Blog: The Typography of Record Covers

Typography of Record Covers
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Typography is everywhere. You can’t escape it or ignore it. It’s on your phone, your TV, that packet of ginger biscuits you just polished off with your tea, the logo on your car/bus/train and the signs that guide your journey home. An amble around the Coverheaven record covers will quickly demonstrate the sheer variety of typefaces used throughout the decades. There was a time when records came in plain brown paper bags but with the introduction of the LP (long player) format in the late forties there was a new ready made canvas waiting for creative coverage. That 12 square inches of real estate has stood the test of time despite the advent of new formats. The CD cover has always struggled to make an impact with its smaller area and of course with downloads you get no cover art at all.

Early cover art was mostly reserved for classical, jazz and blues albums – the “serious” end of music but the advent of rock ‘n’ roll brought a new invigorated look to covers and photography now featured quite predominantly. Alongside the images was the typography – sometimes big and bold, sometimes restrained and delicate. In the Coverheaven repository we concentrate naturally on the beautiful covers featuring attractive (in the eye of the beholder) women. For variety you need look no further. For example check out these four very different covers with their very different type treatments:

Various Artists - Thrill to the Sensational Sound of Super Stereo - front record cover
Various Artists – Thrill to the Sensational Sound of Super Stereo 1968
Neville Dickie and His Ragtime Piano - Rags and Tatters - front record cover
Neville Dickie and His Ragtime Piano – Rags and Tatters 1972
Bobby Hackett and His Luxuriant Strings - That Midnight Touch - front record cover
Bobby Hackett and His Luxuriant Strings – That Midnight Touch1970
Kismet - front record cover
Kismet 1961

If the purpose of a record cover design is to persuade you to pick up the record and look at it and then hopefully buy it then all of these probably succeeded in that noble aim. A subverted alternative to this was tried in the eighties by British band XTC with their “Go 2” album from 1978:

XTC - Go 2 - record cover
XTC – Go 2 – record cover

If you find it hard to read here it is in our typeface:

This is a RECORD COVER. This writing is the DESIGN upon the record cover. The DESIGN is to help SELL the record. We hope to draw your attention to it and encourage you to pick it up. When you have done that maybe you’ll be persuaded to listen to the music – in this case XTC’s Go 2 album. Then we want you to BUY it. The idea being that the more of you that buy this record the more money Virgin Records, the manager Ian Reid and XTC themselves will make. To the aforementioned this is known as PLEASURE. A good cover DESIGN is one that attracts more buyers and gives more pleasure. This writing is trying to pull you in much like an eye-catching picture. It is designed to get you to READ IT. This is called luring the VICTIM, and you are the VICTIM. But if you have a free mind you should STOP READING NOW! because all we are attempting to do is to get you to read on. Yet this is a DOUBLE BIND because if you indeed stop you’ll be doing what we tell you, and if you read on you’ll be doing what we’ve wanted all along. And the more you read on the more you’re falling for this simple device of telling you exactly how a good commercial design works. They’re TRICKS and this is the worst TRICK of all since it’s describing the TRICK whilst trying to TRICK you, and if you’ve read this far then you’re TRICKED but you wouldn’t have known this unless you’d read this far. At least we’re telling you directly instead of seducing you with a beautiful or haunting visual that may never tell you. We’re letting you know that you ought to buy this record because in essence it’s a PRODUCT and PRODUCTS are to be consumed and you are a consumer and this is a good PRODUCT. We could have written the band’s name in special lettering so that it stood out and you’d see it before you’d read any of this writing and possibly have bought it anyway. What we are really suggesting is that you are FOOLISH to buy or not buy an album merely as a consequence of the design on its cover. This is a con because if you agree then you’ll probably like this writing – which is the cover design – and hence the album inside. But we’ve just warned you against that. The con is a con. A good cover design could be considered as one that gets you to buy the record, but that never actually happens to YOU because YOU know it’s just a design for the cover. And this is the RECORD COVER.


Further reading

For more about typefaces and their history have a look at these sites:

A Brief History of Typography

50 Years of Typography in Album Covers


Coverheaven Blog


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