Monday, April 12, 2010

Up Your Sleeve

Say what you will about the death of print journalism, but newspapers are still the starting point for most great television pieces and blog posts. Sunday's New York Post had a fun piece by Billy Heller on the history of album covers, which notes that New York City not only invented the modern album cover but also defined it with 10 classics. (See the list HERE.) Of particular interest to me, of course, was the selection of Blondie's "AutoAmerican" at No. 4. If the band despised the "Parallel Lines" pose former manager Peter Leeds had tricked them into, surely they must have loved this iconic image, shot on a downtown rooftop in late 1980, with the Empire State Building standing prominently in the background.

Producer Mike Chapman had insisted the band record the album in L.A., despite the band's grumblings. "I knew this was the right thing to do and felt sure that a dose of L.A. would bend the music," he explained. "They all loved L.A. anyway. They just didn't like to admit it. It's a New York thing." Once the record was completed, Blondie insisted on a cover from their hometown, posing on a rooftop at Broadway and Eighth.

Heller writes that the "AutoAmerican" cover photo was treated to look like a painting, but I am left thinking there is much more to the story. Chapman noted on the 2001 reissue of the album that "the album cover was worked on endlessly," and the liner notes list Martin Hoffman as the "painter." Strangely, no photographer is listed although I have read that Berenice Abbott took the photo. Adding to the confusion, however, is that for years I have seen pictures of Andy Warhol styling Debbie in what appears to be the outfit she wore on the cover and "Tide Is High" single sleeve. Would love to hear from someone who knows the full story behind the making of this classic album cover.

UPDATE: Wikipedia states that the image was "taken from a commissioned painting by artist Martin Hoffman" but clearly it had to be based on something, no?


Unknown said...

Good work as always, Kenneth. Hope you follow up this post. Always loved the AutoAmerican cover!In the meantime, the cover image of Panic of Girls is out there (literally)!

decosabute said...
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decosabute said...

Found this blog entry by going down a similar rabbit hole. Would love to find the original image that the Autoamerican cover is based on. There was definitely a shoot rather than just a painting on the rooftop, as the photo of Debbie Harry on the cover of the Rapture single is clearly from the same scene and wearing the same dress, but in a different pose and wearing shades. Hopefully the rest of the images from the shoot turn up some day.

decosabute said...

Having researched it a bit more, I can see that a high res image of the Rapture single cover shows the photograh credited to Martin Hoffman. So that probably busts the myth that Berenice Abbott took the photo. I've also now seen a tweet from Chris Stein saying that Hoffman was both photographer and painter for the cover.

Also, the image of Warhol styling DH could quite likely be from the Rapture video shoot, where she wears the same outfit as the Autoamerican and Rapture sleeve covers.