April 18 – The Eyes Of Pink Floyd

His art took the music world by “storm.” Today we look at a “behind the scenes” type personality who passed away last decade after quietly shaping the music world of our lives. Storm Thorgerson passed away from cancer on this day in 2013. He was 69 years old.

Thorgerson wasn’t exactly a household name. But he had a hand in some of the best-known music of the ’70s through ’90s and was even sometimes referred to as the “fifth member of Pink Floyd.” Not bad for a guy who said he didn’t know one end of a guitar from the other.

Thorgerson was a graphic artist who has made a number of rock’s best known album covers and some of the videos that brought the music to our ears through the TV screen. He grew up in Middlesex, England and went to a school I imagine a lot of our readers would have liked to have gone to. While he was there, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters both attended as well; his family and Waters knew each other and he and Roger played rugby together. Meanwhile, David Gilmour hung around as well and became friends with the others. Thorgerson remembers them as being a little unusual (Barrett especially) but “They’re not as weird as hell,” he told Guitar World, speaking in the present tense about their youth some fifty years earlier. “They have the usual set of passions, but they also have a drive and talent obviously.” And while he first was friends with Waters, he left little doubt as to whom he figured was the epicenter of Pink Floyd’s greatness later on. “I think Dave (Gilmour) lent them a sense of musicianship that helped them to be very successful,” he pointed out.

While the others took off to college and formed Pink Floyd, Storm went off to get a master’s degree in visual arts from the Royal College of Art. Once he completed that, he helped form a graphic arts firm called Hipgnosis, which did visuals for any number of clients. None more famously though than his friends in Pink Floyd. Not only did he create the majority of their album covers and associated art, including Meddle, Animals and most famously the iconic pyramid-and-prism for Dark Side of the Moon, he hung out with them so much the trio of Waters, Gilmour and Nick Wright included him in discussions when figuring out what to do with Syd Barrett when his behavior became detrimental to the band.

Gilmour and Storm became particularly close, with Thorgerson being the best man at the guitarist’s wedding. Gilmour says of Storm’s artwork, “his ideas are not linked to anyone’s idea of marketing… they are atmospherically linked to the music.” And upon his passing away, Gilmour spoke of Storm, the man: “(he was) a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend.”

As much as he was in with Pink Floyd and made our image of the “look” of that band, he didn’t limit himself to working on their LP covers. Through the years he did the covers for instantly-recognizable albums like AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds…, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat, no less than 10 different albums for Alan Parsons including Eye in the Sky and Pyramid, as well as albums by 10CC, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin and later on, the Cranberries and Blinker the Star just to name a few. Although many were drawn or painted images, he said “I like photography, because it’s a reality medium” but adding “I like to mess with reality… to bend reality” with his designs.

Little surprise that such a visually-oriented guy would shift gears in the ’80s, when music videos came to the forefront. When Hipgnosis folded in ’83, he turned his attention to producing videos for most of the rest of the decade and came up with ones including Paul Young’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat”, Nik Kershaw’s hits “The Riddle” and “Wouldn’t It Be Good?”, Glass Tiger’s “Thin Red Line” and of course, Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly.”

Prog magazine now has an award given to the best packaging for a musical product. They call it the Storm Thorgerson Grand Design Award. Fittingly, Storm himself won the award in 2012, the last year before he passed away.

11 thoughts on “April 18 – The Eyes Of Pink Floyd

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I’ve read about Hipgnosis through some Zeppelin books. They did have some great designs. I don’t like the album but Led Zeppelin’s Presence with the object was a pretty cool design…if you wanted a cool album design in the seventies you go to them…now people probably use iphones…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. he / they really had an eye for great design and finding ones that would fit the music. And like you’ve pointed out on Elvis Presley, bad cover designs won’t kill a career but can slow them down some. Wouldn’t mind getting that book of his designs some time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. there really was a true art to some of the old album covers of the 60s-70s, even ’80s. I always put forward the argument that REM probably lost half a million sales of ‘New Adventures in Hi-fi” because of its cover…not a terrible one, but a kind of boring one, with the BW landscape photo and their name in small letters. I know people in record stores who wouldn’t put up the Warner posters or window stickers for it because it looked “blah” – especially compared to the ‘Monster’ one – and likely took it off the front racks quickly. Now that won’t kill a record, but it doubtless cost some sales because there’s a breed of record buyer who are kind of spur of the moment ones – they wander in and see “oh, REM has a new record out. Let’s give it a try” but without the signage they wander in and say “oh, Madonna’s got a new album out and look what she’s wearing. Let’s give it a try” instead. Conversely, how much did Don McLean’s flag-painted thumb help out ‘American Pie’ and so forth.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Badfinger (Max)

        Packaging…it does make a huge difference. The memories of taking albums home and just studying them to find things. I spent hours on Sgt Peppers and that was 10 years after it was released.
        I didn’t know that about REM but I can see it happening.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. yep… even with CDs (which obviously are inferior in terms of art value), when I buy an old release I always kind of feel cheated if the jewel case liner notes only have a simple list of the songs on them when I could recall the Lp having lots of pictures or lyrics or whatever on the liner notes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I did recognize his name but couldn’t connect Storm Thorgerson to anything specific. He truly designed an impressive amount of album covers. That “Dark Side of the Moon” pyramid and prism is one of the most iconic ’70s album covers I can think of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yep…he had a real eye for great designs and ones which fit the music. I agree on ‘Dark Side’…that and ‘Sgt. pepper’ to me might be the two very most iconic album covers because even people who don’t know the music seem to recognize what it is …without even having the band name prominent (or present at all in the PF case.) That’s really making a cultural impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What was in the water at that school? Talent of different kinds, all in one place.
    The guy had an eye for a concept, and the covers were almost always worth a second and tenth look after you’d listened to it. It is an art to have the picture add to the sound.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. indeed – that was a talent pool! I’ve said it before, will say it again, the artwork was the best single thing about the LP format (compared to CDs or no-art mp3s)… I once had a little collage of plak-mounted record covers on my wall and know other people who essentially wallpapered a room with album covers.

      Liked by 1 person

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