Saturday, November 14, 2009

The best album cover of all time - a triumph of plagiarinspiration!

Maybe you can tell an album by its cover.

It's the Clash's London Calling - the best punk/rock album of all time with the best cover: a photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass at the Palladium, New York, Sept. 21, 1979. My 12th birthday!

The iconic album turns 30 one month from today. I'll bet we could persuade the King's Head to put it on repeat that night: can't wait for the Death or Glory drunken singalong at closing time, as we spill out onto the streets to go fight each other at the Alexander Docks.

Elvis cover version

The cover was designed by Ray Lowry around a photograph by Pennie Smith. The latest issue of Q Magazine quotes Lowry claiming "plagiarinspiration." Great word!

Proving the adage that intelligence borrows and genius steals, the typography is lifted right off of Elvis Presley's 1956 album cover (another great album, by the way).

There was never an Elvis v. the Clash copyright lawsuit, but even if there was, I think the Clash could honestly claim parody: Elvis celebrates the guitar, the Clash destroys it.

So much for graphic design school.

Take a picture, it'll last longer

Smith's photo of Simonon (paying tribute to Pete Townshend) almost didn't make it. She thought it was too out of focus. Q quotes her: "I ducked. He was closer than it looks."

Townshend: another boring day at the office.

The original, out-of-focus photo has been displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and was named the best rock and roll photo of all time by Q Magazine in 2002.

So much for photography school.

Parodist, be parodied

Fittingly, the Clash's album cover has been subject to hundreds of tributes and parodies over the years, from Tony Hawk's American Wasteland video game to Big Audio Dynamite's F-Punk album - the Clash's Mick Jones reclaiming what is rightfully his - not to mention every accordion and keyboard player who ever put out an album, except, strangely, Weird Al. Get on it, Al!

"I've never landed a move ever!"

"Take that, Gummi Bears!"

"Vista works like crap!"

"I came for the uke, I stayed for the puke."

"For the love of Elton John, put the keyboard down!"


The Clash's Mick Jones called. He wants his artwork back.


  1. I think you sum it up well when you say, "Elvis celebrates the guitar, the Clash destroys it." I would hardly think it worthwhile to claim copyright infringement over the use of that typography, however blatant it may be.

    That specific font seems to share traits with many of the fonts that were used during the Art Deco age, so it's even possible that there may be an even earlier version out there that the Elvis cover was "sampling".

    Typography is an important part of design, but it's probably harder than ever to set yourself apart. With every Mac and PC sharing the same hundred or more fonts that are commonly used, you almost have to create your own font to have any point of difference. Luckily, there will always be creative people who find a way to seperate their work from the pack.

  2. k.d.lang has copied this cover too, and about 3 dozen others.

    I own an original vinyl copy of the Elvis debut, - (and London Calling) - not a huge Presley fan, but it's an incredible record. (And a great album cover in its own right.)

  3. Yeah, there are endless variations on this one. And, double yeah: that Elvis album rules.


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