You are about to undertake a sea voyage upon a luxuriously appointed cruise ship. The shuffleboard facilities are rumored to be without peer. However, your natural pessimism convinces you that a shipwreck is unavoidable, and you will spend years living alone in a barren hut on some uncharted island. You'd like to pack a piece of artwork to brighten this hut, but an overzealous manservant has packed your travelling case so full that there's only a thin, 12" square space left. That tears it — the Rothko will have to stay where it is. If only there were something smaller…
What one album cover would you bring with you, assuming you could have no other artwork to look at, and why? Note that Hargreaves, the aforementioned (and somewhat slipshod) manservant, will neglect to pack your turntable, so how much you enjoy the music itself is immaterial.
The Desert Island Disc concept has had music lovers grappling with their consciences since 1942. Being a realist when it suits me, I can't help wondering how these music lovers expect to listen to this disc, unless they are washed ashore along with a solar-powered generator and a stereo.
George Bernard Shaw said that without art, "the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable." And it's hard to argue that reality doesn't get cruder than palm leaves for toilet paper and a food pyramid comprised entirely of coconuts. A little beauty would make life supportable, if not enjoyable.
Often, people choose based on their personal connection to the sleeve. Richard Smith chose Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. "It symbolizes the reason I do what I do. It epitomizes everything that I believe in and the way I work. It's a reminder of the person who had the biggest influence on my career, to whom I am eternally grateful for teaching me everything I know."
"If I pick an album purely for artistic merit and sentimental value," says Steven R. Gilmore, "it would have to be Clock DVA's Thirst designed by Neville Brody in 1981. This sleeve had more influence on my work than any other and I never grow tired of looking at it."
Sentiment aside, Gilmore then considers the long stretch of celibacy ahead:
"Since I would be living alone, I would need some sort of "fantasy" material. I don't think that anyone could argue that Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire De Melody Nelson fits the bill."
Roy Burns III chooses Surfer Rosa by Pixies for similarly warm-blooded reasons. "Never has a sleeve so perfectly encapsulated the music that it's... er... encapsulating. I can hear every note on that record looking at the sleeve. Plus, it's got boobs on it. It's gonna get lonely on that island."
Rob O'Connor of Stylorouge said he'd probably choose a laminated version of the Beatles White Album "and a chinagraph pencil so I'd have somewhere to write down my innermost thoughts. Oh," he added, "and I'd make sure I build my bivouac just down the beach from Roy Burns so I can pop in occasionally for a gander at the boobs on Surfer Rosa." (Roy: "Anytime, Rob. Just knock first.")
Brian Azer chose Red House Painters' Down Colorful Hill as his all-time favorite sleeve. Maximillian Mark Medina sadly had to be voted off the island, as he tried to fit the deluxe edition, wooden-boxed Lonely Is An Eyesore into his suitcase. (You could buy yourself a trim little schooner with what they fetch on eBay).
Debbie Millman chose Brian Eno's Music For Airports "for the artwork and the music. I know that the turntable will be left behind, but I would have taken a safety pin with me and can use that to play it (truly—that works)."
Stefan G Bucher's choices — both from suave crooners ABC — suggest that he'd miss the glamour and bustle of the city the most. "Since I'm sure one of the other castaways will have already brought Revolver, put me down for 4.75 x 4.75 of ABC's Skyscraping, shot by Andy Earl and designed by Mark Farrow (slip in the Lexicon of Love disc, though.) That's for the entire booklet, by the way. If it's cover only, make it Alphabet City. OK then."
Ben Tousley could happily spend eternity with Radiohead's 10" vinyl version of Kid A. "All of their packages are gorgeous, but that one has such an eerie otherworldliness to it that works perfectly for the album. I love it."
Jeff Kleinsmith at Sub Pop Records does not select from the Pacific Northwest's rich musical bounty, but rather, erm, Bexleyheath. "On a purely emotional level, I have to go with Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. I know it's not the greatest album cover ever designed, in fact, it's not very good at all. Type/Photo/Type, BUT, that photo depicts two of my most favorite things in the whole world: dogs and Kate Bush. As a designer, I recognize that there are hundreds of innovative, smartly designed, influential album covers out there but if I'm stuck in a hut with a manservant the LAST thing I'd be interested in is looking at "great design."
Paul West from Form doesn't hesitate for a moment. "Heroes. It will always be about Heroes. What to say? Beautiful, unemotional sans serif typography. Bowie's extra-terrestrial pupils. The hand gesticulations. Masayoshi Sukita's photography. A stripped-back, sterile canvas from an artist in search of new directions and new sounds. And the cover will always personify this great artistic sword-swipe to me. Heroes makes me question, it intrigues me because it's always slightly out of reach, and I want it that way."
Paul's thoughts on Heroes helped inform my own choice, actually — to look beyond aesthetics for something 'slightly out of reach'. There's something beautiful in the idea of looking at an image every day and never fully understanding it.