Iconic Album Covers
Sometimes, an artist or collection of artists creates an album cover that simply blows our mind. We take one look at it and the image is ingrained in our minds forever. Have you ever had this happen to you?
Of course, there have been some pretty awful album covers as well. Check out The Cult of Ray by Frank Black. It looks like it has been created using Microsoft Paint, as does The Charlatans’ Some Friendly record. Or, what about I Get Wet by Andrew W.K. – this is memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Who wants to see a vile nosebleed on an album cover?
But rather than focusing on those who have gotten it so wrong, let’s take a look at those artists that have gotten it so right! Read on to discover more about the most iconic album covers.
Teenage Dream Album Cover, Katy Perry (2010)
We’re going to begin with one of today’s top pop princesses, and this is, of course, Katy Perry. Katy Perry is known for her vibrant stage sets and her fun videos, and her Teenage Dream album certainly did not disappoint. Katy is one person who always pushes the envelope using her own image, and there is no better representation of this then when she created her own pin-up artwork with Will Cotton, a Los Angeles-based artist, for the Teenage Dreams album cover. Cotton and Perry have worked well together. He also directed her video for California Gurls. Many would agree that this was the video that established the singer’s signature trademark of tongue-in-cheek sex appeal. She has never looked back since.
Amy Winehouse, Back To Black Album Cover (2006)
From one incredible female musician to another; we now move to the amazing voice and beauty of Amy Winehouse. Gone way too soon, the world lost a real talent the day that Amy Winehouse left us. However, her music lives on, and Back To Black is an album that is still widely played all over the world today. Amy Winehouse was an artist whose personal image was married to her music. This album was her introduction to America and the global stage. She managed to show the world a real glimpse of the true Amy on the Back To Black album cover, and she did it with a simple photograph of herself sitting on a wooden stool. Her signature rockabilly makeup, sleeve tattoos and big cascading hair were, of course, on display. She sat on the chair with her hands tucked between her legs, and a blackboard-esque background. The image is a powerful one yet has a hint of vulnerability. It’s definitely one of the most iconic album covers of our time.
The Strokes: Is This It Album Cover (2001)
Moving a bit further back in time, and to a completely different album cover, we have the Is This It album cover. The Strokes were deemed the leaders of the great-rock-revival. For this album cover, you could not get a more stark representation of the sex sells model. S&M inspired, the evocative cover features a mix of Spinal Tap’s Smell The Glove and Helmut Newton fashion photography. Colin Lane photographed the shot, using his girlfriend as the model, as well as a leftover prop. It is a simple concept yet a very stark and striking one. However, there was just one problem; stores would not sell it! So, the cover had to be changed. In the end, The Strokes went for a close-up image of a bubble chamber filled with subatomic particle tracks.
Blink-182: Enema Of The State Album Cover (1999)
There is no denying that this is one of the most memorable album covers ever. It is instantly recognisable. When you think about Blink 182, you think of the Enema Of The State album cover. The album feature Janine Lindemulder, an exotic dancer and adult actress, dressed as a nurse. This cover was appealing to the prepubescent male fanbase that Blink 182 had developed, and boy did it cater to them well. Originally, the American Red Cross logo was featured on the album cover. However, they weren’t too pleased about this and demanded that the logo was removed from the cover, deeming it violated the Geneva Convention. They got their wish. However, it would not be the last that we would see of Janine Lindemulder. She reprised her role in the What’s My Age Again video.
The Roots: Things Fall Apart Album Cover (1999)
Blink 182 were not the only band to release an iconic album cover in 1999, as The Roots came with their own memorable artwork, albeit it, it was very, very different to the cover that we just discussed. The Things Fall Apart album cover was more of a political statement. At the time of this album being released, the band were very much an underground act, however, this album changed all of that. Their breakthrough album featured a number of provocative covers. They released five limited edition album artworks, all of which had different famous photographs that were designed to showcase society’s failures. The most famous of the five were two females being chased by police during the riots in Brooklyn’s Bed-Study neighbourhood in the 1960s. The other covers included a baby crying amidst the rubble in Shanghai after the Second World War, a burning church, a murdered mafia boss, and famine from the 90s in Somalia. In the past, the band’s album covers had simply depicted them. This album represented a massive step toward social activism in both their imagery and their music.
