album back cover


On this day in music history: July 30, 1983 - “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on August 6, 1983. Written by Donna Summer and Michael Omartian, it is the second and final R&B chart topper for the Pop, R&B and Disco music icon from Boston, MA. Following the release of her self-titled second album for Geffen Records in 1982, Donna Summer’s next album is not released on her then current label, but for her previous one. Having ended her association with Casablanca Records at the end of 1979 under acrimonious circumstances, Summer and her former label battle it out in court for nearly three years before the case between the two sides is settled. Represented by attorney Don Engel, he negotiates a deal in which Donna must record and deliver an album to Casablanca’s distributor Polygram. By 1983, Casablanca has ceased to exist as a free functioning label, and is absorbed into Mercury Records who are to release album. The inspiration for the title track comes from an unexpected place. One night, Donna is attending a party at the famed Chasen’s Restaurant in Los Angeles with her manager Susan Munao, she excuses herself to go use the ladies room. When she walks in, the singer notices the bathroom attendant sitting down in a chair with the television on, and is asleep at her post. Seeing the obviously exhausted woman leads Summer to say to herself, “God, she works hard for the money.”. Quickly grabbing a piece of paper and a pen, Donna sits down on a bench in the bathroom, and begins furiously scribbling lyrics down as they come to her. By the time she returns to the table, Summer tells her manager, that she’s just come up with a hit. The woman who provides the initial inspiration for “She Works Hard For The Money” is Onetta Johnson. Johnson explains to Summer that she is working a second job at night to put her son through school. Producer Michael Omartian helps Donna finish writing the song, and it is recorded in March of 1983. Released on May 27, 1983, “Money” is an immediate smash, quickly climbing the pop, R&B and dance charts. When the accompanying album is released, the back cover of the LP features a photo of Donna with Johnson, both dressed in waitress uniforms. The song is accompanied by a memorable music video directed by Brian Grant (Olivia Newton-John, Peter Gabriel) featuring various working women taking to the streets of downtown Los Angeles at the climax of the clip. Becoming an anthem of female independence and empowerment, the video is an immediate favorite on MTV, with Donna Summer becoming the first African American female artist to have a music video in heavy rotation on the channel. The video also receives two MTV VMA nominations. The single receives a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984, with Summer performing the song on the live Grammy telecast.


The Meaning Behind Harry Styles’ Solo Album Artwork
4/15/2017 by Maria Sherman

In the life of a Directioner, no day holds more significance than March 25. In 2015, it was the day Zayn Malik announced his departure from One Direction. In 2016, it was the day he released his debut solo LP.

In 2017, March 25 was the day Harry Styles announced a solo single via a cryptic TV ad, in perhaps the most Harry fashion: a dark room, a fog machine and a somber, descending piano melody, with moist black clothing clutching his body, and the date April 7—when “Sign of the Times” would arrive, soon to take over pop radio – appearing on screen. It seems that even though post-hiatus One Direction operates on a strict schedule, utilizing dates with familiar weight, there’s always an element of surprise. We’ve been waiting for solo Harry, but no one could’ve anticipated his arrival.

The latest in the solo Styles saga is the reveal of his self-titled album release date, May 12, along with its 10 -ong track listing and artwork – both its cover and what can be assumed to be the back side, a smaller image where the tracks reside. Like everything in the One Direction universe, it’s sparked a myriad of theories, and the imagery certainly warrants investigation. Lucky for you, we’ve taken the time to unpack Harry Styles, the meaning behind the images.

Before getting into the album cover, we should look back to the single artwork for “Sign of the Times.” Styles is little more than a clothed silhouette, head tilted and staring off into some red, apocalyptic horizon, standing waist-deep in water. On his sides, in the close distance, are two hands, placed on either side of his body, palms up. They appear to be Harry’s – there’s the faint blur of a tattoo and carefully placed rings, Styles’ signature style. It’s unclear if it’s a body fighting drowning, or perhaps trapped underneath the surface of the water, but it appears to be a struggle, Harry watching his past self with potentially calm acceptance. That reading would make sense: perhaps the floating body is Harry as One Direction heartthrob and the silhouette is Harry now, emerging above the water anew.

Water returns in both the album cover and back image. On the front, Styles appears to be half submerged in a pastel pink bath. His back remains facing us, but it’s much closer now, and unclothed – it’s the most un-tattooed part of Styles, giving off a feeling of additional nudity, as there’s no black ink artwork to give off a particular individualism. It’s worth noting that the popular headline to describe the image was “topless,” usually a gendered term to connote an exposed cis woman’s chest. There’s something distinctly feminine about the reading of the cover.

Water – being wet – is also something almost uniquely femme. Female pop stars are usually the ones dosed in water, when men do so, it’s usually those with some gender-bending and/or queer qualities (think George Michael) or for the sole purpose of, more often than not, hetero-female enjoyment (fellow boy band heroes the Backstreet Boys or Justin Bieber all the time.) Harry Styles is a heartthrob, and placing him in water is a move certainly open to sexualization, but given the bath-like qualities of the image and his positioning away from the viewer, it feels more voyeuristic – and in some ways, melancholic.

