A while ago a watched an interior design show on TV and one thing that baffled me was a new trend in Hollywood where the rich and famous hired consultants to arrange their book shelves. The consultant came to their house and interviewed them about their literature preferences and then bought books that looked good in the shelf and books that they were supposed to have, i.e. the classics.
Two books that that fit at least one of these demands are the latest reggae coffee table books from label and publishing agency SoulJazz.
Reggae Soundsystem – Original Reggae Album Cover Art contains 300 full-size original album sleeve designs from the 50’s to the 90’s, complete with informative text on each musical section, compiled by Steve Barrow – co-author of The Rough Guide to Reggae and co-founder of Blood and Fire Records – and Stuart Baker, founder of SoulJazz. It has also special sections for one riddim albums, soundclash albums and gun focused album sleeves.
Reggae 45 Soundsystem – The Label Art of Reggae Singles features the artwork and histories of 1,200 records spanning the course of Jamaican music from its beginnings in the late 1950’s through to the end of the 1970’s. This one is also compiled by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker, but written by reggae historian Noel Hawks together with Steve Barrow.
Both books create a stunning visual history of Jamaican popular culture and its musical developments – from traditional mento and calypso in the 50’s to the rise of ska and rocksteady in the 60’s, the emergance of dub, DJ and roots in the 70’s through the arrival of dancehall at the start of the 80’s up until the early 90’s.
When browsing the books – especially the one focusing on album art – is it apparent how creative Jamaican artists were and often still are. The sleeves are clever and well-crafted and often comments local Jamaican issues – cultural or political.
I’m huge fan of Stir It Up, another book that features Jamaican album sleeve design, but these two from SoulJazz definitely excel any other book on reggae album cover design.