Hipgnosis' Life in 15 Album Covers: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and More

Upon release of new book 'Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art,' studio co-founder Aubrey "Po" Powell unpacks striking images created for Wings, AC/DC and more

Pink Floyd, 'Atom Heart Mother' (1970)
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S. Thorgerson © Pink Floyd Music Ltd1/15

Pink Floyd, 'Atom Heart Mother' (1970)

It's one of my most favorite album covers. With the power of the band behind us, it was one of the first times we were able to have an album cover that had no lettering on it: no title, no band name, no album title. There was no title at that time we came up with the image.

Moreover, the band didn't give us any instructions for the art. I don't think we ever heard any of the music or read any of the lyrics. Roger Waters said, "Come up with an idea. Anything you like." We were talking with a friend of ours called John Blake, who is a surreal artist himself, about ideas that would be so off the wall, so unexpected and so irrational in a rock & roll, record-company sense, that it would be well-noticed. And the idea of a cow came up. Storm and I went out to a field in North London and photographed a cow. They say, "Never work with children or animals," because they're difficult. But that cow just stood there and looked at us. We shot shot lots of other pictures that day, and on the back cover you've got three cows in a formation. It looks like three airplanes in a formation, wheeling out of the sky. There are moments in photography when you just go, "That's it." And Hipgnosis got lucky many times.

We took it back to the band. Everybody went, "That's it. As it is. That's it."

The title Atom Heart Mother came later, as a result of Roger Waters looking through The Evening Standard, and reading about the first time an electric stint was put into a person's heart. Somehow, the picture and the title fit together. It was just serendipity.

I'll always remember being on Sunset Strip in L.A. and seeing a huge billboard [for the album] of a cow, with no lettering on it at all, and thinking, "That's a very brave statement to make." The record company fought to have lettering on it, and to their credit, the band said, "Absolutely not." It was a perfect example of lateral thinking working absolutely perfectly, because as soon as the album was released, everybody understood exactly what the concept was. They wanted to know what was inside the album cover. They wanted to buy the music. And, of course, it was their first big success in America.