Monday, July 19, 2010

Serge Gainsbourg is a biter.


I've always been moved to point out the various examples of how pop culture is in a perpetual state of recycle. Unabashedly tearing a page from my comrade in critical cultural analysis Tahir Hemphill's stolen creative series, I have found a mode in which to do so. Today's example is that of the cover art from legendary trumpeter and music educator Donald Byrd's 1963 hard bop opus, A New Perspective.


Blue Note Records is renowned not only for their incomparable contribution to the genre of jazz, but also their groundbreaking graphic design featured on their many album covers. The covers from the crucial first few decades were helmed entirely by graphic artist Reid Miles and label co-founder/ photographer Francis Wolf. As we all know, anything that is deemed legendary is typically bound to influence and be replicated. In this case, it is Wolf & Miles' iconic style. Their collaborative creations succinctly capture a specific moment in time with great panache and unmistakable precision. Here, the art department at Island/ Mercury Records overtly attempted to recreate such a moment with the cover art for Comic Strip.

To be fair, we can't fault the ever-charming, eccentric, and legendary French composer Serge Gainsbourge for this obvious bite. Comic Strip, a compilation album, was released six years after his death. And to be honest, because Gainsbourg was a recording artist that was active during the 1960s, the label could be forgiven for trying to recreate an "authentic" nostalgic visual (an aesthetic approach that saw a sharp rise in the 1990s). But in attempts to cultivate a "series" of posthumous Gainsbourg compilations that year, the label was one release short of beating a dead horse:

Yes, I know many of you may simply rationalize this as the label's right to utilize the ubiquitous helvetica font as they please. But there are obvious parallels to Byrd's cover that cannot be disputed. For all non-believers, I'll clue you in on one: typeface color scheme and spacing. Need another? Ok: record company logo placement.

In retrospect, the Gainsbourg releases aren't the first to try to duplicate A New Perspective. has taken the time to compile a short list of releases that have copied Byrd's now iconic 1963 cover. And don't be surprised when you scroll to the bottom of that list to see that Blue Note has taken the liberty of biting itself!! Check out Graham Marsh's tomes in ode to Wolf & Miles' creations here and here!

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