Inglis, Ian. (2001). Nothing You Can See That Isn’t Shown’: the album covers of the Beatles. Popular Music, 20 (1), 83-97.
In this article, Inglis examines the aesthetics of the Beatles’ album covers in hopes of illuminating the “dynamics of album art in general” (83). First, Inglis discusses the role that the album covers play in popular music and culture. In regards to the Beatles, Inglis presents that the album covers have been celebrated as much as the music, stating:
“Almost without exception, the album covers themselves have been seen as groundbreaking in their visual and aesthetic properties, have been congratulated for their innovative and imaginative designs, have been credited with providing an early impetus for the expansion of the graphic design industry into the imagery of popular music, and have been seen as largely responsible for allowing the connections between art and pop to be made explicit” (83).
Inglis sites now as the opportune time to study album cover art and the relationship between popular music and “traditional visual conventions” because this relationship is ambiguous. Live music has a connection to over the top visual production. However, recorded music shifted from the LP to the CD, which “has led many to lament the decline, even the disappearance of album art” (83). Inglis hopes that a focus on the album covers of the Beatles will offer some insight into the role and value of album cover art.
Second, he defines the role of album covers as “protection of the recording they contain,” advertisement for the recordings they contain, “ “accompaniment to the music,” and “a commodity in its own right” (83-84). Inglis examines the twelve original and official Beatles’ albums released in the UK. He examines the albums from three positions: 1) image and identity: “the covers provided a physical link between the group’s visual image and its recordings. 2) impact: “these covers became highly influential within the popular music community” 3) readerly/writerly text: “the album cover themselves can be subjected to a textual analysis yielding rich insights into the ways in which they invite or allow the consumer to decipher them. (84). Inglish goes through each over presenting the history behind the creation, its connection to the music, and it’s role in popular culture. He traces how the album covers coincide with the group’s move from pop group to a new sound to solo careers to eventually disbanding. Inglis concludes that the group, surprisingly, followed conventions in regards to album cover design. The covers for the most part were readerly text, which require nothing of the audience. The album cover, Inglis, posits could “be approached as historical relic whose chronology can be precisely located” (96). Inglis’ conclusion about the conservative nature of the Beatles’ album covers highlight the commercial nature of album covers, which point to desire—“the desire of the producer to sell, the desire of the purchaser to consume” (96). The Beatles’ album covers have had far reaching impact on the popular music community, but the covers “remain fundamentally conservative texts,” which do not challenge the “commercially driven and relatively inflexible assumptions and practices” of the popular music industry. (96).