King Crim­son exploded right out of the gate in Octo­ber 1969 with In the Court of the Crim­son King, one of the few debut albums to become an instant clas­sic. Pop­u­lar music his­tory is lit­tered with exam­ples of acts that didn’t peak in artis­tic and/or com­mer­cial terms until well into their record­ing careers. Artists as diverse as Gen­e­sis, Brian Eno, and Radio­head searched for their voices until their third albums, and even the sainted Bea­t­les didn’t go from merely excel­lent to sub­lime until Rub­ber Soul, their sixth. But In the Court of the Crim­son King was the com­plete pack­age, and remains sig­nif­i­cant and influ­en­tial to this day in both musi­cal and visual terms.Eric Tamm describes the album’s impact upon the music scene as a sort of cos­mic big bang that pro­duced a num­ber of splin­ter genres:

The “In the Court of the Crimson King” album cover caused the music industry  to rethink what marketing possibilities existed in the sleeve. Also, this cover had no identification on its front. You would have to pick the album up to read the pertinent formation

Barry Godber (1946–1970), a computer programmer, painted the album cover. Godber died in February 1970 from a heart attack, shortly after the album’s release. It was his only album cover and the original painting is now owned by Robert Fripp, the band’s mastermind and guitarist.

Artist Barry God­ber attended Chelsea Art Col­lege, where his cir­cle of friends included Sin­field and future King Crim­son tour man­ager Dik Fraser. God­ber later joined them in their day job as com­puter pro­gram­mers, where they plot­ted a visual iden­tity for the band in their spare time. God­ber designed Michael Giles’ bass drum skins, the press kit, and a trippy con­cert poster printed on reflec­tive sil­ver foil, repro­duced in Sid Smith’s In the Court of King Crim­son (page 49) and the book­let for the 40th Anniver­sary Series CDedi­tion. But the main event was the imme­di­ately iconic sleeve paint­ing, exe­cuted in water­col­ors. Accord­ing to Smith, it was partly a self-portrait drawn from Godber’s own vis­age as seen in a shav­ing mir­ror, and partly a visual allu­sion to a William Blake print:

Godber’s scream­ing vis­age shares the etched dread of poet, painter and vision­ary William Blake’s ‘Neb­uchad­nez­zar’ (1795), in which the Baby­lon­ian king, in the words of Blake biog­ra­pher Peter Ack­royd, is “grown mad with unbe­lief.“
–Sid Smith, In the Court of King Crim­son, page 80

Peter brought this painting in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from [managing label E.G. Records’s] offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside it’s the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music.[5

The Who’s Pete Town­shend famously called it “an uncanny mas­ter­piece.” The album also boasts a sin­gu­larly unique cover that still reg­u­larly appears on best-of album cover lists. It ranked #62 on Rolling Stone’s100 Great­est Album Cov­ers in 1991, #9 on MusicRadar’s The 50 Great­est Album Cov­ers of All Time, and #50 on Gigwise’s Top 50 Great­est Album Cov­ers of All Time. It was selected for the book The Story of Island Records.

In some ways it fol­lows the design trends of its time: a lav­ish gate­fold LP pack­age sport­ing hand­made psy­che­delic art­work. For the ben­e­fit of younger read­ers who may have never even bought a com­pact disc let alone a vinyl long play­ing record, gate­fold sleeves first appeared in the 1950s, typ­i­cally employed for multi-disc sets. A side effect was the effec­tive dou­bling of the printed real estate to almost four square feet. That’s a lot of room for art and design.

 

The gate­fold sleeve gained trac­tion as an art ­form in the late 60s and early 70s. Sin­gle LP pack­ages (includ­ing such land­marks as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Dark Side of the Moon) were some­times designed with a super­flu­ous flap, an extrav­a­gance sig­nal­ing extra value to the buyer. One can argue about whether or not it makes sense to put a price on music. For instance, how many songs does $12.99 buy? How many min­utes? You can, how­ever, put a price on pack­ag­ing. A gate­fold LP pack­age held the promise of addi­tional art­work, lyrics, and liner notes within, and a stur­dier sur­face with­out, ideal for prac­tic­ing more than one kind of roll (ama­teur snare drum prac­tice and rolling your own jazz cig­a­rettes). Some pack­ages uti­lized the extra sleeve to house book­lets (some nota­bles in my own col­lec­tion include Yes’ Frag­ile and Yessongs, and The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophe­nia), or other printed inserts like posters and stick­ers (I’m look­ing at you, Dark Side of the Moon). Even their thick­ness mat­tered; they stood out more in stores, and made their pres­ence known in home record collections.

The cover was also a brilliant marketing experiment as the cover bore no identification on the front, so you would have to pick the record up and flip it to where all the who’s, what’s, and where’s are located. It is then already in the customers’ hands.

 

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