(EDIT: This is a thing I wrote as a writing sample for a job editing the blog of a major Seattle radio station. I didn’t get the job, but I’m leaving the post up anyway. It doesn’t exactly jibe with the “brand” I’m trying to project as a writer [whatever that means], but I did take the time to write it, and in retrospect, it doesn’t read like embarrassing PR copy as much as I thought it might.)
Aside from its concern with technical wizardry and stadium-filling excess, progressive rock can also be associated with a particular aesthetic on its album covers: vaguely dystopian scenes that merge the otherworldly with the everyday. No one was more responsible for the surreal look of prog rock than British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who died this past Thursday at 69.
Best known for his work with Pink Floyd, Thorgerson’s career spanned four decades, where he designed art for rock bands spanning Led Zeppelin to, in his later years, modern-day prog luminaries like Muse, The Mars Volta, and Biffy Clyro. He’s known for his jarring visuals—the man on fire that graces Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the all-seeing eye on The Cranberries’ Bury The Hatchet—but his most famous work is his simplest. That would be Pink Floyd’s instantly recognizable The Dark Side of the Moon. Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright requested that Thorgerson’s design be simple and bold, leading to the album’s stark light-through-a-prism motif. It’s a design that’s nearly as iconic as the music itself—guitarist David Gilmour called Thorgerson’s art “an inseparable part” of Pink Floyd’s work in a tribute on his website.
Thorgerson worked so frequently with progressive rock groups perhaps because their albums’ outsized themes jibed with his theory that album art should be more than a pretty picture of the band, as noted in this New York Times obituary:
“It always seemed funny in a way to represent music by choosing to taking a picture of four chaps,” Mr. Torgerson said. “You’ve got music which might be about all sorts of things, from love lost and love won to politics to school days, from sport to perverse obsessions, etc., etc. Why would you have four chaps on the front? What does that say about the music?”
Check out a chronological selection of Thorgerson’s album covers below. You can also view a full gallery of his work on his website.
Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (1978)
Catherine Wheel, Chrome
Phish, Slip Stitch and Pass
Muse, Black Holes & Revelations