Kaleidoscope Eyes: Alan Aldridge, Designer For Beatles, Who, Elton John

The designer created some of the most well-known album covers and pop imagery of the 1960s and 70s.

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The Beatles - Photo: Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images
The Beatles - Photo: Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images

London-born graphic designer and illustrator Alan Aldridge may never have been remotely as famous as those he collaborated with. But he created some of the most well-known album covers and pop imagery of the 1960s and 70s, for such artists as The Who, Cream, The Beatles, and Elton John.

Aldridge, born in east London on July 8, 1938, worked a number of jobs before he was employed to paint scenery at the Old Vic Theatre in London. His natural bravado and flair for self-promotion helped him to be increasingly noticed in artistic circles, as he became a trainee and cover designer at Penguin Books and then a junior visualiser at the Sunday Times newspaper. He then returned to Penguin as their fiction art director.

In 1966, Aldridge designed the cover of The Who’s second album A Quick One, depicting each member of the group contributing a sound, with song titles emanating from their instruments. The same year, he designed the poster for Andy Warhol’s experimental film Chelsea Girls, which inspired the Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison song of the same name, recorded by Nico.

Forming his own company, Ink Studios, in 1968, he became a valued collaborator of The Beatles’, after John Lennon had admired illustrations he had done for a Nova magazine review of Revolver. Lennon light-heartedly dubbed him “His Royal Master of Images to their Majesties The Beatles.”

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In 1969, Aldridge was the editor and one of the illustrators of The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, and of a second volume in 1971. He also designed the cover of Cream’s final album, 1969’s Goodbye, and worked on numerous projects beyond the music world, such as a campaign poster for the UK’s Labour Party and an edition of Boswell’s London Journal.

The artist continued to produce iconic images for album releases in the 1970s. He took inspiration from an 1802 William Roscoe poem to create illustrations for the award-winning 1973 children’s book The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, and then designed the cover of Deep Purple member Roger Glover’s concept album of the same name the following year.

Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy

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Aldridge was also behind one of the most memorable covers of any Elton John album, 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which showed the singer surrounded by a menagerie of creatures. “Alan delivered a visual package beyond my wildest dreams for Captain Fantastic,” said Elton. “Never have I been so pleased with the artwork for an album.” With Mike Dempsey, Aldridge also edited an illustrated book of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, The One Who Writes The Words For Elton John. 

A film based on the album, on which Aldridge worked at some length, never came to fruition, but he moved to Los Angeles and worked in the film industry as well as serving as creative director for the House of Blues venues, and the Hard Rock Café.

In later years, he produced some limited edition, signed reproductions of his best-known work, and was the subject of a 2008 retrospective featuring his sketches, notes, letters and other archival material at the Design Museum in London, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes. Aldridge died on February 17, 2017, at the age of 78.

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