The Pier: Album & Cover Art History Vol. 4
Welcome to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History – Volume 4 as we take a look at another five iconic album covers and releases with their concepts & back-story.
In this feature, you’ll read how the album’s art has more depth to its meaning than just cool visuals thrown together. They’re cultural statements bringing the visual aesthetics to the music; further branding the band. There are great stories to these covers and the albums. We pulled the curtain back with how the aligning art plays an integral part to the overall meaning of the album.
Enjoy the read below and let us know in the comments which Album & Cover-Art you’d like us to explore in the future! If you find you’re not familiar with or you don’t own any of these albums, then we encourage you to read this feature as a recommendation of what to add to your music collection!
Read all volumes to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History:
Slightly Stoopid – Slightly $toopid
Record Label: Skunk Records
Release Date: 1996
Everyone has a starting point and in 1996, Slightly Stoopid released theirs with Slightly $toopid, their 14 track debut album that was released on Skunk Records, owned by Sublimes Brad Nowell and Miguel Happoldt. The album included 2 hidden tracks with “Prophet” and “Marley Medley”. “Prophet” features Brad Nowell playing bass while the “Marley Medley” is a mash-up of two Bob Marley songs with “Guava Jelly” and “This Train”. Also featured on the album is Ras-1 (of Long Beach Dub All Stars) providing back-up vocals on the albums 2nd track with “Operation”.
The album was produced by Miguel Happoldt, but as Miguel put it : “Producing would be a real slanderous term for what I did. I set up 4 mic’s on the drums and put it on 8 track. Captured it & recorded it would be more akin to what happened.” The more interesting story is how Brad Nowell came to discover Slightly Stoopid. As Miguel explained, “We were homeless and Brad had a real bad drug problem. Miles’ (of Slightly Stoopid), his Mom was a nurse and her boyfriend at the time was a doctor and they were interested in getting Brad off drugs and Brad lived with them. Then he woke up one day, heard this crazy shit going on in the garage and went out there and he was like: ‘You guys got a band?’ And the rest is history. They didn’t even play reggae, I mean they could play it, they liked it, but they just played hardcore punk. They were hardcore man, they were like Minor Threat, and the first song I did with them I was completely impressed!”
The cover art was done by Opie Ortiz, the same artist who designed Sublime’s 40oz to Freedom and Opie told The Pier: “we did the whole album layout at Kinkos!” The drawing features a punk-rocker in checkered pants with a spiked mo-hawk, moshing his eyes out with Opie’s signature under the back-foot. After being out of print for 10 years, the album was re-packaged with the groups second album, Longest Barrel Ride in 2006. The song “Prophet” would later be made popular as the final track on Slightly Stoopid’s 2001 acoustic release of Acoustic Roots: Live & Direct.
Written by: Mike Patti
Listen: Slightly Stoopid – “Prophet – Marley Medley”
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Catch a Fire
Record Label: Island Records
Release Date: April 13th, 1973
Originally released in 1973, this was the fifth album by The Wailers and the first released under Island Records. The album sold around 14,000 copies in its first week. It also peaked at #171 on the Billboard 200 chart and at #51 on the Billboard R&B chart.
Island Records label founder, Chris Blackwell, wanted to make sure the band’s debut album from a major label would leave a lasting impression. The original album cover was designed to look like a Zippo lighter. While the top sleeve opened upwards, the record sat in the lower pouch barley poking out so that it resembled the flint on a proper Zippo. Meanwhile, there was a hinge on the side to keep both halves together.
Although the original idea was very creative, it became much too difficult for the label to manufacture since each sleeve had to be handmade. Only the first run of 20,000 was produced, making the original release with the Zippo theme, rare over the years. The “Catch A Fire” cover that most recognize today, features an Esther Anderson portrait of Bob Marley smoking a joint designed by John Bonis.
Written by: David Garcia
Watch: Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Concrete Jungle”
Steel Pulse – Tribute to the Martyrs
Release Date: 1979
Record Label: Mango Records
Tribute to the Martyrs is the second studio release from Steel Pulse, giving them the recognition they have experienced the rest of their career on an album that only included 8 total songs. Many of the songs are darker and more political than those on Handsworth Revolution, although with a more positive and island sound.
The cover art was illustrated by Jene Hawkins with the sleeve designed by Bloomfield & Travis, also known for their work on Barrington Levy’s 1979 release Englishman and John Cale’s 1977 release Guts.
The cover art envelopes the essence of what Tribute to the Martyrs was created for. We are introduced to an island family exploring their island home. A woman is holding a sleeping baby, while the shirtless, dread-locked man, looks on and an older person is busy creating beats on the bongos. One child is in the back, hiding behind some bushes while another child, holding a walking stick, stares ahead. A small boy, wearing yellow shorts and holding a stick, is looking into the background distance towards the river and the Mount Rushmore-esque hillsides with the faces of the martyrs.
