33 1/3: Part Two: Andy Warhol’s Album Covers

Jayn Pettingill | April 16th, 2022

Advertising became driven by cultural shifts happening post-WWII and a new market that was emerging: teens and young adults. Plus, innovations made during the war effort and now consumer market ready— the turntable (with the emerging standard of 33 1/3 RPM) and the reel-to-reel recorder/player—had an eager population wanting to experience the joys of collecting; of having a home stereo system to explore the latest sounds. To capture this new consumer group, and to invoke the “new” modern sensibilities, design in the 1950s started moving away from standard fonts and visual narratives.  Record labels were a big part of pushing graphic design into new frontiers.

Reid Miles (of the iconic 1950s Blue Note covers fame) partnered with Andy Warhol looking for eye catching designs for the album covers for the Prestige label. Miles felt that Warhol’s graphic design had a powerful combination of “freedom and structure.” This Monk album from 1956 is a potent example: MONK spelled out in a basic font proclaims the artist’s name easily despite the letters uneven placement.  A florid script gives more details about the recording.

The combination of these fonts are arresting, underscoring the “freedom and structure” that Miles appreciated about Warhol’s work.

Warhol had asked his mother to do the calligraphy for this Monk release. Julia Warhola, an ardent illustrator herself, grew up drawing and doing calligraphy, developing her own type-face in a sense. Warhola herself eventually published a book of her drawings on her favorite subject: cats.   

Lastly, here’s another album cover that Warhol was assigned—“The Story of Moondog” featuring musician Louis Thomas Hardin (Prestige 1958)— and it featured his mother’s script entirely. Next time, Warhol’s sketches on albums.

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One Response to “33 1/3: Part Two: Andy Warhol’s Album Covers”

  1. Mike Allore says:

    Love these posts!!!! Very interesting. Thanks Jayn!!

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