Limited edition Talking Heads' album Speaking in Tongues (Photos from: Your Money Is No Good Here)
From David Byrne’s 2008 NY Times Op-Ed remembrance of Rauschenberg:
I approached Bob Rauschenberg in the mid-’80s to design a cover for the Talking Heads record “Speaking in Tongues.”
…It was not unusual for a pop musician to approach a fine artist in those days; other contemporary artists had collaborated with pop bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when Bob, who died this week, eschewed simply reproducing a work on the album jacket in favor of re-envisioning what the whole LP package could be.
His package consisted of a conceptual collage piece in which the color separation layers — the cyan, magenta and yellow images that combined to make one full-color image — were, well, deconstructed. Only by rotating the LP and the separate plastic disc could one see — and then only intermittently — the three-color images included in the collage. It was a transparent explication of how the three-color process works, yet in this case, one could never see all the full-color images at the same time, as Bob had perversely scrambled the separations.
Needless to say, the design posed some production problems for Warner Bros. Records, so it ended up a limited, but very large, 50,000-copy edition, released in addition to the regular, mass-produced version. Luckily, everyone shared in the crazy idea of making radical art that could also be popular. Nowadays there might be concerns about the return on investment, but at that time the label let these matters slide.
I later became friends with Bob and his collaborators, and it was an incredible world to enter. I sensed immediately that Bob had never become cynical about his work. Even after he found success, he continued to see the world as a work of art that simply hadn’t been framed yet.
… Bob drank heavily. In the ’80s, I discovered him once at his studio on Lafayette Street, in mid-afternoon, with a glass of Jack in his hand. I, rock ’n’ roll guy, was amazed to see an established artist living one aspect of the rock ’n’ roll life much more intensely than I ever dared. I did wonder if some of the beautiful jumps and leaps in his conversation were partly alcohol-related, but his output remained transcendent, so I figured he was managing it.
Being around Bob was often like being on some kind of ecstatic drug — he inspired those around him to not only think outside of the box, but to question the box’s very existence.
Bob the Builder, By David Byrne
NY Times, May 16, 2008
Rauschenberg also won a Grammy Award for the Speaking in Tongues album cover art. Regarding the “production problems” Byrne alluded to, Frieze Magazine notes:
It took the Talking Heads half a year to find a company that could make Robert Rauschenberg’s Speaking in Tongues cover for them. Keyboard player Jerry Harrison finally turned to a firm that made Oscar Meyer hot dog packaging. Apparently it’s not that easy to find a company to vacu-form a clear vinyl record.
New Feeling, by Jennifer Kabat
Frieze Magazine, March 3, 2008
Beach Packaging Design