Great Album Covers #3: A New Perspective

July 12, 2012. No comments.

(originally posted 1st November 2011)

Donald Byrd - A New Perspective

Donald Byrd – A New Perspective

Blue Note, 1963
Design & Photography by Reid Miles

I have to be honest and say that I don’t know anything about Donald Byrd and I hadn’t heard any of this music from this album until I was researching this post. I had to include it in my list of Great Album Covers though because, well, it just is.

It is a typical Blue Note album cover and that’s because from the early 1950’s until 1967, all Blue Note’s sleeves were designed by one man: Reid Miles. In total, Miles designed around 500 sleeves for the label and everyone had the Miles look – clean designs, big typography and primary colours – a look that was, and actually, probably still is, the epitome of cool. It’s also probably true to say that no other label has ever created such a distinctive style for it’s output – a style that has stood the test of time and is still mimicked today – and that was certainly a high point in 1950s and 60s album cover art.

Often Miles’ designs featured the photography of Blue Note co-founder Francis Wolff but, in this case, the shot of Byrd is one of the designer’s own. The E-Type Jaguar over which Byrd leans had only been on the market for a couple of years when A New Perspective was released and at the time they were seen as an innovative car – as groundbreaking and modern as the music on this album by all accounts. The car offered a new perspective to drivers, the music a new perspective to listeners and with it’s low angle, Miles’ photograph offered a new, and somewhat phallic, perspective of the Jag’s bonnet.

The huge lights in the foreground and bulbous curves at first glance look like some sort of huge bug, it’s certainly an original angle from which to shoot the car. But it works. It draws you in, it makes you want to look closer and angles pull you in to Byrd in the centre. With such an impactful image, the typography is big bold and bright. It’s used next to Byrd’s head when it could easily have gone in the white space in the top right. And it’s great that he didn’t: it just wouldn’t have been the same there though. It wouldn’t have been in the style of the designer to do something so obvious!

Born in 1927, Miles grew up in California before joining the US Navy and then art college. In the early 1950s he moved to New York where he worked for the agency responsible for the Blue Note artwork and he stayed on the account for another 15 years until Blue Note were taken but over continued to work in design for many more years after.

The style of the Blue Note sleeves and Reid Miles is so incredible that I’m sure I’ll be writing about another one of his sleeves in this series before too long!

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