Remembering The Man Who Revolutionized Album Covers
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
The title of, say, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta ran down the spine of the album. Maybe it was on the front cover too, but if it was, it was completely unmemorable. And that is where Alex Steinweiss steps in.
SIEGEL: Mr. Heller, welcome.
STEVEN HELLER: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And take us back to 1939 when the 22-year-old Alex Steinweiss was the first art director for Columbia Records. What did he do?
HELLER: And then he had this great idea. He said that records were not really sold very well because they didn't have beautiful art on their covers, and he created a paradigm. He made a poster for this record album cover.
SIEGEL: He began, I gather, with an album of Rodgers and Hart songs.
HELLER: He did. And what he did was he took a photograph, a high-contrast photograph, and he made the name Rodgers and Hart, as well as the orchestra that was playing the music, from the light bulbs. It was a very conceptual cover, and that he placed against what looked like an abstraction of a record.
SIEGEL: I've read that Mr. Steinweiss figured that he had designed somewhere around 2,500 covers from 1939 until 1973. Is there some consistent style over all those decades?
HELLER: Well, there are different periods in Steinweiss' work. The earlier period was more Art Moderne or Art Deco. He tended to make everything surreal. He tended to reduce what we would think of as common everyday icons into symbols. And what's most important is he integrated the typography with the picture, and that's what made it so different from any of the other albums that were out on the market.
SIEGEL: Steven Heller, thank you very much for talking to us.
HELLER: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
SIEGEL: Steven Heller of the School of Visual Arts and The New York Times Book Review speaking with us about the late Alex Steinweiss.
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