In May, the great David King passed away. You may not have heard of him, but he was my hero. An obituary in the New York Times described him as ‘a graphic designer and design historian who amassed one of the world’s largest collections of Soviet political art and photographs, which he drew on for revelatory books on Leon Trotsky and the Stalin era’. That’s all true. But in my estimation, he was also the finest album cover designer ever.
During the 1960’s, King was art editor of The Sunday Times of London magazine and was drafted into doing album covers by his friend Chris Stamp, co-manager of The Who and co-owner of Track Records. He designed only about 10 album covers in all, but each was a masterpiece of the form. His album sleeves were completely original, unexpected, and many today are rightly considered classics. Check out the great man’s work.
In a past life, I art directed album covers–I even won a Grammy for it once. But looking at these, I feel like an amateur.
In 2013 I reached out to King and we exchanged some emails, and later that year my wife and I paid him a visit at his extraordinary London flat. It was overflowing with more than 250,000 Soviet political artifacts and photographs he’d amassed. He greeted us with a delicious homemade lunch, and was as charming and engaging as could be, telling stories, recalling his album cover work so many years earlier, showing us his archives, and selling me a few choice pieces. We were both thrilled to meet him, and amazed by his work and collection.
When we returned home, he’d written an email calling us his “new best friends”, and he promised to visit us in L.A. the next time he was in California. Alas that was not to be. Ironically, my wife and I were visiting Russia for the first time when she saw his obituary.
David did a lot of great and lasting work besides his album covers– his innovative magazine design, books on Soviet politics and political art, a book on Muhammad Ali, classic posters for the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism, and so much more insure his legacy. Our best wishes go out to his family. He won’t be forgotten, not by a longshot.