The story behind the iconic cover art for Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’

Primal Scream’s Screamadelica was released on 23 September 1991, an exhilarating fusion of dance, indie, dub, gospel and electronica, packaged in one of the most iconic sleeves of the 1990s.

To this day, the psychedelic sunburst art that adorns the album’s sleeve has almost transcended the reputation of the band itself, featuring on countless t-shirts, posters and other memorabilia – a blissful reminder of the heady days when “music was music”, as the track Come Together preaches.

Writing about Screamadelica in Spin magazine in November 1991, journalist and author Simon Reynolds wrote, “Screamadelica draws on elements from every phase of Primal Scream’s trajectory and is eclectic to the point of schizophrenia. Primal Scream has always been one of those groups whose musical identity is shaped by the current state of their record collection.

“But with Screamadelica it’s clear that singer-mainman Bobby Gillespie has absorbed so many influences (and so many mind-fizzling substances) that what’s coming out the other side is new — or at least so mangled you can’t work out where it comes from.”

The artwork was developed by artist Paul Cannell, and according to legend was inspired by a damp patch that the artist had seen on the ceiling of the Creation Records offices after ingesting LSD.

I gave Paul a space in the attic at the Creation offices in Westgate Street in London,” Creation Records’ boss Alan McGee told Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper in 2010. “He was hugely influenced by the US artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol but he became unique in his own way.”

It wasn’t the first record sleeve Cannell had designed, with the artist’s portfolio already boasting work with Flowered Up (on 1990’s Phobia), Manic Street Preachers (on early single You Love Us) and with Primal Scream, on the singles Movin’ On Up and Higher Than The Sun, the latter of which formed the basis for the album art to follow.

Paul Cannell’s art for Higher Than The Sun, released in June 1991, featured the original ‘sunburst’ artwork

“In July 1991, we had the album but no cover artwork,” McGee told the paper. “Bobby wanted it to be a picture of the band* sitting with a sexy model. But I said: ‘No one will buy it’.

“The poster for the single Higher Than The Sun featured the sunburst logo painted in yellow and blue. I thought it would look good as an album sleeve if we used different colours. Bobby changed it to red and that’s how the sleeve was created.”

While Cannell was courted by many musicians during the early 90s, he still kept his distance from getting too caught up in the rock world, as he revealed in an interview, archived by Diskant.

“Don’t think about doing covers to get you by ‘cos it won’t,” he explained. “Not at all. Unless you’re full time at a major label of course. I’ve started selling my paintings now for a decent amount of money. And I’m capable of maybe knocking up four or five paintings a day if I really wanted to.

But when money comes into art, it f*cks it up really bad. Business and art doesn’t mix.”

Naming Screamadelica as one of its all-time top ten beautifully-designed album covers in 2011, NME described it as “the visual accompaniment to this groundbreaking collection of tunes”, which reflected the musical maelstrom of the early 90s. “Bright, joyful and naîve,” it added.

Cannell, who sadly died in 2005, would go on to design the covers for most of Screamadelica’s singles, including Don’t Fight It, Feel It and Damaged, as well as undertaking work for The Telescopes, The Times and Shonen Knife – he also released his own record on Creation in 1996, Sourface, under the pseudonym Crawl.

As McGee put it, the Screamadelica artwork has become the “Primal Scream equivalent of The Rolling Stones’ famous lips and tongue logo”, but while the Stones’ emblem evokes sex and seduction, Cannell’s piece is more carefree, childhood innocence crossed with lysergic undertones.

Such is its longstanding allure, that when Royal Mail announced a set of ‘classic album cover’ stamps in January 2010, Screamadelica earned a well-deserved spot, alongside Parklife by Blur, Pink Floyd’s Division Bell, Led Zeppelin’s IV, David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, London Calling by The Clash, Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.

“Paul was an anarchist. He would definitely have got the humour of the Queen’s head now being on top of his work,” Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie told the Daily Record. “But we’re flattered the artwork for Screamadelica has been rewarded in this way.”

Even three decades later, Cannell’s artwork continues to inspire – to mark the 30th anniversary of the album’s release, Fender released a limited-edition run of Stratocaster guitar’s bearing Screamadelica’s soulful sunshine.

Of course, Screamadelica wouldn’t be the album it turned out to be without the expert touch of the late Andrew Weatherall, who’s blending of musical styles (along with expertly-curated vocal samples, such as the Wattstax snippets that adorn Come Together) would go on to be the guv’nor’s trademark over a thirty-year career.

Talking about the development of the single Loaded (which preceded Screamadelica by around a year and a half), to Melody Maker in March 1990, Bobby Gillespie spoke of the erstwhile producer’s broad range of influences.

“Although we obviously knew that Andy Weatherall was a DJ and we asked him to give the song a groove, we didn’t necessarily expect him to turn it into a dance track. Like us, his musical tastes are very broad,” Gillespie explained. “He’s into the Pistols and The Clash and Funkadelic and Sly Stone, as well as house music.

Also, this was only the second time he’d ever been in a studio, so in some ways it was just an experiment. We all knew the whole idea could suddenly collapse.

“But the point is that even though Andy didn’t know what the fuck he was doing, he had the enthusiasm and the attitude to want to give it a go. That kind of spirit is what really matters. That’s what’s missing from so much of today’s indie rock and pop music.”

[*As an addendum, Gillespie did get to incorporate his band photo idea into Screamadelica, albeit without the sexy model. Grant Fleming, a former roadie with Sham 69 and bassist with Kids Next Door, photographed the band in full-on Shangri-La mode for the album’s inner sleeve, complete with obligatory sitar. Over close to two decades, Fleming would go on to be an official photographer for the Scream, contributing artwork for the singles Jailbird and Rocks, among others, as well as Weatherall’s Smokebelch II, as The Sabres of Paradise.]

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