The water itself isn’t a clean, crystalline clear color. It’s opaque with pink, a blush shade, a bit more joyful than a gold rose. It’s the same color that’s been the source of thinkpieces for the last few weeks, a color deemed ‘millennial pink,’ a hue that has become popular with brands targeting that particular age demographic. It could be that Harry genuinely enjoys the color – and we’d put our money on it, he’s always had femme-like qualities – or is simply a shrewd businessman. Or both.

But it’s not just a pink background. It’s pink water. Historically, pink water is a type of wastewater that exists only in toxic environments: its color is discharged in situations of demilitarization, when TNT dissolves in water. It’s unusable, and turns brown when exposed to too much sunlight. It’s unclear if Harry has any topical aspirations, but bathing in what could be considered war waste gives off a distinct message. “Sign of the Times” feels like a song about the end of the world, and this unclean water imagery doesn’t feel too far off from that idea. Let’s not forget that Styles is playing a role in the upcoming World War ll film, Dunkirk, too.

That brings us back to the positioning of his body: angled, face obscured. His hands are folded as if in a reflective state (usually of regret, a sober shrinking of the body) or in prayer – both are deeply intimate situations to catch someone in. If he is in the latter prayer position, water takes on another meaning – there’s something reminiscent of a baptism. Covering your face is either a fear of exposure, or someone getting ready for rebirth.

Perhaps not the main focal point of the cover, but where the eye is drawn, is to the only thing Harry is wearing: a double necklace, its pendant flipped to reveal a lotus flower. Harry is no stranger to pendants – from his paper airplane necklace to match early partner Taylor Swift to his key, cross and pearl jewelry – but here, the flower seems to have new importance; it must, or it wouldn’t exist so prominently (even the long hairs on Harry’s neck drip downward, an arrow to the image.)

In One Direction fan world, the popular opinion is that the lotus flower refers to the lotus in Buddhism, a symbol of purity, a flower that exists in murky, obscured waters and connotes spiritual awakening. The back cover of the album confirms it – Harry is seen dipped deeper in the pink water, as it nears his collarbone. Around him are lotus flowers floating in the pink water. We see his face for the first time, but only a percentage of it, his damp hair obscuring much of it. He’s only showing us what he wants us to see.

So what does it all add up to? There are certain obvious themes Harry wants us to pick up on, like the vulnerability of exposed skin, water, murk, rebirth. The images themselves are much more artful than any of One Direction’s albums, existing in a space of newfound maturation – or perhaps it was always there, and Harry just now has the freedom to explore it. One thing is for certain: we’ll need to listen to learn, and our ears our perked.


On this day in music history: September 21, 1982 - “Janet Jackson”, the debut album by Janet Jackson is released. Produced by Rene Moore, Angela Winbush, Bobby Watson, Foster Sylvers and Jerry Weaver, it is recorded at Allen Zentz Recording Studios, Media West Studios, Studiomasters in Los Angeles, CA, Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA, Conway Studios, Larrabee Sound Studios, Spindletop Recording Studios and Wally Heider Studios in Hollywood, CA from May - August 1982. Janet Jackson begins her career in the entertainment business at seven years old, performing live with her superstar brothers The Jackson 5 during a residency at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Wowing audiences with impressions of screen icon Mae West and pop superstar Cher, she demonstrates a natural charisma and stage presence early on. However, her initial interest is to pursue acting and not to follow her brothers into the music business. Janet lands the role of Penny Gordon Woods on the hit sitcom “Good Times”, playing the character on the shows last two seasons. Then in 1980, she begins her recurring role as Charlene Duprey, the girlfriend of actor Todd Bridges’ character Willis on “Diff'rent Strokes”. During this time, Jackson’s father and manager Joe Jackson negotiates a deal for Janet to record an album for A&M Records. Initially reluctant to embark on a singing career, the then sixteen year old Janet dives in with both feet. For her initial solo release, she is paired with a group of talented songwriters and producers including Rene Moore and Angela Winbush (Rene & Angela), Rufus bassist (and Moore’s step-brother) Bobby Watson, Foster Sylvers and Jerry Weaver. Consisting of mostly uptempo dance oriented R&B/Pop, the album receives mixed reviews and only modest sales, barely hinting at the huge success Janet achieves with her third album “Control” just a few years later.  It spins off three singles including “Young Love” (#6 R&B, #64 Pop), “Come Give Your Love To Me” (#17 R&B, 58 Pop) and “Say You Do” (#15 R&B). The albums striking front and back cover photos are taken by fashion photographer Harry Langdon (Diana Ross, Donna Summer). The photos taken in the swimming pool at Jackson’s family home in Encino, CA, are inspired by photos of a young Elizabeth Taylor submerged in a pool. Originally released on only vinyl LP and cassette, the CD release of album Jackson’s debut released in the early 90’s, features the longer 12" dance remix of “Say You Do”, instead of the original LP version. “Janet Jackson” peaks at number six on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number sixty three on the Top 200.