Rock Covers: An Interview with Robbie Busch
This weekend, many of us will head out to our local independent purveyor of vinyl for Record Store Day. We will pour through new releases and reprints for their artwork as much as the music contained within. Though it is nearing a decade as an event, the appreciation for vinyl is certainly nothing new. Whether you desire the sound quality, seek out rarities or just like to hold the artwork in your hands, records have a certain appeal to both collectors and music lovers. TASCHEN recently published a beautiful collection of vinyl sleeves, Rock Covers, reproducing hundreds of the most iconic album covers of the last sixty years. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Bowie. The Pixies. These bands have always had an incredible visual style, aided by some iconic artists and photographers, and here we get some stories to go with those albums. Along with Jonathan Kirby and Julius Wiedermann, Robbie Busch helped curate the collection. It is a wonderful addition to any vinyl library, complete with stats, lists of top 10 records, and stories behind some of your favorite album covers.
How did this project first come about?
Jon Kirby and I wrote the captions for the Funk & Soul book for TASCHEN. They told us that they wanted to do another book and were thinking of Rock as the subject, but didn’t know who to tap for the covers. We raised our hands and told them that between our collections we had a considerable cross section of rock records.
When did you first start collecting vinyl?
I started really collecting in high school, I had a few things from when I was younger – some Jackson 5 45s and the Rapper’s Delight 12″ stick out, but around 1985 Punk Rock & Rap became obsessions.
Can you remember the first vinyl art that you loved growing up?
There were so many! The imagery of David Bowie and Parliament-Funkadelic was a source of endless fascination. I have always been drawn to the psychedelic/pop art cartoony style covers like The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Punk offered a wealth of bold, rebellious imagery from the likes of The Ramones and The Clash to the dark humor of The Cramps.
How did you go about choosing which records to include in the book?
We went through many rounds of selections. I think our initial pick was almost 3000 covers and our original target was 600, thankfully we were able to expand to 750. We wanted to have as broad a cross section of rock sub-genres as possible to give the reader a fun experience while going through the book. Our goal was to give you some of you favorites, while surprising you with rare or forgotten covers.
Why do you think certain bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones seemingly always had interesting sleeves?
The 60′s were a revolutionary time. Music, art, design and photography were exploding with new ideas and were informing each other with the kind of interdisciplinary influence that hadn’t been seen in the pop idiom before. The groups were looking to give their fans a holistic, immersive experience.
The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today is certainly one of the more infamous covers—especially for collectors. Do you have a Holy Grail record that you’ve been searching for?
No. At this point I’m always looking for something I’ve never seen. So I try to keep my eyes open while I’m out digging for something fresh.
What makes vinyl so appealing? Is it the sound quality, the physicality of holding an object?
It’s both of those things. I do love the warmth of the sound. But I am a collector at heart and the physical interaction with the records and covers bring me closer to the music.
Can you talk about a few of your favorite inclusions in the book?
Not really. I’m such a fan that if I start thinking about any one over another 10 more pop into my head. There are a few things that I wish had made it in that didn’t like PJ Harvey or Stereolab, but it was a balancing act and I’m very happy with the balance we struck.
What makes Rock sleeves different than Jazz sleeves?
On one hand nothing and on the other everything. People like Jim Flora and Reid Miles broke all the rules when they were creating the new visual language to accompany Jazz LPs. They were feeding off of the sound as well as the art of the day just as Hipgnosis was doing in the 60′s & 70′s with psychedelia & glam and Jamie Reid and Vaughn Oliver were doing with Punk covers.
What do you think of the recent return to vinyl appreciation by fans and musicians?
It’s great! I’m not a vinyl snob, I listen to music on my phone and computer all the time. But it’s fantastic that records are seeing a resurgence, because it opens listeners up to an experience that was being lost in a Pandora/YouTube infested world.
Why do you think that there has been a return to the format in the last few years?
Listening to a record on a turntable is a very human experience. Technology can offer us amazing things, but it still can’t take the place of the physical world. Music is a primal force and there’s something deep inside us that craves that physical connection to the music.
Do you have any favorite recent designs or contemporary artists working on vinyl?
I’m always curious to see what artists like Kanye West or Bjork will come up with. I’m fascinated by M.I.A.’s day-glo rave sensibility. I love seeing small labels create an aesthetic; one that comes to mind is the dance label Golf Channel with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with recently.
In the first sentence of your introduction, you write about “obsessive vinyl addicts” why do you think vinyl collecting can become such an obsession?
The beauty of holding a record and listening to the music is that you can be a part of a club, while still having a very personal experience. Plus I think we all want to feel like rock stars at one point or another and the connection we get from a record brings us closer to that dream.
What makes a successful, or at least memorable design?
A cover should grab you from the get go, but as you revisit the imagery you should be able to garner another level of meaning. The best art or music should always haunt you long after you’ve stopped looking or listening to it.