There was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.
It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.
Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.
Dean is a product of Ashford, England, where he was born in 1944. His art career started in the late 1960s when he did his first album cover for The Gun’s album Gun in 1968. Although his work continued to gain popularity, it probably wasn’t until he did the cover for the Yes album Fragile that his artwork really hit the mainstream.
Although certainly a fantasy painter, Dean himself considers his work to be more about landscapes and design. That may be true, but the reality to me is that his landscapes are all so alien and otherworldly that therefore they should be classified as science fiction and fantasy. And it was for that reason that I was so captivated by his work when I first saw it on Asia Alpha.
That particular album work on Asia, along with his Yes art, shows just how important an artist can be to a series. Much like a successful writer’s work might be covered by the same artist (Jordan/Sweet, Moorcock/Whelan, Howard/Frazetta, Salvatore/Lockwood), Dean’s work helped establish a viable and easily distinguishable brand for these bands.
Having gone back over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy all the Dean album covers in some form, either from the album itself or in print form. Each cover is both distinct and emotionally charged, with a kind of humanistic wanderlust that just begs to be explored further. That, in my mind’s eye, is the beauty of all landscapes, be they inspired by Earth or some alien dream.
Some might argue that Dean’s work is past its prime and that it reflects too much of the 1970s, but I’d say that is perhaps its greatest compliment. It is rare that a piece of artwork, or an artist, has so thoroughly dominated a time period that it gets forever attached to him or her. Dean managed this in grand fashion, and thanks to several bands, and my friend Jason, I’ve had the pleasure of being inspired by the work as it bleeds over into my gaming table for thirty years.
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