I love album covers. It’s the thing I miss the most about vinyl. I know vinyl is back, but most of the time the cover is designed for the CD, digital image AND the vinyl album. Not much room for nuance when the design is made for a .375 inch square avatar instead of a square foot canvas.
The following are five of my favorite covers, I’m not saying they are the best, just five art/designs that hold special to me. I also admit what sound came from their sleeves made an impression on the choices.
5. Sailin’ Shoes – Little Feat This was not only my initial introduction to the band but to their cover artist, Neon Park. He went on to make many more Feat covers and became a much in-demand illustrator. Sailin’ Shoes remains my favorite Feat album and my favorite Park cover. I mean an anthropomorphized slice of cake on a swing, half a blue boy and a voyeuristic snail, come on!
4. Led Zeppelin This album burst out of the speakers like a rock blues hurricane, and the album art captures that explosion. All of Zeppelin’s covers were fantastic but its first, and starkest design, is the best. Note: the band and friends thought this album would fail like a lead ballon, thus the band name and the art: crash of the Hindenburg.
3. School’s Out – Alice Cooper A perfect album cover for me at the time. Released in the Summer of 1972, I had just graduated high school and the single and the album became athemic. The cover was also interactive. It was a desk. Using great photography, oragami and wicked attention to detail, this design stood as art or at least a good high school shop project. Note: the original release album sleeve was a pair of girl’s panties soon replaced by a regular paper sleeve. Alice knew his audience, huh?
2. The Band – The Band Designed by the great Bob Cato, using an Elliot Landy photograph, this simple cover speaks volumes of what waits inside. Their first album, Music From Big Pink (and a contender for this list) did not show the members of the group on either the front or the back; you had to open it up to see the group. Here they confront you head-on, staring at you from another time. This was the time of paisley and psychedelic design and fonts. Not this band, there were dressed as workers, laborers, as if they stepped out of 1940’s America. Hell, they could’ve been mistaken for hobos then. The album was sepia toned as if taken from our grandparents’ scrapbook. And the music reflected it all, and magnificently. A masterpiece.
1. Revolver – The Beatles Now you know I could’ve put lots of Fab covers here, as a matter of fact all five spots could be Fab covers: With The Beatles, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles (White Album), Abbey Road. But Revolver is my favorite. Designed and drawn by their friend and fellow musician Klaus Voorman, the cover captured the band as they were moving from Fabdom to somewhere else. It captures this space in time and the music within perfectly. As a professional graphic designer I think it is beautifully rendered and remains timeless. It also won the Grammy for Best Album Cover Design, that’s one they got right.
OK, one more, not really a favorite but this design for Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats freaked me out in 1969 and still does today. Some cats have nightmares about bogeymen and monsters, I have nightmares of Hot Rats.
I’d love to know some of your favorite covers and why.