A jag doesn’t go away until it comes out through the fingertips. And so we continue …
The “Stairway to Heaven” yearbook I linked to the other day will probably always be the standard-bearer for Seventies high school yearbook covers. It’s just so thoroughly of its time.
But as I continue to browse the online collection at archive.org, I find so many more that deserve to be brought out and recognized.
Sure, if you search the archive for “yearbook,” you’ll find lots of obvious cover photos of changing leaves, seagulls and sunsets. (Or are they sunrises? We discussed that the other day.)
But you’ll also find plenty of schools willing to stretch the boundaries of imagination — sometimes good taste, too — to do something new and catch the spirit of the time and place.
And that’s really what it’s about, no? A yearbook isn’t supposed to be timeless; it’s supposed to be carved out of a moment, or a collection of them, and it’s supposed to take you there when you look at it.
Anyway, here are 10 classic Seventies high school yearbook covers you need to see, because they’ll take you there. Or they’ll take you someplace interesting, anyway.
I put numbers on ’em, but I wouldn’t really argue that No. 2 is better than No. 9. It’s all good:
10. Belmont High School “Reflections,” Belmont, Mass., 1973.
You’ll find all sorts of freaky-deaky photo effects on Seventies yearbook covers. Fisheye lenses. Redscale film. Photos that have been given that posterized treatment — I think that’s what it’s called — when an image is boiled down to only two or three colors, producing a garish outline that hints at the real thing.
Choosing a “best” in this category is highly subjective. But if you know the kind of photo treatments I’m thinking of, I think you’ll agree the ’73 Belmont Reflections cover is a fine example. It waves the flag of the genre high and proud.
(“High” perhaps being the operative word. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
9. Minnechaug Regional High School “Falcon,” Wilbraham, Mass., 1977.
If you are of a certain age — too young to have received any of these yearbooks, certainly — you may remember the opening credits of The Electric Company. You’d see a clip of a character on the show doing something; then the actor who played that character would saunter into view and wave, or grimace, or curtsy, or something.
(Ringing no bells? Here you go:)
Anyway, I’m having a hard time putting a finger on why I like the Minnechaug High ’77 yearbook cover.
But I think it’s because the concept — separating the moments from the people behind them — subconsciously reminds me of these opening credits.
(Minnechaug also gets mention for its 1975 yearbook, which looks like Poor Richard laid it out, and its 1978 annual, which looks like Pedro Bell, of Funkadelic fame, laid it out.)
8. Johnston High School “Johnston High Fever,” Johnston, Iowa, 1979.
Remember when I was waxing eloquent about how the “Stairway to Heaven” yearbook cover was the quintessential expression of its time and place?
Yeah, I mighta just been talking out the side of my neck on that.
7. Bishop Fenwick High School “Lance,” Peabody, Mass., 1975.
Somebody’s grandma did this one, and don’t tell me otherwise.
(If you’re wondering why there are so many Massachusetts high schools in this post, it’s not because of my love for the Bay State; it’s just because Massachusetts is overrepresented in the archive.org collection. A year from now, perhaps fresh goodness from elsewhere will have been added.)
6. Highland High School “Shield,” Highland, Indiana, 1974.
There’s really nothing identifiably Seventies about this shot. I just think it’s colorful and charming and whimsical and kicky and fresh.
Who would expect to see an old-fashioned gumball machine on a yearbook cover? And who could be crabby enough not to smile at the sight of it?
5. (tie) Port Huron High “Student,” Port Huron, Mich., 1976; and Longmeadow High School “Masacksic,” Longmeadow, Mass., 1976.
As you can imagine, all kinds of schools went in on the Bicentennial for yearbook inspiration.
If you like Bicentennial designs — and, really, who doesn’t? — you could easily build a top 10 list just from those. I’ve chosen to bundle two together and count them as one.
Port Huron gets the nod for patriotic simplicity. Conversely, Longmeadow gets points for using distinctive art and not using the obvious red, white and blue.
A Bicentennial special mention goes to Fermi High School of Enfield, Conn. Their art wasn’t great, but the cover incorporates “76” in an unexpected way.
4. (tie) Warren Central High School “Wigwam,” Indianapolis, Ind., 1973; and Southeastern Regional Technical Vocational High School “Invictus,” South Easton, Mass., 1973.
Blue jeans were a great Seventies look (just ask David Dundas) and several covers in the archive.org collection feature denim-themed riffs.
The Warren Central Wigwam shot brings to mind the kind of homespun, faded, super-patched jeans worn by Neil Young on the After the Gold Rush cover, while the much cleaner look of the Southeastern Invictus cover almost anticipates the coming trend for designer denim.
Wonder if anybody at Southeastern even realized they were putting a big closeup of an arse on their yearbook cover until it was too late?
3. Turners Falls High School “Peske-Tuk,” Montague, Mass., 1978.
The Seventies may have been a time of wild excess, but a fortunate few still found genius in simplicity.
I love the typeface these western Massachusetts kids used for “1978.” And the exclamation point is perfect. Without belaboring the point (like the kids at Liberty High in Brentwood, Calif., did), it says: “Now, wasn’t that one hell of a year we just finished? And aren’t you glad to be in this moment?”
(White yearbook covers probably don’t wear well, but we’ll not get bogged down in practical concerns like that.)
Edit: After looking at this one for the tenth time, I discerned the outline of the words “HERE COMES” above the big blue “1978!” This kinda deflates, or at least redirects, my interpretation above … and I kinda liked it better when all I could see was the year. But I’m just gonna leave the post the way I wrote it.
2. Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, Va., 1977.
Veering wildly one last time into fantasyland, we have … this design, which looks like an album cover Nektar rejected.
It’s so audacious that it’s won me over. It bears no connection or relevance at all to the day-to-day lives and dreams of teenagers, but whoever designed and approved it seems to have been fine with that. And I guess I am too.
1. Sutton High School “Exitus,” Sutton, Mass., 1973.
What this one lacks in art it makes up for in pure high-school attitude. (Although the “handwritten” typeface is a nice artistic touch. Makes it look like a teenage girl’s journal or something. Starkly personal.)
In high school, you don’t realize that everyone has your problems, and that none of them really matter. Your passage through the grades, trials and tribulations seems like an epic journey to you.
And when the door slams behind you, you perceive it as the end of an era … because you don’t have the perspective to know it’s just one step along the way.
To be fair: When you open the ’73 Exitus and read a little bit, the “end of an era” mentioned on the cover turns out to be the end of six years of double sessions at Sutton High. The kids who came up with this cover phrase didn’t (entirely) do it because they were in love with their own personal journey-myth; they were referring to real-life events.
But my purpose does not require me to consider context. I’m just looking at covers. And this one, absent context, delivers loads of that sort of unique, endearing self-importance that comes as part of the high school experience.
Really, every one of these covers marks the end of an era for a certain collection of people.
Even the cover with the arse on it.
A few more honorable mentions I couldn’t find room for:
- Brockton High School, Brockton, Mass., 1972. Is “brutalist” the word?
- Marshfield High School, Marshfield, Mass., 1976. No Bicentennial action … just a close-cropped black-and-white shot of a little house straight out of a gothic novel. A little unsettling. What’s going on here?
- Annie Wright School, Tacoma, Wash., 1973. More gothic. The cover shot looks like the ghostly image of the school’s founder, who occasionally appears to girls who fall asleep in study carrels and get stuck in the library overnight.