01 January 2010
The Royal Mail’s latest set of stamps, Classic Album Covers is set to be one of their most popular for some time, showing the artwork from ten of Britain’s most popular rock albums. ...
Three years ago, in January 2007, Royal Mail issued six stamps each showing an album cover by The Beatles, perhaps the most influencial musicians of the twentieth century. Needless to say, the stamps were a great success, attracting attention from across the globe from stamp collectors, Beatles fans and the general public.
Now a similar set is due for release. Featuring the album artwork of ten different British artists, the Classic Album Covers stamps are set to be hugely popular, and the range of musicians represented could mean the appeal is even greater than that of the fab four set.
The appearance of the popular subject of modern pop culture is sure to get many stamp collectors excited, even if there is an underlying feeling that Royal Mail are again cashing in on the public’s taste for collectables, rather than simply celebrating British achievement. Yet the ten stamps do celebrate the wonderful work of both the music acts and the designers who have attempted to sum up their sound in a visual context.
Perforations on Royal Mail's Classic Album Covers stamps
Like the Beatles issue of three years ago, each of the new stamps has unusual perforations, this time a vinyl disc appears outside the die-cut of the stamp, making the right-hand side curved rather than square. Unlike the 2007 issue, however, the values in the latest set are all 1st class, giving each artist equal billing.
In terms of popularity it is difficult to put any artist at the number one spot in this philatelic top ten, but in terms of reputed record sales, rockers Led Zeppelin come top of the list with an estimated 200 million units sold.
The albums featured on the Classic Album Covers Stamps
The music magazine editors and design experts charged with choosing the ten subjects for the issue opted for Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, released to critical acclaim in 1971. Without an official title but known by fans as Led Zeppelin IV or Four Symbols, the album artwork shows a painting of an old man in a rural setting. The rustic image was juxtaposed with the back of the gatefold sleeve – not shown on the stamp– which showed a suburb of Dudley complete with a block of flats, perhaps representing the band’s ability to write both folk and hard-hitting rock.
Another group of 1970s rock gods are next on the hit list. Pink Floyd formed in the late 1960s amid London’s psychedelic revolution, but after the sad demise of their first leader Syd Barrett, they hired old friend David Gilmour on guitar and gradually turned their three-minute hippy ditties into long, drawn-out explorations of the human condition. Pioneers of progressive rock, their 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon spent an incredible fourteen years in the US top 100 album chart and is now considered a rock classic. Perhaps it is this album’s dark cover, which shows a rainbow-coloured prism against a black background, which put Royal Mail off, and instead we see the cover of the 1994 album The Division Bell. Designed by Storm Thorgerson, the artist responsible for most of Pink Floyd’s artwork, the album cover shows two giant statues that form a face, with Ely Cathedral in the distance.
Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones was released in 1969 and is considered by many critics to poignantly capture the darker side of the period, as the boom of the 1960s came to an end. The last album to feature the late guitarist Brian Jones, who had died in mysterious circumstances in July of that year, the album’s cover shows the record being played on a phonograph, with an assortment of circular objects perched on the record-changer spindle, including a cake reportedly prepared by a then unknown Delia Smith.
Continuing in order of worldwide sales, the next subject is David Jones, more commonly known as David Bowie, whose The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars saw the rocker take on the alter-ego of a half-human, half-alien rock star. With hits including Starman and Suffragette City, the album peaked at number five in the UK charts but has gone on to become a much-loved classic. The cover shows Bowie in character on the steps of a back-street London furriers on a damp evening.
Our next two covers show very different sides to UK pop music in the 1970s, while Mike Oldfield’s experimental Tubular Bells is made up of two lengthy pieces of music boasting a long line of different musical instruments, the nineteen raw-sounding punk songs on The Clash’s London Calling LP utilise only the bass, drums and guitars associated with the no-nonsense genre.
The Clash’s third album, released in 1979, was a double album tackling subjects as diverse as unemployment, racial conflict, and drug use. Along with the title track, memorable songs included Revolution Rock and the reggae-influenced The Guns of Brixton, written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, who can be seen smashing his guitar into the ground on the cover. The artwork recalls Elvis Presley’s debut album which features similar pink and green text.
With the ongoing difficulties at Royal Mail the use of an album entitled Power, Corruption and Lies was a bold move, but the 1983 New Order album is considered to be the Manchester band’s best and since it features no wording on the front (there is a subtle colour-based code in the corner of the sleeve to represent the band’s name and the album title) is the obvious choice for a stamp.
Representing Scotland in this musical mix are Primal Scream, a long-running rock band who traded their usual guitar-led melodies for a more dance-oriented sound in the early 1990s. The cartoon sun on the cover may well illustrate the album’s various references to drug culture, epitomised by album tracks such as Loaded and Higher Than the Sun.
The sprinting greyhounds on the cover of blur’s 1994 LP Parklife hint at the band’s preoccupation with working class England. However, their number one album (which, incidentally, knocked Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell off the top spot), also deals with a variety of topics including the Americanisation of Britain, the prospect of a new millenium and coping with life in the suburbs. Often with one eye on the past, the articulate band’s previous album cover recreated a painting of steam engine, an image not too disimilar to those which have appeared on railway-themed stamps.
Finally, the cover to A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay, shows the results of a 3D scanning machine which attempted to scan the head of a model for a photo shoot in Dazed and Confused magazine. On seeing the unusual image, which is missing the top half of the head thanks to the photographer’s use of white make-up, the band’s sinegr Chris Martin decided to use it for their second album.