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Classic Album covers : Into The Purple Valley - Ry Cooder

Into the Purple Valley is the second album released by  Ry Cooder in January 1972

Proximity to the dream factories of Hollywood helped Ry Cooder achieve his vision for the cover of Into The Purple Valley. “At that time, the Warner Brothers film lot in Burbank was adjacent to the record-company building,” Cooder says. “There wasn’t much going on there — it was kind of dormant. This old guy was taking me around. I knew I’d find something, but I didn’t know exactly until he steered me to this library of gigantic set paintings”

“We didn’t have video back then,” says Ry Cooder. “You had to suggest an alternative environment on the cover of your album. I used to think about ways to do this, mainly to please myself, and this one turned out pretty well”

That’s what makes the album cover special - the sense of storytelling and creation of an “alternate environment”. It’s a cinematic slice of pop culture that came about organically

Cooder , the now legendary guitarist, composer and producer, proved to be a pretty resourceful guy, borrowing the car – a yellow 1939 Buick convertible – from his neighbour. He then cast his fetching wife Susan as the female talent

Commandeering an unused stage on the lot, Cooder set themselves up in the Buick (“A beautiful car, but it ran like shit”) and endured a blast from the studio rain machine. Today, Cooder credits the veteran lighting men who pitched in: “All the old-timers on the lot actually got it going; otherwise it just looks like nothing — a car and a flat painting of the sky. It takes a lot of lights to perk it up. It took all day, but I had a great time”

If it perfectly evokes a pulpy old Hollywood movie, it’s probably because it was made during the industry’s dying gasps, when the equipment and know-how were yet to make way for special effects and new technologies

The performance and outfits do a lot to further the story. Her summer hat, which she clutches nervously, immediately tells us that this was meant to be a different road trip entirely. And while she does little to conceal her nervousness, her husband makes a lame attempt to appear calm and in control. But if his posture doesn’t tip you off that he’s struggling to keep it together, his eyes certainly do. You can just imagine him telling her that it’ll all be fine and to calm down in a slightly hysterical voice

The inside cover shows the couple enjoying a more joyous moment

Is this the happy ending after their harrowing car journey or a glimpse of the lovely couple in more innocent times, before they found themselves under the dark clouds of the Purple Valley? What do you think?

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  1. Tjerk

    July 12, 2012

    Thanks a lot for the interesting story behind the making of the cover of Ry Cooder’s “Into The Purple Valley”. I still got the original LP in my collection. I agree: Great artwork is done.

    Tjerk (Netherlands EUR)

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