There was a time when I was in my early teens that there were no liner notes.
Back in the olden days, when albums were not a niche product, record companies and their bands began writing commentary or tidbits about making the album on the back cover. Then they were written on the inside paper cover protector.
In the mid-70s (when I was about 14), this is when I remember liner notes being put inside of an album cover that opened, called a gatefold.
Researching, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was the first rock album with lyrics on the back cover in 1967.
Why Does This Matter?
I bring this up because a memory came back to me as I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and how challenging it is to understand some of the quieter words spoken.
There was no Internet or YouTube videos with lyrics at our fingertips. We would lie on the floor and play, replay, and replay the section we didn’t understand until we thought we had it. We were often still wrong.
I don’t remember headphones until A Night at the Opera by Queen in 1975. (It came out in November 1974, but I would not have seen it until 1975.) Headphones were expensive and none of my friends had them. If there were any in the house, they were our parents’ and the kids were not allowed to touch them. If we had been able to use headphones, we could have deciphered the words easier, but that wasn’t going to come about for another few years.
The first album I remember with a gatefold and lyrics was Elton John’s 1976 Madman Across the Water.
It was transforming to be able to see the words to songs. I was finally able to know what was sung as well as could memorize the words easier by seeing them.
Since we’re on Elton John’s Madman album, I have to mention the back cover.
I stared at this amazing cover for many hours. M.A.N.Y. hours. Album covers were art back then. (Are they now?) This was unique, taking our penchant for embroidering our jeans and making it the back cover. It looked like you could reach out and pull a thread.
Lyrics at Our Fingertips
While I do like being able to see what the lyrics are, especially for music like the soundtrack to Hamilton whose words fly so fast I can’t keep up even reading while listening, I wish I had album covers again. There is something to be said for holding the decorated cardboard in your hands, lying on the bed, and singing the songs along with the artists.
Nostalgia hits hard sometimes.