Five years ago, screenwriter Todd Alcott’s wife took a picture of their cats and the hair on the back of his neck was raised.
It was a simple shot of two felines near a water dish on a counter, but it made him think of a classic rock album and, unbeknownst to him at the time, was the spark for a side job that now accounts for most of his income.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, that looks like a Simon & Garfunkel album’. So just as a joke to amuse myself I turned it into a quasi Simon & Garfunkel album,” Alcott says about turning the pic into an album cover influenced by the New York duo’s famous ‘Sounds of Silence’.
He adds: “I figured out what all the fonts were on the cover, and I figured out how to get the label logo on it and make it look like it’s all one. I posted it on social media and people liked it, so I started doing more.”
Soon after, Alcott began creating more faux-album covers and, taking inspiration from the pulp fiction novels of the 1940s, began creating book covers based on songs that he loved.
“Mid-century design has never been topped,” he says. “And as much as I’m paying tribute to these songs I love, I’m also paying tribute to these designers whose work has come and gone and people don’t think about it anymore. It’s like I’m taking a song lyric and I’m putting it into a completely different context, and hopefully I’m illuminating both in a way that people haven’t thought about them before. That’s my mission statement.”
Alcott’s prints are all created using Photoshop, and he pays attention to tiny details to make his creations look very real.
“Most of the work is matching textures,” says Alcott. “Because I’m manipulating images and taking images from different time periods and in different mediums and trying to make it look like they all live on the same page together. So if I want to put David Bowie’s head on the cover of a book that doesn’t have Bowie in it, I have to think ‘Here’s a photo of his head, I need to make it look like the painting this book has on its cover’, so I have to match all the colors or repaint it, digitally, then add noise and blur a little. There’s this process until it looks like an actual book cover.”
The result is a creation that looks very real. In fact, when he created a faux book cover inspired by Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, many people thought the band had actually published a book. And when Alcott created a fake 1970s era RCA television advertisement using David Bowie’s song Sound and Vision, many people asked him if Bowie did an ad for RCA.
Alcott says that often an image will pop into his head that fits a certain song he loves, sparking another creation. For example: “The Pink Floyd ‘Comfortably Numb’ ad—it’s a great song, certainly the epitome of Pink Floyd’s music career and I went, ‘Oh, there were those aspirin ads in the 1950s and they had the exposed heads’ and I looked through 100 ads like that and found the one that would work. When I put it online the reaction was immediate. People were like, ‘Oh my God, perfect!’”
Alcott sells his creations online on an Etsy store he created, and they range from $25 to $150 depending on the size. He takes requests and does commissions for $300, but has previously waived that fee if it’s something that will appeal to others to buy as well.
“Just the other day someone wrote me to say her anniversary was coming up and her husband’s favorite song is ‘Take Me To The River’ by Talking Heads, and she’d love it if I could do a print that looks like an old Field & Stream magazine because he loves fishing as well. I thought, ‘You’re someone who gets what I do.’ I did it and didn’t charge her a commission fee because I knew I could sell it.”
He has 145 pieces available, but like a band with recorded material in a vault, he has 100s more he hasn’t released. Perhaps a book is the way to go. “A book is not only something I want very badly to do, it’s key for people to understand what I’m doing. If you see them one at a time on the Internet, it’s like ‘Oh ok, that’s a joke thing’. But if you see them together you’ll see how they relate to each other and see them as a totality of a vision. Not to be too pretentious, but the subtlety of what I’m doing becomes apparent.”
Todd Alcott on four more of his magnificent creations
“Everyone’s a big Bruce fan. I saw that book cover and I was like, ‘That is exactly the ethos that’s suggested by ‘Born to Run’’. I added in the fairground in the background. I put in a bunch of details, like the license of the car is the catalog number of the album. Things that Bruce fans would notice. It’s just such an epic song, I was trying to find something that would get that across.”
It was originally the cover of a book that came out in the 1950s called High School Confidential. Just the attitude of the kids in the foreground, looking out at the street and sneering. That’s what Joe Strummer was thinking of when he wrote the song for The Clash. It seemed to encapsulate it perfectly.
“Morrissey himself published a novel with Penguin, and because he’s always been in love with that era and that design, has put movie stars on the covers of Smiths records. I saw this novel called Room At The Top, and that’s Laurence Harvey who was starring in the movie version of it and on the cover of this Penguin edition, and I thought it was perfect. It’s exactly the kind of thing that Morrissey would do.”
“That’s an old Harlequin Romance cover, and I found this copy that had been chewed up by a cat. That’s how beat up it was, and you could actually see the teeth marks on the cover. I loved how beat up it was and there’s a specific era of Harlequin covers that are so blank and so cheesy and they always involve the same model of a pretty woman with the same model of a pretty guy and they don’t seem to have any substance whatsoever and I thought, I’ll match this with the incredibly dark lyrics of Kurt Cobain’s.”