Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery (Album Cover) © Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Manticore, 1973.

20.01.13: making of cover

Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer had encountered the work of Hans Ruedi Giger whilst the band were on tour in Switzerland. Remarking on Giger's work he said: "It was dark and very foreboding, and for me it represented ELP's music."

Giger's work is quite dark, disturbing and chilling to look at. The cover of Brain Salad Surgery consists of heavy machinery, with rods and bolts and screw threads interwoven through a human skull and a ghost-like expressionless face, painted in monchromatic metallic colours, all beautifully airbrushed in extraordinary photo-realism. It was based on a painting of Giger's entitled Landscape XIX - Work Z16, a triptych which included imagery of a skull in a metallic vice with a woman's pouting lips and a phallus.

According to Emerson, the original album title was going to be Whip Some Skull On Ya, until an associate drew his attention to a line in a Dr John song, 'Right Place Wrong Time,' from his 1973 album In The Right Place, that included the phrase 'brain salad surgery'. Both expression are apparently slang terms for oral sex.

The original vinyl cover was designed by A&M Records art director Fabio Nicoli. It consisted of an outer sleeve that was die-cut in the center, showing the woman's mouth, and then opening out in the center of the main image, like a pair of doors, to reveal the complete strange, alien face which appeared on the inner sleeve. It was a very innovative piece of package design, although the die-cut window did tend to tear quite easily - as did several die-cut sleeves from this time. Problems always arose when replacing the record sleeve back within the rest of one's record collection. Those in the know, of course, kept their albums in clear plastic sleeves to protect them and keep them clean and free from rips and tears.

The figure on the inner sleeve has her eyes closed and bears strange facial markings including a Mobius strip on her forehead and Medusa-like tendrilled dreadlocks held in place by a thin headband.

The original cover painting depicted a phallus beneath the woman's face, relating to the controversial album title. Following several complaints, particularly from women working in the record pressing plant, the offending image was airbrushed out and replaced by a shaft of pale blue glowing light.

Giger also designed the unique logo for ELP, which is still in use today and features on every album, video and DVD since Brain Salad Surgery. The ELP logo today is as iconic as The Doors logo and Chicago's logo. Giger was never satisfied with the finished cover saying the colours were not accurate to his original artworks.

Five years after completing the cover for Brain Salad Surgery H.R. Giger was commissioned to design the monst in the sci-fi movie Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. he also contributed work for Poltergeist III.

Controversially, the two acrylic on paper artworks for Brain Salad Surgery, entitled Work#217 ELP I and Work#218 ELP II have not been seen since they disappeared from H.R. Giger's 2005 retrospective exhibition at the National Technical Museum of Prague in the Czech Republic. According to Giger's website, the two paintings, each measuring 34cms x 34cms, were still in place at the end of the exhibition but when the exhibits were taken down, packed and shipped back to the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyeres an inventory was taken and it was discovered that the two pictures were missing. A reward of $5,000 per painting was offered, plus an all-expenses paid weekend at the Giger Museum, to whoever supplied information leading to the successful recovery of the two works.

Source: Richard Evans - The Art of the Album Cover and How to Design Them

More: ELP CDs/Books Amazon.com page

More: H.R. Giger Official T-Shirts

Recommended Reading: H.R. Giger (Taschen Portfolio)

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Image © H.R.Giger, ELP, Manticore, 1973.
Text © Richard Evans/Chartwell Books.
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