The large-format cover art of vinyl records is one of the key draws for many music fans. There’s nothing quite like the blank canvas of a 12inch record cover for making an artistic statement that compliments your music.
In the digital age, some would go as far to say we’ve lost the art of making great album covers – a situation not helped, of course, by the limited screen real estate on your typical smartphone. Despite this, I’d argue there are still plenty of artists releasing music with inspiring cover art, and with new vinyl sales continuing to rise year on year, many of these designs will have the chance to shine in their full glory.
From time to time, however, an album surfaces whose artwork would probably benefit more from succumbing to the missing artwork placement image on i-Tunes than it would from large format vinyl.
To celebrate the importance of strong artwork as part of the complete package that makes a great record, we’ve compiled a selection of the best and worst album covers known to man.
Starting with the worst… partly because I just fancied a chuckle. Whether it be the slow creep of time or simply bad choices, these album cover are just plain wrong:
Worst Album Covers
Oh Ken…. Still waiting for those requests.
John! What exactly happened at Julie’s Sixteenth?
Jumping to present day, here’s an odd one from that ever eccentric character, Kanye West. I don’t know much about the contents of this record musically, but from this album cover, I can’t quite work out if he’s being ironic, facetious, or just plain mental.
As if it wasn’t enough that the slow creep of time would inevitably date Gary’s flared jeans and questionable haircut, he had to pose like that and name his album “Getting Down to Business”.
If there’s a running theme throughout all the bad cover art, it’s that appearing on your album cover in the fashions of your era can really come back to haunt you. This example for The Faith Tones is case in point really.
Best Album Covers
The Smiths shied away from putting themselves on album covers, and instead opted to showcase Morrissey’s pop-culture influences. The genius behind this approach is that it gave the band’s releases a uniform identity unlike anything else at the time, while simultaneously helping to prevent the covers from dating. I’m particularly fond of “The Queen is Dead” cover featuring French-Swiss actor, Alain Delon.
In my eyes, no list of great album covers would be complete with featuring Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of The Moon album cover. A cliche, perhaps, but its success speaks for itself; rarely does an such a simple piece of imagery become so synonymous with a single band. Walk through any shopping mall today, and there’s a strong chance you’ll encounter at least one person wearing this cover as a T-Shirt. More interesting, is the age of said T-Shirt bearers, which varies from 6 to 60. (I plucked that figure out of thin air, but you catch my drift).
The sentiment behind avant guard music and Pop Art were intrinsically linked by their desire to break with convention. In this sense, the experimental performance style and challenging lyrical sentiments of The Velvet Underground are a match made in heaven for Andy Warhol’s eccentric brand of 1950’s and 60’s Pop Art. He’s also credited with producing the album. Early first pressings actually featured a “Peel slowly and see” feature that revealed a flesh-colored banana underneath. These first pressings are now a much sought after collector’s piece.
Aside from being one of my favorite albums of all time, the cover art for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is also a great example of how artists can make appearing on their covers work in a timeless way. The cover features Stevie Nicks as her stage persona, while Mick Fleetwood poses in a classical getup with the infamous dangling balls. Some say the album cover simply represents Mick Fleetwood’s leadership of the band through much turmoil during the making of Rumours, but whatever the meaning, I just love the beautiful simplicity and timeless quality of this iconic album cover.
It’s not just classic albums that feature inspiring cover art; there are plenty of new acts pushing creative boundaries with new techniques. Take Alt J’s An Awesome Wave, for example. This cover art was made by layering multiple radar images of the Ganges river delta in Bangladesh. The result exposes a multitude of colors formed by the variations in radiation occurring between each radar shot. Creative, modern, and more than befitting of Alt-J’s brand of Art School Rock.
It’s Very Subjective – Share Your Favorite Album Covers
The best (and worst) album covers is a very subjective topic. No doubt your top 5 would be different to mine. For me, the cover of a great album is equally as important as the music itself, and the large format of vinyl certainly helps bring it to the forefront.
I’d love to see which album covers really made an impression on you (good and bad). Drop us a line in the comments with your favorites.