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Artist George Hardie on Led Zeppelin I Cover Design

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The First Thing I Ever Designed:
George Hardie on why Led Zeppelin I “Wasn’t Really a Proper Idea”

 LZ_1969.jpg

By James Cartwright | October 10, 2016

Working for and as part of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell’s Hipgnosis studio, George Hardie was responsible for designing some of the 20th century’s most recognisable rock albums for bands like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and, of course, Led Zeppelin. But while he’s produced work that many would call iconic, he’s no fan of using such terminology, particularly when he feels the image lacks the conceptual rigor he applies to personal image-making.

Currently engaged in regular reflection on his illustrious career for an upcoming book and exhibition in London, George took some time out to wax critical on the most widely circulated image he’s ever made, which also happens to be his least favorite piece:

“I worked on this cover half my life ago, and at least half of the brain cells I then possessed are now long gone.

“The first work I ever did for the music business was to add typography to a friend’s photography on a Jeff Beck cover. The photographer was Stephen Goldblatt, a name now looming large in film credits. He suggested to Jeff Beck’s management that I might have some ideas for a new group called Led Zeppelin. I showed some ideas that were rejected by a thin, dark-haired man who produced a book open at the famous photograph of the zeppelin on fire: Jimmy Page. The rough I showed was a multiple sequential image of a zeppelin, clouds and waves, based on an old club sign in San Francisco, recently visited, and owed a lot to Milton Glaser. So I set to, and with my finest rapidograph dot stippled a facsimile of the famous photograph to avoid copyright problems.

 “The band was called Zeppelin and there was a really famous, well known picture of a zeppelin—it wasn’t very clever, but it’s probably my most famous drawing. Many people have seen it and at least twenty million people have a copy of it.

“I went through a really quite long process of talking about Led Zeppelin in an interview with Time Life recently. I don’t think they’ve ever done anything with it, but they wanted to make a series where you could look up the photographs that they think changed history, and they got onto the idea that the Hindenburg picture was certainly one of those images. Then someone had said,‘Yes, but think how it’s been extended by that record cover.’ So they came to talk to me.

“If you’ve never heard the soundtrack that goes along with the images, it’s remarkable. Someone was there with a microphone, recording people screaming. It’s a very strong, very powerful thing, but it doesn’t make my cover any cleverer. I didn’t even choose to use it. So, you can see how removed I was from the creative process. 

Later, in 1991, the image was published in The Record Art Collection. Each designer had to write about their image and its creation. In his introduction to whole book, something I only today read today for the first time in 2016,  Jimmy Page writes:

    ‘George Hardie’s creative input reflects accurately the exploratory texture of our music.’

“Later that same year I made a poster I really did like. Nobody owns a copy of this picture. It has only been seen in lectures. I was paid nothing for it, but it’s a better image. It was certainly successful for me, but in the measure of a number of people who had seen it, it wasn’t successful—very few of my favorite pieces are necessarily done for famous clients.

Supermale-766x1024.png

“Both images were made in my final year at the Royal College, and I think Led Zeppelin I would have been out and printed in time for my degree show, but I don’t think I had it in there. Certainly I showed the Supermale poster, but that’s a big statement that I didn’t think Led Zeppelin was a very good bit of work, apart from millions of copies being around, and the fact I was paid $60. I didn’t put it in my show because it wasn’t really a proper idea, and there wasn’t enough original thought in it.

“Ten years ago I moved out of our London studio, and in the bottom drawer of my plan chest, I found the original Led Zeppelin drawing in a manilla folder. On the cover of the folder one of my partners (at NTA Studios) had written‘George’s pension fund.’”

--

http://eyeondesign.aiga.org/the-first-thing-i-ever-designed-george-hardie-on-why-led-zeppelin-i-wasnt-really-a-proper-idea/

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Thanks for this article, Sam.

Easily one of the legendary album covers of all-time. The cd or cassette versions don't do it justice. For full effect, you must get the vinyl album.

Artists often aren't the best judge of their work. I have seen so many dismiss what many people think are iconic pieces. George Hardie is no different here.

Maybe it is the way the author wrote the piece, or maybe the editor botched it, but Hardie sounds a little addled in this article. "...half of the brain cells..."? Sounds closer to 75%, hehehe.

It is just a shame that the Hindenburg disaster had to happen for this image to even exist. Oh, and that "someone" who recorded the cries of the people wasn't just some random person...he was radio reporter Herb Morrison, who was there with his crew to report on the Hindenburg's arrival in New Jersey, May 6, 1937. Unfortunately the landing turned into a disaster and his live report..."Oh, the humanity!"...became one of the significant moments in the history of radio.

 

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I own a signed copy of this print. An iconic image and a perfect image for the first lp. The Interview gives insight to Jimmy's creative vision of the band musically and otherwise.

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George told a very similar story in the early 1990s, when The Record Art Collection was released, and as I recall in it he said he met with Jimmy at The Marquee prior to their gig that night (Oct 68).

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If his Supermale design is of any indication, there is the strong possibility that the rejected concepts were of some dildo oriented form. Maybe instead of the famous Hindenburg design he preferred a standard Goodyear Blimp with dildos' of varying shapes and sizes sticking out.

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Whatever Hardie's views of it, LZI is still one of the great album covers of the era when album covers mattered.  I go into some analysis of the image on pgs. 205-208:  

LZFAQ.gif

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George Hardie – 50 odd years

THE WORK of the man behind some of the most iconic album covers will go on display at an exhibition celebrating his work.

George Hardie, who was responsible for iconic album covers for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, will showcase more than 50 years of work at Brighton University.

Mr Hardie, from Chichester, said: “People can expect a view of 50 years’ work covering extremely public projects, from record covers for Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to postage stamps for the Royal Mail.

“But it is also concerned with self-publishing, collecting, drawing and visual ideas.”

The 72-year-old has had an illustrious career as a graphic designer and educator.

After training at the Royal College of Art, he worked as a designer and illustrator for more than 50 years for clients around the world, many of whom were rock music royalty.

He went on to teach illustration at the University of Brighton from the early 1980s until his retirement in 2014.

He continues to supervise university PhD students having become professor in 1990.

Among his works on display will be the original artwork of Led Zeppelin’s debut album, Led Zeppelin.

It features a black and white image of a burning Hindenburg airship, referring to the origin of the band’s name.

The album cover received widespread attention when, at a 1970 gig in Copenhagen, the band was billed as The Nobs as the result of a legal threat from aristocrat Eva von Zeppelin, a relative of the creator of Zeppelin aircraft.

Von Zeppelin, on seeing the logo of the Hindenburg crashing in flames, threatened to have the show pulled off the air if the band did not stop using Zeppelin in their name while working in Denmark.

Mr Hardie said: “The original artwork of Led Zeppelin is on a tiny scrap of paper

“It is totally recognisable but very strange. It was then blown up for the album cover.”

With the rising popularity of vinyl, Mr Hardie is expecting the exhibition to attract a wide audience.

He said: “The show is by no means a row of finished record covers but much more interesting.

“It should be of interest to students and teachers but also explains to the public how both well-known and much disseminated images are arrived at.”

You can see the exhibition George Hardie – 50 Odd Years from Saturday, March 11 to April 7 in the University of Brighton Gallery at the College of Arts and Humanities at 59-67 Grand Parade, Brighton.

https://www.brighton.ac.uk/about-us/news-and-events/news/2017/02-14-george-hardie-–-50-odd-years.aspx

 

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The covers are iconic like it says. Everyone knows them. Another good event. I do not think i will be going along. Although i bet my Mrs would like to go to Brighton.

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