LED ZEPPELIN
HOUSES OF THE HOLY
ATLANTIC 1973
DESIGNER: HIPGNOSIS (STORM THORGENSON, AUBREY POWELL)

 

 

 

This was a tough one at first. If you are into classic rock or grew up in the seventies it was impossible to avoid the music of Led Zeppelin, unquestionably one of the most influential hard rock/blues acts of all time, widely imitated and adorned, hell even Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler mentioned what a huge influence they were to his band other than the Stones.

Even though we can argue about the most popular Zep image (The Zeppelin of the first Album cover, the old man of the 4th album, etc.) I went for HOUSES OF THE HOLY. A number of reasons,

a) a great design and art that does not have the stamp of time on it,
b) I was coming of age at the time and I remember that album all over the record stores
c) Great story behind it, and as I mentioned earlier I am a sucker for Hipgnosis artwork.

THE PROJECT: Jimmy Page called the studio one day and asked Hipgnosis if they were the guys who had done the ARGOS album cover for WISHBONE ASH (another great cover) and would they want to do the next Zeppelin Cover? Considering the fact that by now Zeppelin had become one of the biggest acts in the world Hipgnosis be lined right to the management’s office.

They were met by Page, and the band’s intimidating manager Peter Grant. Asking them what ideas they had, Peter Grant was physically massive, suspicious, intimidating, and excited all at the same time. Pulling out a pack of cigarettes that had their ideas scribbled on the back, HIPGNOSIS had two concepts. The first one was to plow the plains of NAZCA with the ZOSO symbol in Peru. The other was to have silver painted family climbing a mystical place to a power source (LED ZEPPELIN) The idea based on ARTHUR C. CLARKE’S CHILD HOOD’S END. Arthur in latter years said that he was flattered that his book was the inspiration for HOUSES OF THE HOLY as ZEPPELIN was one of his favorite bands.

Their response was unanimous, do them both!!! Hignosis explained that this would cost a lot of money, “We don’t give a F#%k about money!” Peter Grant said. (Ah! those were the days). HIPGNOSIS were never given such carte blanche, “ we are leaving for Japan to tour” Page said” if you don’t want to do both then pick whichever you think works best.”

Not wanting to piss off archeologists world wide and governments by scarring up the plains of NAZCA (remember this was before Photoshop, and HIPGNOSIS liked doing it for real!) and not really wanting to be climbing the foothills of PERU, they went for the other idea. The location they chose was THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY IN NORTHERN IRELAND. They also figured that Irish mysticism was just as good as Peruvian mysticism and was closer to Zeppelin’s roots.

Originally the idea was of a family climbing the rocks, they decided on just the children in the end as a more powerful statement. Although during the shoot there were five models, three adults and two children (actual brother and sister.) So every morning at 4:00 am for a week the models were painted gold and silver and driven to the location from the hotel to be photographed during a glorious sunrise that never happened! It was cold and wet and it rained all week, a nightmare. Hot coffee, brandy, tranquilizers, turpentine to wash off the car paint as the make up ran out, misery, damp beds, and “in the end I was never used!!!” one of the adults said although they gave me 100 pounds.

In the end HIPGNOSIS shot it and realizing the color photos unusable had them processed as black and whites. They then did a collage (sticking the same various poses of the same two children in different ways) re photographed it then toned it in sepia and had their associate PHIL CRENNEL airbrush it with color and retouch it to produce the desired look. This was a process they had perfected and used a lot of times in the future.

The presented the finished art to the band when they returned, they had caught lightning in a bottle the results although accidental at points were amazing. The band’s name and album title appeared in a Japanese paper obi (basically a ribbon that was wrapped around the album that you had to break to open the cover and get to the record.) So that the cover was pure and appealed to Zeppelin’s anti commercial attitudes.

It also concealed the children’s naked bums, which became a problem later on. Jimmy Page thought that it really captured the moment, and that is the highest compliment you can get earn as a designer.

AFTERMATH AND WHERE ARE THEY NOW:

When the proofs came back from the printer they looked awful, the cover had this day glow orange and the children were purple. An angry Peter Grant had Atlantic fly Hipgnosis to NY and put up in a luxury hotel where they stayed for weeks until the cover looked perfect. (like I said those were the days.)

The album was banned in Franco's Spain (because of the naked kids) and the American Bible belt (on the other hand some things never change!)

Simon Gates (the little boy in the photos) later laughed and said as to how he use to pick up girls as a teen by taking them to the record store showing them the album and saying “Yep that’s my butt right there!”

Even though they did not do Physical Graffiti the follow-up Zep album which ironically had the title track of HOUSES OF THE HOLY Hipgnosis did all the ZEP albums afterward including CODA and the live album.

After disbanding in the early 1980’s and getting into the MTV VIDEO biz, Aubrey Powell worked with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant again by directing NO QUARTER the VH-1 special.

Storm exhibits and still does the occasional record cover (AUDIO SLAVE, MEGADETH, MARS VOLTA, PINK FLOYD, CRANBERRIES) his stuff still is incredible.

Peter Grant sadly passed away after an illness in the mid 1990’s although he lived five lifetimes as the manager of truly the first wave of super groups in Rock.

The remaining members of the band have remained active in various projects and did a couple of re union appearances during LIVE AID and ATLANTICS ANNIVERSARY PARTY, after the sad death of drummer John Bonham.

The rumors surface every other year of a ZEPPELIN reunion tour, personally I think it will be like the Beatles; they will never stop until they are long gone.

As for me my wife is a huge Zep fan so I get a good dose every now and then and remember the summer of 1973 .

 

You can visit Storm's website here

You can visit Led Zeppelin's official site here

 

 

© 2005 Ioannis and George Vasilopoulos
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