Beck: Odelay Album Cover (1996)
Next, we have the Odelay album cover, which Beck blessed us with back in 1996. There are some album covers that are designed to convey deeper musical themes, and, there are some that are designed to pull at our heartstrings and make us think about issues bigger than music. However, there are then those that are simply funny and represent a random period in time. This is certainly the case with the Odelay album cover. This cover came about when Beck was shown an image of a Komondor. This is a type of Hungarian herding dog. The dog is very rare, and Beck could not stop laughing at a photo of it. He described the dug as a bunch of Udon noodles that were flying and trying to leap over a hurdle. With only one day left to decide on his album cover, Beck decided that this photo had to be it.
The Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness Album Cover (1995)
Next, we have the Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness album cover, which can be recognised right away. This album cover has a Victorian-esque vibe. It features a female in a look of ecstasy or a perpetual eye-roll that she has held onto for more than two decades. It is designed to summarise the aimlessness youth, which was what Corgan was preaching. The 28-track album and the fanciful imagery go perfectly well together, as the cover matches the grand ambitions of the album. The image was created by illustrator John Craig who used a number of faxed and crude sketches. He then used a female’s face from a painting from the 18th-century by Jean=Baptiste Greuze, with the body from Saint Catherine of Alexandria’s Raphael painting, and finally a celestial background from an old children’s encyclopaedia.
Weezer: Weezer Album Cover (aka ‘Blue Album’) (1994)
Next, we have an album cover that is very simple and in stark contrast to the album cover that was discussed previously. However, the Weezer album cover is just as memorable and effective too. This album cover was a prediction of the normcore movement, which makes it even more impressive in the end. Geffen A&R man Todd Sullivan said that the aesthetic behind this cover was purposely more 60s Sears family photo vibe.
Green Day: Dookie Album Cover (1994)
Earlier, we spoke about Blink 182 and their iconic album cover. However, before they released their Enema Of The State album, Green Day set the bar with their Dookie album cover. The fact that this was an illustrated album cover was not really anything of note. Such albums had been around for decades. However, the comic book style world that was created by Richie Bucher for this album reflected the punk scene from the Bay Area where the band had been created. It was part Where’s Waldo? And part Mad Magazine-style fol-din for the alternative scene in the 1990s. It is a real Who’s Who of Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, with everyone from the University of California Marching Band and Patti Smith to Alex Chilton of Big Star and Angus Young of AC/DC. Very clever indeed!
A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory Album Cover (1991)
Logos have been all over the rock music scene, which arguably makes this album even more impressive because A Tribe Called Quest were a rap collective from Queens, and they were able to create one of the most recognisable music symbols of all time. Their album cover was inspired by the provocative covers of old Ohio Players’ albums. The Low End Theory album cover displayed a naked model covered in DayGlo body paints. It is one that is Afrocentric and alluring at the same time. The funky imagery and bold colours lended itself perfectly to the creative vision of the brand on their breakout album. This was not the end of the painted lady either. She would go onto inspire their Stankonia album art, as well as appearing on subsequent releases from the band.
Nirvana: Nevermind Album Cover (1991)
It does not matter whether you are a fan of Nirvana or not, you cannot deny that the Nevermind album cover has stayed in your mind since the first time you ever saw it. It is not only one of the most recognisable images associated with Nirvana, it is one of the most memorable pieces of artwork in the music industry as a whole. The cover, although you probably don’t need us to tell you, featured a naked baby reaching for a dollar. Needless to say, it caused a lot of controversy! A lot of people thought that the album was a representation of an innocent group reaching for the great USD. However, the art director at Geffen Records, Robert Fisher, stated that the album cover came about because Kurt Cobain had a fascination with a documentary on underwater birth. The label pushed for a cover that did not have a baby’s anatomy on it. Cobain said that they should cover that part of the album with a sticker reading that if anyone was offended by this, they are a secret paedophile. Every five years or so, Spencer Elden, the original model, who was four-months-old at the time, recreates the cover. An endless number of satires have also been inspired by the cover.
NWA: Straight Outta Compton Album Cover (1988)
Next, we have the Straight Outta Compton album cover. This album defined the emerging genre of gangsta rap, and the artwork for the album has gone down in history. Eric Poppleton, who photographed the image, said the impact of it came down to the fact that when you pick up the album, you are looking at it from the perspective of someone who is just about to be shot. That sort of thing is not even printed in the newspapers. The photographer said the gun was very much real, although he does not know if it was loaded.
