10 Landmark Albums That Have Created Landmarks
In no particular order, we’re taking a look at the select few albums that are not only referred to as “landmarks” but have actually created new landmarks. For the passionate fans that love these albums, the places depicted on these sleeves have become sites of pilgrimage.
Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique
Music journalist Dan LeRoy’s description of the making of Paul’s Boutique is an amazing read. In summary, the boys pocket a big payday from Capitol Records before decamping to various LA hotel rooms, which they proceed to trash and terrorise. Songwriting is aided by copious amounts of booze and an endless supply of grass. When concerned record executives arrive in LA, they are subjected to juvenile and hilarious pranks. By all appearances it would seem that they simply don’t give a fuck.
It sounds fantastic. By the time they’ve rented an antique-filled Hollywood mansion to record and party in, you’re convinced you know the story. The story where young geniuses get blinded by the fame, cash and drugs and ruin it all by releasing a self-indulgent piece of shit. And that is the exact narrative – except for the part where they release a self-indulgent masterpiece. Paul’s Boutique transformed the Beastie Boys from hip hop’s enfant terribles, dismissed by many as one-hit “frat hip hop” wonders, into respected artists.
The enduring success of Paul’s Boutique is evidenced by the impact of its record cover. The album title is taken from the very short Track 14, Ask for Janice:
…the best in men’s clothing. Call Paul’s Boutique and ask for Janice and the number is (718) 498-1043. That’s Paul’s Boutique and they’re in Brooklyn.
If there ever was a Paul’s Boutique in Brooklyn, there wasn’t by the time the record was recorded. The corner we see on the cover is in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, on the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow Streets. The shop is Lee’s Sportswear but the Beastie Boys attached the sign for Paul’s Boutique on the side for the shoot.
It’s not clear what drove them to celebrate this particular intersection but the cover folds out to reveal a very cool 360 degrees panorama of the area.
As the album became more popular, the corner started to attract tourists who took snaps of themselves in front of “Paul’s Boutique”. The online Beastie Museum has a fascinating page dedicated to the evolution of the neighbourhood.
A small eatery was eventually opened where Lee’s Sportswear used to be and, until early 2007, it was called Paul’s Boutique in honour of the album (it has since been renamed Three Monkeys).
The Beatles: Abbey Road
The most famous example of this genre must be Abbey Road by The Beatles.
The album was originally going to be called Everest and there were ambitious plans for a shoot in the Himalayas. In the end, they named the album Abbey Road after the studios where they recorded much of their music. Photographer Iain MacMillan was allowed all of 10 minutes to capture the Fab Four walking across the zebra crossing. Today the crossing is a major tourist destination and it’s fun to check out the 24 hour webcam, which at the right time of day captures keen fans trying to recreate the cover.
A ska band from the 80′s, Madness shares with UB40 the record for the most weeks spent in the UK singles charts during the 80′s (214). This album peaked at #2 on the charts and was awarded 1 star by The Rolling Stones. You might remember the album’s breakout hit “Baggy Trousers”. Or not. So why was this location included in a recent London map for rock fans as a historic location to visit? For the same reason that the band continues to tour today with pretty much it’s original lineup, despite not charting since the eighties. Some bands attract the kind of loyal, die-hard fans that more successful or critically acclaimed musicians can only dream of.
Oasis: What’s the Story (Morning Glory)
In transforming a London street into a rock landmark, Oasis once again mirrored the success of The Beatles. Berwick Street is a vibrant location that features an open air market and old record shop, along with some sex shops.
To date What’s the Story (Morning Glory) is Britain’s fourth biggests selling album of all time.
Pink Floyd: Animals
The dramatic industrial setting for Pink Floyd’s The Animals is the Battersea Power Station, a now unused coal-fired power station located on the River Thames.
It’s an amazing building that has achieved worldwide fame largely due to this memorable sleeve. This was before Photoshop, so the inflatable pig in the sky was actually created for the shoot and tied to one of the giant chimneys. Believe it or not, the pig broke free, surprising pilots on the way to Heathrow, who were greeted by the sight of a giant, pink pig flying through the air. Police helicopters had to track it until it eventually landed safely in Kent.
The cover has been extremely influential and the Battersea Power Station subsequently used as a location by other artists including Morrissey, Tori Amos and Hanson.
DJ Shadow: Endtroducing
Something about this sleeve always reminds me of Paul’s Boutique – I’m not sure why. Either which way, both records are important contributions to the art of sampling. We’ve discussed this cover before but it’s interesting as an example of an indoor landmark.
