Mental Floss

23 Album Covers that Changed Everything!

Mangesh Hattikudur
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There are several reasons I loved working on the Saints and Sinners Issue. It's the only magazine I've ever seen with Madonna and Gandhi elbowing for cover space, it's the first issue we ever got the fantastic authors John Green and Michael Stusser to write for, and it had this piece by Chris Smith. It's just 23 quick notes on 23 important album covers, but it's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

wearing their art on_their sleeves:
23 album covers that changed everything by Chris Smith

Long before MTV, performers expressed the visual dimension of their art through their album covers. Every music fan has his/her favorites, but several covers stand out for their brilliance, their impact and their ability to make as much of a statement as the music they represent. Every art form has its giants, and album cover art is no exception. The work of the designers featured here spans over 40 years of music.
THE SIXTIES: Before the 1960s, most albums featured portraits of musicians, instruments or musicians playing instruments. But the 1960's spirit of exploration and experimentation found its way into music and, consequently, onto album covers.

1967 The Beatles, Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles' album covers act as a kind of scrapbook for their mythmaking career: a serious With the Beatles, a hippie-esque Rubber Soul, a stripped down The White Album, and a funeral procession on Abbey Road. Each is a testament to the band's creativity and insight into their culture. Yet no single album cover defines its era and its artists more than 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As with any good cult artifact, stories built around the album: Was Paul McCartney dead? (No.) Are the figures cardboard cutouts? (Yes.) Are those pot plants? (No.) The album was also legendarily difficult to execute—securing the faces of the band's heroes and influences, from Alistair Crowley to guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—was a logistical nightmare. Finding photographs of everyone, blowing them up to specifications and tinting them with color all turned out to be well worth the effort, however. The album became the single most recognizable (and, according to many, the greatest) album cover of all time.

1965 Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights

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1969 Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa

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1967 The Doors, Strange Days

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1969 Blind Faith, Blind Faith

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THE SEVENTIES: The stylistic fragmentation of the 1960s continued in the 1970s. Bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin claimed music—and their respective album covers—were definitely a trip.

>>Lots more after the jump!

1971 The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

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Sticky Fingers stands out as the best album cover of the decade. The cover features an Andy Warhol photograph of a well-endowed young man (contrary to legend, it was not Mick Jagger). A working zipper on the man's pants could be opened to reveal another shot of the model, this time in his skivvies. The zipper left its mark on the album cover genre. Unfortunately, it also left its mark on the record itself (right in the middle of "Sister Morphine").

1973 Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

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1977 Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols

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1979 Supertramp, Breakfast in America

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1979 The Clash, London Calling

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THE EIGHTIES: The 1980s offered an interesting contrast: Musically, the decade was both an extension of the excesses of the 1970s and a reaction to it. So what was the product of this conflict? The ability to stir up some controversy.

1988 Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking

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According to Ferrell, it's harder to get big flames burning on plaster twins than one might think. Nine national record chains refused to stock the album.

1980 Gamma, Gamma 2

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1988 Prince, Lovesexy

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1983 Def Leppard, Pyromania

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THE NINETIES AND BEYOND: By the 1990s the CD had replaced the old vinyls of yesterday. While the classic square shape was back, the smaller size meant designers didn't have as much space with which to work. Time will tell what images from the 1990s will stake their claim as classics. Some are immediate standouts.

1991 Metallica, Metallica

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1990 Pixies, Bossanova

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1996 Beck, Odelay

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1997 Prodigy, Fat of the Land

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AND SOME COVER ARTISTS YOU SHOULD MEET:

Andy Warhol: 1967 The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico

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Reid Miles: 1962 Freddie Hubbard, Hub-Tones

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Neon Park XIII: 1970 The Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh

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Roger Dean: 1973 Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans

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Hipgnosis (A British design pair led by Storm Thorgerson): 1975 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

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From "Nevemind" to "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" to "On the Corner", we definitely left a lot off the list. Be sure to tell us which ones we should have included in the comments below.

A few other posts you might enjoy: The First Time Aerosmith Made the New York Times Smarter than they (musically) act: See what Weird Al, Garfunkel and other celebs majored in in college. Baby Jessica and other kids we'd forgotten about And a Classic Guitar Solos Quiz (that'll definitely have you feeling good about your music addiction)

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