Israeli Cover Stories: Iconic Album Sleeves Revisited

What better way to mark International Record Store Day then to set out to the sites where iconic Israeli album covers were photographed?

Evidently, Tel Aviv is the city that appears most often on the album covers of Israel’s LP records and 45s. Like New York, the city offers a wealth of outstandingly photogenic locations: the Yarkon River, the narrow streets, cafes, Bauhaus buildings, bridges and boulevards. Jerusalem is also well represented on record covers, with the most highly documented sites being, without doubt, the Western Wall and the walls that ring the Old City.

Nevertheless, the locations where record covers have been photographed have not become shrines that draw crowds of visitors, unlike the crosswalk opposite the EMI studios on Abbey Road, for example (note the humorous send-up offered by Isolirband in homage to the Beatles’ 1969 record cover). Did the choice of locations stem from a desire to show the artist in his “working environment”? Or were they based on considerations of the film crew’s convenience? It’s hard to know.

Inspired by the album-cover project published earlier this month in The Guardian and in honor of International Record Store Day, which was marked last weekend, we headed out to the streets – actually, to Google Street View – and located the spots where the covers of several iconic albums of the Israeli music scene were shot:

The writer is a music editor at Israel Radio, a vinyl collector and a student of Hebrew song. His forthcoming book is “At 45 RPM: The History of the Israeli Single.”

Eran Litvin
Arik Einstein and Yoni Rechter, “Once I Was a Child,” 1989. Plonit Alley, in central Tel Aviv (photography: Oded Klein). “Once I Was a Child” was the late Arik Einstein’s 27th studio album, which was released as a joint project with Yoni Rechter in 1989. The album includes 12 children’s songs written by various poets and songwriters, including Tirtza Atar, Yehonatan Geffen and Chaya Shenhav. Although the songs are ostensibly for children, over the years some have become standouts in the history of Israeli music in general, including “Mr. Shoko,” “Saturday Morning” and “A Lady with Baskets.”
Robert Josef Bahr. “Les Plus Celebres Chants D’Israel,” 1974. Western Wall plaza (photography: Gamma). In 1974, Robert Josef Bahr recorded an album whose title translates as “Favorite Songs of the Land of Israel.” The record includes a repertoire that runs from folk dances to the popular songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Benzin, “Twenty Four Hours,” 1982; Moses Bridge over the Ayalon highway (photography: Michal Heiman). Back in the 1980s, the summit of local music was dominated by two bands: the pop-and-electronic T-Slam, and the rock-and-guitars Benzin. “Twenty Four Hours” was the debut album of the latter, and included the colossal hits “Friday,” “Free is Entirely Alone” and “Rain.” It earned Benzin the accolade of “band of the year” in 1984 from two local radio stations.
Ariel Zilber and the Brosh Band, 1978. 6 Hei B’Iyar Street, Kikar Hamedina (photography: Yossi Orbach). This record by Ariel Zilber (a rock singer and musician who became religiously observant and is still performing) with the Brosh Band, contains numerous hits, including “Give Me Strength,” “Funny Israelis,” “Sun Sun” and others. The album was recorded at three studios: Kolinor, Koliphone and Triton.
Shem Tov Levy, “Awakening,” 1981. Café Tamar on Sheinkin Street (album photography: Gerard Alon). The Arik Einstein generation hung out at Café Kassit, but the succeeding generation mainly converged on Café Tamar on Sheinkin. This cover, of Shem Tov Levy’s second solo record, is a reminder of the faraway days when coffee houses were a place of encounter for shared creative endeavor.
Yossi Banai, “Drunk But Not on Wine,” 1983. Banks of the Yarkon River (photography: Gerard Alon). The record’s title track became a huge hit for actor, singer and director Banai (who died in 2006). Singer-songwriter Matti Caspi was responsible for the musical arrangement, and somewhat interestingly, the Elite chocolate and coffee manufacturer provided financial support for the album’s release, under the slogan of “Elite factories on behalf of culture in Israel.”
Isolirband, “Old and Also Snore,” 1982. Reines Street (photography: Oded Klein). “Old and Also Snore” was the sole album by Isolirband, an attempt to create a silly ‘80s-style album (the title is a parody of the Arik Einstein album, “Old and Also New”). Children of the period well remember bassist Ami Frenkel – the man and the mustache.