This is not an easy story for me to tell. It comes with no small degree of embarrassment and failure, but in the end I know I made the right decision for me.
I have always had a bit of the collector in me. You know, that penchant for acquiring sets of things. A full set of whatever it is. Garbage Pails Kids stickers, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu comic books, every volume of a paperback series… and over the years many many other things.
Sub confession, I found this awesome cover for Shang-Chi (which I used to have) and spent about 20 minutes falling down the rabbit hole and considered buying an omnibus edition, then remembered what I was here to do.
When I started back with vinyl records again some years ago I had about 10 records left from my youth that I had given to my daughter who bought a record player at some hipster clothing store and which I secretly laughed at… but then changed my tune when the collector in me realized how much I missed records. I bought my own crappy record player and got back into it.
In those long ago days, with virtually no records to speak of, I was content buying the $1 records at Half Price Books. I got an amazing amount of really good records for a buck because the record renaissance hadn’t really started in earnest yet. The salad days.
Soon it was over and the $1 records I had been buying were now $5 in the upper bins. It was inevitable. Glad I got back to it when I did. Into it I was though. Permanently.
Then came the days of YouTube videos for The Vinyl Community. I watched for a while and then began making videos of my own. I have been posting those videos here, generally weekly, to bring the worlds (video and writing) together. It was fun, but reminds me in loose terms why I stopped doing the videos ultimately.
It was the Hipgnosis.
It was a book about Pink Floyd that I was reading that set me off. I read in that book about the famous photo shoot for the album cover for “Pink Floyd – Animals”.
Iconic falls short of this image. I first heard this album when I was in high school and it changed me. That cover in particular shaped my view of experiencing the album.
Hipgnosis, designer of the band’s previous album covers, offered three ideas, one of which was a small child entering his parents’ bedroom to find them having sex: “copulating, like animals!” The final concept was, unusually, designed by Waters. At the time he lived near Clapham Common, and regularly drove past Battersea Power Station, which was by then approaching the end of its useful life. A view of the building was chosen for the cover image, and the band commissioned German company Ballon Fabrik (who had previously constructed Zeppelin airships) and Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw to build a 12-metre (40 ft) porcine balloon (known as Algie). The balloon was inflated with helium and maneuvered into position on 2 December 1976, with a marksman ready to fire if it escaped. Inclement weather delayed work, and the band’s manager Steve O’Rourke neglected to book the marksman for a second day; the balloon broke free of its moorings and disappeared from view. The pig flew over Heathrow, resulting in panic and cancelled flights; pilots also spotted the pig in the air. It eventually landed in Kent and was recovered by a local farmer, who was apparently furious that it had scared his cows. The balloon was recovered and filming continued for a third day, but as the early photographs of the power station were considered better, the image of the pig was later superimposed onto one of those.
I had this album in my renewed vinyl collection and studied it.
Hipgnosis. Hmm… what other covers did they do? I started looking online to see if I could find out which ones they were responsible for. The images are striking and I found a few favorite places to view them. Check out James Stafford’s sub-page:
The Hipgnosis Album Cover Gallery
Turns out I had several album covers that they had done! Some that I wasn’t even aware that they had done. In my possession was “Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door”.
Back in the day when I owned this album, the paper sleeve was a nuisance and was soon tossed. I didn’t get it. They had to know that this sleeve was going to get destroyed 9 times out of 10. Ah, but I was a record lover then, not a plastic protective outer sleeve record collector.
My album cover looked like this.
I saw MY record cover, because yours may look slightly different. There were actually 6 versions of the cover.
Of course I had had no idea of this at the time. I thought the one I had was the only one. FURTHER… I had no idea about the inner sleeve!
This inner sleeve, resembling in black and white things presumably on the bar.
I had this record in my possession for years and years and had no idea that the sleeve was water reactive. If you licked your finger and touched parts of the sleeve, it would turn color.
“Boom goes the dynamite!” My tiny little record collector mind was blown.
I started being very very interested in Hipgnosis album covers. I mean iconic images, crazy variations, colorization… it was a treasure waiting to be had.