The Smiths: Meat Is Murder Album Cover (1985)
Next, we have the Meat Is Murder album cover from The Smiths. The Smiths have always been pretty good at creating an image that catches eyes. If you take their album covers together, you are going to end up with a collection of black-and-white images that tell the stories of different periods in history. For the Meat Is Murder album cover, Morrissey, who is devoutly vegan, aimed to draw a parallel between warfare and eating. He choose a controversial image of a soldier from the Vietnam war, who had the album title emblazoned along his helmet. The man in the photo was Marine Corporal Michael Wynn, who was 20-years-old at the time the photo was taken. He had actually written the countercultural catchphrase ‘make war not love’ on his helmet. However, The Smiths turned this into ‘Meat Is Murder’ for their album of the same name.
Grace Jones: Island Life Album Cover (1985)
Grace Jones is a woman who has a career that is littered with iconic photoshoots. As a songwriter, actress, and model, there are many images of her across album covers, magazine spreads, and much more. However, there is no denying that the Island Life album cover features the most iconic photo of Grace Jones. The photo was created by Jean-Paul Goode, a photographer and designer who Jones was dating at the time. The posture that Jones is fashioning in the album seems implausible. It’s elegant, striking, and powerful; everything that Grace Jones is about.
Bruce Springsteen: Born In The USA Album Cover (1984)
What about the Born In The USA album cover from Bruce Springsteen? This was inspired by the title track of the album. Springsteen is wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and is holding a red cap. He is standing in front of a backdrop of The Stars and Stripes. The result is an everyman photo of an American for the ultimate American everyman. The image was captured by Annie Leibovitz, a Rolling Stone photographer.
Prince: Purple Rain Album Cover (1984)
Now we move onto another legend of the music industry who left us too soon. Prince was known for his distinctive image, and this is something that he carried with him into his artwork. You can definitely see this in the Purple Rain album cover. It featured an image of Prince ready to disappear into the night, and it is something that we can very much link to the enigmatic presence of the superstar. However, it’s not just about the overall feel of the album. There are a lot of clever little touches too. For example, if you look very closely at the bike in the image, you will see that there is the symbol of androgyny. This is something that would later find echoes in the Love Symbol that Prince changed his name to.
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours Album Cover (1977)
The Rumours album cover is another that is one-of-a-kind. If you take a quick glance at the album cover, you will think that it is a simple cover. It looks like Mick Fleetwood, the band’s drummer, is simply working up some theatrics with Stevie Nicks. However, when you take another look at the album cover, you see the manhood dangling proudly and unapologetically from his legs. You may think that this is a spur of the moment sort of thing or nothing short of a schoolboy prank. You would be wrong. Mick pulled toilet chains from a cistern, which is what the balls are. He placed the toilet chains in between his legs before he went out and performed during one the band’s earlier gigs. They then went onto be a part of future live performances.
Led Zeppelin: Houses Of The Holy Album Cover (1973)
Released back in 1973, the Houses Of The Holy album cover is another one that shocked and amazed in equal measure. The artwork was inspired by Childhood’s End. This was a sci-fi novel from the 1930s, which was written by author Arthur C Clarke. The album is an image relating to the end of the novel. Several photos of two children scaling Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway were pieced together to create the cover. The photos were taken over a ten-day period. The eerie colouring of the artwork may seem intentional. However, it was an accident effect, which resulted in the photo having an otherworldly feel. Nevertheless, as seems to be a theme here, some stores would not sell the album because they deemed the images of naked children to be too controversial.
David Bowie: Aladdin San Album Cover (1973)
Just like the Nirvana cover, the Aladdin San album cover may be one that you were definitely expecting to see on this list. The portrait that was created by Brian Duffy has come to be the image that is most linked With David Bowie. The Aladdin Sane persona is an extension of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie felt he had become a cracked actor since he had risen to fame, and the lightning bolt in the image is a representation of this. The photo also has a very earthy feel, and this was also intentional, as Bowie exuded otherworldly powers during this point in his career. Brian Duffy took the photo in Primrose Hill, London, at his studio. Duffy added the teardrop on Bowie’s clavicle as an afterthought. It was the perfect finishing touch, making Bowie seem tender yet mysterious at the same time.
Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon Album Cover (1973)
From one of the most iconic album covers of all time to another; we now have The Dark Side Of The Moon album cover. The concept of this album cover was created by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson, the main men at Hipgnosis, which is one of the most famous and iconic design teams of all time. George Hardie, their colleague, executed the design to perfection. It features a prism that refracts light into six of the seven colours of the spectrum. There is one colour missing, which is indigo. The triumvirate of the spectrum, prism, and light beam stood for three aspects of the band and the music they created. These three aspects were lyrics from the Dark Side of the Moon, ambitious stage lighting, and the request from the keyboardist, Richard Wright, that the design team came up with something that was bold but simple. I think it is fair to say that they more than fulfilled this brief.
Roxy Music: Roxy Music Album Cover (1972)
During the 1970s, there is no denying that the vast majority of the most successful and memorable album covers were created by designers like Roger Dean or the iconic design team that has just been mentioned; Hipgnosis. High-concept artwork was very much the in-thing at this moment of time. So, the Roxy Music album cover was very much different to everything else that was going on at the time. It features glamorous imagery, which was startlingly simple from all of the other album covers of the time. It was more like a 1950’s fashion shoot, rather than an album cover. All of the models used had their own intriguing back story too. It is a simple cover but one that is very effective.
Frank Zappa/The Mothers Of Invention: Weasels Ripped My Flesh Album Cover (1970)
The Weasels Ripped My Flesh album cover portrays everything that the title of the album is about. With a number such as The Mothers Of Invention, would you expect anything else? Illustrator Neon Park created artwork for virtually every Little Feat album. He has a distinctive style that you could instantly recognise. This was put to best effect on the Mothers Of Invention Material recorded over the two year period from 1967. Zappa came up with the concept for this album cover, though. He was looking through an adventure magazine called Man’s Life. It was the September 1956 edition. The cover featured a man being attacked by weasels. After seeing this, Zappa challenged Parks to make something worse than this. He took the caption ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’ and he used this for the name of the title. This is how we ended up with an album cover that looks like a horrific spoof advert for electric razors.
The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico Album Cover (1967)
Next, we have the album cover that was designed by none other than Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground & Nico album cover has to be one of the most memorable debut album covers you will ever come across. It is one of the most famous covers in the US. The Peel Slowly and See banana peel is actually a sticker that revealed the phallic fruit underneath it. This was a wry move from Warhol; something we had come to expect from him. Nevertheless, the joke was on any person that took the sticker off. Fully intact copies of the debut album from The Velvet Underground & Nico are now deemed rarities and so they are hugely collectable and you can fetch in a high sum if you still have one.
The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Cover (1967)
From one of the most famous album covers from the US to one of the most iconic in the UK; we have the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. At the time, this was the most expensive album cover to be created. While there may have been more expensive album covers since this one, there is no denying that the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover is still deemed a pop art masterpiece. It has gone onto inspire a number of other pieces of artwork, including The Yellow Album from The Simpsons and We’re Only In It For The Money by Frank Zappa. The album cover featured 58 different people that were staged by Peter Blake, a British artist, and Jann Haworth, who was his wife at the time. The 58 people featured on the cover were chosen by Peter Blake, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jann Haworth, and Robert Fraser, who was an art dealer from London. The result was an interesting and incredible cross-section of cultures, importance, and the individual interests of each of the Beatles.
Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley Album Cover (1956)
The final album cover on the list is the Elvis Presley from 1956. The album cover features an image of the man himself with two words ‘Elvis’ and ‘Presley.’ That is all the cover needed to say! His first name is in red block letters while his second name is in the same font yet in a green colour. The photograph is the star of the show, though. It features a photo of Elvis while in mid-performance in Tampa, Florida, at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory back in July of 1955. This is a young man who was ready to take over the world, and boy did he do it! However, what is so great about this cover is the fact that you can still feel his primary rock’n’roll energy. The cover had such an impact that The Clash decided to steal the idea for their own album cover for London Calling.
So there you have it: some of the most iconic album covers of all time. Which is your favourite album cover from all of those that have been mentioned above? Are you a fan of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream album? Or, do you prefer the iconic snap of Grace Jones’ on her Island Life album cover? Perhaps you are a fan of one of the more controversial album covers, such as the famous Nevermind album cover from Nirvana? There is no denying that there are some pretty incredible album covers from the list above!
It will be interesting to see if there are any stars over the next few years that can create album covers that will rival the covers that have been discussed in this blog post. Will it be a pop princess like Ariana Grande? Or, will the next big album come from the world of rap? We can always count on the rock industry to throw in some surprises too!