11 classic albums reimagined as books for the literary music fan

March 25, 2014

In album reviews, it’s a common tactic to compare music to literature: Some bands, like the Hold Steady, imagine each song as short story in itself. Others, like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, can be broken down into chapters of a larger narrative—a fact we noted when we wrote Coles Notes for the album. Others, meanwhile, can be seen as grand epics—we’re still waiting on an overeager reviewer to call, like, The Monitor “the Ulysses of modern rock.” It’ll probably happen when Titus Andronicus gets a 33 1/3 book. (Which might be never.)

Few music fans, however, literally imagine music as literature—save for Simon James, the London, England-based artist and designer behind Standard Designs. By his own admission, he creates “prints that reflect my love of literature, music, art, design, and the occasional awful pun,” but in our eyes, he creates covet-worthy odes to some our favourite LPs.

Like who? Here are 11 examples of his work. There’s more over at his website, too, and they’re all available at his Etsy store. 


Björk – Debut

Human Behaviour, on the far left of the screen, seems like it’d be a vaguely racist psychology text written in 1911 that somehow—somehow!—is being preserved in the University of Victoria’s library stacks. Guys, it’s time to toss that book out.


Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

In book form, the black-spined Candidate—or originally, Le Candidat—kind of looks like one of those Albert Camus books you’d never read, but considered picking up because it was in the discount bin.


Leonard Cohen – Greatest Hits

Take This Longing is one of those books you’d find in a store that sells healing crystals, decorative pebbles, and tarot cards. Also, it’s a wonderful song-poem by Leonard Cohen.


Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

This multi-coloured collection almost resembles Pink Floyd’s iconic prism. But really, with titles like Breathe, Us and Them, and Speak To Me, these titles are actually business books aimed at plugging into the multi-generational workforce’s aspirational desires in the #DWYL era.


Pixies – Surfer Rosa

I’m Amazed! Brick Is Red! Oh My Golly! Good Night, Moon!


Radiohead – OK Computer

If we’re on the topic of Camus’ L’Etranger and Le Candidat, have you ever read The Tourist? No? Geez, what are they teaching kids in that French and Romance Philology III: Absurdists, Solidarity, and Mortality course? Are you guys reading Le Petit fucking Prince or something?


The Smiths – Meat is Murder

What could possibly be cooler than a play inspired Peter Singer’s Animal Rights and scored by Morrissey? We can walk to a place that’s quiet and dry, and talk about precious things—like utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, and biocentrism. The Queen is dead, boys! And on the topic of that album…


The Smiths – The Queen is Dead

The collected works of Morrissey and Marr includes a reimagining of The Boy With the Thorn in His Side, a Greek myth that’s often ignored in classics circles. It’s about a child who, after sitting on a barberry bush, pleas to Hestia, the god of the hearth, for relief. The offer Hestia extends him seems like a good one—until it unfolds into an archetypal lesson about greed, avarice, and the value of patience.


Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

Remember that time we read Mansion on the Hill in high school English, and it was like, “Yo, I know this is an undisputed American classic that explores the dynamic of 19th Century race relations, but there’s some really fucked up language in here that I’m not comfortable with and you shouldn’t be teaching it to kids, even if it’s largely accepted as part of the Western lit canon.” Mr. McCann was like, “Yeah guys, it’s totally fucked, but don’t worry. We’re reading Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man next.”


U2 – The Joshua Tree

In God’s Country was that really weird book about the American South that claimed that rednecks suffered from institutional reverse racism. It was really, really weird, and really misguided, and Gavin McInnes really liked it. (Obviously.) Or wait, was that The Redneck Manifesto?


The Velvet Underground and Nico

Heroin was an unheralded 1960’s American novel that, for one summer, was the biggest book amongst my friends. It hit that sweet spot between hobo lit and the beat poets—it was druggier, had a looser narrative, and God, did it ever capture what it felt like to be 22. By the time we were 23, we were over it.


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