There was a time when every record store was a gallery of art. Buyers would marvel at the art work of album jackets. Many artists would display images that represented their music. When Deep Purple had their silhouettes carved in rock like Mt. Rushmore you knew this was going to be a hard rock album. Probably the best hard rock album ever made with the exception of Metallica’s “Black” album. As we entered the digital age album the artwork era became abandoned and unfortunately for the artists it was one less avenue to reflect their “aura”. Even now when artist release their music on vinyl it’s not the same. Once again, the record store was a gallery of art.
John Kosh, better known as just “Kosh” was the art director of the magazine, Art and Artists in 1968 where he had collaborated with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He later received a phone call from Lennon asking him to be the creative director of the newly created Apple Records. He met with Lennon, had a cup of tea and there was immediate “simpatico” from there on after. One of John Kosh’s first album project for Apple Records was the “Get Back/Let It Be” album, but it was temporarily shelved and the Beatles went back into the studio and cut their Picasso “Abbey Road”.
The cover was to be simple; since The Beatles were the biggest band in the world, thus there was no need to put their name on the cover. Parent company EMI Records were outraged by this but as Kosh told us George Harrison came to his rescue. It was a dull weather day in London (what else is new) and he decided to airbrush the cover so it would look brighter. This photo was actually taken by photographer, Ian MacMillan and he only took 16 shots and Kosh chose the one of them walking across Abbey Road.
The notion that Paul was dead was an epicenter of publicity. For days and nights the Apple Records office and EMI were deluged with calls from across the world trying to get the “scoop” on the story. Paul, dressed in a suit, was barefoot because his Converse shoes were hurting him and he decided to take them off. As far as the rest of the band, that’s how the Fab Four showed up for work. The whole idea of Paul’s death was as if there was a perfect storm of coincidences that caused mass hysteria. Publicists even went to earlier Beatles albums to garner clues regarding this mystery.
Kosh was instrumental in devising Lennon and Yoko’s massive political operation of “War Is Over”; he shared in Lennon/Yoko’s political agenda. The picture was originally supposed to be a Christmas card but instead it became a beacon of an alternative political mantra. The posters practically took the world by storm. It went from posters to buttons, billboards, taxi signs and even the GreyLine Boats that toured Manhattan Island were draped with “War is Over”. This became the beacon for the anti-war movement throughout the Viet Nam War. In fact, the mantifesto was so popular it was translated in different languages!
Another project created was the art direction of the live recording in N.Y.C. of the Rolling Stones album, “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out”; maybe the greatest live albums of all time.
This album jacket per Kosh took a completely different turn from what was to be planned. Originally, as Kosh told us, “I had designed a cover of Mick’s Uncle Sam hat with a hamburger on top with ketchup dripping down.This was just after the Stones Altamont disaster. Decca Records pulled the whole thing, while I was on vacation because they thought the ketchup looked like blood. Mick Jagger substituted the shot of Charlie with the donkey without telling anyone”. Kosh and photographer, David Bailey were miffed about the entire project alternation. However, the reverse layout of back cover of the album was kept in tack. Another Rolling Stones’ artwork Kosh took part in was the album jacket of the Stones second “Best of” project, “Through the Past Darkly”, which was in the shape of a hexagon. Because of this it would always find itself in the front of every record stack. Kosh said to me, “Though impracticable at the time it certainly received good reaction”. This album contained many tracks that included the late Brian Jones and was the album that had the best Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Kosh was known for his pop-up and fold-outs for Family, Curved Air and T-Rex. His art vision was genius to adapt essentially a two dimensional pictures and transform it to 3D.
In Rolling Stone Magazine’s all time album art work at #100 was The Who’s perfect album “Who’s Next”. The Who were brilliant punsters and this photo may be in poor taste to some yet was brilliant to others. Kosh told us that this picture was intentionally to look ‘futuristic”. It was taken at a concert slab that was intended for a future motor way. Kosh intentionally wanted a “2001” reference for the band and by using an oblique concrete slab pylon that was to be used for a motorway construction he created a pure futuristic look for The Who. It reminds me of some of the photos that have been taken from the Mars rover.
In 1973 Kosh left the dreariness of London and moved to Los Angeles, the music capitol to the world there he connect with many new clients; those being Linda Ronstadt, which earned him three Grammy Awards and he was nominated for a total 6;more than any other art director in history! I really believe that moving to California recharged Kosh and it showcased his talent with artist based in Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles Kosh designed the brilliant futuristic art for the Rod Stewart album “Atlantic Crossing.”
But his most challenging project was that of the Eagles, “Hotel California”. It was at this time the most expensive album cover ever produced. What made this production so unique was that it was produced well before the digital age and used “old school’’ processes to create this iconic album cover. In Kosh’s words, “We had no Mac computers to aid us- everything had to be photographed-dye transfers made, airbrushed lettering applied.” Originally they considered 3 hotels in the L.A. vicinity and decided on the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Blvd. Norman Seefe shot the photo of the inside sleeve. Don Henley along with Kosh were the decision makers for the final artwork. Once again, the imaginative Kosh thought it wasn’t necessary to put The Eagles name on the cover. The album was so eagerly awaited and the band was so popular he pulled another “Abbey Road!” For the record, Rolling Stone Magazine put this album at #6 on the all-time album covers!
Kosh at times adds an additional hat with his work. He becomes a graphic designer along with being an art director. When he developed the logo for Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) it created a perfect image for the band. Utilizing a totally original font, ELO allowed the viewers to see many facets of the band in a panoply fashion. They were futuristic in one sense and classic in another. Jeff Lynne is a musical mega-genius, he creates sounds through his production and engineering that has great pastiche. He would intertwined the sounds of Jerry Lee Lewis meets Mozart and create a genetic recombination that never had been done before and never duplicated. Even his work with The Traveling Willburys he created a symbiotic sound between folk, country and rock.
>Kosh understood this “tick” that Lynne had and I believe this was the inspiration for creating an awe looking logo. It’s my belief that ELO’s semi-futuristic logo will make its way to an art museum.
Kosh was privileged to work and direct with many artists that have passed away over the years. Kosh said, “Explaining the hard working aspects of Rock n’ Roll and making records is one of my favourite hobby horses. Take after take after take in the wee hours created many modern Mozarts!” Kosh has defined his role in the 2.0 millennium, with associate Susan Shearer, to form the company, “Ten Worlds”. He’s producing an animated series with the social soothsayer and prognosticator, Lewis Black. In addition, he’s developing a short ballet sequence with famed abstract artist, Bradford Stewart which interestingly brings him full circle in his career.
I wanted to give a cordial thanks to Kosh for making the time for our interview. His humor, insights and eloquence made this piece a pleasure to write. You can reach Kosh through his facebook address http://www.facebook.com/koshart