The history of the modern day album cover dates back to 1938. In those days, an album cover was a plain brown envelope. The word “album” didn’t refer to the record cover. An “album” was a collection of 10 inch, 78-speed records that were packaged in a book with brown paper between them. There was no art, no design features, and the simple print was the only thing that gave customers a clue to the name of the record and the artist.
Columbia Records was the first company to invest in an art director. Columbia hired Brooklyn-born artist Alex Steinweiss. Alex was the man behind the posters and other graphics that Columbia needed to promote their new company. Twenty-three-year-old Steinweiss was also the man who recommended that illustrations would better on record covers than the brown paper covering that did nothing to promote records. The first illustrated album cover was released in 1939, and record sales skyrocketed.
Steinweiss was also the man behind the album jacket, and he received a patent for his album jacket design. Printed album covers became selling and marketing tools for record companies, and those tools were instrumental in launching the popularity of country music. Country music got its start in 1927. Jimmie Rodgers was the first artist to sell a million copies of one record.
The Carter family is considered the first family of country music, but Dolly Parton was the first country artist to release an album cover that made the country music industry take notice. For that reason, Dolly’s 1967 Hello, I’m Dolly album cover featuring her face became one of Nashville’s popular print album covers.
In 1979, Hank Williams Jr.’s printed Family Traditions album cover gave Williams the image he needed to be a legend in the country music business and that album cover is a classic today.
The country music industry went through a transformation in the 1990s. “Smokin Hot” album covers became one of the new marketing tools for country artists and for their record labels. Faith Hill’s fourth album Cry sold more than 400,000 copies, and the album cover is still one of the most popular covers in the country music business.
Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away album cover is another popular and “smoking hot” album cover, and it defines where country music is today. The Nashville graphics and printing Ambrose Printing Company has been instrumental in helping the country music industry make the transition. New pop/country albums covers are popular but the old covers still have the popularity they deserve from the old country music lovers.