Music Monday: Robert Rauschenberg’s album art for the Talking Heads

By - Monday, March 30th, 2015

After their 1977 introduction, the Talking Heads enjoyed a three-year run of releasing albums, one after another. It took just as long for Speaking in Tongues to be released due a combination of lengthy production and extensive work that went into creating the crafty album packaging.

Frontman David Byrne had seen Robert Rauschenberg’s black and white photo collages displayed in the Leo Castelli Gallery and an idea immediately sparked. Shortly after, he approached Rauschenberg and pitched the idea to have him design the artwork for their next LP cover.

It wasn’t peculiar for artists and musicians to collaborate during the ’70s, and the deal was accepted under the terms that the efforts were to produce something novel and unique. The 1983 release of Speaking in Tongues included a transparent plastic case as well as three translucent, primary-colored discs, adorned in conceptual collages. The separate single-colored layers were dispersed, leaving consumers unable to see the full color process at once. In order to sporadically see the three-color images within the collage, the LP and the separate colored disc had to be rotated together.    

Troublesome to produce, the design was released as a limited edition, bulk order of 50,000-copies. “Burning Down the House” became an American Top Ten hit and Rauschenberg was awarded a Grammy for his imaginative design.

Rauschenberg’s career highlights some major accomplishments including his silk-screening, a specific forte, as well as his trash-to-art projects such as the Riding Bikes in Berlin.

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