U2’s Boy at 36 – The Album Covers

u2songs.com looks at U2’s first album and its cover for the 36th anniversary of the album. They look specifically at the North American cover which did not include the picture of Peter Rowan. Sandy Porter was asked to produce this cover. The history and the process make for an interesting read.

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Image via Sandy Porter

In October of 1980, U2’s first album, Boy, was released in Europe. It featured an image of a shirtless young boy on the cover (six-year-old Peter Rowen, brother of Bono’s friend Guggi, who had also appeared on the sleeve of the Three EP). But when the time came to release Boy in North America in early 1981, there were concerns that the image might be misunderstood.

Island Records had the task of putting a new face on Boy for the North American market. A stylized black-and-white cover was developed using “stretched” images of the band members. This alternate cover was used on all North American releases up until 2008, when, as part of a remastering campaign, Boy was reissued worldwide—including North America—with the original Peter Rowen photo. (In similar fashion, the alternate “stretch” image was also used for the March 1981 “I Will Follow” single release in North America, while European “I Will Follow” singles had a different photo of Rowen originating from the back of the LP).

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Image via Sandy Porter

We have to remember that 1980 was not a time for computers and digital imaging so the work done to produce this cover was very much manual.

Q: So you started work on the cover for Boy with Bruno Tilley at that point?

I agreed to work on a new cover despite the very small fee and the lack of expenses to enable us to travel to the band and take some new pictures of them. Instead, Bruno traveled down to Dorset from London for the weekend so that we could spend some time working on some ideas. This also gave him the opportunity to see the results as they were being produced. The first idea was to use the pictures as the raw material for new images by distorting them and creating a more graphic, stylised piece of artwork. In those days we didn’t have computer programs, so we created effects by a more manual process. There were no rules or guides on how to do it; we just experimented through trial and error. Some interesting effects were created using a photocopier and pulling the images during the scanning. But it was very hit-and-miss. The images were also copied and distorted using a photographic enlarger and movement of the base board holding the photographic paper. In-camera movement and distortion was another option used, with long exposures and movement of prints. Then, a combination of mixing the techniques was tried. These processes started to help formulate some ideas and gave the raw material for the next stage. There was, in addition, a fair amount of black pen work to enhance areas that had not worked well when distorted.

You can read the entire fascinating story and check out the alternate cover versions on u2songs.com.

Larry Lootsteen

Music is life and I love to write about all things music. Independent music blogger. Writer in general. I am a big fan of alternative and indie music but there's no genre I haven't found something to like.

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