With the birth of the digital era of music, came the death of the album cover. Sure they still make ‘em, but they don’t make ‘em like they used to. A good vinyl album sleeve was something to pull out, dust off, roll something on, or stare at while you played the record. Now they’re for a select few who still love them or leave them hanging in a frame on a wall.
John and I recently sat down as we often like to do to discuss music. We’ve been doing this, like most people, for years and years. Until a few years ago these great conversations and debates were lost to the bottom of a beer bottle and buried among dead brain cells. Thank God for technology! Now we can record our thoughts to forever preserve our mad ramblings.
We thought it would be fun to both write down in silence our favorite album covers of all time and then compare notes to see which ones we had both selected in common. What you see here are the results. We dusted off old vinyl, scrubbed through old best albums of each decade books and scoured our digital music collections to help us remember some lost classics. We found 15 albums we had both in common and then were allowed to nominate 5 each that we both really loved. Here they are in no particular order. We will undoubtedly have overlooked some great covers (please leave a comment with some of your favorites!) so we’ll probably be doing a follow-up post with some of your nominations (assuming we get some comments).
R: Pretty much first on both of our lists, iconic, simple yet you could stare at it for hours. The music ain’t half bad either!
J: Legends on parade. Barefoot Paul is dead, but not really…
Buy or Download Abbey Road from Amazon here.
R: I love the energy this evokes, it captures the music perfectly. Probably in my top 5 all time albums as well, not a bad song on it.
J: I love everything about this record cover. I love the title. I love the colors. I love that the bass player is rocking this hard.
Buy or Download London Calling from Amazon here.
R: Quite the opposite of Abbey Road in the sense that I really can’t stare at this one for hours. Mostly out of jealousy.
J: I still have my copy from 1971 with the real zipper. It left a mark on every other record it touched in my library. In fact it came with a mark from being in heavy stacks during shipping. Killer marketing tactic though.
Buy or Download Sticky Fingers from Amazon here.
R: It’s never been confirmed whether this was the same banana Warhol used in the design of the Sticky Fingers album cover.
J: Andy Warhol. I don’t get it and I’m not feeling any more love for the guy after having seen Factory Girl. However, the scenester can really paint huh? Very simplistic and yet captivating.
Buy or Download The Velvet Underground and Nico from Amazon here.
J: Roxy Music. I’m a huge fan. This cover was banned all over the place back in the day. You can still find actual albums with nothing but the plants behind these adventurous women. Bryan Ferry sure had it going on.
Buy or Download Country Life from Amazon here.
R: Zeppelin had a lot of great covers, this one stood out for me above the rest because it’s so simple but works so well.
J: Led Zeppelin III had that wheel that spun inside the jacket. I usually don’t like jackets that have places for potential tears and this cover is no different, but it’s a stellar cover for an unbelievable album. A friend of mine on Facebook said she was walking down St Mark’s Place in NYC when her boyfriend said “there’s the building on the cover of Physical Graffiti.” I found out later The Rolling Stones’ video for the single “Waiting On a Friend” was filmed on the front stairs of that same tenement complex. So very urban.
Buy or Download Physical Graffiti from Amazon here.
R: All three of Peter Gabriel’s self titled album covers were great. Peter Gabriel 2 with the scratching fingers was almost as creepy as this. Is it true Phil Collins played drums on this album? If so my proof would be in the track I’m sharing, No Self Control. I’m glad Gabriel left Genesis, but I wonder what kind of music they would have made together in the 80s. Might have kept Phil in check a little, similar to Lennon keeping McCartney’s evil cheesy song monkey at bay. I heart Peter Gabriel.
J: I’m a Peter Gabriel nut, but I really liked the covers of 2 & 3. There’s never been anyone quite like him. He’s “Big Time.”
Buy or Download Peter Gabriel 3 from Amazon here.
R: Like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd always had great album covers. Animals won over Wish You Were Here because it’s more larger than life. This album was made back when people cared about making a record a complete story or theme. Now for the most part it’s usually a few singles spaced out by fillers.
