Saturday, January 2, 2021


 Viewing art is like reading a book – nobody does it anymore. In fact, I’d venture to say that the only art the average modern person gets is on the covers of the music he or she listens to.

Sadly, with iTunes and Pandora and Spotify, even that seems to be going away. And that’s why I’ve focused especially on music that might be a little older here in this blog. I just figure that that’s when album cover art was in its heyday and really meant something. And, heck, that still describes a good 50 or 60 years of history anyway. (Oh yeah, that also allows me to relive my youth.)


I definitely have my own feelings here, but I did want to start out with a sampling of what everyone thinks as well. Now, that was not too hard, as there are no shortage of best-of lists out there. Here are some of the one I sampled:

  • Billboard
  • Rolling Stone
  • Maxim
  • Wired
  • Ranker
  • ShortList
  • NME
  • Planet Rock
  • Udiscovermusic
  • Creative Bloq

I also happen to have a copy of 100 Best Album Covers, by Storm Thorgeson and Aubrey Powell, which also helped a great deal. (BTW, you’ll be seeing a lot more of those two in this blog.)

Now, I mentioned that – with good reason – I’m a little partial to the older stuff. I also had a few other guidelines directing me as well.

One, I wanted to focus on covers that were impactful, even somewhat iconic in nature. In other words, it wasn’t – again – enough that I liked them, but I wanted covers that had some major influence over the long history of album cover art. 

As a corollary, even though something might have been super cool, I really wasn’t into it as much if the band was just too obscure. For example, I’m a huge fan of They Might Be Giants – both music and album covers. They’re definitely not, however, everyone’s cup of tea.

Same thing with the Drive-By Truckers, an alt/country/rock/indie group that I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever heard of, but who teamed with a very gifted but even more obscure artist by the name of Wes Freed to create some even cooler covers:  

Another thing I was interested in was the degree to which the cover fit into the overall art scene.  So, you’ll see a fair number of artists and photographers who made a name for themselves outside of album covers 

As a former art history student, I was also very partial to any cover that made a nod in that direction. Here, for example, is an obscure album (Everybody) from an obscure band (Logic) by an obscure artist (Sam Spratt), that is nonetheless a great twist on a somewhat well-known painting (The Wedding at Cana) from a somewhat well-known artist (Paolo Veronese):

Finally, I decided to limit my search just to good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll. So, no jazz, no classical, no country, no folk … I just figured 1) that was a lot easier, and 2) that’s what everybody was interested in anyway. Now, that’s not to say that some of the graphic artists mentioned here didn’t do a little crossover work, and there are plenty of good covers in those genres as well.

Oh, almost forgot … I also limited this to albums only. Though there are some interesting single covers out there (see below), it’s just not the same thing.


For each cover, I have tried to say something about the band or singer and their style of music, along with something similar about the album itself. This is a very visual blog, so I’ve also included other album covers of theirs I like, as well as pix of the group or artist.

I’ve also tried to relate something similar about the artist behind the cover, including their style, bio, history, and other work. For a blog like this, I think that’s super important – and also something that I think is usually totally neglected.

Heck, if I could identify the model or location, that’ll be in there as well. 

And finally – and just to make this a little fun – I’ve included any parodies or homages I could find. Note that these are often amusing, but very much intentionally so. Though I love them (and there are plenty of them out there), I’ve steered clear of any covers that are unintentionally amusing.


In addition to the best-of lists I mentioned above, I could never have done this blog without the incredible Discogs. If you’ve never been there before, you have to drop everything and go there right now. They have got every detail of every release of every record/CD/song ever released. For me, in particular, that means every credit for every art director, photographer, and graphic artist out there. Truly an amazing site.

As for my parodies, I really relied on, which is a classic in its own right. I heartily recommend wasting a couple of hours there as well.

So, let’s cue up some records, drop the needle, and get this party started …

Friday, December 18, 2020

#1 - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Where do I begin? Or what do I even say?
Sgt. Pepper was one of the most ground-breaking albums ever, both in the music and the artwork.

I’ll start with the music side first. Sgt. Pepper was arguably the first concept album; was the first rock record to include lyrics; gave birth to album-oriented rock, prog rock, and extensive use of the studio; and set new standards for production and orchestration. It was a unique combination of popular music and high art, was ground-breakingly eclectic (including Indian, Victorian dance hall, classical, and avant-garde), and distinctly spoke for its generation and time.

It spent 27 weeks at #1 in the UK and 15 in the US. It was the first rock LP to win a Grammy, has sold 32 million copies overall, was voted the #1 album of all time by Rolling Stone … and blew a lot of people’s minds.

