It seems quite remarkable that it took until 1939 for the music industry to take advantage of the natural advertising real estate of the record sleeve. Until that point record sleeves were plain and drab. In 1939, Columbia Records in New York hired a young 23-year-old to become art director of the company. His name was Alex Steinweiss and he was given the job of creating ad’s for Columbia’s latest recordings.
Never mind the adverts, Steinweiss thought the products themselves needed improving. “The way records were sold was ridiculous,” he said in a later interview. “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.” He persuaded the suits to let him loose to design something more attractive. This was his first attempt, not bad, huh!
He set in motion the notion the record sleeves were the perfect home for 12″ x 12″ pieces of art and design. All those wonderful images of swimming Nirvana Babies, Sgt Peppers, Yellow bananas, bulging trouser zips and light diffracting through a prism started from here, with this man’s great idea.
Sadly Alex Steinweiss died at the weekend, aged 94. He left behind a collection of wonderful images both on record sleeves and beyond. You can learn more about him in this wonderful little video: