Favourite album covers

By timhorton69 timhorton69
updated 8 months ago

What makes a great album cover? For me, it's always a great cover image, but usually also where all the elements of the package conspire to make you want to get your fingers over it all so badly - that you just can't because it's so beautiful. Here's my favourites.

  1. Eno* - Here Come The Warm Jets

    4 For Sale from $5.50

    It's the cover image alone that gets this at the top of the list. Such a delicious, multi-layered work of art, it's almost a collage, flawlessly arranged, arch and almost textured and tactile in its detail. A beautiful photographic composition that almost defies photography.

    Design supervision: Carol McNicoll
    Cover photography: Lorenz Zatecky

  2. New Order - Brotherhood

    6 For Sale from $17.85

    I love this for its completely cold unyielding relationship with the music inside, and with us the viewers/audience. Totally abstract yet somehow full of words that remain unspoken and frozen.

    Design: Peter Saville Associates
    Photography: Trevor Key

  3. New Order - Low-life

    7 For Sale from $15.71

    Peter Saville can either compel me (as here) or slightly underwhelm me (as on Power, Corruption & Lies). At his best, he seems to have this whole discourse sitting slippery underneath the surface, as (made real) with this album cover. The veiled photographic images that sit askew both visually and referentially, as if they're looking slightly away from the music they've just made. Completely reflects the sense of abandon and disregard of the album's music, while conveying its delicate evanescent beauty. And the veiling intricacy of the onion skin only makes it all the more appealing.

    Design: Peter Saville (2), Trevor Key

  4. Jeff Wayne - Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds

    11 For Sale from $6.00

    This is a teen art rocker's wet dream. There's no better album cover for pandering to the fan's own grandiose sense of self-validatory love of the music (if that makes sense!). Lavish and ceaseless parade of visual delight, down to the intricate border that travels across the complete gatefold; the permanently attached booklet, as if affirming the solid eternality of this quintessence of artistic aspiration; and the attributions to the individual painters on the edges of the illustrations, like some high end art book. And somehow made even better by the lubricious and faintly sexual quality of the green Martians not quite comfortably squeezed into their fighting machine (like a pair of overly tight 70s flares).

    Art director, logo design: John Pasche
    Paintings: Geoff Taylor (4), Michael Trim, Peter Goodfellow

  5. Jon Anderson - Olias Of Sunhillow

    5 For Sale from $7.14

    Completely crazy, inward-looking and self-sufficient, this is the ultimate in 70s art rock album covers. An album that is about the album art, and vice versa. With a complicated physical structure that seems desperate to make as much of every surface as is humanly (or Oliasly) possible, down to the mandala-like labels. Perfect for the stargazing 70s teenager.

    Art direction: Hipgnosis (2)
    Illustrated and designed by: Dave Roe (2)
    Portrait: Jeff Cummings (2)
    Portrait colouring: Richard Manning (3)

  6. Supertramp - Crime Of The Century

    11 For Sale from $3.56

    I think the thing that always attracted me most about this cover was the band's name spelt out as a constellation on the front cover - so magically overreaching and epic, and yet somehow fragile and delicate. The cover as a whole (outer and inner sleeves) is set amongst the stars in the midst of space, which is how the whole album sounds, with the deflatingly humble band photo on the back cover visually reflecting the self-defeat of the final (and title) track.

    Art direction: Fabio Nicoli
    Sleeve design and photography by: Paul Wakefield

  7. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

    6 For Sale from $28.57

    Another classic of the layer-upon-layer approach to album design, aimed at dragging you in visually as a metaphor for the way in which the music drags you in sonically. Beautifully constructed so that the album seems to be getting eaten away by the elements of which it's composed, while at the same time providing windows deeper and deeper in, until the postcard insert becomes like a memento of the outside. The badge (replicated on the labels) then acts as an ironic foil to these almost mystical elemental visions: the elements themselves are just the constituents of some strange elusive commercial conspiracy towards conformity.

    Dye transfers by: Simon Bell (3)
    Graphics by: George Hardie
    Sleeve design and photography by: Hipgnosis (2)
    Sleeve design and photography assisted by: Howard Bartrop, Jeff Smith (17), Peter Christopherson, and Richard Manning (3)

  8. The Alan Parsons Project - Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

    This is beautiful purely and simply for the balance of all its elements, from the restrained and simple typeface on the cover, to the refined air lent by the tracing paper covers of the enclosed booklet, and the linking of the non-primary but beautiful shades of green throughout. There's also the gorgeous carrying through of the theme of the bandages as they wind themselves up into the multitrack taped mummy in the booklet, locking together the sonic and the visual. The front cover is like a keyhole into the mystery inside, with the bandage-like slit of colour revealing itself only on closer inspection to be a horizontally-aligned shadow of the mummy parallel to the horizon.

