The Art of Making Art

Once upon a time, there was the LP. Big and bulky, and oh so easy to scratch. Unveiled in 1948, they lasted roughly half a century until the clear digital quality of the CD finally replaced them. That’s a damn good run.

I love CD’s and the sonic realms that they have brought us, but I’m not enough of an audiophile, nor are my ears attuned enough, to get all weepy over the difference between analog and digital sound. But I do miss the physical substance of an LP, particularly in its packaging.

Now there’s a new site devoted to the cover art for vintage soundtrack LP’s. This used to be a separate dedicated site, but has since been morphed into an offshoot of Runmovies.eu, an archive of articles and interviews from the old CinemaScore and Soundtrack magazines. This site in particular does what the internet does best–it catalogs information online that would be difficult, if not impossible, to find, and otherwise would be lost to the sands of time.

There are no commentaries, no frills. Just beautiful front-and-back scans of old soundtracks. I hope they move the old scans onto the new site eventually. Some of the joys of the site are seeing soundtracks you had forgotten or never even knew existed. Some of those soundtracks deserve a CD release, others deserve to be lost in the ether of cyberspace.

LP cardboard sleeves were easily torn, bent, and scratched as they were pulled and returned from their storage place, but there is no sensation quite like sitting on the floor and thumbing through a pile of LP’s in front of you. The thinness and size of the LP made it ideal for browsing. Plastic jewel cases, no matter how they’re packaged, can’t be thumbed through, though their spines are far easier to read. But spines are missing one crucial element of the joy of album packaging–the artwork.

Soundtrack cover art never quite entered the creative realm that pop and rock albums did, but thankfully it rarely succumbed to the hokey, esoteric, and often bland realm of classical music LP’s. After all, soundtracks were marketing a specific product–the film.

Not much has changed in soundtrack artwork since the arrival of the CD. Usually the main poster artwork is used for the cover, but CD’s offer the opportunity for booklets that LP’s never had. Movie stills, composer pictures, scoring sessions, and vintage posters are all possible in CD liner notes, not to mention the exhaustive research that we are now blessed with in many liner notes.

And yet, as wonderful as all those elements are, I still miss LP’s. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and my eyesight is getting worse and worse. But no matter how beautifully presented, artwork loses some of its punch when shrunk down to coaster size. And I can forget about even reading the notes. Even with my trifocals (yes, my eyesight is that bad!) I’m far too proud to purchase one of those tacky Owl reading lights to help me.

LP artwork (and the accompanying vinyl sonic product) in every genre is now beginning to get paid its due. It often sells big at auction, is featured in museum exhibits, and even graces the walls of our homes. It’s nice to see soundtrack LP cover art being celebrated over at Vintage Scores. I guarantee it will bring back memories as well as introduce you to scores you’ve never even heard of.

12 comments

  1. A wonderful article Jim. I love cover art and I had many great moments discovering gems in dad’s old LP collection, although there were no scores or film music for that matter. That wasn’t his thing. You are right about the LP being ideal for browsing compared to the CD too, I still remember scanning through the LP section at the local music store and it was a breeze compared to the CD’s.

    Reading this makes me a little sad as I want to be a part of that time, before the CD came. Must have been awesome.

    Wonder how long the CD will survive, definitely not as long as the LP. And then what? Digital only released? I hope not, but I fear it might be happening sooner rather than later.

    I love the cover site Jim, I can just spend hours looking through them all. A similar site for CD covers (including liner notes): http://www.soundtracklist.net
    .-= Jørn´s last blog ..Up by Michael Giacchino wins Golden Globe Awards and Critics Choice Awards 2010 =-.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jorn. I guess it WAS awesome, but only in retrospect. Like everything else, I took it for granted at the time. You just never think that something that is so much a part of your life will ever be gone. And yet it always is.

      I don’t know what the future holds. As much as I bitch about some of the technological changes, I’ll just have to roll with it like everybody else. And I hate not having control. LOL

      Thanks for the recommendation about the other site as well for CD covers. It’s very cool that people take the time to scan and/or create these covers for people. It’s a lot of work and I’m certainly appreciative of their efforts.

  2. Sorry to be the one splitting hairs again. Booklets were definitely possible with LP releases. Many Classical music LP’s came with large booklets featuring liner notes and, if sung text was involved, reproducing the entire libretto. For some reason, the preservation aspect of film music was not as strong at the time as it is now. One could easily argue that, had the CD not been invented, today’s soundtrack LP releases would come with extensive booklets. Would you agree?

    1. Sorry your comment took so long to respond to. It got lost in my dashboard.

      You’re totally right about classical LP booklets. Cast albums often had large booklets as well. It didn’t happen often for film scores though. If LP’s were still the main form of media AND we had our current film music preservation, then, yes, you’re probably right, the LP’s probably would have come with extensive booklets. Maybe even more than the CD’s do because of the larger canvas. There might be even more with Intrada, Varese, and some others. I do know that those CD booklets are incredibly cost prohibitive.

  3. I still have a lot of LPs. Most of the artwork is good. Most are my mother’s and she has given them to me. The CD is okay. Digital music taking over? I hope not, but I think the first commenter might be right about where music is going. I don’t know the first thing about the new craze and I guess if music finds it’s way into download only I’ll be left out in the cold because I wouldn’t have a clue on how to do it or how to play it once I’ve done it.

    1. Hi Shunta, thanks for commenting. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what the future brings. But it might be time for you to take the plunge and start learning the digitals ways. Even if you don’t necessarily download, you might be surprised at the ease of having a digital copy of the music on your computer, iPod (or other mp3 player), etc. Then again, maybe you’re able to survive without it. If so, more power to you. :)

  4. The LP lasted half a decade? Five years?? Surely you mean half a century… But it lasted long.

    1. Makes ya feel like a kid again, doesn’t it? Ah, for the good old days when the toughest thing in life was simply staying within the lines. :)

  5. Yes and wondering why? :) A white blank page leaves much more for the imagination, doesn’t it?

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