MICHAEL OCHS Classic Rock Covers (Taschen)

If you’re the sort of album buyer that reads the credits on sleeves and in booklets, you might experience a tingle of recollection at the name Michael Ochs, or more specifically the Michael Ochs Archive, a Californian organisation that claims to house more than one million music-related photographs, and over 100,000 albums and singles. That should more than justify his position as curator of a book called “Classic Rock Covers”, but there’s something of a disconnect between that title and its contents. In Ochs’ words “This is neither a studious anthology of album cover art nor a complete history, but rather a sampling of the album covers in my collection that I felt would give a comprehensive picture of rock ‘n’ roll from its infancy to the present”. But in the next breath he rather shoots himself in the foot with the assertion, “The only criterion I used in this selection process was what caught my eye as being unique and memorable for its time”. In other words, “I have loads of records. I really like these covers. For optimum results, place this book on a coffee table.”

Nevertheless, some fascinating observations creep in, almost by accident, for example the succession of albums of black artists’ music presented in covers peopled exclusively by white folk. A version of the first Moby Grape album sleeve prior to the airbrushing out of an “offensive” extended middle finger was also new to me. On the other hand, though, Ochs is either visionary or woefully misguided in his assertion that the cover of Chris de Burgh’s “At The End Of A Perfect Day” is a classic of its type, its inclusion probably more a result of his desire to cram as much naked flesh into the book as is artistically (in)valid (see also “Electric Ladyland”, “Blind Faith” and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “The Abbey Road EP”). Ochs provides some contextualisation but little insight into his thought processes, save grouping the covers into cliques within their chronological neighbourhoods (Look! Roxy Music’s “Flesh + Blood” and 10,000 Maniacs’ “In My Tribe” both have spears or arrows on them! The Cranberries’ “No Need To Argue” and Oasis’ “Definitely Maybe” feature band members sitting on sofas!). The scope of this 2002 publication is abruptly truncated at the aforementioned Oasis album, as if the last eight years hadn’t happened. Whether you’ve got room in your life or on your coffee table for what seems essentially to be one man’s vanity project ultimately depends on how much you like looking at rock ‘n’ roll.