    Cover: Hipgnosis (2)
    Frontsleeve designed by: Hipgnosis (2), George Hardie
    Inside layout and graphics by: Colin Elgie
    Photography by: Aubrey Powell, Peter Christopherson, Storm Thorgerson
    Picture of Alan Parsons by: sam emerson

  9. The Beatles - Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

    4 For Sale from $14.28

    I regret I've never had access to the complete version of this cover - even the gatefold version my brother had when I was young lacked all the inserts. But this still remains crazily elliptical and involving, every element taking you on a journey, but still leaving you wondering what it's all about, even down to the oddly disconnected band photo on the back - every Beatle shining, but none smiling, and looking down from a slightly superior angle. And of course, Paul refusing our gaze. What is it with this "lonely hearts band"? - do they want to make us feel less lonely or not?

    Cover: Apple, The, M C Productions
    Cover staged by: Jann Haworth, Peter Blake (4)
    Photographed by: Michael Cooper (8)

  10. Boney M. - Nightflight To Venus

    8 For Sale from $6.39

    This could be so bad it's good - but then it's so good it's bad too. And just everywhere in between. I don't know what to make of these white-garbed disco sylphs desperately clinging to Bobby Farrell as they clamber up the rope to Venus (despite the fact that, on the title track, the journey is definitely a bit more high tech), but they're so unashamed of the be-spangled potential cosmic embarrassment that it spreads to the inner gatefold spread and to a poster as well. Whatever the story, as the insert poster testifies, make sure your Brazilian is carried out with a sharp eye and very VERY good tweezers.

    Art direction: Manfred Vormstein
    Design: Ali Kohlmeier, Karl Dengler
    Photography: Studio Hammar, Didi Zill

  11. Cold Chisel - East

    2 For Sale from $9.50

    The whole package leaves me slightly underwhelmed here, but the cover photo makes up for it. A delightfully ambitious but also somewhat opaque reference to the David painting (the reference is grand, but the visual composition is mundane), it makes such a wonderful connection between the exhausted Australia of the time with bold artistic vision. Best of all that it has the small but spiky Jimmy Barnes playing the Marat figure, like he's claimed the establishment and the whole of Australian pop culture in one fell swoop. And giving it that ambiguous Asian tinge both undercuts and dares the then prevailing popular image of Australia, as if Australia is both completely a part of and accomplished in the Asian arena, but completely overwhelmed by it too. Masterful.

    Art direction: Ken Smith (10)
    Cover concept: Don Walker (2), Philip Mortlock
    Photography: Greg Noakes

  12. Cookie Crew* - Born This Way!

    40 For Sale from $1.69

    I love this photo. It's just completely Cookie Crew - brash, sweet and humble like they declare, totally energised, and totally daring. I love the styling too, both of the girls (that classic 80s subcultural in-your-face kind of fashion), and of the graphics, with that big chunky 70s-ish typography (exquisitely coloured in contrasting red and green, and perfectly sized, like a podium before the girls); the 60s-style banding, measured colour palette, layout, and monumental, slightly distanced urban staging of the photograph; and the cartoonish graffiti-style logo inside. Edible!

    Sleeve design by: Me Company
    Photography by: David McIntyre

  13. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

    4 For Sale from $7.14

    I'm never sure if this is a great album cover or not, but it damn well sucks you in and keeps you there! Every element of this cover is designed, including the typefaces, so that the whole thing is like a massive artistic performance (which is more or less how the music is presented, starting as it does with the crowd-pleasing Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding), with a cavalcade of pastiches illustrating each song like a series of acts on a vaudeville stage. And despite everything else, the image of Elton here has been rarely equalled - both monumental and superficial, even as he tries to be ordinary he becomes larger than life. Is he really parting the (brick) curtain and saying goodbye, or is he actually ambitiously setting out on it?

    Art direction, inside cover illustrations: David Larkham, Michael Ross (3)
    "Harmony" & "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" illustration: David Scutt
    Outside cover illustration: Ian Beck
    Photography by: Bryan Forbes (2), Chris Foster (3), Ed Caraeff, Michael Putland

  14. Flowers (4) - Icehouse

    Up to this time (1980), I can think of no other Australian album cover that was as strange or as far-reaching. The courageous sparseness and abstraction of the album cover (the background colour, reminiscent of brown paper, makes it almost repellant in its feeling of disposability) gives way to a kind of visceral slice into colour in the inside with the opening of the gatefold; but this colour itself is cut into by fleeting black and white images of the band. Nothing seems to quite connect or touch down here, there seems to be a constant reaching for something else. There are no images of ice or cold (even the wintry imagery of the abstract leafless trees becomes oddly desiccated by virtue of the brown background, and the ambiguous icy shades of colour on the inside have a startling vibrance by contrast), yet everything about this cover feels cold and frozen.

    Artwork: Geoff Gifford, Modern Art (5)
    Layout: Timewinds
    Photography: Grant Matthews (2)

  15. Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel* - Hole

    44 For Sale from $7.95

    Foetus is definitely not the first to play up socialist (from whatever the end of the spectrum) imagery, but this album cover has a unique and exquisite completeness to its propaganda-style design. It sits somewhere in between the imagery of the major (national) socialist powers, yet for some odd reason settles most clearly on China (when most of the lyrical imagery is focused on Nazi Germany). This is a clue in itself to the ratty scattergun approach of the album's take on the postwar world, and its use of its references to interlink political and personal self-destruction.