J: Pink Floyd. There are no more words. The most unique act in Rock and thankfully they have a great catalog you never hear exclusive of Classic Rock radio. This record and its cover still blows me away.
Buy or Download Animals from Amazon here.
R: Simple but great. Really reflects the vibe of Bowie during this period. I think he recorded this album in Germany working with Brian Eno.
J: I could have gone for a number of his covers actually. I loved the covers of other Bowie records like Pin-Ups, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs too. I love that this photo is black & white. It makes it so much cooler. He’s the man. End of story.
Bu or Download Heroes from Amazon here.
R: Stevie Wonder has amazing vision for a blind guy, I don’t mean the vision we take for granted, I mean his Innervision. Amazing creativity and this album art captures it perfectly. I love many of Stevie’s albums but this is my favorite.
J: Stevie Wonder was so locked in at one point I couldn’t believe it. Today his catalog is all watered down with “I Just Called To Say I Love Yous” and I was down on him for beating out all of my favorites when I used to actually watch the Grammys, but I’d say right up until and including “That Girl” I was a big fan. He’s been covered a zillion times, but my favorite is Coolio’s reworking of “Pastime Paradise” from 1976′s Songs in The Key of Life. The end result, “Gangster’s Paradise,” was sublime. I don’t know who did this cover, but Ryan’s right; the title and the artwork are letter perfect.
Buy or Download Innvervisions from Amazon here.
R: I remember when I was a kid watching Devo on MTV and thinking this must be the future of fashion, I bet all people will dress like this in the 90s. I was wrong about that, but so was the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot Center. They were convinced we’d all be wearing silver suits while we video conference with our Grand-kids. There isn’t a bad song on this album, I would highly recommend it.
J: I’m literally a Johnny come lately on Devo. Ryan’s enthusiasm for them had me seeing them a couple of summers back and I could not have had more fun. People still dress up in these costumes when they play live. It’s like going to a Star Trek convention. I love their whole schtick.
Buy or Download Freedom of Choice from Amazon here.
R: There is no album that says so much with a picture than Nevermind. This album defined my early teen years. Then I moved on to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. I wonder where the kid from this album cover is now, and if he’s pissed or not. I think I would probably try to leverage it as much as I could. Eventually your mom is going to show some embarrassing picture like this to a girlfriend someday, might as well get it over with by appearing on one of the greatest albums of all time.
Editor’s Note: I had to look that up, turns out the kid is like 19 now, his name is Spencer Elden. Here’s a great quote from him: “Quite a few people in the world have seen my penis,” he says from his home in Los Angeles. “So that’s kinda cool. I’m just a normal kid living it up and doing the best I can while I’m here.”
J: I don’t even remember listing this one. This is one of those chicken or the egg things for me. Is the cover great because the album was great or do we love the cover because the record was so awesome? We looked at list after list and I suppose the masses can’t all be wrong, but I reserve the right for this cover to be bested. I have a framed poster of it on one of my walls and I’m kind of sick of it to be honest. Doesn’t make me right, just a little confused for the moment.
Buy or Download Nevermind from Amazon here.
R: I have to admit, this cover only works for me because of how unbelievable Joy Division were. If this were a random band I don’t think I would have picked it, but this album cover so perfectly matches this band and this sound. Turns out this is the signal of a star going nova. Joy Division were fantastic, if you are a fan of Interpol, look no further than Joy Division to get the original.
J: This is the wallpaper on my Blackberry. This artwork is fantastic for my money. Dark and foreboding, just like Joy Division.
Buy or Download Unknown Pleasures from Amazon here.
R: Kind of goofy album cover, but I always loved it. This is one of my absolute favorite Dead albums. The Dead had some great album covers, I also love Wake of The Flood, Aoxomoxoa and Blues For Allah.
J: I’ve seen this one listed on some of the worst album covers of all time. I couldn’t disagree more. If tortoises are good enough for DSL they’re good enough for me. I love another half a dozen Grateful Dead album covers too.
Buy or Download Terrapin Station from Amazon here.
R: They edited this famous picture which used to say “Make War Not Love”. Both Morrissey and Marr are vegetarians, so I guess they thought their message was more important in their opinion. Classic album.