The cover shows Chief Xcel and Lyrics Born in Records, an aptly named record store at 710 K Street in Sacramento, California. In December 2006, it relocated to the former Tower Records location at the corner of Broadway and South Land Park Drive. It’s DJ Shadow’s favourite record store and is equally as famous for being one of the last shops where the mountain of records still dwarf the CD selection. One more piece of trivia – the logo for Records was designed by Robert Crumb.
U2: The Joshua Tree
Famed photographer Anton Corbijn was responsible for the 1986 shoot featuring U2 in California’s Death Valley. He said of the shoot: “It was taken with a panoramic camera to take more of the landscapes in which was the main idea of the shoot: man and environment, the Irish in America.”
It’s testament to both the achievement of the band and the dedication of the fans that this forbidding, desert landscape still attracts visitors inspired by the album.
The actual tree from the cover died more than seven years ago. I could go on about this very interesting cover but instead I recommend you take a few minutes to read the description of “The Search For u2′s Joshua Tree” by Tom Goller.
Eagles: Hotel California
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here
Here’s an interesting fact: Time Magazine still maintains that the Eagle’s Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) compilation has outsold Thriller and is actually the biggest selling album of all time. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that the Eagles’ sold records like they were made from crack. Hotel California has moved 16 million copies in the US alone.
For the cover of this album Don Henley wanted to convey: “Faded loss of innocence and decadence. I was trying to use California as the microcosm for the rest of the nation.” The building they used as the Hotel California is The Beverly Hills Hotel, which is located on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California. A luxurious grand dame, since opening in 1912 it’s welcomed everyone from Fred Astaire to the Clintons to Courtney Love.
The evocative photography is by David Alexander and while the cover looks quite straightforward, it actually cost US $60,000 to produce – a fortune by 70′s standards. This was due to the difficulty of getting over the palm trees and shooting the hotel with the sun behind it, a feat that necessitated a cherry picker and some degree of derring-do.
You could say that this fine hotel was already a monument or icon before the Eagles snapped it. But given the sheer beauty with which they mythologise and recontextualise the building, it’s hard to believe that any one of the Eagles’ multitude of fans could view this building as anything other than the Hotel California.
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti
These two 5-story buildings can still be found today at 96 and 98 St Marks Place in New York. However, they look a little different in the flesh – in order to fit the buildings on the cover, they cropped and altered the photo to make it a 4-story building. The cover features die-cut windows on the building, so that, according to Wikipedia, “when the middle cover is wrapped around the inner covers and slid into the outer cover, the title of the album is shown on the front cover, spelling out the name “Physical Graffiti”.” Amazing concept, design and execution from Mike Doud, one of the true legends of sleeve design who’s work we’ve discussed before.
Much like the Battersea Power Station, the building was used again by other iconic artists, in this case The Rolling Stones. The video for Waiting on a Friend features Keith Richards and Mick Jagger hanging out the front.
As a popular tourist spot, the building also echoes the story Paul’s Boutique. On the first floor of 98 St. Mark’s Place you’ll find the Physical Graffiti thrift boutique store.
Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
This is Dylan’s second album and it features the classic Blowin’ in the Wind (the man was averse to “g’s” at the time). Much like The Beatles just walked outside of their studio in Abbey Road and the Beasties simply picked a corner from a nearby neighbourhood, the location for this charming cover was seemingly determined by proximity. It was taken on the corner of Jones Street and West 4th street in Greenwich Village, only a few metres from where Dylan lived. The photo, taken by CBS photographer Don Hunstein, shows Dylan contentedly walking with girlfriend Suze Rotolo, the two of them huddling for warmth and sharing a private joke. Young, in love and extraordinarily talented, Dylan has every reason to be freewheelin’. Without the weight of his musical talent, it could be dismissed as a twee happy snap devoid of creativity. As it is, the cover is a much imitated icon.
Today, Jones Street is described as a tranquil one-block haven that feels a little like a cul-de-sac because it hits the mid block of both of its intersecting streets. I wonder if the 22 year old Dylan had any idea that one day this tranquility would be regulalry punctuated by tourists seeking to commemorate and pay tribute to his achievments.
Well, that’s our ten
We also recommend you check out the fantastic Album Covers Map by World Magazine which, with the help of contributing readers, shows where iconic album cover photographs were taken.
And please let us know which covers and landmarks we missed.