Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experience, and if so, how? Scratch the Surface, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, takes a look at particularly interesting and/or exceptional cover art choices.
“He [Daniel Corrigan; photographer] captured a moment. The one overriding thing that’s always been in the back of my head: It’s a great shot, and it’s become iconographic and it says ‘the Replacements’ and everybody recognizes it. And…from the very first time I saw it I was like, ‘What the fuck are they doing on a roof?’ You know, this ‘candid’ moment, and they’re on a fucking rooftop. They had to crawl out a window – there’s nothing candid about it.” – Dave Ayers, from The Replacements – All Over But the Shouting
Let It Be is (in?)famous for lots of reasons, its cheeky, idol-biting title not withstanding, but its cover is probably the most well known for its depiction of the band: four jeans and sneaker bedecked lads on a rooftop somewhere, a black and white photo with red, superimposed letters spelling out the band name and the album title. Photographer Daniel Corrigan was hired to do the promotional photos for Let It Be and his first attempt at getting the album cover was a bit ramshackle. Sent to do a portrait at a Replacements show at the University of Minnesota, Corrigan was having no luck getting the band to cooperate. “So I told ’em I had coke, but, ‘We can’t do it downstairs here. We have an office up on the top floor. Let’s go up there and we can all do lines.’ I didn’t have any coke, I just wanted to get ’em in the elevator because they’d be trapped.” The result, Corrigan’s favorite photo of the shoot, was his pick for the album cover.
But that wasn’t the end. Corrigan was asked to try again, and this time he ended up at the home of Bob and Tommy Stinson, the Replacements’ practice space. He took some standard practice room shots but then decided to take the band out on the roof. The rest is history.
The photograph is legendary because of how perfectly it seems to capture the very essence of the band. The individual members’ personalities seem etched into the image, whether it’s Paul Westerberg, talking and not looking at the camera at all, Tommy Stinson, sleepily rubbing his eyes while clutching a pack of cigarettes, Bob Stinson, peering around Westerberg and arching his eyebrows mischievously, or Chris Mars, at the very back, looking calmly and directly at the camera.
Every great contradiction that made the Replacements the best American rock and roll band of the past thirty years is ensconced in that photograph. The roof on which they’re perched seems the refuge of a heart-on-his-sleeve would-be romantic who escapes out his bedroom window to peer up at the stars on lonely nights, a few, random trophies, the evidence of attempts at conformity within the larger world, peering down at him through the window. Yet, the whole fact that they’re on a roof in the first place seems calculated, aimed at a depiction of the band as something outside the mainstream. This posed photograph, intended to help them sell records, couldn’t seem to matter less to the group of four who all seem preoccupied with their own intentions rather than looking focused in any way. And still, despite this perceived nose-thumbing, there is the juxtaposition of a band looking to be like the bands they so idolized, the ones that made them pick up a guitar or a set of drumsticks or a songwriter’s pen in the first place.
The photo is also as perfect a depiction of the album’s contents as one could ask for: swinging-for-the-fences hits like “I Will Dare;” howling, maudlin anthems like “Unsatisfied,” “Sixteen Blue” and “Answering Machine;” raspberries-as-songs like “Gary’s Got a Boner;” and even an ode to an influence posed to sound like a piss-take in their cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.” This is what album art was meant to do. When taken as a whole with the recorded music, it should be a natural extension of what’s underneath the album sleeve. “[The Let It Be cover] was a great little piece of mythmaking,” wrote Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life. In that manner is Let It Be and its cover truly what rock and roll albums are all about. words/ j neas
MP3: The Replacements :: I Will Dare