Here in Britain there’s no Thanksgiving so turkey as a seasonal meal is a Christmas dish. Turkey also has another meaning which the OED can supply:
6.6 U.S. slang. a.6.a An inferior or unsuccessful cinematographic or theatrical production, a flop; hence, anything disappointing or of little value.
This post concerns the latter—turkeys for the turkey season—being a series of bad or merely lacklustre album covers produced by the Hipgnosis design partnership throughout the 1970s. If the label seems unfair it should be emphasised that “turkey” is the designation applied by Storm Thorgerson himself in the appendix to the third Hipgnosis book, For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis (2008). The following are all covers that he says Hipgnosis disliked, although not necessarily because they were bad designs:
There are some designs we would rather like to forget altogether and have been awarded turkeys to denote — no disrespect is intended for the blame lies mostly with us, save for the twin spectres of release schedules and rock egoism — “That’s a jolly interesting idea chaps but… hmm… actually we’d rather have a picture of our good selves.”
A consistent feature of the Hipgnosis books is a refusal to adopt the Olympian attitude that radiates from many design monographs. Thorgerson has always been happy to describe the history of Hipgnosis, and the practice of album cover design, in warts-and-all anecdotal detail, so it’s no surprise if he also admits to failings. You’d be hard-pressed to find other designers who would draw attention to poor work in this manner, especially in a book dedicated to the highlights of a lauded career. Most designers are self-conscious types who can be relied upon to bury their mistakes as thoroughly as possible.
I wrote a brief post years ago about bad cover design but I usually try to avoid such things, there’s already enough junk in the world without compiling lists of it. But this post is instructive for showing that not everyone gets things right however good they might be, and also that everyone has to start somewhere. Most of my early album covers are various degrees of terrible so I try to spare others the accusatory finger. That said, you have to wonder what on earth Thorgerson and partner Aubrey Powell were thinking of with some of these designs.
Genesis (1968) by The Gods.
Thorgerson’s introduction to For the Love of Vinyl explains the haphazard beginnings of Hipgnosis, pretty much two guys and a couple of cameras. They had no design training but a lot of luck (not least having Pink Floyd as friends), and were learning on the fly, something you can see happening with these early covers. It’s unfair to compare a design like the Gods sleeve to work they were producing a few years later when they had access to a range of professional illustrators, retouchers and models, and also budgets from record companies that paid for flights to exotic locations.
Gun Sight (1969) by Gun.
This was Gun’s second album. The cover for the first happened to feature the first album cover art by Roger Dean whose career in the music business would run parallel with that of Hipgnosis. Most of the early Hipgnosis covers are simple photos that are occasionally processed in some way. This one didn’t really work out, however, the Roger Dean cover is better.
Parachute (1970) by The Pretty Things.
But at least the Gun cover doesn’t look like this bizarre attempt at Surrealist collage. Hipgnosis often tried to illustrate the album title but I can’t see how you get “parachute” from this one. The collage approach worked a lot better on the Quatermass album produced the same year.
Till There Was You (1970) by Pepe Jaramillo.
This was the only cover singled out in the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René (1978), as something they didn’t like:
…straight down the line and utterly tasteless as a result — it doesn’t even work as a genteel piece of middle class tweeness.