J: I’m not much for using the microphone to push ideology, but I’ll let this one slide. I’ll always be a meat eater, but I could use to chill from time to time. To back up my story I had this poster on my wall in Kenmore Square for a couple of years. I wish I had framed it instead. Too many tack holes to salvage. I have a box of old posters in the very same condition that I just can’t seem to part with. Story of my life.
Buy or Download Meat is Murder from Amazon here.
J: This might be my favorite album cover ever. Forget about the legendary music contained within, I love the artwork. Painted by the late Barry Godber who died in 1970 before he could gain any real notoriety, it really captured King Crimson’s essence. It is allegedly the (21st Century) Schizoid Man on the front cover while the inside jacket shows you a smiling (and either stoned or exhausted) Crimson King. The eyes of both paintings really portray the fear and sadness the Godber was shooting for. Iconic.
Buy or Download In The Court of The Crimson King from Amazon here.
J: The irreverence and colors get me every time. I thought the “n” in next should have been capitalized though. That irks me.
Buy or Download Who’s Next from Amazon here.
J: I’m a huge Yes fan. And a huge Roger Dean fan. Relayer, Drama, Tormato…they all had something I liked. It was tough to pick one. My favorite Yes record is Close To The Edge and I love that cover too, but not for purposes of this discussion. Now strap yourselves in for a long one.
Buy or Download Tales From Topographic Oceans here.
J: I was Sweet Sixteen when this baby hit the stores. I know you are probably all sick to death of “Carry On My Wayward Son,” but underneath this fine artwork was a great record. In fact, the much maligned Kansas has several excellent album covers including Song For America and Point of Know Return. I tried to find out who painted this one, I think it’s Peter Lloyd though I can’t confirm, but it doesn’t matter. Love it.
Buy or Download Leftoverture from Amazon here.
J: I could have picked Benefit, War Child, Songs From The Wood or Minstrel in The Gallery and been just as happy here. As I’ve said in the past I’m a big Jethro Tull fan. I know that’s not supposed to influence my decision, but you go with what you know right? This was Tull’s big step forward as they began to morph from a Blues band into what everyone calls Progressive Rock. I sometimes wonder what their legacy would be if they have never recorded Aqualung. Great record and everything, but Classic Rock just crushed it. This record is still more than listenable with a great cover too.
Buy or Download Stand Up from Amazon here.
R: This is my absolute favorite album cover of all time. An Alien Ice Queen Geisha with lizard eyes in complete control of your destiny. The album is killer, her best work by far, I’m a huge Bjork fan. If I’m not mistaken this album was made after she split from Tricky, it’s a dark album, and a dark cover. I have this cover in poster form, some day I will win the battle to hang it in my living room. For now it lurks in the attic, waiting, plotting.
Buy or Download Homogenic from Amazon here (The Giant Panther insists!).
R: Possibly the only album with Dylan smiling. His voice got weird with this album in a good way. It’s a classic cover that captures a great vibe. Probably my good friend Anthony’s favorite album cover of all time.
Buy or Download Nashville Skyline from Amazon here.
R: What can I say, this album cover is probably the most famous of all time. Really cool concept using cut-outs of all those famous people, including wax figures of the Fab Four! I wonder how many of these celebs I could name just by going through the cover.
Buy or Download Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band from Amazon here.
R: Sometimes, if you’ve had an album for long enough, it just becomes one of your favorites and most memorable. There’s no special meaning other than that for Miles in The Sky For Me. It was one of the first records I came into possession of post Fisher Price record player and the Michael Jackson 45s my aunt gave me when I was little.
Buy or Download Miles in The Sky from Amazon here.
R: I’ve had this record forever too. I remember thinking if I could find somebody to sit under a tree with and be this content I’d die a happy man someday.
Buy or Download Plastic Ono Band from Amazon here.
After we finished this excercise, I bought a copy of a great best album covers book, it really makes you appreciate the visual art side to the music industry, with explanations on who designed each album, a back story, and interpretation. I would highly recommend it, great coffee table book! Pick up a hardcover copy at Amazon for only 14 bucks here