“OK”, I said upon bouncing into CBS in London’s Soho Square in early 1975, “we’ve got an idea for the cover of the Jet album”. Jet had been signed to CBS via a mysterious ‘third party’ in late 1974. CBS were currently paying all our bills, including those run up at hairdressers, and were keen to get at least some of their money back. We’d recorded an album over the Christmas period, and were about to head out on tour with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. For their part, CBS were preparing to release our album to an unsuspecting world. The label’s ink-stained PR supremos John Tobler and Richard Pearson were already sharpening their pencils and donning green eyeshades in eager anticipation.
This was my proposal. The album title was to be “Have You Seen Charlotte?” – we were currently playing a song called “Don’t Cry Joe” which featured an excruciating pun about Charlotte Rampling in the middle eight. “And the cover will show the band standing outside somewhere in a sort of futuristic setting! We’ve discussed it already with Hipgnosis and they are keen to get going!!”, I continued excitedly, spraying CBS bigwigs Paul Russell and Dick Asher with a barrage of exclamation marks. I was eager to hold their attention – they were already turning to the more pressing matter of where to go for lunch. It was, after all, 09.35.
Hipgnosis were of course well-known for their artwork, having produced iconic album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and various other struggling rock bands. We had already met and been photographed by half of the two-man team of Aubrey Powell (‘Po’) and Storm Thorgeson. Po had snapped us both before and after the Mike Leander Effect effect, whereby we were magically transformed from normal human beings (‘before’) into bizarrely camp anteaters (in one case), equine specialists (in another), dwarf nobility (a third) and 60s athletes on magic mushrooms (the remainder). This period is commonly referred to as ‘after‘.
The bigwigs gave the proposal their tentative, but qualified, approval and agreed that we could at least go ahead with the photo session. Thus our personal manager Jamie Turner booked the Rolling Stones‘ mobile studio, a shiny Winnebago caravan which we felt would convey the steely, futuristic Jet profile, and found a suitable location for it. In fact, to reduce costs, we left it exactly where it already was, which was parked at Mick Jagger‘s stately home Stargroves in Hampshire.
In a curious twist of fate, the house was later bought by Rod Stewart; for it was Rod himself who was partly responsible for the band’s exhausted appearance band in the photos taken at Stargroves one early morning in February 1975. Tired and shagged out after a long day’s rehearsal in London’s Furniture Cave, Jet moved to J Arthur’s, a local nightclub in the nearby Fulham Road. We were joined by Rod Stewart and his entourage. Drummer Chris Townson was a footballing pal of Rod’s, and the evening began to blur, fueled in part by Rod’s largesse and hospitality.
One thing led, as it inevitably does, to another and it was not until about 05.00 AM that the various members of Jet were decanted into their homes. In one case, after having involuntarily redecorated the outside of the group van, one member toppled off the gangplank into the River Thames as he was attempting to board his houseboat. He will remain nameless. I certainly never did it again.
But it was shortly after 07.00 AM the same morning when those members were picked up and conveyed to the depths of Hampshire where, despite the bollock-freezing cold, we were required to don ‘futuristic’ biking costumes (do not ask why) and to clutch racing bikes while looking mean, moody and of course, and above all, futuristic. Some achieved this better than others. Others did not achieve it at all, but I digress.
The finished pictures were duly delivered to Hipgnosis for their patent ‘treatment’, which involved heavy air-brushing to create ‘super-realistic’ versions of the original prints. Alas, the realism was not super enough for CBS, who roundly condemned the Hipgnosis effort as being unusable and thoroughly derivative. Forced to draw upon their corporate creativity, they assigned staff artist Roslav Szaybo to the Jet case.
Perhaps ‘staff paste-up artist’ might have been a better description, at least in this case. Ol’ Roslav, doubtless with his eye on the bottom line, nicked a couple of images from Jack Kirby’s Mr Miracle (Issue number 11, since you ask) and did a paste-up job which convinced the high-ups at CBS that this – THIS – was indeed the future.
To compound the job, CBS also decided to dispose of the band’s preferred album title and call it, in a fit of collective inspiration, “Jet“.
Blast off, Jet! Others put it less politely. The rest, as so often, is history.
DC Comic’s lawyers were not happy, and the whole tawdry affair was apparently quietly settled out of court.