Brain Pickings

Vintage Album Covers

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Private collections, public perceptions, and all that jazz.

We love jazz. We love album cover art. And we love vintage design. So we’re incredibly excited to bring you three fantastic collections of vintage jazz album and LP cover artwork.

VINTAGE VANGUARD

Vintage Vanguard may be an obscure Japanese website, but it’s brimming with remarkable cover designs of classic and rare Western jazz albums from the iconic Blue Note record label.

LP COVER LOVER

LP Cover Lover is both an archive of “the weird and wonderful world of record covers from the golden age of LPs” and a social bookmarking platform where anyone can submit a cover and everyone votes on the artwork. And while we wish the collection were browsable by rating, it’s still an absolute treat for musicologists and vintage design junkies alike.

BIRKA JAZZ ARCHIVE

In 1938, Columbia Records hired designer Alex Steinweiss who, at the age of 23, invented the concept of the album cover. Until then, records came in plain brown paper wrappers. Steinweiss’ idea was not only a pivotal moment in packaging history, but also a monumental shift in the relationship between music and art which, through the introduction of illustration, typography, vivid color and bold graphics, completely revolutionized the record industry.

Columbia Records’ Birka Jazz Archive houses rare and beautiful album covers by Steinweiss and other iconic designers from the golden age of jazz — some from private collections not previously available to the world. Sorted by label and country, the artwork also features fascinating historical notes about the labels, designers, photographers, and the music itself.

Explore this incredible cultural gem and, if you find yourself fascinated by the history and heritage of jazz, we recommend the Jazz + Culture course on iTunes U, a free podcast from Arizona State University. While it may lack the charm and production value of a TED talk, the course is a densely informative and captivating journey through the evolution of a cultural movement much grander than its musical foundation.

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