If discussing classic album cover designs, one can't go far wrong in looking at the output of the artist Roger Dean. His work, being both mystical and possessing a distinctive ethereal beauty, adorned the covers of many an album during the seventies, but it was his work with the progressive rock maestros Yes that his most notable, creating images that were to become synonymous with the band.
Of the 22 album covers that Roger Dean produced for Yes it is the first one, for the album Fragile (the band's fourth) that set the trend for what was to come.
Not only did it include the first use - albeit in a very basic version - of the bands now famous "bubble" logo, which Dean also designed, but it kicked the Yes/Dean brand into motion, so from thereon in a new Roger Dean album cover would always be recognisable as a new Yes album, even if it wasn't. (Dean provided the album artwork for other prog-rock bands such as Uriah Heap, Budgie, Greenslade and Gentle Giant amongst others, but the two had become so intertwined that a glancing look at these other covers would have you thinking it was a Yes album)
The cover to Fragile sports a painting of a lush planet of blue and green floating in space. Over the planet flies what looks to be a wooden ship, with two vast wings like that of an Eagle. The back cover then depicts this same planet breaking up and its inhabitants escaping through space on a vast wooden barge. This fantastical theme has been carried on through every Yes release since, whether on the cover (as with most cases) or the inside sleeve - The next album, Close To The Edge, featured a cover of green blending into black but no imagery.
Roger Dean has stated that he doesn't regard himself as a "fantasy artist but a landscape painter", and this can be seen in the amount of detail he puts into his works, almost as though they've been painted from real life. These are landscapes as worthy as a Turner or a Constable, the difference being that instead of the countryside or what would've been the everyday scene, they portray far-off worlds populated by floating islands, unusual crafts, and magnificent beings. Beautiful, yet impossible landscapes in tune with the minds of fantasy authors such as Burroughs, Tolkien or Moorcock.
Of course, artistic opinion is down to personal preference and it is something the common man has a right to express as much as any public school educated art critic, so I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that Fragile is the best album cover, as in my opinion there are better and more detailed ones further down the line. However, as it was the first of what was to become the instantly recognisable Yes brand, it is truly a classic of album cover design.
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