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Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover Hardcover – April 1, 2011
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"I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music." (Alex Steinweiss) "The man who revolutionized this whole field... the father of record design, is Alex Steinweiss." (Jay Maisel, photographer)"
About the Author
The father of record design is Alex Steinweiss, who in 1940, at the age of 23, single-handedly invented the album cover. He made thousands of classical, jazz, and pop covers for Columbia, London, Decca, and Everest and his modern designs graced the packaging, logos, and covers of dozens of distilleries, film studios, and magazines; earning him an AIGA Medal and the Art Directors Hall of Fame lifetime achievement award. Also a fine artist, Steinweiss and his wife live in Sarasota, FL.
Kevin Reagan is a triple Grammy Award-winning art director, also honored by the AIGA, Print, and Communication Arts. As former art director of Geffen, MCA, and Maverick, he designed packages for Madonna, Beck, Sonic Youth and many others. He lives in Los Angeles.
Steven Heller, co-chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Designer as Author Program, writes the "Visuals" column for the New York Times Book Review, and is the author of 120 books on design, illustration, and satiric art.
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It's certainly a lavish production with hundreds of covers, especially those from the Columbia's 78 box sets during the forties. Steinweiss was their Art Director from 1940 (only twenty-three, too) and created fresh different designs for these boxes. Page seventy-one reveals why the covers had a rather unique look. The designs weren't printed using conventional four color process work but used three or four flat colors, whatever Steinweiss chose depending on the music style. There were no color photos and very few mono ones. This printing format dictated a rather flat graphic style that would be a challenge for any designer so Steinweiss used bright colors, graphic shapes, simple illustrations and bold typography to create an eye-catching poster style design that clearly stood out in record shops.
I love the big selection of covers for the classics. Somehow their simplicity and directness makes them feel fresh even today. Clearly the restrictive printing style encouraged this. Another restriction that inspired a creative solution was the lack of a local typesetters in Bridgeport, Connecticut where Columbia was located. So Steinweiss drew his own type, a casual hand-lettered script to use on the covers and you can see versions of this pop up on lots of the albums throughout the book. The script was eventually produced by Photo-Lettering, New York, for anyone to use: called Steinweiss Scrawl.
Though most of the book's images are the wonderful album covers, either for the 78 box sets or, from 1948, long player records there are plenty of examples of other work from Steinweiss: brochures; movie credits; magazine spreads; ads and promotional work for Columbia and some packaging. After Columbia he designed covers for Decca, Coral and Everest labels but by the sixties with color photos of artists now the main visual attraction on LPs I think his work is very similar to the great mass of album covers. At fifty-five in 1972 he decided to ease himself out of print creativity, moved to Florida in 1974 and started to paint, create collages and ceramics. The perfect out it seems to me.
This sumptuous book is worth getting if you are interested in graphic design history and although it concentrates on just one person and one part of commercial creativity it does it so well and held my interest right through its 420 pages. Taschen really delivered with this one.
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saw some of his recent work in progress (and he autographed my book)! They were very gracious, and it was fantastic to discuss design with him and get an insight into his work process. Truly one of the great designers of the twentieth century, a pioneer, and an all around class act of a guy. Now if Taschen can do a similar book on David Stone Martin to go with the three Jim Flora paperbacks I have, my album art library will start to look complete!