I started by buying this book. Hipgnosis – Walk Away Rene.
There was some text in the book and it showcased the best work of Storm Thorgerson an Aubrey Powell, the masterminds behind the company. I started watching videos on photo shoots, interviews with both men and best of compilation videos of album cover art. I was in it deep.
Then another book came out.
The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue.
This book had it all. Every album cover they did. With dates, credits and some brief descriptions when the shot warranted extra info. It was truly my Hipgnosis bible.
Something in me snapped. The collector kicked in and I decided that I should collect them all! Different from “Gotta catch ’em all” but in essence, it was like collecting Garbage Pail Kids cards all over again. I discussed all this of course over the span of many of my later YouTube videos. Here is the video where I show the book and talk about “the list” and show a few Hipgnosis album covers that I had recently picked up.
It started off innocently enough.
I made a list of all the covers that I could access on my phone and went to work on the discount bins all over town. Shout out to Strictly Discs… I found quite a few that were on my list for a buck in the “sit on the floor and flip through discount bins” downstairs with the used vinyl.
I would have my phone out and flip and reference my list and over and over as I went from A to Z. I was rewarded ultimately with about 25 – 30 that way. I was off to a great start. My collecting was of course a highlight of my YouTube videos for The Vinyl Community. In essence it became my “thing”. People commented congrats when I got new ones and some of my fellow YouTuber Vinyl Community friends sent me some Hipgnosis vinyl records. It was really great fun. I even added a tot board to the closing credits of my videos.
The originals were the albums I had in my collection before I started buying additional albums. There are approximately 374 Hipgnosis album covers out there in the world. I had a long way to go.
I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” with his journey to collect signatures, but of course my reasons were not so glorious and heartfelt.
I ran dry on the discount bins eventually, and started going to Discogs. Discogs for those that don’t know is a record info website with a buy and sell marketplace. I made lists of all the records that I needed and got e-mails daily from retailers that had items from my want list. However, there were a handful of records that I couldn’t even find to add to my lists. This was very concerning, and frankly the first hint of trouble.
Who was Prototype? Quatermass? Quiver? They did not seem to exist on Discogs.
No matter. Maybe there were rare and only came up once in a while. I hoped.
The second hint of trouble was the fact that now since I had gone to Discogs I could see how much some of these albums that I COULD find, would ultimately cost me.
I knew I would pay a bit for the early Pink Floyd albums I didn’t have. “Pink Floyd – A Saucerful Of Secrets” is always in the $30 range where I shop. Also, I needed 5 other copies of “Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door” to get all 6 covers. The enthusiasm of the early days was already being buffeted by the sudden realization of the sheer cost of what I had started.
For instance, who was Tennent & Morrison and why was the ONLY vinyl album out there and available on Discogs selling for almost $2000!?
What the actual…
Mind you, I knew that there would be some cost, but I was not prepared for that. I mean, I still can’t bring myself to pay $75 for a copy of “The Smashing Pumpkins – Melancholy And The Infinite Sadness” on vinyl.
I pressed on though, head in the sand. I was diggin’ the hunt and excitement when I would find another from my list. I eventually reached 109 Hipgnosis cover albums in my collection. Only 265 to go!
I remember thinking to myself as I ordered 3 more Hipgnosis albums from Discogs, that there was a tiny piece of me that wanted to order the Adam and The Ants album that I couldn’t seem to come across in the wild, but was missing from my collection. Instead I ordered some albums that I was likely to never listen to more than once. It was hint of trouble number 3. I ordered the Hipgnosis anyway.
Hipgnosis albums became an essential part of my persona on YouTube. I even started (barely) a series of videos I called “Hipgnosis Theater”. Here was the intro.
I went all in.
This was a LOT of work. It gave me an incredible respect for those YouTube folks that are obviously spending 3 times as much effort on editing as they do on the actual video shooting. I had titles and drop cards and played some tracks and rated both the art and the music of the album. It was a LOT of work. Did I mention that?
