In September I travelled to Pittsburgh for events that were both deeply sad and joyful: the beautiful and touching memorial services for Matt Wrbican, the Warhol archivist who died in June at the age of 60, and the official launch of Matt’s new book A is For Archive.
In the week after the memorials, I stayed a couple of days longer because I was granted time to do research at the archives of the Andy Warhol Museum for my blog. I was hoping to find source materials, or correspondence with art directors and record companies about the album covers Warhol had designed.
While browsing through a folder with invoices and letters to and from RCA Records, a paystub from 1962 drew my attention: for a ‘record album in color LPM/LSP/2569’. This really blew my mind. The serial number was new to me, and Warhol hardly produced album covers in the Sixties. With the help of project cataloger Matt Gray, another document was quickly found: a copy of Andy Warhol’s matching invoice to art director Bob Jones at RCA, dated May 1 1962, for a “record alban (sic) in hot colors”. In pencil is written July 6, probably the date he got paid.
The album with the serial numbers LPM 2569 (mono) or LSP 2569 (stereo) turns out to be Take Ten, an album by Paul Desmond, the saxophone player who is world famous for being the composer and performer of the iconic jazz tune Take Five, while he was a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959). All tunes for Take Ten, an obvious follow up of that monster hit, both in name and style, were recorded at the Webster Hall, NYC, between June 5 and June 25, 1963. Very remarkable: the music was recorded a full year after Warhol was commissioned for the album art. Which shows the album had been planned very long in advance. The actual release date of Take Ten is not specified, but in the Billboard issue of Oct. 26, 1963, there is a short album review in the ‘Pop spotlight’ category. So it’s safe to say: Fall 1963.
This cover cleverly managed to stay under the ‘Warhol radar’ all those years, because it’s not your typical Andy Warhol album cover art. But once you know, and have a closer look, it totally makes sense. The ‘hot’ background is painted in watercolors, similar to what Warhol did for fashion drawings for magazines in the early Sixties. Compared with the cover for the Harper’s Bazaar International Fashion Special, Fall 1962, which was with a high probability created around the same time, the color palette used for the Take Ten cover is very similar. Paul Desmond’s high contrast portrait in black – most likely screenprinted – is an early version of a technique Warhol would often use in the following years for his famous photobooth paintings. A fine example to compare with is the Today’s Teen-Agers cover for Time Magazine, January 29,1965.
On the cover of the US releases, bottom left, you will read the letters RE. This was common on RCA Victor record albums, and according to a lot of record websites this would mean ‘reissue’. But since it’s already printed on the first pressings of Take Ten, the explanation that RE stands for ‘Revised’ is more likely. According to the website Superseventies: “For RCA Victor it means that something was revised, a credit was changed, the layout of the cover was changed, something simple like that. Sometimes the first pressings of the record has an RE. They did their changes even before issuing.” Of course a sceptic can say: if it took more than a year to release the record, and there has been a revision, maybe this is not the Warhol cover anymore. But because of the obvious similarities with other Warhol works in that period, I would not follow that line of thought. Revision can also mean a different title, another font, another picture at the back, other liner notes.
As I wrote earlier, Warhol made very few record cover designs in the Sixties. 1962 was a pivotal year for Warhol, in which he finally made the giant step from being an illustrator and ‘ad man’ to the world of fine arts. In 1962 he painted his first Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyns, One Dollar Bills, Coca-Cola bottles, Elvis, he created his first serial paintings, he started screenprinting, held exhibitions at the Ferus Gallery. Pivotal! So the album cover for Take Ten, created in that same year, can be regarded as sort of missing link between Warhol’s many 1950’ies album covers with blotted line drawings, and the screenprinted 1963 pop art cover Giant Size $1.57 Each. It is rather astonishing Warhol is not credited on the Take Ten cover, especially since the album was issued a year later in 1963, and Warhol’s name by that time had grown in fame.
The Take Ten album didn’t match the enormous sales of Time Out, the 1959 Brubeck album with Take Five. Still it’s a highly acclaimed album, and a fan favorite among lovers of smooth jazz and bossa nova. Already in 1963, the album was released worldwide. Covers were practically the same everywhere, with minor changes like the place of the logo, titles, quality of color printing. Every few years Take Ten gets reissued, both on vinyl and cd. So it’s easy to find a new and sealed copy. But of course the cover art will look best on original 1963 cardboard cover issues.