VERTICAL HOLD

There are plenty of books on album cover art on the Vinyl Connection bookshelves, but none of them could tell me which record had the glory of being the first gatefold pop/rock album. Everyone knows Sgt Pepper was the first LP to have the song lyrics on the cover—the back, incidentally, not inside in the way that became commonplace—but what was the first book-opening sleeve in popular music?

The library having failed me, I resorted to the internet where you can find out everything, right? Well, maybe. There are strong indications that Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde takes the gong. Released in May of 1966, Dylan’s seventh studio album also has the honour of being one of the very first double albums of studio recorded material. It makes sense, really; two records and two sleeve pockets for them to live in. 

If that isn’t enough, what about rounding out the ground-breaking trifecta by suggesting Blonde On Blonde was also the first gatefold album printed to be viewed vertically. Most open horizontally like a book, you see, but this album was not landscape format, it was portrait.

Now this is fascinating, as it means B on B was probably the first pop album whose packaging annoyed the shit out of the record-buying public and took numerous mid-60s flower children to the Emergency room of their local hospital.

Being a double LP, you’d take disc one out of Bob’s head area and pop it on the turntable. Wanting to enjoy the full length Dylanorama, you then opened up the cover to be face-to-face with His Bobness, thus allowing Record Two to slip out below his thighs and sever several toes (because it’s northern hemisphere summer and you have bare feet).

As I was recovering from some completely unrelated foot wounds earlier this year (southern hemisphere summer) I began pondering how many other vertical gatefold covers were produced in the first vinyl era. 

The books were once again no help at all, as they rarely show anything other than horizontal opening album covers, unless it’s a record by the Ohio Players (more on them subsequently. Perhaps.). Even the extraordinary cover of Jimi Hendrix second album, Axis: Bold As Love is often presented above the waist, not the whole psychedelic 12” x 24” head-blast.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience album was released in December 1967 (you can read all about it here) and is the only other sixties album in the VC collection to have a vertical gatefold. (Well, I think it is. The catalogue does not provide that level of information, dammit). If you know of others from the sixties, I’d love to hear.

In the meantime, here are two more in the category—both from 1970—for your enjoyment.

First off, we have the debut LP from Britain’s knights of heavy rock, the very heavy, very humble Uriah Heep. If the image is meant to represent Charles Dickens’ immortal sleaze bag, old Uriah has not aged at all well. 

Whether the music has aged any better depends entirely about how you feel about the genesis of British heavy rock. Here are soaring vocals from David Byron and the crunching rhythms that Heep traded off for decades, mortared by the proggy bluesy cement of Ken Hensley’s organ.

Opener “Gypsy” is probably the pick of the songs… great Byron vocal, organ break, riff, dramatic story… but there is much to enjoy here. A personal fave is the churning ‘eavy psychedelia of “I’ll keep on trying”. Another is “Dreammare”, the raw material of which sounds like a sweet late psychedelic ballad processed in a dark satanic mill. It’s catchy, too. 

Although more heavy prog than metal, Uriah Heep’s first outing sets out the template for their enduring sound and is a very enjoyable listen if the genre is your hard-rockin’ thing.

The next vertical cover contrasts nicely with the Uriah Heep, and is also from that pivotal music year, 1970.

Formed by brothers Phil, Derek and Ray Shulman, Gentle Giant came together after the demise of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound who’d had a Top 10 hit with psychedelic gem “Kites” in 1967. But there is nothing acid fried about the Giant sound.

A strange and beguiling combination of King Crimson chops, baroque flourishes and elastic melodies sung in a throaty tenor, the self-titled Gentle Giant debut still makes for an adventurous listen almost five decades on.

Although a trifle inconsistent compared with subsequent offerings, from the opening organ chord of “Giant” you know you are in the presence of a huge vision and a big (yet nuanced) sound.

He is coming,

Hear him coming,

Are you ready 

For his being?

One of the things I love about Gentle Giant is their capacity to write riffs that involve more than three chords yet manage to get your head bobbing energetically. “Giant” has one of these, as does the album’s stand-out track, “Alucard”.

A real tension builds as you dance to the arpeggios and vocal gymnastics, awaiting the crunching return of what is a gloriously solid riff. (If you listen, try to get decent sound – the instrumental arrangement is very well done).

It’s not all gargantuan playing. ‘Funny ways’ is a clever, attractive ballad that follows it’s own idiosyncratic path (successfully) while “Isn’t it quiet and cold” evokes Paul McCartney’s music-hall influenced songs such as “When I’m Sixty-Four” and is pretty forgettable.

Yet overall, this LP is a worthwhile investment of 37 minutes of your time, and sounds unlike anything else (unless it’s another Gentle Giant record, of course). It even has a version of “God save the queen” as a coda.

Next: More 12” x 24” album covers for your visual titillation.

*

36 comments

  1. Great post Bruce, I loved this. I’m surprised that no classical offerings beat Bobby D to the punch as a gatefold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure they did, Joe. Likewise jazz. But I was only looking in the arena of pop/rock.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks great! What’s about a pop-up collection?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve thought about it often. Might be too big a test for my photography skills! 🙂
      Maybe after this series…?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. iwarti · · Reply

    Some more vertical artwork came to my mind:
    Deep Purple – s/t third album with full Hieronimous Bosch glory and still from the 60’s
    The flock – dinosaur swamp -70’s
    I’m not sure if it counts but there is also Strawbs “Grave new world” with vertical inside illustration spread on magnificent threefold sleeve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good stuff. I had no idea that the 1969 Deep Purple album was (a) a gatefold, and (b) a VERTICAL gatefold. Now I want a copy!! I’ve found a pretty good photo and will include it in the next instalment.

      Interesting about The Flock. I have the LP, but not gatefold. Looked it up – it’s a really good cover.