The critical reception at the time actually kind of beggars belief at this point:
  • “the most famous album in the history of popular music”
  • “the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded”
  • “a historic departure in the progress of music – any music”
  • “a defining moment in the history of music”
  • "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation”
  • “the closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna”
It was compared to Schumann, Schubert, and Mozart.

Now for the art. Based on a rough idea from Paul, the concept came to life under the direction of Pop artist Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth.

Sgt. Pepper was Sir Peter's first credit. He would have about 30 more, though none – of course – would ever come close to this one.

Honestly, though, I could have included 25 more – and everything he ever did. He was that good. It’s really between him and Hipgnosis as to best album cover artists ever. 

Blake was also a genuine artist, playing a major role in British art during the ‘60s and especially in Pop art:

Needless to say, the cover generated its own list of accolades:
  • “one of the best-known works that pop art ever produced”
  • "the most famous album cover of all time”
  • “one of the iconic images of the 20th century”
Such an iconic cover undoubtedly has its share of homages and parodies. Here are a few of my faves:

Saturday, December 5, 2020

#2 - The Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd (1973)

So simple, so elegant, so iconic. It could be the logo for a large corporation or an international organization. Instead, it’s one of the best-known covers for one of the best-known albums of all time.

But what does it all mean? One critic sees the purpose as to generate mystery and intrigue. Given the band’s lack of commentary on it over the years, that critic may very well have been right. 

The cover has an interesting provenance. Turns out it was another Hipgnosis work, and a very collaborative effort at that. First, Storm Thorgeson found a black-and-white image he liked in a physics text. He then showed that to partner Aubrey Powell. 

Aubrey left, Storm right

The two brainstormed it a bit, then gave it to graphic artist George Hardie to render in all its techno-color glory.

The inside reflects the basic idea, though the inserts definitely do not.

Pink Floyd’s been here before (and here as well). This one – album and cover both – is really their magnum opus though. The album sold 45 million copies and was on the Billboard chart from 1973 to 1988. There also have been a surprising number of tribute albums.

And then there’s that whole weird Wizard of Oz thing. Just in case you’re not familiar, the album supposedly tracks perfectly with the film. I’ve actually tried it myself – it’s totally not true.

This one’s definitely a theme album, but what that theme is is actually a little problematic. References to Sid Barrett’s madness are there, of course. More largely, I’ve heard critics say it’s about modern life, and compare it to Radiohead’s OK Computer.

It was probably my fave as a teen, and is still pretty popular with me today. I probably listen to it at least once a year.

With something so popular, it’s not too surprising there have been tattoos:

And lots and lots of parodies:

Saturday, November 21, 2020

#3 - Brain Salad Surgery: Emerson Lake & Palmer (1973)

A little creepy, but definitely super cool at the same time. The artist was the very interesting HR Giger.

Giger’s art has been described as “biomechanical,” as grotesque but erotic, and as the stuff of horrible nightmares.

This album was not the only one he did, though he actually did less than 10 total. In addition to groups with very fitting names like Danzig and Carcass, he also did one for Debbie Harry.

He’s probably best known, though, for the monster in Alien, for which he shared an Academy Award:

Hard to believe, but Emerson, Lake and Palmer were not a legal firm, but one of the preeminent prog rock bands out there. In fact, they were so prog that some of their stuff sounds like it really should be performed by a symphony in a concert hall. That style was especially appealing to me as I had grown up with classical music. Brain Salad Surgery wasn't for everyone, but it sure was popular with my 10th-grade self.

The group had a couple of other cool album covers:

May I present, Emerson, Palmer, and Lake:

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

#4 - American Beauty: Grateful Dead (1970)

Psychedelia was one of the most important album cover art “schools” out there. And this particular example of that school is probably the Mona Lisa.

It was designed by “Kelley and Mouse,” who we’ve seen here before.

Here’s some more of their stuff, which I honestly just can’t get enough of:

I actually used this cover as an inspiration for something I did in Commercial Art class back in high school.  I used a wood panel as a background and then cut different types of paper (foil, flocked, etc.) for the circle, rose, and lettering.

I mentioned before that I’m not really a Deadhead, but this is one of my favorite albums of all time. Almost every song is a hit – “Ripple,” “Box of Rain,” “Candyman,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Sugar Magnolia” … I find that if I’m doing something monotonous and unplugged (hiking, biking, kayaking), these are the tunes that I naturally start to sing to myself.

I consider this album to the pinnacle of the Dead’s career. To me, it represents the perfect expression of their unique combination of folk, country, and rock, all combined with the incredible lyrics of Robert Hunter.

A lot of people don’t realize that Hunter was a musician too

One last look at the band:

Love those pig tails

No parodies for this one, I’m afraid. The title has, though, had quite a history of its own:

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