Spiral Architect: A look at the unforgettable artwork for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Drew Struzan
"I got to paint beauty for people and it made me happy. That's my favorite thing." - Drew Struzan.
When it comes to the artwork and notable photos that have graced the covers of the many albums in my record collection, I can't think of one that left a bigger impact on me than the bizarre, rat and snake infested orgy taking place on the cover of Black Sabbath's 1973 masterpiece, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Created by the prolific artist Drew Struzan (who even managed to make Tony Orlando and Dawn look like bad motherfuckers on the cover of their final album, 1976's To Be With You), both Ozzy Osbourne and former Sabbath timekeeper Bill Ward share my feelings when it comes to Struzan's day-glow artwork on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. In the book Rat Salad: Black Sabbath, the Classic Years, 1969--1975, Ozzy gave his interpretation about the cover of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, a piece by Struzan rumored to be titled, "The Rape of Christ":
"The front of the cover represents a man dying...There are all these distorted figures bending over him and gloating as he lies there. These figures are actually him at different stages of his life. He's a man of greed--a man who's wanted everything. It was our last truly great album. I fucking love that cover."
In the excellent book about hard rock album art by Martin Popoff, 2012's Fade to Black: Hard Rock Cover Art of the Vinyl Age, Popoff included the rather insightful comments from Bill Ward about Struzan's artwork that adorns the back cover of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath:
"I love the back of that album cover, really nice. I guess if I ever wanted to die, in a certain way, that's how it would be, with all of the animals and everything, everybody just around me, or whatever. It was interesting to see what it did to people."
According to Struzan, the concept for the artwork that blew my young mind was based on two color illustrations that Struzan's friend Ernie Cefalu, the founder of the revered album design company Pacific Eye & Ear (where Struzan was employed for part of his career), that were given to Cefalu as a gift for his confirmation (one of the seven sacraments through which Catholics pass in the process of their religious upbringing) in 1955. The images, which date back to the 1700s were of an "evil" man and a "good" man both crossing over to the other side under very different circumstances. In an interview about how the artwork for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath came to be, Struzan talks about how the band wanted the cover to feature the image of a man dying, but conceptually, Struzan wanted to take it a few steps further:
"I didn't want to do just a guy dying. I could have had a shooting or a poisoning but that wasn't appealing to me. I look at life in a positive way, even in death. If you're a good man with a good heart and at peace with who you are, death is not a horrible thing. A man who has practiced badness and has a band conscience with regrets and sorrows and fears, his death will be a scary thing. Our culture sees death as some kind of judgement and now you face what you were. One guy faces judgement while another faces blessings if that's the way you want to look at it. So we had a front and a back cover. I wanted to show the comparison. I thought it was a truth."
Struzan says that he occasionally hears from the boys of Black Sabbath who continue to thank him for creating the indelible images he created for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but he never actually recalls meeting any of them during the creative process. Speaking of Struzan's "creative process" when it came to the creation of the artwork for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, his approach was rather unconventional. Struzan's original creations, made with colored pencils and acrylic paint, were unusually large, 30" x 40". When he was asked as to why he worked in such a large scale, only to have his images become a mere 12" x 12", Struzan said it was because he "could."
Struzan also had the opportunity to work with Alice Cooper who he recalls liked to sit next to him while he was painting his portrait. According to Struzan, Cooper admitted that he had more fun watching the artist paint than he had making his 1975 album, Welcome to My Nightmare. Struzan's oil painting of Cooper from Welcome to My Nightmare was named one of "100 greatest album covers" of all time in 1991. Struzan also created the 1930s vintage-looking cover for the 1974 album, Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits. One of only two times that Struzan would collaborate with another artist (in this case Bill Garland), the amusing image shows the band decked out as gangsters, sitting in a car along with cinematic icons such as Jean Harlow, Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Struzan cleverly hid a few Cooper-esque "easter eggs" in the image such as the number "18" on a door, as well as on the newsstand behind the car noting the title "School's Out" and a riff on the 1973 Cooper classic "Billion Dollar Babies," "Million Dollar Babies."
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that in addition to his fantastic album art, that Struzan is probably best known for his movie posters for films such as 1982's Blade Runner and 1985's The Goonies to name a scant few. I've included images to some of Struzan's far-out album covers for you to look at, that I hope will perhaps prompt you pull a few out of your own record collection to give them a well deserved spin.