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Storm Thorgerson: 5 Facts About the Iconic Album-Cover Designer

Dark_Side_of_the_MoonGraphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who died on April 18 at age 69 in his native England, created something that just about every boomer who came of age in the 1970s had in his milk crate of record albums: that iconic image of light passing through a prism that graced the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 LP Dark Side of the Moon (see right). That cover alone would have justified science-fiction author Douglas Adams’ conclusion that Thorgerson was “the best album designer in the world.”

Thorgerson, a graduate of Royal College of Art in London and co-founder of the design firm Hipgnosis, was most strongly associated with Pink Floyd – he also dreamed up the incongruous cow on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1970 album Atom Heart Mother and the businessman in flames on 1975’s Wish You Were Here, among others. But he also created scores of other iconic rock images that filled our youthful imaginations, such as the dreamlike, distorted image of Peter Gabriel seen through a rain-streaked car windshield on his 1977 debut solo LP, Peter Gabriel, which became known as the “Car” album because of its striking cover. Thorgerson designed some 300 record and CD covers in his career – “I don’t really keep count,” he explained in a 2011 interview – and worked with a veritable who’s who of classic rock bands, including Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Styx, though he also designed artwork for bands as diverse as speed-metal headbangers Anthrax and the saccharine 1990s pop band the Cranberries.

But no matter what the assignment, Thorgerson – who was strongly influenced by surrealist artists Rene Magritte and Man Ray, among others – applied a knack for uncovering the psychological landscape that lay beneath rock. According to the Guardian, a British newspaper, he once explained it this way: “I listen to the music, read the lyrics, speak to the musicians as much as possible. I see myself as a kind of translator, translating an audio event – the music – into a visual event – the cover. I like to explore ambiguity and contradiction, to be upsetting, but gently so. I use real elements in unreal ways.” Here’s a TV interview with Thorgerson from a few years back:

Here are five intriguing facts about rock music’s visual virtuoso: