Breakfast in America is the sixth album by Supertramp and was released in March 1979
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, reads the inscription on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. Dedicated in 1886, it welcomed immigrants as they arrived by ship and fast became a potent symbol for the ‘land of opportunity’. By 1979, most visitors arrived by air, and it’s through a plane window that we see Supertramps’ re-imagined New York. Manhattan is now a giant diner – it’s buildings replaced by ketchup bottles and egg cartons; its famous icon a matronly diner waitress who holds aloft a glass of orange juice
For Breakfast In America, the band’s first LP after moving to the U.S., designer Mike Doud drew various illustrations combining breakfast and America — one of the rejected sketches depicted giant Cheerios rolling down Arizona’s Monument Valley in a flood of milk!
The band preferred Doud’s illustration of the Statue of Liberty holding an orange-juice glass, so Doud’s associate, Mick Haggerty, went about selecting a model. He brought in a busty beauty, then what Haggerty calls “a Tom Waits kind of girl,” both of whom the band vetoed. Eventually, they found Kate Murtagh, the matronly woman whom Haggerty dubbed Libby, through the Ugly Model Agency. She later went on tour with the band, announcing them from the stage. Now aged 92, she’s alive and well and living in Los Angeles. Her bingo-wings and manic smile contribute so much to the cover
If Doud had the vision and ambition, cover designer Mike Haggerty had the ability to pull it off. He assembled the cornflake box, ashtray, cutlery, eggboxes, vinegar, ketchup and mustard bottles and spray painted them all white. ‘Libby’ holds up a glass of orange juice on a small plate in one hand, and a foldable restaurant menu in the other hand, on which ‘Breakfast In America’ is written. The twin World Trade Center towers appear as two stacks of boxes and the plate of breakfast represents Battery Park, the departure point for the Staten Island Ferry
“It’s New York seen through the eyes of someone that sees it not as a gateway to the east of America but as a gateway to Route 66,” says Haggerty. “It was a West Coast treatment of an East Coast icon”
“The cover expressed with wry humour our mental and physical place at that time,” said sax player John Helliwell. “The imagery appealed to us – living in the land of dreams and ambitions, and substituting the English transport café for the friendly diner”
In one of the more bonkers conspiracy theories, it’s claimed that the mirror image of the album cover foretells 9/11 as it has a 911 in the top right corner
While Kate Murtagh’s advancing years are key to the cover’s success, it was a strange and cautious kind of vanity that kept Supertramp off their own record covers. “We wanted to be around a long time, and we didn’t want people watching us getting older” says keyboardist Rick Davies. It’s an interesting concern and one that makes more sense when you realise that back then record covers were a band’s primary form of self promotion. As it is, fans could check the band out on the back cover, being served at a diner called ‘Bert’s Mad House’
Photographer Aaron Rapoport captures the band in a relaxed moment, seemingly unaware of the time warp that has transported them back to the American fifties. It’s a nice touch that they all read newspapers from their home towns in Britain
In many ways they’re just another group of immigrants, finding rich inspiration and a warm welcome in the creative and popular culture of America
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