Energy Flash: A Brief History Of Early Dance Music Record Covers

By Christian J Petersen

More than any other cultural artifact, record covers directly reflect the best and worst in aesthetics and attitudes of the period in which they were produced. From modern dance music’s origins in the disco era its packaging has often seemed like an afterthought. The main offender being the generic 12-inch sleeve, often depicting only basic information with very few clues to the quality and content of the music inside. As disco moved from the underground in the ’70s and into the mainstream, how a record was packaged became far more important. The appeal of the lifestyle and attitude of the the disco movement started to be reflected on the covers. As disco spawned house, techno, Hi-NRG and…. everything else, more and more covers became representative of the music within and its culture. I have created  this tour through the changing art of dance music up until the point when its modern form stated to evolve. These well-loved records from my own collection say much about the music they contain but also so much else about the times when they were created.

There were many terrible cash-in disco records. Sci-fi and superhero movie themes were often given a disco makeover for a quick buck. The most interesting songs on these albums often happen when the artist produces original matierial to fit the theme, like this album’s first track which weirdly is about Superman and not Wonder Woman. The cover truly excels in its “reinterpretation” of Wonder Woman as a sexy, cosmic, space barbarian from the planet Glitter leaving you with no doubt of what to expect from the music.


The origins of house music can be clearly heard on  this amazing record but the enigmatic home made cover also reflects the minimalistic DIY attitude and aesthetic that was to follow.


The  most homoerotic record cover of all time? The mostly generic disco contained within could only disappoint after witnessing this outrageous, sweaty, macho scene. One track comes close to living up to the cover’s promise. It was released on The Moby Dick label, who put out a number of gay disco classics often coupled with amazing, distinctive  artwork.


Another case of the cover overshadowing the music. Grace Jones’ best work was yet to come but Jean-Paul Goude’s sleeve art is truly amazing. He created her covers throughout her career, representing the greatest collaboration between a visual artist and a musician in the the history of music.


Cerrone’s epic, ecological monster jam was housed in one of the most brilliantly, hilariously bizarre covers ever. The image of Cerrone chilling with the lo-fi mutants in a surgical theatre only enhances the enjoyment of  this amazing record.


The ultimate disco record cover, Sparks brought their surreal sense of high style, taste and glamour to the sleeve of this Giorgio Moroder produced masterpiece. The perfect pairing of music, art and glittery tights.


Lime straddle the rainbow bridge between Disco and Eurocentric electro-pop. The generic hot lady that graced so many disco covers is now clutching a Lime on a stick and  wearing some truly outrageous, avant-garde garments and make-up. This perfectly signifies shift from the sexy glamour of the Disco era to the super stylized fun, fun, fun of the early 80’s.


Legendary disco producer Bobby “O” stakes his claim for the revolutionary nature of disco music. Unlike most other revolutions this one was tanned, sexy and wearing high heels. Released deep in the twilight years of disco (1983) when it had come full circle and was once again only openly embraced by the gay community. The music and cover perfectly represent the gradual shift from disco to Hi-NRG but has  elements of new wave (as represented on the cover  by the jazzy, wavy lines!)


One of the best generic 12-inch sleeves of them all, perfectly summing up the style and attitude of the music, it balances the line between sophisticated and raw. Here it contains some  futuristic sex music from The Flirts. Another moment of pulsating genius from the hugely prolific Bobby “O.”


Gino Soccio is the Canadian Giorgio Moroder. And while his work never reached the groundbreaking genius of Moroder’s best work, his output is much more consistantly great. As are his record covers. This one perfectly the captures the sublime, futuristic disco-funk contained within.


Euro-dance releases from the early to mid ’80s had some of the most freakily brilliant covers in the history of music. They represent the most explosive, expressive and liberating aspects of graphic design. This sleeve, for the Euro-smash Jabdah by Koto, represents this form at its pinnacle, somehow being both wild and restrained at the same time.


Dance music has always enjoyed a dodgy classical reinterpretation. But few succeed like this wild electro-disco jam. What better way to represent this brave crossover than with a cartoon of a funky, hunky, disco Mozart who’s clearly ready to bust out some outrageous neo-classical moves.


Another serious contender for the most homoerotic record cover of all time. This outrageous and brilliant slice of dark sleaze somehow managed to become a big chart hit in the UK. In a country where Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” was banned, this was deemed perfectly suitable material for the kids. Crazy times, crazy cover, crazy song.


House music being the most direct descendent of disco, also carried on some of its aesthetic tropes, like the sexy disco lady. The sexy disco lady was now different though. Now she was crudely drawn, raw, defiantly underground and subversive. This cover perfectly represents the brutalist ‘punk’ attitude of this music and its makers.


The sexy disco lady mutates yet again. Now she is a sexy futuristic horned lady robot. If you listen to the record you will also discover that she’s French and that she responds to bass in some groovy way.


The cover may not lead you to expect the bizarre, avant-garde house jam that is Nyce and Slo but coming from the genius mind of Lil Louis it make perfect sense. Everything about this cover is sublimely insane, Lil Louis (with a sexy fairy on his shoulder) is touching a lovely lady’s chin whilst simultaneously thinking about kissing her hand. If you can’t read the small print under his thought bubble it reads “catch the love bug fever — go bite someone.” Kudos to you Lil Louis.


This sleeve completely reflects tribal, political and DIY aspects of the UK rave culture. The music reflects the overwhelming desire to trip-out at a rave. Soon the political angle would be dispensed with and the focus would become solely getting “higher and higher.”


The cover and music perfectly balance the line between psychedelic rave freakery and minimalist purity. Dance music was again moving into a different era and finally was starting to get the respect it deserved. The even more iconic CD cover was made of  a square of fake acid tabs.


The ultimate house music record cover.The ultimate house music record. Enough said.


  • Derek C. F. Pegritz

    Renegade Soundwave and Gino Soccio for the win. Honourable mention: Grace Jones.