It was during the time that I decided on the ranking system for the art and music and choosing the album for the first video that I really began to realize hint of trouble number 4… some of the albums that had Hipgnosis covers were not great musically. Some were in fact, bad.
Also, some of the Hipgnosis art was not that incredible. Perhaps they needed a few jobs to keep the lights on in order to focus more time and energy on the higher profile covers that we are all familiar with.
Good Hipgnosis album cover. The cover of “The Strawbs – Deadlines”.
Not so good Hipgnosis album cover. The cover of “Olivia Newton John – Olivia”.
I chose “The Alan Parson’s Project – Pyramid” as my first album to cover.
I found that there was cool stuff to show on the cover but in the end, musically it was a 2 – Meh. I ranked the art a 4 – Cool. I edited all the needle drops and used my titles and rating cards and produced what I thought would be the first of many videos to come.
I spent a lot of time and effort on the video, but in the end it fell short of the vision in my head. I wanted it to be awesome, but it was at best, okay. I was disappointed.
I tried another with an album that I knew I liked better. “Hydra – Land Of Money”
It wasn’t the most iconic Hipgnosis cover, but this one has good music. It was my second shot at Hipgnosis Theater and I had my editing down and all my title cards etc. in the can and easier to use. It went much faster, but was still very time consuming.
After posting this video I sat down and considered what album to do next. It was a moment I recall vividly.
I had the sudden realization that I would be reviewing a lot of albums I didn’t really care for. Albums that I was buying in place of buying albums that I really wanted to listen to. These albums were going to cost me much more than I had imagined. Also, there was a VERY good chance that I would never end up with all the Hipgnosis album covers. I began to realize that getting close but never actually making it to the complete collection would make me crazy.
I think the final straw was when my Hipgnosis Theater # 2 video only garnered 1 lonely comment. I didn’t do my videos to get comments, or subscribers, but the fact that even among the folks that were subscribed to me only one commented, I could tell that what I thought was an incredible amazing vein of the vinyl community was in actuality… 2 – Meh.
I realized that despite sort of defining myself as “The Hipgnosis Guy” on my YouTube channel, it was a lost cause and to go on with it would be ridiculous. I needed to stop the Hipgnosis videos, and frankly the Hipgnosis album cover collecting. It was tough choice, I felt I was leaving my identity behind, but I knew it was the right choice.
It was the end of my Hipgnosis collecting and videos, and sadly the end of my YouTube videos. I made a couple “regular” non-Hipgnosis videos after that, but suddenly felt foolish. I made a video that explained all this to my YouTube friends, then stopped making videos altogether.
It was a weird journey, but in the end I am much happier. I am buying albums I really want to listen to. I don’t regret making YouTube videos for the Vinyl Community, but the Hipgnosis videos have a bit of melancholy to them.
My experience really taught me what it was to be a collector.
Now when I look at my Blue Oyster Cult vinyl collection and see that I missing “Mirrors”, an album of theirs that I don’t really care for, I am okay with not having it. I don’t need to fill every gap. I have learned to think through potential used record purchases before I run to the counter and buy. I am ordering albums from my past that made a lasting impression on me and that hold a special place in my heart. That feels like a good place to be after the whole Hipgnosis era of my own history.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make when I was so deep in it, both in videos and my collection, but it was the right choice to make and here on the other side I know I did the right thing.
If you are considering collecting Hipgnosis cover albums, or any other collection for that matter, consider what you are really doing it for. If you have no second thoughts, then go for it. If you do, listen to those thoughts, no matter at what point in the process them come.
It’s you talking.
Boy, can I relate to this. I’m very much a completist, which has what has kept me from going after all of the Hipgnosis sleeves. It’s hard enough knowing that I’ll likely never find an original ‘Diamond Dogs’ album cover. And thanks for the info on ‘In Through the Out Door.’ I’ve owned that record since it was new and never realized that it has six different album covers. Cool!
You mean the unfixed Diamond Dog? Lol. I only learned about that recently. I ran to check mine, but it was smooth. Oh well. Thanks for reading James.
Nice blog yoou have