Call It Love: Ernst Gamper's Work With Yello
Thanks to Ferris Bueller, "Best of the Eighties" compilations, and employment in everything from candy advertisements to Simpsons episodes, casual music fans mostly - if not only - associate German electronic duo Yello with its ubiquitous "Oh Yeah!" single. Like many bands of that era, Yello's biggest hit - an unnerving one at that - overshadowed its better work.
It feels like a musical coupling that could only have developed during a certain place and time: Europe, the late seventies. Keyboardist Boris Blank (along with founding member Carlos Perón) needed a singer. And who better to ask than the enigmatic Dieter Meier, a millionaire industrialist who moonlighted both as a prolific conceptual artist and professional gambler. Meier's idiosyncratic lyrics and Blank's innovative sampling methods built a stylish dance music catalog, which saw its peak between 1983's You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess and 1988's Flag.
It was at the beginning of this period that Perón left the band to pursue a solo career. The remaining duo then strengthened their collaborative relationship with Swiss artist Ernst Gamper, who was often considered an unofficial member of the new lineup. Gamper went on to design several of Yello's most well-known album and single covers. The cohesiveness of Gamper's work between 1981 and 1988 perfectly embodied the stage in which Yello was at its best both musically and aesthetically.
There's a little information out there on Gamper's work with Yello. Most notably, Gamper created the band's corner "cut-out" graphic found at the top right of several releases. Many fans theorize this was a good-humored reference to the clearance bins in record stores, suggesting low sales expectations by the duo.
Gamper's covers originally started out as paintings - objects, photographs, graphics and other touches were later added to the final design. Author Jonas Warstad, who wrote Stella: The Story Behind The Album, includes the following anecdote on the making of the cover for Yello's most successful record:
Ernst Gamper had created the unique and inspired cover painting of a dark and mysterious face with a glowing eye. This was long before the possibilities of digital photo editing. He created it by first painting the face on a celluloid sheet; he then adhesive-taped it onto a window in his combined graphic studio/home overlooking the Zurich Sea, and then photographed it just as the sun was setting. The glowing eye is a result of the setting sun as seen through the eye. Of course the cover also has the by now standard Yello gold logo in the top right corner.
Gamper, still an active professional graphic designer, worked mostly with jewel-toned palettes - favoring a lot of bold, free-handed brushstrokes in shades of gold, green, blue and red. However, his style was more finely detailed on the brilliant portraits he produced of the duo for 1988's Flag and its singles, "The Race" and "Tied Up." The colors and techniques featured on Gamper's Yello covers are a bit of a trademark, as you can see in the more recent artwork featured in the opening slideshow on his website.
As a bonus, we're including the Meier-directed music video for Yello's "Pinball Cha Cha", one of the groundbreaking clips featured in the Museum of Modern Art's 1985 Music Video Exhibition: