Wednesday, April 27

Carly Simon (1971)

A first album cover must be the most important of an artist's career: it introduces them to the world, establishes their image, and hopefully sparks the interest of curious record store browsers. These considerations would have been at the forefront when planning the cover of Carly Simon's debut album. At the outset of 1971, she had no following or reputation as a solo performer, and no plans to make her name through extensive touring. The cover of this first album was therefore crucial, and it is certainly a striking one.

In the photograph, taken by her brother, the photographer Peter Simon, Carly's gaze into the camera is almost masculine in its directness. Indeed, it looks as though she might be appraising the prospective purchaser rather than the other way round. Her body language - with arms and legs open - also conveys a quiet confidence. This stance is not necessarily sexual, although it can be taken that way, but it signals her openness as a singer and songwriter.  Importantly, though, her legs are both open and folded. This combination of openness and reserve (or availability and exclusivity) would be a central theme of her image, and of her songwriting and singing too, for many years to come.

The strength of the image is effectively softened by her vintage, full-length dress and the antiquated atmosphere created by the tapestry in the background, the delicate mahogany love-seat, and the shawl draped casually behind her. It is a neat combination of tradition and hippie chic, suggesting that this is a woman who can somehow maintain the best of the past while taking on the strengths of the modern, new woman. The softening of the photograph is also reinforced by having it placed within a pink backdrop, and by using lettering that is both olde worlde and just that little bit funky (in the best possible, 1970s sense of the word).

All of these diverse qualities were appropriate for an album that offers songs in a wide array of styles and tones, from the sprightly "Rolling Down the Hills", to the psychedelic "The Love's Still Growing", the rocking "Just a Sinner", the bar-room belter "One More Time", the intensely emotional ballads "The Best Thing", "Reunions", "Alone", and of course the hit single "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be". The head of Elektra Records, Jac Holzman, later recalled that he approved of this first cover because it looked as though Carly was "waiting for the world to discover her". That, too, is one of its strengths. It may be a debut album, but one can readily see that the musician is already sophisticated and accomplished.