    Sleeve art: J.G. Thirlwell

  16. Cocteau Twins - The Pink Opaque

    25 For Sale from $7.00

    The best - the absolute best - thing about Cocteau Twins is the way they take the completely unlikely and turn it into something beautiful, without in the process making it be Something. And that's what this album cover represents - complete abstraction, made of the apparently unappealing, but with some kind of appeal to (an ultimately futile) yearning for the elements to be brought into a cohesive meaning. And somehow, the whole package, elegantly assembled and balanced, makes you just want to handle it all with reverence and delicacy of touch, to feel the smoothness of the insert as if the typeface is almost palpable.

    Photography by, design: 23 Envelope

  17. Hot Chocolate - 20 Hottest Hits

    3 For Sale from $5.00

    The overall packaging here - I don't own the vinyl - is crap, but the cover image is so damn perfect I can't go past this. The most outrageously sexy cover, without a single explicitly sexual image, and perfectly encapsulating the cheaply risque tone of the band's name, and the sexy vibe of much of the music.

    Cover photography by: John Swannell

  18. INXS - Shabooh Shoobah

    12 For Sale from $11.43

    And speaking of sexy...God knows exactly WHAT this image is - are these real figures, or sculpted? Is the dog alone real? If they're sculpted, who the hell dreamed up this pairing? Why a whippet? It is so damn sensual, beautifully staged, so there's both a grace and a dark tempting quality to the image, while also having an oddly receded quality, like we're not quite in the same place or air as the figures. Pull out the inner sleeve, and the boys are asleep (or perhaps dead, in Jon Farriss' case?), naked and draped in towels, which gives them an innocent or neutralised sexuality made the more elegant with the backdrop of the golden detail of the hand from the cover image. The only colour on this album is a muted gold, giving the whole package a museum-like quality which only serves to emphasise an ancientness or sense of endurance to the sensuality of the imagery.

    Cover concept: Michael Hutchence
    Cover concept, photography by: Grant Matthews (2)

  19. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

    2 For Sale from $99.99

    It's bleak and unyielding. But what I love most about this album cover is the physical feel - the texture of the cover (like a lizard skin), the weight of the cardboard, so that the insert is both smooth and firm, a weight in the hand, as if you can almost feel the art and design, not just see it.

    Sleeve designed by: Peter Saville (2), Joy Division

  20. Midnight Oil - 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

    14 For Sale from $8.32

    A collage, but such an unusual one - shirking the usual ready-made collage feel, this feels both exploded and contained, oddly sparse - so much white, so much space, like things have been atomised, with the images a kind of nuclear shadow - yet also frenetic, like a flickering TV image. Packaging of different textures, so that the smooth thick gatefold gives way to the unglossy stiff cardboard of the insert, like a skin has been shed. And the title a smear down the top right of both sides of the outer sleeve, like the countdown can be wiped on and wiped off our consciousness.

    Album concept by, design: Phil Ellett

  21. Midnight Oil - Bird Noises

    16 For Sale from $7.95

    Midnight Oil did some fantastic covers, and some crap. This is one of the greats. Boldly mocking of the Peter Garrett on the Head Injuries cover, yet also undercutting sharply the ordinary luridness of Australian life at the time, the dreary insularity and self-obsession. Makes you just want to squawk with ineffectual rage!

  22. Midnight Oil - Place Without A Postcard

    10 For Sale from $10.71

    A poetically expansive response to the Bird Noises cover, images of Australia that are semi-abstract, indecipherable, and most definitely not postcards. Making Australia both uncomfortably alien and unreal, yet also mystically beautiful, with an organic quality that feels like we're catching glimpses of a living creature. The lyric sheet becomes like a letter home, and the labels carry through the sleeve images, like traces of memory or imagination about a place long gone.

    Album cover photography, design: Robert Butcher

  23. Rick Wakeman - The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

    21 For Sale from $1.43

    One can never go past a multi-page lavishly illustrated booklet! Beautifully realised, this is a complete package, with the booklet designed like an illustrated manuscript, and the allusive imagery of the cover photos and the muted misty colours of the gatefold like the mists of time giving way to the pageantry of the inside sleeve. Totally enthralling.

    Art direction: Fabio Nicoli
    Art Direction, design: Paul May (4)
    Illustration: Bob Fowke, Dave Bowyer
    Photography by: Bob Elsdale

  24. The Style Council - The Singular Adventures Of The Style Council - Greatest Hits Vol. 1

    38 For Sale from $1.20

    Alone in this list for just the CD artwork, I've always just wanted to BITE this disc! It's the most delectable shade of orange, right up to the edges, with a classic classy 60s style layout and typeface. Chomp chomp!

    Coloured by: F.T.P. Colour
    Design: Simon Halfon, The Style Council