Gary Norman painted just one album cover during his long career as a maker of commercial art and creator of toy prototypes. That album landed in four million homes in just its first month of release, in August 1978, on its way to becoming one of the most beloved, best-selling and debated records of classic rock's defining decade.
And until April 2021, Norman had no idea just how popular Boston's Don't Look Back really was. He says he never knew it reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a feat not even achieved by Boston's self-titled 1976 debut, which featured the immortal "More Than a Feeling." Or that its title track, powered by a guitar riff still catchy like a cold, was a Top 5 pop hit. Or that Don't Look Back was among the very first CDs released upon the format's debut in the early 1980s.
"I'm not really a music historian," Norman said after listening to that brief highlight reel of Boston's second record. "But wow. The things you find out."
He played a small part in that history: Norman's name appears in Don't Look Back's credits, as its cover artist. As with everything Boston, the concept came from songwriter, guitarist and technician Tom Scholz, who made one guitar sound like an army of them and could spend years making a few minutes' worth of music. But it was Norman who finally and successfully piloted that upside-down guitar spaceship, which bears the band's iconic logo, over a valley of crystals beneath a deep-blue sky.
Boys not yet men hung that poster on their bedroom walls and wore it across their chests like some superhero's emblem. In the summer of '78, as Brad Delp yelped those lyrics that smelled like teen spirit, Norman's work was everywhere especially on the Sunset Strip, blown up on a billboard that hovered over Hollywood.
"Thrilled me to death," he says of that moment. Norman has some pictures of him standing in front of that epic ad.
He has the original Don't Look Back artwork, too, though not for much longer: Heritage Auctions is thrilled to offer Norman's acrylic-and-airbrushed Don't Look Back original in the Dallas-based house's April 30 Illustration Art Signature Auction. Estimated to sell for upwards of $7,000, bidding already has surpassed the $12,000 mark
though, given its place in the pantheon, it's likely to go much, much higher during the home stretch.
Norman says now he only got the gig when the original artist fell ill; his rep knew a guy who knew a guy. He also never expected Epic Records to return the painting once he turned it in to Boston's label, which infamously rushed Scholz to finish the band's second record (hence its abbreviated runtime). He always intended to display it somewhere in his home. But, he just never got around to it.
"I've had that artwork in my extra bedroom for almost 40 years, and, really, what good is it doing sitting in the bedroom?" Norman says. "I never even had it framed. Funny thing is, I bought two of the albums and had them framed. But the original was sitting here, covered, and I am sure there are a lot of people still interested in it, even though it's 40 years later. I just thought I should share it now, while there are still fans."
He is told: There will always be Boston fans.
"Well, I should hope so."