The group that put band logos on the map
Guess who’s back….back again…..
Welcome back to the Judged by the cover podcast. After what seems like an eternity, I am back to bring you examples of great album cover design, and some fun behind the scenes knowledge that I find along the way. I will also be continuing our Near Miss segment at the end of the show to discuss some unfortunate cover art design as well.
You will notice that there is a slight format change. There will not be any video at this time. To be quite transparent with you guys, it was very time consuming and the stress added didn’t let me fully focus on bringing you quality content. You will still be able to get this in audio format on all your favorite podcast platforms, and the digital content will be on my website under the notes tab… jwcreates.com/notes. I will make sure to tag the link to the digital content in the show notes.
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Today I’m focusing on a band that is credited with putting band logos on the map. Thats right, taking a page out of the business world, this band found a way to bring the same kind of thinking into the music industry, and established their identity around a really neat logo. This logo served as the band's chief visual icon from their second album onward, as it was one of the main subjects of every subsequent album cover, except the fifteenth album. The series of album covers in their catalog has been recognized as works of arts in their own right, and was described by Paul Nini of the American Institute of Graphic Arts as a "real landmark in record cover design,"
If you can’t guess from those clues that’s ok….The band we are talking about today is Chicago. Between the band and their designers, John Berg and Nick Fasciano, they have put on a master class on how to take a great logo and make multiple album covers out of it. On today’s episode we are not focusing on just one cover, but I will show you how they cleverly worked this logo into almost ALL of their album covers.
The band Chicago actually started out in 1968 as the Chicago Transit Authority, and a year later in 1969 shortened the name to just Chicago. The band in one form or another is still together today, performing shows, and at this point they have released 38 albums!!! That’s a ton of music! I didn’t really dive into the band and its history too far, because what I really want to talk about is this logo.
The Chicago logo was designed by John Berg, who at the time had a very successful career as the art Director of Columbia/CBS Records. He was responsible for designing more than 5,000 album covers. He was recognized with four Grammy Awards and twenty-nine Grammy nominations, as well as design awards from AIGA, the Professional Association for Design, the Art Directors Club, and the Society of Illustrators. “John Berg: Album Covers, 1961-1985” was exhibited at Guild Hall in East Hampton in 2012.
The logo was brought to life by the graphic artist Nick Fasciano. Berg said the logo was fashioned from a sketch with the original inspiration coming from the Coca-Cola logo, and the attitude of the city the band was named after…Chicago. The desire for creating a logo was to visually transcend the individual identities of the bands members, and reinforced that it was about the group as a whole.
If you haven’t seen the Chicago logo, all you have to do is think Coca-Cola, with its rounded, swoopy letters, only spelling out Chicago. I love that the C wraps around the top of the H and incorporates into the dot for the letter I. It also has this simple inner stroke that adds some depth to the name. The logo itself is pretty simple, but the real magic is how they transformed it for each individual album cover.
Now, I’m not going to talk about all 38 of their album covers, but I do want to talk about a couple of my favorites.
Chicago 14 - The Thumbprint
The thumbprint, as I’m going to call it, is easily one of my favorite uses of the Chicago logo. It’s simply a white back ground, with a black thumbprint, and the Chicago logo is embedded into it. To me, this is one of those instances of designer envy, and that I wish I would have thought of this first!!! It’s so simple and subtle, but very powerful. As I stated earlier, their identity is of a band as a whole, and to me this album cover reinforces that idea. Also I think it's kind of cool that you can also look at it as their identity is from the “City” of Chicago as well.
John Berg was nominated for a Grammy for this album cover design and it is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Unfortunately this album was a flop, and was one of the reasons Chicago got dropped by Columbia Records. At least the album cover design was awesome!!
One small detail you will notice is that they don’t have album names, they go by number of order in which they came out, or by the imagery.
The High-rise Building - Chicago 13
Chicago 13, features the logo as a high-rise building. On this cover, the logo is merged with the Marina City apartment Buildings. It’s a top down view of the building, at night, so you can see the lights from the cars driving past and from the other buildings as well. The coloring of the image is very monochromatic, its gray tones with the gold color on the logo and lights being the most prominent coloring. I tried to get more detail on how the artist created this cover, but there isn’t much info on the internet.
