They say you should never judge a book by its cover and the same should really be said for records. However some album covers have become so iconic that they practically scream to be picked up and played. As part of our Record Store Day Celebrations we take a look at some of the most iconic album covers from the uber cool to the downright bizarre…
What a place to start than with an album that’s as seminal to modern designers at it has been to a hoard of musicians since its release in 1973. Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ features artwork by designer George Hardie who’s brief was to deliver something with a little class. Hardie produced the goods and later told Rolling Stone, “I think the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger’s lyrics.” It’s also been suggested that the prism idea came from the cover of a school textbook.
Arguably one of rock’s best album covers, Horses is an exercise in focused simplicity. Patti Smith looks regal and defiant on the cover of her debut album, dressed in a simple white shirt, her favourite ribbon and dark jeans, photographed by her then-boyfriend, the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Both artists were key figures in New York’s Bohemian scene in the 70’s, and though their relationship went through several heartbreaking turns, the story behind this cover speaks volumes about the meaning of true love and friendship.
German painter Mati Klarwein designed the cover for Miles Davis’ 1970 LP to be a display of contrast, conflict and separation. Intriguingly the music on ‘Bitches Brew’ had the same effect on its audience, dividing those who saw it as a bold new direction Davis’ jazz exploration and those who deemed it to be flat out commercialism. Either way the gatefold is still one of Klarwein’s most famous pieces who also went on to produce artwork for Santana’s ‘Abraxas’.
Another knockout album cover that has probably featured on as many record sleeves as it has on T-shirts. ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ is the product of a wild and hedonistic time for pop culture. The artwork by pop-artist Andy Warhol features a banana print that was as quirky as it was stylish. The front image was actually a sticker that you could peel back just like a real banana, although it probably didn’t taste quite as good. Unfortunately this was only included on first pressings and delayed its release by some months, nevertheless making it a truly rare collectable.
This pioneering album is a cornerstone for any lovers of proper rock music, a nine-track whirring fuzz of raucous guitar riffs over an all consuming blues composition. Apparently the album cover is a grainy black and white photo of the infamous Hindenburg airship crash, a photo that guitarist Jimmy Page described the band perfectly when they first started – his initial estimation on their public appeal wasn’t too high! ‘Led Zeppelin’ also represents a second entry for iconic sleeve artwork designed by George Hardie (‘Dark Side of the Moon’).
If there was an list for top albums with ridiculously long names this one would have to be up there, but what else could we expect from an album that’s so wonderfully out of this world! The artwork is shrouded in mystery despite Bowie himself describing it as just an ordinary photograph. So, a couple of actual facts about the photograph taken by Brian Ward are; K. West was a fur shop at 23 Heddon Street, London where the photograph was taken, the post office in the background was also the site of London’s first nightclub, opened in 1912.
Dark, provocative and abstract could all be perfect descriptions not just of this record but also its cover. Featuring a single centrepiece on a black background, the image has become one the most recognisable designs of the last thirty-years – even if its the connection to the Manchester band has somewhat wained. Contrary to popular belief, the image is not a mountain range but a graphic of PSR B1919+21, the first celestial radio pulsar discovered in 1967. But even if you aren’t an astrological experts you can at least appreciate this incredible album.
What better way to round off our list with an album cover that has caused years of conspiracy theories and hoards of frustrated motorists at the mercy of Beatles fans & London tourists. Paul McCartney initially sketched the idea that eventually became this iconic photograph of the band near Abbey Road Studios in 1969. Rumours of Paul McCartney’s demise were heightened by the fact that he was bare foot (we don’t really get it either), while the number plate of the VW Beetle in the background was stolen so many times that the owner eventually sold the car.
As the old saying goes, everybody has a story and the same could be said for album covers. This small selection of stories behind some of the most iconic cover art is really just the tip of the iceberg though, just beware of losing days, weeks, or even months learning about the fascinating tales behind records that sit side by side in your collection.