The first face appears to be Marcus Garvey, Jamaican political leader who was a proponent of returning African diaspora to their ancestral lands when he founded the Black Star Line. Malcom X, also mentioned in the song, was shot during a gathering for the Organization of Afro-American Unity in New York. Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa is memorialized and Nelson Mandela said, “they had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid.” Martin Luther King Jr. is also paid tribute for his sacrifice and peaceful fight for civil rights in America. The second face from the right is Paul Bogle, a Jamaican Baptist deacon mentioned by Steel Pulse for his role as leader of the Morant Bay Protests that led to the rebellion against the British for their unjust treatment of natives. The face to the far right can only be George Jackson, a black panther, author, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family who was shot by guards at San Quentin Prison for an alleged escape attempt.
Written by: Blake Taylor
Listen: Steel Pulse – “Tribute To The Martyers”
Pepper – Give’n It
Record Label: Volcom Entertainment / Cornerstone RAS
Release Date: April 11th, 2000
Pepper’s first album, Give’n It, rushed onto the music scene behind a burst of bright colors and unique designs drawn by Ben Brough. The release of Pepper’s debut album, launched Pepper into popularity by, what can only be described as, happenstance.
Looking back to 2000, the group had just moved from Hawaii to Southern California and was trying to break into the music scene. The band had recorded the material for Give’n It in the only studio that existed in Kona, Hawaii at the time, but was in need of a label to produce and distribute it.
Ben Brough, a surfer for Volcom and friends with the band, caught word of Volcom’s plan to launch a new record label. Ben facilitated a meeting between Pepper and Volcom Entertainment and they agreed to release the album. It was originally released as a demo by Volcom Entertainment in April 2000, but was later re-released in 2003 by the band’s own LAW Records and includes acoustic and live bonus tracks.
Ben Brough, an aspiring artist with an edgy and progressive style, showed Pepper his sketchbook, which led them to select one that drummer. Drummer Yesod Williams, described the art as, “…representing Pepper at the time cause it was all spontaneous and new!” The art piece, featuring a hazy purple face with a surfboard clenched in its teeth, is set to a bright yellow backdrop on top of waves.
The album went on to propel Pepper’s musical career on the main land. Shortly after the release, the group went on Warped Tour 2001, followed by a tour with Slightly Stoopid. Ben Brough went on as an artist and continues to create surf inspired art in southern California. As for Pepper, they have become an influential band within the rock reggae genre and continue to produce new music.
Written by: Erin Walsh
Watch: Pepper – “Bad Idea” (Live)
Rebelution – Courage to Grow
Record Label: 87 Music/Controlled Substance Sound Labs / HillKid
Release Date: June 8th, 2007
A band that now plays to hordes of fans at many major music festivals in the US and abroad, Rebelution started in the backyards of Santa Barbara, CA and quickly garnered a following as their music spread like wildfire, from Hawaii, to the east coast and abroad, placing the outfit in the forefront of the 2nd wave of Reggae-Rock.
Rebelution’s success story behind this record is one as good as the music contained in its 13 tracks. The band began to make waves locally, eventually creating an EP in the summer of 2006, satisfying the request of friends. As the story goes, a fan in Hilo, Hawaii heard a track off that EP on Myspace, eventually sending it to a radio station & Hawaii easily latched onto the music. It didn’t take long for the mainland to catch on, and suddenly “Safe and Sound” was the hit of the summer.
A year later, with the help of Jim Fox and Sonoma County’s Prairie Sun Studios, Rebelution dropped Courage to Grow, via Hill Kid, 87 Music and Control Substance Sound labs. The record became a groundbreaking piece for Rebelution, as the album went onto be selected as iTunes Editor’s Choice for Best Reggae Album of 2007, remaining in the Billboard Top Reggae Album Chart for 36 weeks, peaking at number 4.
Rebelution bassist and artist for much of the bands artwork, Marley Williams, describes Courage to Grow’s artwork as: “representation of our roots as all our members were born and raised in California. When we first put out ‘Courage to Grow’ we were coining our sound as ‘California Reggae’ & it felt very fitting to apply elements of our environment.”
The final graphic design, created by artist, Abel Aquino, perfectly represents this vision, with art depicting silhouettes of a roaring California bear in the forefront with a giant sequoia in the back ground atop a chaotic crowd with their hands up. Marley adds: “The meaning is to portray that our environment is a reflection of ourselves and what inspires us. In this case, California and Jamaica were inspiring us on those two fronts and our sound is a direct correlation of the two.”
Written by: Aaron Solomon
Watch: Rebelution – “Other Side” (Live)
Read all volumes to The Pier’s Album & Cover Art History: