Play it Again, Andy

progressive piano warhol coverLest one forget how Andy Warhol’s influence pervaded just about every nook and cranny of popular culture, a new exhibit, Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers 1949-1987+ reminds how the pop-art genius left his indelible mark on the musical landscape as well.warhol count basie

Actually, that fabled icon of jazz, Count Basie, is considered Warhol’s first celebrity portrait, via an ink-washed rendition featured on an album cover from 1955. Cover art was a niche that the artist repeatedly returned to (the exhibit features more than 100 works) until his death in 1987, coincidentally at the same time that the golden era of original art for vinyl releases was coming to an end with the advent of the CD.

“What [Warhol] really saw for the potential of the record cover was for it to be collected by the masses,” the exhibition’s curator, Laura Mott,warhol sticky fingers recently told The Washington Post.

As a child, I had no idea I was in possession of a small piece of the art universe via my copy of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, though I found its real-life zipper design pretty darn clever, and more than risqué for its time. It was preceded by the Velvet Underground’s “banana” cover from 1967 (bottom), which, yes, could actually be “peeled,” as noted at the top corner; Warhol also produced the album, which sees his name – and not the band’s – on the cover.

Lesser known was a work for an album by the pianist John Wallowitch from 1964, where Warhol recreates thewarhol wallowitch multiple-image effect of pictures taken in a photo booth, and also captures a technique replicated in many of his paintings. The impressionistic “Progressive Piano,” from 1952 (shown top) is interesting in that the jazz compilation was not released at the time, though its design is conserved in a lithograph at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

And in the ‘80s came the silk-screen stylings for albums by Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, as well as another hitmaker of the era, Billy Squier, all in the style perhaps now most associated with Warhol.banana cover warhol

“This is [also] a story about him loving music,” Mott told the Post. “These record covers are the only medium he worked in throughout his entire career.”

As usual, Andy rocked it – in more ways than one.

[Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers 1949-1987+ is on view at the
Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan through March of next year.]

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