Q Special Edition, March 2001

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... Bibliography ...

Q magazine
Q Special Edition
  • 2001 March


The 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time


Early in his career Elvis Costello declared that the only emotions he understood were "guilt and revenge". Listening to his venomous early albums, this made sense. Then came Get Happy!!, where the remorse-ravaged revenger added a new kind of humour to his repertoire. Featuring some of his most tricksy and skilful songwriting — both lyrically and musically — Costello visited his dark places with a newly deft engagement of both hurt and despair. Then he coated it all with an upbeat soul-inspired sound.

"The decision to change was not exactly agonised over," Costello explains. Having returned from touring in America and demoed a few new songs with the Attractions in their usual punky style, Costello quickly realised a new course was needed.

"It took a few drinks and a handful of old Stax singles," Costello recalls. "We went to the pub and said, 'What are we going to do? Why don't we all try playing some of these songs slower, and use more rhythmic accompaniment, rather than these tricky, nervy kinds of backing that we'd been using?' And it all just fell into place."

Retreating to a studio in Holland, the names of soul legends were freely bandied about as Costello and the Attractions, overseen by regular producer Nick Lowe, crafted a direct, heartfelt record.

With the new direction and irony-tinged title in place, the Get Happy!! artwork twisted the knife. "Barney Bubbles did all our artwork until 'Imperial Bedroom'," Costello explains. "He had a mind like an art encyclopedia. He would borrow from different periods quite shamelessly, in a very witty way."

Bubbles, real name Colin Fulcher — who had been working on record sleeves since the late 1960s and was highly influenced by the visual style of soul imprints Stax and Atlantic — found a snugly-fitting generic look for the cover which meant that the LP could happily sit alongside the 20-year-old sleeves of Percy Sledge and Booker T & The MGs. However, as with all his work, Bubbles brought a unique take to the design.

Heaping on the irony, the particularly garish colour scheme and sharp polygons amount to a pop-art pile of broken glass, while Costello appears complete with tie and winter coat, looking more like an accountant than a glamorous soul legend. The finishing touch was the worn coffee cup mark on the middle of the record. Thus, even a brand-new record arrived soiled and slightly corrupted, neatly reflecting the record's sentiments. Early British pressings even featured a real stain, a gag that had a few record-buyers returning to the record shop to complain.

Get Happy!! also stood out by being 20 tracks long, requiring extra care in the pressing process. This prompted Nick Lowe to continue the soul spoof by aping a "Your friend, the producer"-styled sleeve-note explaining how the tight squeeze would not effect sound quality.

The sad addendum to the story is that Bubbles, hounded by self-doubt about his work, took his own life in 1983. As the photographer and Bubbles associate Brian Griffin notes, "Barney had some strange ideas about himself. He always believed he wasn't a very good artist. He always thought he took others' ideas and merely embellished them, which is clearly nonsense -everything he did had a unique quality."

Barney: No Dinosaur

The lasting appeal of Mr Bubble's artwork.

A playful approach to packaging was a constant theme of the work Bubbles produced for Elvis Costello.

"If a thing amused me when I saw it, I didn't ponder the significance of it," Costello explains. "When you buy a box of cornflakes, you eat the cornflakes, you don't eat the packet. It's the same with a record. We wanted to catch people's eyes. If people looked at This Year's Model [left] and asked 'Why is it off register?' it was because we wanted them to ask exactly that. It meant they'd pause just that little bit longer in front of our sleeve."

On the follow-up Armed Forces (left top), it was the shape of the packaging that was warped, Folding out into a large cross designed to be "as impractical and ghastly as possible", it was also supposed to fall apart quickly.

"Although it wasn't my idea, exactly the same thinking was behind me changing my name," says Costello of the various sleeve tricks, "it stopped people dead in their tracks."


Q Special Edition - 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time - March 2001

Get Happy!! is included in Q's 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time.


2001-03-00 Q Special Edition page 168.jpg
Page scan.

2001-03-00 Q Special Edition cover.jpg

The 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time


1 Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen
2 Joy Division, Closer
3 Nirvana, Nevermind
4 The Who, The Who Sell Out
5 The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
6 Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
7 New Order, Blue Monday
8 The Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill
9 The Clash, London Calling''
10 The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
11 Massive Attack, Mezzanine
12 U2, Boy
13 Suede, Coming Up
14 Oasis, Definitely Maybe
15 The Special AKA / 2 Tone records, The Generic 2 Tone Bag
16 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
17 Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax
18 The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
19 Pulp, Different Class
20 Radiohead, OK Computer
21 PiL, Metal Box
22 The Upsetters, Super Ape
23 The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland
24 The Beatles, Yesterday... And Today (Butcher sleeve)
25 Kraftwerk, The Man Machine
26 Small Faces, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
27 Björk, Post
28 Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
29 The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico
30 David Bowie, Diamond Dogs
31 Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict
32 Manic Street Preachers, Holy Bible
33 Slade, Slayed
34 Earl Brutus, Tonight You Are the Special One
35 Hawkwind, Space Ritual
36 The Chemical Brothers, Surrender
37 Frank Sinatra, Sings For Only the Lonely
38 Primal Scream, Xtrmntr
39 Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Troutmask Replica
40 Happy Mondays, Pills N Thrills and Bellyaches
41 Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space
42 The Stooges, Raw Power
43 Durutti Column, The Return of the Durutti Column
44 Big Bear, Doin' Thangs
45 Blur, Parklife
46 Ian Dury, New Boots and Panties
47 Roxy Music, Country Life
48 Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath
49 Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
50 The Smiths, The World Won't Listen
51 Echo & the Bunnymen, Porcupine
52 Pet Shop Boys, Actually
53 Robbie Williams, Sing When You're Winning
54 Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
55 Elvis Presley, Aloha From Hawaii
56 Prince, Sign o' the Times
57 Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals
58 Blondie, Parallel Lines
59 Iron Maiden, Sanctuary
60 Saint Etienne, Foxbase Alpha
61 The Beatles, With the Beatles
62 Talking Heads, Remain in Light
63 Kate Bush, Never Forever
64 Motorhead, Bomber
65 The Faces, Ooh La La
66 Julian Cope, Fried
67 1970s Top of the Pops
68 The Louvin Brothers, Satan Is Real
69 Yes, Fragile
70 Elvis Costello, Get Happy!!
71 Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell
72 Sly Stone, Fresh
73 Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
74 Prodigy, Fat of the Land
75 Human League, Dare
76 Pixies, Surfer Rosa
77 Cream, Disraeli Gears
78 Bob Marley, Catch a Fire
79 The Verve, This Is Music
80 Badly Drawn Boy, EP1
81 Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns
82 Underworld, Dubnobasswithmyheadman
83 Basement Jaxx, Remedy
84 Aphex Twin, Come to Daddy
85 Add N to X, On the Wires of Our Nerves
86 Tommy Boy's Greatest Beats
87 The Jam, Setting Suns
88 Eric B & Rakim, The Microphone Fiend
89 Age of Chance, Don't Get Mad Get Even
90 Mr. Lee, Pump Up London
91 Beach Boys, Surf's Up
92 Isaac Hayes, Black Moses
93 Half Man Half Biscuit, This Leaden Pall
94 Alliance, We Could Get Used to This
95 Queen, A Night at the Opera
96 Daft Punk, Homework
97 The Pogues, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
98 R.E.M., Green
99 Now That's What I Call Music 44
100 Cabaret Voltaire, Microphonies


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