres of punk rock while keeping everyone in the scene accountable to the underlying message and lifestyle that seems to diminish with each passing year.
The Berkeley-based ska punk band formed in 1987 and has since gained worldwide notoriety since they disbanded. The album credits the other band members as “Lint” and “Matt McCall”, Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman from Rancid, and Dave Mello on drums. The name Operation Ivy originated from the series of two 1952 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands amidst rising tensions with the Soviet Union. The first test was a “Mike” was 10.4 megatons on the surface while “King” was a 500 kiloton free air drop.
Operation Ivy front man Jessie Michaels designed the front and back cover graphics for the pivotal punk album. The piece portrays an almost surrealist dream sequence from a mountainous region to facial sketch with near-tribal elements to it. The work gives off the feel of an artist with a steady hand and knows exactly what he wants out of the finished product. The sketches range from a seemingly peaceful and serene environment and evolve into a chaotically complex atmosphere. His shading and line work is extraordinarily complex that are only accentuated by the lack of color.
Ripping off the solid black cover has exposed the artwork and the iconic operation ivy persona has ripped his way through the sketches. The central figure of Energy became a logo synonymous with Operation Ivy and has dawned the vests and jackets for countless fans on patches and pins. The lettering is that of a sketch artist that has been doodling since he could pick up a pencil, it is unlike any other band logo and will never be re-created. The multiple layers exposed on the cover give a hint into the complex and artistic mind of Jessie Michaels. The album artwork is a great example of the complex legacy Operation Ivy has left on the punk rock scene with only one album to tell their story.
Related Fun-Fact: On September 17th, 1997, a Tribute Compilation was released titled “Take Warning: Songs of Operation Ivy”. The tribute compilation featured an array of artists covering songs from the sole Op Ivy Release with such artists as Long Beach Dub Allstars, Reel Big Fish, The Aquabats & more. Long Beach Dub All Stars covered Op Ivy’s “Take Warning” & was the band’s first official release & recording since forming, following the untimely passing of Sublime’s lead singer & vocalist, Brad Nowell.
Written by: Blake Taylor
Listen: Operation Ivy – “Take Warning”
Read all volumes to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History: