Verhaal achter de platenhoes – Atom Heart Mother (1970) – Pink Floyd

“A cow on a record sleeve. No band name, no title, just a cow. Who would have thought it would ever come to this in 1970? The cover was an idea of Storm Thorgerson of design agency Hipgnosis. He drove out of London in his little car one fine summer day and saw Lulubelle III standing in the meadow in the countryside. “My goodness,” Lulubelle III must have thought when she turned her head. She saw a strange dude standing in the meadow. Long hair and a beard, and with a strange metal device in front of his eyes. Click, click, Lulubelle III heard.

England was in a major social crisis in the early 1970s. London was turned upside down with all kinds of experimenting young people pushing their boundaries in art, love and music. On the other side you had traditional, conservative England that only wanted to cling to their cup of tea with a touch of milk. This social unrest completely passed by Lulubelle III. She was happily ruminating in the meadow, producing milk for humans. Until Pink Floyd’s album came out; then she became world famous instantaneously.

The guys in Pink Floyd were experimenting wildly with drugs and groundbreaking music. Photographer Storm Thorgerson was a friend of theirs. Like many artists of his time, he was heavily influenced by Dadaism, an art movement dating from after the Great War. Dadaists see art in the everyday, such as the famous urinal by the French artist Marcel Duchamp. Ask a Dadaist “Why a cow?” And he will answer, “Why not?” And to the question “Why no title on the cover?” you will undoubtedly receive the answer “Why should it?”. People are quickly inclined to look for a meaning behind everything. Dadaists don’t. That’s actually quite nice. Why start an intellectual discussion about whether a urinal or a cow can be considered a work of art? Or about whether this is a cover or an anti-cover? It doesn’t really matter. Surely no one has ever asked those questions about the album cover of, say, “Thriller”, in which Michael Jackson looks towards the buyer of the album, stylized down to the last detail?!

However different in appearance, these album covers have an important similarity. They both stand out and have helped the musicians to eternal fame. “Atom Heart Mother” reached number one in England and topped the album charts worldwide. After this album, Pink Floyd was no longer a local psychedelic rock band, but a big name in prog rock. Lulubelle III is long dead, but she lives on through this cover art. There are now more than five hundred reissues of the LP, pressed all over the world. You can easily pay €300 for the original first pressing from England. I once had it in my possession, purchased from my brother who didn’t like the music. The sound of fried eggs, a simmering coffee machine on the song ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfeast’ … that was too much for him. He preferred Beatles’ hits.

In a fit of madness I traded all my LPs for CDs in the eighties, including “Atom Heart Mother”. In the meantime I have the music on LP again, if only on a ‘Hör Zu’ reissue from Germany. It had been a long time since I listened to this music from Pink Floyd; it remains special, with all those experimental sounds, subdued acoustic guitar work and grand orchestral arrangements. Too bad I don’t have this first pressing from England anymore. Well, ‘you can look a cow in the ass’ is an actual Dutch saying, translated literally. Meaning: with hindsight it’s always easier.”

By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink

Translation Alex Driessen