Of all the awesome cover art in rock music, the cover for the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (1980) is one of the coolest and, certainly, one of the most memorable.
Like the music of Talking Heads, the Remain in Light cover was an encapsulation of its time, while simultaneously being leaps and bounds ahead of other art being produced.
The creation of the cover was overseen by Talking Heads Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums), along with Walter Bender, a surprising collaborator considering the fact that he was a researcher at MIT. Yes, THE Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
You see, it was 1980. Computers were enormous, slow, and relatively new technology. It took the design department of one of the most prestigious universities in the world to create the Remain in Light cover. Specifically, MIT computers were used to transpose the red “masks” over each band member’s face. This was a major undertaking, especially considering that Remain in Light is the first record to ever don computerized images on its cover.
However, the cover you see above, the one that we associate with Remain in Light was originally planned as the back cover. What we consider the back cover of the album was originally going to be the front.
Weymouth and Frantz came up with the idea of the fighter planes to honor Weymouth’s father who was in the Navy. Rendering the planes red took MIT’s enormous computer power, with the help of Scott Fisher, an MIT computer guru.
In keeping with Weymouth’s desire for a simple, bold font, graphic designer Tibor Kalman wrote “Talking Heads” with no space and in Sans Serif font. Of course, Kalman followed directions, but not before inverting the A’s.
In almost military fashion, the cover art was credited not to people, but to code names. The liner notes say that the cover was designed by “HCL, JPT, DDD, Walter GP, PAUL, C/T.”
In his book This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the Twentieth Century (an incredible source of information about the band), David Bowman says that both Bender and Fisher wanted to use code names because the project was not officially commissioned by MIT.
The history of the album art alone makes Remain in Light worth listening to. However, even if the record had been handed out in plastic bags, it is commonly referred to as the Talking Heads’ magnum opus. The music, like the cover, is breathtakingly beautiful, revolutionary, and offers a completely new experience every time you encounter it.