Home > Album cover art > Great covers: Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1974)

Great covers: Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1974)

How many albums are there which bear the name of one of the artist’s most epic song which does not appear on it? Winter In America, the song, made its appearance a year later, on 1975’s The First Minute Of A New Day album, written at the decree of one Peggy Harris who created the artwork on the inner sleeve, and who believed there just should be a song called Winter In America.

Winter In America the LP is so consistently brilliant, it does not suffer from the absence of a title track. It was originally supposed be titled Supernatural Corner, the name of the painting on the cover and an allusion to a haunted house which Scott-Heron and Jackson had shared in Washington, DC (on the corner of 13th Street, #1 Logan Circle, fact fans). As an album title, it would have evoked nothing of the lyrical bleakness in most of the songs. When the putative title was dropped, so was a song by that name.

Inner sleeve artwork by Peggy Harris

Inner sleeve artwork by Peggy Harris

The title Winter In America is an eloquent metaphor of the United States in 1973/74, a time of oil crises, Watergate and Nixon, financial turmoil, urban decay, the absence of inspiring leaders in the mould of the assassinated Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F Kennedy and Malcolm X, and the continued alienation of African-Americans a decade or so after the heady the days of the civil rights movement. In the liner notes, Scott-Heron explains: “Winter is a metaphor: a term not only used to describe the season of ice, but the period of our lives through which we are travelling. In our hearts we feel that spring is just around the corner: a spring of brotherhood and united spirits among people of color. Everyone is moving, searching… We approach winter, the most depressing period in the history of this industrial empire, with threats of oil shortages and energy crises. But we, as Black people, have been a source of endless energy, endless beauty and endless determination. I have many things to tell you about tomorrow’s love and light. We will see you in Spring.” And if this sounds too much like hippie-talk, Scott-Heron provocatively adds: “In the interest of national security, please help us carry out our constitutional duty to overthrow the king.”

The huge black canvas which frames the jazzy, vibrant colours of the crookedly pasted Supernatural Corner illustrates the contrasts that run throughout the album: the desolate, righteous anger contrasting with moments of joy. The contrast finds expression also in the songs. The exquisitely furious proto-rap H20 Blues (which may make the first reference in pop to Ronald Reagan) has the listener laughing and cheering and seething and taking up imaginary arms to usher in an overdue revolution which would overthrow “King Richard” Nixon and the rotten system he represented; while the beatific and tender Your Daddy Loves You speaks of marital problems, overcome by a shared loved for a little daughter (it ought to be the anthem for every parent).

Supernatural Corner, the artwork, was created by one Eugene Coles, at the commission of his old university friend Scott-Heron. The collage depicts urban decay in lively colours — it has the unmistakable feel of African art – which communicate at once chaos and hope. And grooving on the right is Brian Jackson, the wonderful jazz flautist, himself.

My copy of the LP has long been lost, which is a pity because apparently it is quite rare. The cover was of very sturdy cardboard and, if I recall correctly, the disc was one of those thick vinyl records that were more common in the ’50s and ’60s.

Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson – H2O Blues.mp3
Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson – Your Daddy Loves You.mp3

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Edit on May 21: And welcome to visitors coming here from The New Yorker, which flagged this post today.

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  1. May 20th, 2009 at 17:00 | #1

    I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I LOVE this line:

    “I have many things to tell you about tomorrow’s love and light. We will see you in Spring.”

    So ambitious! I love it. Interesting. This whole series is awesome; a child of cassettes and CDs, I admit I have never paid much attention to album covers. In fact, if you pulled a CD from my collection and asked me to describe the cover, I might be hard-pressed to do so. Sad.

  2. May 21st, 2009 at 16:44 | #2

    Ol’ Neil Young used to be big on giving his albums titles and putting the song with the same title on a different album. “Time Fades Away” and “Journey Through the Past” come to mind…..

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