An album cover is much more than a place for a musician to stamp his or her name. The right imagery can help create a totally immersive experience. From The Velvet Underground to Radiohead, some of the world’s most talented musicians have enlisted the help of famous artists to create some truly memorable album covers. Here are 12 of them.
1. RADIOHEAD’S A MOON SHAPED POOL BY STANLEY DONWOOD
Stanley Donwood has designed every one of Radiohead’s album covers since The Bends, including the album art for the British band’s latest record, A Moon Shaped Pool. He designed the artwork in a barn near the studio where the band recorded the album, and was able to listen to their sessions and react to it, in the moment, in acrylic.
2. THE SMASHING PUMPKINS’ ZEITGEIST BY SHEPARD FAIREY
Street artist Shepard Fairey designed the album art for The Smashing Pumpkins’ seventh studio album, 2007’s Zeitgeist. Wanting to make a political statement on climate change, the artist created a black-and-red image of the Statue of Liberty about to be submerged underwater.
“I think global warming is an issue that is currently relevant, time sensitive, and a symptom of the shortsightedness of the U.S.,” Fairey told The Gauntlet. “As a broader metaphor, the drowning Statue of Liberty, a revered icon of the U.S., symbolizes the eminent demise of many of the ideals upon which the nation was founded.”
3. PATTI SMITH’S HORSES BY ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE
Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe snapped the cover of Patti Smith’s debut studio album, Horses, in 1975. He shot the image at his apartment in New York City, using natural light and a Polaroid camera.
4. EELS’ END TIMES BY ADRIAN TOMINE
In 2010, The New Yorker cartoonist Adrian Tomine provided the cover art for End Times, the second in a trilogy of concept albums from Eels. The album cover features a ragged old man, which matches with the album’s themes of divorce and getting older.
5. JACKIE GLEASON’S LONESOME ECHO BY SALVADOR DALÍ
In 1955, Jackie Gleason asked his good friend Salvador Dalí to design the album cover for Lonesome Echo. Dalí wrote a description of his artwork in the record’s liner notes, which reads, “The first effect is that of anguish, of space, and of solitude. Secondly, the fragility of the wings of a butterfly, projecting long shadows of late afternoon, reverberates in the landscape like an echo. The feminine element, distant and isolated, forms a perfect triangle with the musical instrument and its other echo, the shell.”
6. LADY GAGA’S ARTPOP BY JEFF KOONS
Lady Gaga recruited artist Jeff Koons to design the album cover for ARTPOP. He created a nude sculpture of Gaga with a giant glistening blue sphere between her legs and fragments of famous works of art, like The Birth of Venus, behind her.
“With the cover, I wanted to have Gaga there as a sculpture, as a three-dimensional type of form and with the gazing ball,” Koons told MTV. “Because the gazing ball really does become kind of the symbol for everything—and this aspect of reflection that when you come across something like a gazing ball, it affirms you, it affirms your existence and then from that affirmation, you start to want more.”
7. N.E.R.D.’S NOTHING BY TERRY RICHARDSON
Released in 2010, N.E.R.D.’s Nothing featured Pharrell Williams on the album cover. Photographer Terry Richardson shot Williams—who was wearing an army helmet with red, white, and blue feathers—in profile.
8. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO’S THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO BY ANDY WARHOL
Before finding worldwide fame, The Velvet Underground was the house band at Andy Warhol’s Factory. So it makes sense that the legendary artist would design their self-titled debut. Early copies featured a peel-away yellow banana skin sticker that revealed a bare pink banana. The album art was expensive to manufacture, which delayed the album's release, but the record label believed the cost was worth the effort if it meant having Warhol’s name attached.
“He just made it possible for us to be ourselves and go right ahead with it because he was Andy Warhol,” Lou Reed once said. “In a sense he really did produce [the album] because he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked.”
9. DEBBIE HARRY’S KOOKOO BY H.R. GIGER
A year after winning an Academy Award for his design work for Alien, H.R. Giger created the album art for Debbie Harry’s debut solo record, KooKoo, in 1981. The album cover features Giger’s iconic “bio-mechanical” design, as it merges Harry’s face with giant acupuncture needles. Giger also directed the music video for “Backfired,” the lead single off of KooKoo, along with “Now I Know You Know,” which features the same themes and style.
10. BLUR’S THINK TANK BY BANKSY
Blur enlisted enigmatic street artist Banksy to design the album art for 2003’s Think Tank. He created a couple embracing, as they both wore deep sea diving helmets. Although Banksy usually doesn’t create commercial art, he made the decision to work with Blur because he was a big fan of their sound. The original piece later sold at auction for £75,000 (about $110,000) in 2007.
“I’ve done a few things to pay the bills, and I did the Blur album,” Banksy said. “It was a good record and [the commission was] quite a lot of money. I think that’s a really important distinction to make. If it’s something you actually believe in, doing something commercial doesn’t turn it to sh*t just because it’s commercial.”
11. DAVID BOWIE’S WITHOUT YOU BY KEITH HARING
In 1983, David Bowie and Keith Haring collaborated on the artwork for the single “Without You,” which appeared on the album Let’s Dance. Bowie was a big fan of the New York City-based artist and collected many of his pieces.
12. KULA SHAKER’S K BY DAVE GIBBONS
Comic book artist Dave Gibbons created the art for Kula Shaker’s debut record, K, in 1996. The album cover features various politicians, celebrities, and athletes—including John F. Kennedy, Karl Marx, Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, King Kong, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Grace Kelly—all surrounding the letter K.