For Chicago house pioneer Jesse Saunders, the thing that stung most about Disco Demolition Night wasn't the current of racism and homophobia flowing through the infamous 1979 stunt, the apogee of shock jock Steve Dahl's "Disco Sucks" campaign, in which a crate of LPs was ceremonially blown up at Comiskey Park. "What really hurt," Saunders told me earlier this year, "was knowing some really hot music was being destroyed." And along with the vinyl, so went the album covers that carried some equally hot artwork.
While disco music has been critically reevaluated and newly appreciated, the genre's off-the-wall cover art is only now getting its due with Disco: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Cover Art of Disco, a new coffee-table compendium out from Soul Jazz Records' publishing wing. Edited by Dutch collector "Disco Patrick" Lejeune, author of 2007's Bootleg Guide to Disco Acetates, Funk, Rap, and Disco Medleys, the book is somewhat hindered by uninspired introductions by remix progenitor Tom Moulton and trailblazing New York DJ Nicky Siano as well as fawning interviews with former label heads. But the real value isn't in the writing. This is an exquisitely wrapped 360-page piece of eye candy, thanks to Patrick Vogt's fittingly excessive design.
Disco is particularly suited to such a lush layout. In its late-70s/early-80s heyday, the genre demanded creative cover treatment. This is partly because the music was driven principally by producers instead of artists, aside from a handful of marquee stars. Without the attractive, smiling face of a household name to slap on a sleeve, independent disco labels like Prelude, Salsoul, and West End frequently turned to striking typography, sci-fi-inspired illustrations, sexual innuendo, and unabashed T&A to give their releases shelf appeal.
Soul Jazz, for good measure, has also dropped a companion compilation of rare grooves released between 1978 and '82, further contextualizing the book's many images.