Summer 1996

Making masterworks

Columbia’s classical sleeves of the 1960s and 1970s are pioneering examples of music graphics

Back in the early 1960s, before record industry executives started wearing Nuhru jackets and behaving as badly as the rock stars they signed, there was a man named God. By all accounts, God was an appropriately holy figure at CBS Records, which he oversaw from the heights of Eero Saarinen’s Black Rock skyscraper in Manhattan. Sweeping down the halls in Savile Row finery, or rubbing shoulders with New York’s glitterati, God – the nickname of English born president Goddard Lieberson – was the perfect public face for CBS Records, then considered the ‘Tiffany’ of entertainment companies.

Lieberson was worshipped by his employees and clients alike for providing an atmosphere of creative exploration, and tremendous profit. In the years before rock became the record industry’s mainstay, he saw to it that his company cashed in on the public’s interest in Broadway musicals and singers like Barbara Streisand, Johnny Cash and Tony Bennett. Guaranteed success in the popular music department meant that lieberson could mandate the production of what he termed ‘important’ music – anything from difficult twelve-tone composers like Arnold Schoenberg to experimental electronic music and spoken-word recordings. Having started out at CBS as an A&R man, and a classical pianist and composer in his own right, Lieberson had particluar affection for the company’s classical label, Columbia Masterworks.


Andrea Codrington, design writer, New York

Read the full version in Eye no. 21 vol. 6, 1996

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.