Bauhaus' original Bela Lugosi's Dead cover

Bauhaus' original Bela Lugosi's Dead cover

  • by Jeff Jank
  • November 28, 2018

The original record cover for Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi's Dead is the rare type of sleeve that has been reproduced endlessly, mostly on t-shirts, to the point where it represents more than the band and its record, but a whole subculture.

Everyone who has ever designed an album cover or a band logo hopes to create something memorable that might take on a life of its own, but this actually happens less often than hit songs happen. The Bela cover, along with graphics like The Ramones' seal by Arturo Vega, the radio waves on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures by Peter Saville, Hieroglyphics' 3rd-eye by Del the Funky Homosapien, and Black Flag’s 4 bars by Raymond Pettibon, just to name a few, all came from groups with music that struck a deep chord with fans, but who never had much in the way of top 10 hits or major advertising dollars. The fans took up the cause, and spreading the culture on their own. (Even Peter Cetera.)

The image on the Bela sleeve originates from the 1926 silent movie The Sorrows of Satan. Bauhaus borrowed from images of early 20th century (starting with their band name) in the same way The Misfits borrowed their imagery from 50s American horror films, or MF DOOM borrowed from 60s Marvel comics. Just take it. Why not?

The 12-inch single was released in 1979 on Small Wonder Records, a label run by Pete and Mari Stennettout of a record shop of the same name at 162 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London. The sleeve doesn't have a track list, and no logos or barcode – things we're told we can't live without today.

The band designed it themselves. As Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins remembers it, “the ideas for the images and fonts were predominately David J’s.” The back cover has an image from another silent movie, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), with some barely-visible words written on the image. “It looks like they were song titles for ‘Bite My Hip’ and ‘Boys,’” he says. When the band decided not to use “Bite My Hip” on the original 12-inch, they just painted over them. “We probably used Wite-Out.”

As for the handwriting on the cover, all four members of the band took a turn with a pen, one each writing, Bela, Lugosi’s, Dead, and the long dash –––.

So that’s how a classic album cover is done: a xerox from a movie still, a pen, some imagination, and maybe some Wite-Out. Get to work, designers!

Bela Lugosi’s Dead was repressed (with and without authorization) through the 80s in a variety of colors. The Bela Session was released November 2018 on Leaving Records, slightly in advance of the band’s 40th anniversary.

Below: the scene from The Sorrows of Satan, where Satan reveals himself; an original release of Bela Lugosi's Dead; detail showing where “Bite My Hip” was written; Vincent Forrest's Bela collection.