7” are an iconic format in popular music. For generations they have inspired foolish teenagers propagating the sound of rockabilly, rock and pop music everywhere, turning themselves into collectible objects. But. But it’s not entirely true: there was a time when even classical music ended up on 45 rpm and the classical guitar was certainly no exception. If you do a search on discogs.com you will discover that the godfather of the classical guitar Andrés Segovia has made at least forty or more 7”and that his production continued until almost the 70s. I agree, it’s not too much compared to the hundreds of editions of the British baronets The Beatles, but it’s still a production worthy of respect. And Segovia was not the only one. Even John Williams, Julian Bream and Narciso Yepes have seen their music “fixed” on this media. What I would like to talk about, however, is not the music they recorded as the covers on their records. The covers in fact have always been one of the reasons for success in the commercial distribution and sales of a record, becoming one of the aesthetic reasons behind the collecting of these media and the survival of the vinyl record against digital downloads. Covers are beautiful, fascinating, colorful and attract fans. Compared to those of the 33 rpm, of which I will speak to you on another occasion, those of the 45 rpm are more minimal not only for dimension but also for the information gathered in them.The covers are born, both in the world of popular music and in the world of jazz and classical music, with a very simple function: defending the precious vinyl content from scratches, dust and other external aggressions.
At the beginning they were simple white envelopes whose shape exactly corresponded to the function. A situation that wouldn’t have continued for a long time: the records are similar, round and black, difficult to distinguish one from the other only thanks to the small round label placed at their center. The covers represented the distinctive element with which to attract the consumer’s attention. Like posters, record covers could not have existed without the specific capitalism historical conditions. Their specific primary functions are in fact: to illustrate the product, to address the public and to encourage an increasingly large proportion of the population to spend their money on a kind of immediate purchase, in entertainment and in art. Even today, now that the covers themselves have lost their function in favor of the more immaterial forms of download and streaming music, it’s still doubtful to define them as an artistic phenomenon. Two of the factors of resistance to the cover as an art form are both their “impure” commercial origin and their dependence on the process of industrial duplication. Yet I believe that these two factors of resistance are two of the characteristics that make the covers a distinctly modern art form. Painting and sculpture, the traditional forms of visual art, had their meaning and their aura profoundly modified with the advent of the age of mechanical reproduction (to use the expressions coined by Walter Benjamin). But the covers (like before photography, cinema and posters) don’t carry with them any history of the premodern world: they could only exist in the age of mechanical reproduction, like their content, the record. Unlike the photo, the cover of a record has never been conceived as a single object, so its serial reproduction doesn’t produce an object that is aesthetically inferior to the original or diminishes its social, symbolic and cultural value.
Of course, the cover of a record has never won the rank of major art form. The creation of covers is usually referred to as “applied art” and this for several reasons. Because it’s believed that a cover aims to convey the merit of a product or an idea, in contrast to a painting, a sculpture or a musical composition whose purpose is the free expression of an artist’s individuality. From this point of view the designer, the graphic designer who creates a cover, that is someone with artistic abilities who pays back to a salesman, belongs to a race different from the true artist who produces objects with an intrinsic and qualifying value in itself. It’s an art applied to the cause of communicating, which may be dictated by the needs of the service, message or type of product for which it has temporarily agreed to be the sounding board. But this definition may appear simplistic and ambiguous. Only from the beginning of the nineteenth century the artist was generally regarded as one who works to express himself and for the sake of art. The covers can be considered as applied art because they apply what has already been done in the other arts. From an aesthetic point of view, record covers have operated as parasites against arts such as painting, sculpture, architecture, photography and cinema, and classical discography is certainly no exception.
Take for example these four 45 rpm released for Segovia. Regardless of the reference record company, Columbia, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, the context of the cover doesn’t change: the reference is always an image of the interpreter whose name is always put in the foreground compared to those of the pieces and those of the composers who plays. Segovia sells himself in these covers where he is always represented with his guitar in a perspective that recalls the posters for his concerts and that reaffirm his charisma and his artistic aura proposing it as a stimulus of immediate and identifying recall for every possible buyer .
Even in the fifth CID EUA cover in yellow, despite a slightly more modernist graphic, the portrait of his face is present in the upper right corner, solemn and severe, while the guitar is given a slightly more stylized form. The stylistically parasitic aspect of the covers is a last possible confirmation of the cover as a minor art form. A good cover is not to be considered as a tool of pure information but is always maintained in an ambiguous environment.
Take for example this “Guitar Music of Spain and South America” by John Williams made in 1959 with this design that almost resembles a tile, with its geometric and essential motifs. The purpose of the cover is his message of advertising appeal and slogans, but its effectiveness is recognized when, in transmitting that message, it transcends its usefulness.
Take this cover of “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Narciso Yepes, edition in 33 rpm on format 45, made in 1961, where we find no trace of the musician but instead a color photo of a guitar, a red flower and a score, with direct allusions to Spain and its popular “outline”.
While it refers directly to the cinema, and it could not be otherwise, the black and white frame on the cover of “La Fille Aux Yeux D’or Bande Original Du Film De Jean-Gabriel Albicocco” (1962), direct short circuit with the soundtracks made by Yepes himself.
Also this 45rpm released by Peter Pears and a young Juliam Bream in 1962, which would make the happiness of many lute enthusiasts, directly refers to the cinema and its advertising billboards with this beautiful black and white image paginated in a decidedly better way than the Deutsche Grammophon’s 7”.
Let’s go instead to a graphic with more innovative but always cinematographic contents with this “Cavatina – Tema De La Película” El Cazador “- Oscar 1979” by Ernesto Bitetti, with this black and white guitar that turns into the threatening barrel of gun.
And if a cover still has to bear a certain theatricality to maintain its commercial tasks and to be noticed what can we say about the left hand of Paco De Lucia that stands out on this “Interpret To Manuel De Falla” , made in 1978? If Segovia was represented in full format in photographs and drawings that recalled nineteenth-century portraiture, here of the musician we have only the image of his left hand intent on playing in an open position. Paco De Lucia and the music of Manuel De Falla become his own hand, and this is perhaps the most beautiful and meaningful cover.