When you mix the detail, the logo merged buildings, and this awesome monochromatic color scheme, it's a really exciting piece! Living in the age of photoshop and digital creation tools, I’m still am in awe of this design. How they were able to create this is 1979 just blows my mind, and just shows the creative talent of John Berg and Nick Fasciano!
In my opinion this was the most creative use of the logo, in their album cover designs.
The Candy bar - Chicago 10
Chicago 10 to me is the first really creative use of the logo. Before this album cover, there was some cool covers that had some intricate details, but I wouldn’t call any of them exceptionally creative. With Chicago 10, they integrated the logo into a chocolate bar, with the wrapper being torn back. I think it intentionally looks like a Hershy’s bar package, from this time period, so there should be a sense of familiarity in the public eye. I think this was a visual way of reinforcing the idea that they are as well known and common as America's favorite chocolate bar, and just as enjoyable to consume. The cover design was so successful it won John Berg a Grammy for Best Album Package.
There are 34 other examples of how they took this rather simple logo, and turned it into different album covers, so you should go check out the rest of their albums here.
Take a minute to imagine the experience this created for fans of the band. Most of these albums came out during the heyday of record albums and packaging, so when the band announced a new record was coming out, I’m sure there was some excitement around what it would look like. I can only imagine that on launch day, fans rushed out to their nearest record store to see the new cover. Also this probably has led to people keeping and collecting the albums as they came out.
I’m sure this was also a lot of fun for the designers too! Having to come up with new and interesting ways to transform the logo, that tells something about the band, or the songs, or the overall theme of the album. These are the kinds of things that make me excited about creating album covers, and visual identity pieces for bands and artists, because there’s truly no one right way to do it.
If you are a band, or an artist listening today, what I think you should take away from this Chicago logo, is how important it is to establish your “brand”. This logo was the visual identity piece that was key to reinforce the idea of “the band”, not the individuals, and they had the right creative team members that used it to create a unique experience for their fans.
If you haven't established the branding for your band or are interested in creating the visual identity pieces to promote your band and music…This is where I come in. I can take the pressure off of your shoulders to create these pieces, and you can focus on what you do best, creating music! Let me help you be seen, get your music heard, and let’s create unique experiences for you fans to experience you and your music.
To wrap up this segment, what do you think of Chicagos use of a Logo as their album covers…? Which of these covers is your favorite…? Did I miss one that I should have mentioned…?
Near Miss - Country Goes Metal
On todays segment of Near Miss, I want to talk about a new project, that you probably didn’t know exists. The cover is for a project called Country Goes metal. This project is headed by an old friend of mine, Ryan Hayes of Righteous Vendetta, and it’s actually a really cool project that is reimagining some of County Music’s biggest hits, as metal songs.
I think I get the kitschy idea behind the album cover…..but its definitely not good. The main image on the cover is an emoji smiling face, throwing up the rock fingers, wearing a cowboy hat. Then you have the name country goes metal, in two different fonts, with COUNTRY above our smiley cowboy, Goes to his left, and METAL in a different font below it. All of this is on a white background with a thin stroke, black box around it. It makes you giggle, especially when you think it's also country songs, gone metal! I believe it was designed this way to give you a good laugh about the idea of the project, because country and metal are two genres you wouldn’t normally associate going well together.
Ryan if you happen to be listening to this…hit me up, I have some ideas how we can make this thing look as awesome, as the music is.
I highly recommend you forgive the cover choice, and go check out the project. So far they have released two singles, with a 8 song EP coming out March of this year (2023). If you love country music, metal music, or just love unusual mashups like me, you HAVE to go check this out!!
That's it for this episode of the Judged by the Cover Podcast. If you have suggestions of album covers, both good or bad, leave a suggestion in the comments below or reach out to me at email@example.com. Thanks again for checking out the podcast, and we will do this again…very soon!