      Thanks iwarti, particularly pleased at the unearthing of the Deep Purple!

      Like

      1. iwarti · · Reply

        Glad I could be of any help 🙂
        Mine The Flock copy isn’t gatefold either but it exists in this form too
        Catch a few more:
        Moody Blues – A question of balance
        One more Uriah Heep – Salisbury (there is a version of cover artwork with a tank)
        And I’m not sure if we can agree on the Pink Floyd’s Meddle as a vertical, but I’ve always considered it to be one 🙂
        iwarti (a.k.a.Arterrorist on tumblr)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Have the Moodies and Floyd covered (he he) and photographed for another post. In fact I have enough for several more posts already ‘in the can’!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Just discovered I have the Deep Purple on CD! But although there are plenty of bonus tracks, the booklet has no image whatsoever of the gatefold LP cover. Shame!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. When I get home tonight, I am going to see if I have any that are vertical. I think I do, but can’t recall it at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great! Let us know.

      Like

  5. Wow this is cool, and the one time I don’t mind things being in Portrait. I see people at concerts recordings songs on their cell phones with the damn things in Portrait held upright and I just want to smack the backs of their heads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phew. I’m glad my head is safe (for now).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jefferson Airplane’s Bark is an interesting item. It had a bog standard cardboard sleeve but that was wrapped within a fold out paper bag which opened up vertically and offered several suggestions as to what to do with the bag. https://wimwords.com/2014/01/19/from-the-stacks-jefferson-airplane-bark/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely deserving of an honourable mention, Paul! Thanks for the link.

      Like

  7. Excellent, cover art is intriguing. You have also introduced the phrase “first vinyl era” to the language, I think this concept need to be defined further Bruce. This would also imply that there would be “before the first vinyl era.” You have I believe an answer here to how we use dates in the 20th and 21st Centuries and perhaps the 19th. Mindblowing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tried to copyright ‘The Edison Cylinder Era’ but the estate of Thomas E objected.
      Similar (but different) problem with ‘The Shellac Era’. Those lac beetles are litigious buggers.
      Some sus personage with a bondage fetish has a blog called ‘The Vinyl Leer-er’ and lodged an objection but I beat him off.
      It’s a tough world out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Frampton Comes Alive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never heard of it. (grin)

      Like

  9. When album art was big enough to be frameable. Loved Gentle Giant by the way. Must update my collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. I have two Ikea frames on the wall, through which I rotate topical album covers.
      (All the Gentle Giant albums through to 1973’s In A Glass House are excellent. As is Free Hand from ’75.)

      Like

  10. Yeah I have a few of these things. Even a couple you have. Await the next bunch. As usual you have CB’s brain grinding away in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When I did a sort in Discogs using keyword gatefold, lots of interesting items come up. The first GF of the rock n roll era seems to be The Fabulous Fabian in 1959. This looks like a very interesting GF as the right fold/page opened again, vertically, to reveal a poster of Fabian (he’s so dreamy.) Bobby Darin and Duane Eddy both released GF LPs in 1960.
    Prior to that, GF 2 x 7″ singles were not uncommon. And of course an entire series of Sing Along With Mitch Miller GF LPs which included a booklet of detachable lyrics pages to hand out at parties and, obviously, everyone could sing along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sing along with Mitch. Ah, those were the days. Now we gather round the campfire (virtual, on the OLED screen) and sing along to Radiohead.

      Thanks for your research, LTR.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, Bruce. Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind… popped into my head while reading this. Those albums really should come with warning stickers, huh? Firm footwear advisable, perhaps…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funkadelic are right in the mix with vertical gatefolds, Jim. Well picked.
      Indeed, one of theirs is slated for early next week.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Neat idea for a post Bruce, the portrait vs. landscape!
    The first one that jumped to mind for me was a Lionel Richie album where he’s playfully sliding down a firepole in the vertical gatefold. To his credit, the portrait (rather than landscape) maximized the impact!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, the inner photo of ‘Can’t Slow Down’!
      Got quite excited when I read your comment, Geoff, as it would suit my nefarious purposes to have another vertical fire station cover (look up Ohio Players ‘Fire’). But sadly, insides are out. Still that does not diminish my enjoyment of young Lionel having fun with his pole. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Very interesting!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lovely ! another great angel in cover art.

    In love with GG cover(s) as well as music, the debut is great, as most of their albums.
    Jimmy what’cha’ma’say….such brilliant stuff too, including the cover (what a great loss in music history…..long story)
    Bob…not too familiar with this album and cover, same goes for Uriah Heep, know some in the later albums well but not this one.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Don’t know if inner gatefold pics are eligible but Traffic’s Jihn Barleycorn has a vertical band picture when opened out. https://rarerecordcollector.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/ilps-9116-traffic-john-barleycorn-gatefold.jpg?w=329&h=645

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Of course loved the covers of the last three albums with the Hendrix and the GG being very special albums for the music within!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. One of my very first LPs was by pop star Bobby Sherman. His album “Here Comes Bobby” (also a 1970 release) had a vertical trifold cover: a pic of him in a blue shirt at which I’d stare for hours on end. I’m sure there was a several month period during which it was my prized possession.

    https://goo.gl/images/WMLhTv

    And by the way, those Uriah Heep and Gentle Giant cover are very unsettling, in different ways!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Three panels of Bobby. I can see why you were transfixed.
      What a great addition our vertical journey; thanks JDB!

      PS> I do have one vertical three panel cover which I’ll drop in at the end of this series. I must warn you, however, it’s not as dreamy as Mr Sherman.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. […] is a contrasting manifestation of Madame Muse from heavy rockers Uriah Heep (who have featured in Vertical dispatches previously with a very different cover). Released in 1978, Fallen Angels illustrates the fondness […]

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