Under the Influence

This band grounded flights at Heathrow in the name of album art

Some rock 'n' roll groups will go to great heights for an eye-catching record jacket.
British rock band Pink Floyd performs in Montreal in 1977. (Radio-Canada archives)

Some rock 'n' roll bands will go to great heights for an eye-catching record jacket.

In 1967, Pink Floyd approached their friends Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson to design the cover of their second album, Saucer Full of Secrets.

The success of that cover led to other work from bands like The Pretty Things, Free and T-Rex. With all that business coming in, Powell and Thorgerson decided to start a design company. They just needed a name.

The two of them happened to share an apartment with Sid Barrett of Pink Floyd, and one day Barrett scrawled a name in ballpoint ink on their door. It was "Hipgnosis." The word "hip" referenced the cool subculture, "gnostic" suggested mystical knowledge and the word "hypnosis" itself implied a trance state.

It was perfect. Hipgnosis was born.

The Sgt. Pepper design had opened the minds of the founders of Hipgnosis. They suddenly realized they didn't have to think in a linear fashion. That an album didn't have to conform to a typical portrait of the band on the cover. That inventive cover art could sell albums.

The early days of Pink Floyd. ((Associated Press))

Conversely, bands came to the realization they weren't bound to the conservative in-house art departments at record companies.

The relationship between Pink Floyd and Hipgnosis would bring on the next seismic change in cover art and marketing.

When the band released Atom Heart Mother in 1970, Hipgnosis created an album cover that just showed the rear end of a cow in a field. And in a remarkably bold move, there was no band name and no title - just a cow in a field.

The record company hated it, saying it wouldn't generate any interest because it was too blind.

Pink Floyd loved it.

Atom Heart Mother would become Pink Floyd's first #1 album in America. When people saw the image of the cow on billboards or in record store windows, it didn't produce a lack of interest - it generated intense curiosity.

It was the beginning of the dramatic, surreal album cover era.

When Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, the album featured maybe the most famous Hipgnosis front cover of all time.

In their typical style, it bore no band name or album title. It simply showed a ray of white light passing through a prism to form the bright colours of the spectrum against a dramatic black background.

It was elegant and bold. It was also a striking image to display in record store windows and in advertising. The LP stood out in the record bins.

Dark Side of the Moon would remain in the billboard charts for 741 weeks between 1973 and 1988. It would re-enter the charts in 1991 to become a permanent presence, selling close to 50 million copies and counting. Today, in a slow week, it sells 8,000 to 9,000 copies around the world.

Hipgnosis would go to great lengths to create Pink Floyd album covers. Or should we say...heights.

Bassist Roger Waters had an idea for the cover of their 1977 Animals LP. He lived near an old power station and he wanted to photograph a giant pig floating over the Victorian-era building.

So they found an enormous plastic pig and went to the power station, but the pig wouldn't inflate. So the shoot was cancelled.

The following day the pig was repaired, they went back to the site and the giant hog was inflated. It floated perfectly between the two chimneys on the power station and - suddenly - the ropes holding the pig broke. It floated past the power station - then floated right into the air lanes at Heathrow Airport.

All flights coming into London and departing for the rest of Europe had to be grounded and fighter jets were sent up to find the pig.

It was last spotted by a startled 747 pilot at 40,000 feet.

An alert was sent out on radio and television asking the public to report any sightings of the floating pig.

At 10 o'clock that night, the phone rang and a farmer said the pig had landed in a field at the back of his farm. And it was scaring his cows.

Amazingly - the next morning, the police gave Hipgnosis permission to try photographing the floating pig once more - only this time, a marksman was on hand to shoot it down in case the porker broke free again.

The pig behaved. The shot was captured.

And another memorable Hipgnosis/Pink Floyd album cover went into the history books.

For more stories about Album Covers As Marketing, click or tap the "Listen" tab above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.

Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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