From the advent of the first album cover in 1938 to present-day, album covers have become an inseparable part of music. They are practically an art form. Even though we have long but moved from the cardboard cover that protected the Vinyl or LP, album covers have only flourished with the coming of Digital Age.
Designing albums has become an easier task, with more possibilities than ever before. But let’s step back and look at some of the album covers in history that helped shaped the music industry to what it is now.
Artist: The Beatles
It’s 1965, the psychedelic era has just kicked in and all kinds of bands with psychedelic influences (The Who, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd) are entering mainstream music. The album cover, with it’s distorted dimensions, font style and even the name “rubber soul”, told the public that The Beatles are not going to be left behind on the fun.
The freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Artist: Bob Dylan
An album cover can be anything an artist wants it to be, and the easy going approach by Bob Dylan tells us that “Yeah I have a girlfriend, and yeah she is in my new album cover, so what?” Nonetheless, the album was an instant success, and not surprisingly, many young men used Bob Dylan’s approach to create their own tributes to this album.
Artist: Black Sabbath
First album of one of the earliest metal bands in history. This album cover is a photo of the industrial and derelict side of the Oxfordshire, where the band had lived most of their lives. The cover has a rather bizarre look to it, to say the least, and it’s no wonder, metal music, from it’s genesis received a reputation of being occult, or even satanic.
Artist: Carole King
An album cover can’t get any more basic than this, and yet, this album was owned by every single adult in the 1970s. The album remained on the billboards for 6 years, and received many awards. How it reached success was because the music, like the album art, was so raw and imperfect, and lacking in any special effects (think auto tune), every single person could relate.
Artist: Taylor Swift
Released in October 2014, the album signifies Taylor Swift’s departure from country music, to pop music. The change also passed onto the album cover, which was a Polaroid photo of her in an 80’s sweatshirt, giving a vibe of times long past. The album cover and the brilliant singles caught the attention of millions, resulting in thousands of replicas of the album cover.
Artist: David Bowie
After the massive success of his 5th album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie did a celebratory makeover. He dyed his hair red, sheared off his eyebrows, and painted his face to flaunt his new stardom.
When looked at in chronological order, album covers provide an interesting timeline of the artist’s musical career. David Bowie is no different in that aspect.
Artist: Elvis Presley
An iconic photo of a legend, Elvis Presley is deemed as one of the first rockstars, and the photo taken for his first album in 1955, is worthy of such a star.
Artist: Fleetwood Mac
A fabulous shot of Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks against a white background, this album was subject to great praise by critics.
It’s a beautiful approach to an album cover, and it’s super easy to get. Cut out your photo, paste it against a white background, and voila – you have an amazing work of art!
This Album cover is immortalized in the minds of those who popped this into their stereos in the 1980s.
Room for Squares
Artist: John Mayer
The cover for John Mayer’s debut album definitely caught our attention. It was released in 2001, and we love the concept behind it. Taking the literal meaning of the album, and then translating flawlessly into the cover is something few can flaunt.
Artist: Judas Priest
British Steel was Judas Priest’s 6th album, and to someone new to the band, this album cover can make a strong impression. The shining steel, the razor edge, the leather bracelet all tell you about the heavy metal scene that was very prevalent in the day. It’s a memorable album cover for many.
Under the Iron Sea
Despite the majestic album cover, the 2nd album by the English rock band, Keane described the album as a “sinister fairytale world gone wrong”.
The album cover was designed by Sanna Annukka.
Destroyer was the 4th album by the American Rock band, Kiss, well known for their face paint, and strange stage outfits. The original cover photo designed by Ken Kelly was rejected by the record company as being too violent, so a toned down version, which lacked skulls and flames was created (shown above).
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Lead Zeppelin’s debut album is the photo of the LZ 129 Hindenberg airship at the moment it caught fire, redrawn using a Radiograph technical pen.
The name for the band was not decided by this photo, but in fact during a discussion between band members of The Who, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
And Justice for All
Back in 1988, Metallica was one of the few metal bands that talked about socio-political issues in their tracks. The art features a blindfolded Statue of Liberty, bound by ropes and what seems to be in the process of being toppled down. The falling dollar bills also symbolize the presence of corruption in society.
Artist: Miles Davis
Miles Davis, an American Jazz performer, was known for his sudden transition from Jazz clubs to playing with rock bands, and introducing the term “Jazz Fusion”. His album cover for Tutu features him behind all the music, simple and human.
Queen is well known for their instant hit, and still widely listened to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as is this album cover. It became the face of Queen’s music and over the years, thousands of people have created their own tributes (or parodies) of this cover.
Rage against the Machine
Artist: Rage against the Machine
The album cover features the self-immolation of a buddhist monk, in protest to the then-president of Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm. The photo was a perfect fit for the band that talked about all kinds of socio-political problems in American Society with big tracks like “Wake up”.
The only typographic album cover in our list, the album cover forces the viewer to look at the red “Riot!” at first glance, only to realize the word is present everywhere else.
The typeface also fits the young tween theme, which the band incorporates in their music style pretty nicely.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Artist: The Beatles
Widely acclaimed as one of the best albums, as well as album covers, in music history, the whole scenery is eye candy.The more you look, the more you discover in this majesty of an album cover.
You can see faces of personalities Karl Marx, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. The Beatles can also be seen in colorful clothing right in the middle, and right beside them are their wax doubles. Truly a masterpiece!
One of the trippiest and yet simply-designed album covers we’ve seen. This is in a league of it’s own. If you look at the album cover from afar, you can see the print visible.
Artist: The Clash
Featuring an intense loss of control by the band’s bassist, this album was big enough to make it onto Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest albums of all time list. Photo by Pennie Smith.
Note: We don’t recommend smashing your musical instruments for an unforgettable album cover art.
Dark Side of the Moon
Artist: Pink Floyd
For an album cover so simplistic, that even the band name is absent, this album cover became the biggest thing in the music industry. Everyone recognizes Dark Side of the Moon and Pink Floyd from the cover despite having no obvious indication. The album remained in the billboards for a staggering 14 years after it’s release.
The album cover was designed by Alex Grey, who also worked on previous Tool album artwork, while in the influence of a brew called Ayahuasca. It’s an otherworldly piece of art, and yet beautiful.
Instead of putting up imagery of war itself, U2 placed the image of a boy with a piercing glare, to remind us of the human aspect of war, which tends to get ignored.
Artwork created by Roger Dean, the album covers of Yes always are a sight to behold, offering imagery of otherworldly places, strange contraptions and beasts with vivid detail. The album sleeve itself contains a large booklet of similar imagery of another world to behold, if you purchase the original triple album.