Iconic album covers at EMI Music Canada Archive Exhibit

It’s really not that long ago since cassette tapes, compact discs, and vinyl were ruling the world of music. Numerous music lovers and fans would be flocking to their local record or music shops where they often lost track of time while browsing through the available albums. These were the places where they admired the artwork on the albums’ covers and discussed their passions with so many other lovers of great music.

Now there’s a fantastic new exhibit in the Taylor Family Digital Library that will take you back to those days as it highlights design mock-ups and original artwork of numerous iconic album covers dating back to the 1970s through the 1990s. All artwork comes from from the impressive EMI Music Canada Archive. The EMI archive was donated by Universal Music Canada in Toronto to the University of Calgary’s Library in 2016. The entire EMI collection is being cataloged and preserved by the University of Calgary’s Archives & Special Collections Department.


In those days, album cover art played an important role in the music industry and the covers are sometimes just as, or even more, memorable as the great music that they were covering. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that these album covers typically went through several incarnations until they reached their final looks and designs.

The EMI Music Canada Archive is so immense that it will take a few more years to get everything sorted out. Now, however, we can already marvel at the artwork files that the EMI Music Canada Archive is offering us. The exhibit includes negatives used for making cover art, mock-ups, and a huge number of never published works of cover art that give a clear picture of the development of artwork for album covers and the wide range of techniques and styles that were applied in those days for music promotions and marketing.

The exhibit is named “To The Edge: Cover Art From the EMI Music Canada Archiveand includes artwork for Canadian albums that were produced at the time that the EMI Canada label was enjoying its prime as premier Canadian label for music by Canadian artists that spans all sorts of genres. The exhibition features a whole generation of Canadian album artwork including the most critical designs and concepts for the music of artists like Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Red Rider, Glass Tiger, and Nickelback.

The artwork of this important exhibit includes also sleeve and jacket designs for cassettes, vinyl format recordings, and CD labels and packaging. There are also numerous print advertisements and album-related posters on display. The exhibit additionally includes audio recordings of interviews with EMI Canada designer Ralph Alfonso who was also a product manager for Capitol Records-EMI Music Canada.

Among the fascinating aspects of the immense EMI Music Canada Archive lies in the unlimited behind-the-scenes glimpses we are getting of the Canadian and international music industry. This fabulous exhibition is an intriguing chronicle of the technological transition not only in music but most importantly in graphic design and concepts as artwork for albums moved from traditional printmaking art during the end of the 1980s to the artwork based on digital techniques of today.

The EMI Canada archive was moved from the Capitol Records offices in Toronto to Calgary over the last years and, as said before, will require several more years to become fully cataloged. The archive includes more than 5,400 boxes that document the entire EMI Music Canada’s history as well as that of related music labels in the period 1949-2012. The archive includes more than 40,000 video and audio recordings in all sorts of formats, that range from rare demo tapes and master tape recordings to production master tapes.