Friday, May 14, 2010


cover story

A look at some of the greatest album covers of all time

The album cover has been an important part of popular culture, merging art and music to create some of the world’s most unforgettable images. Awesome cover art and creative album packaging have helped musicians promote their work while giving them an additional medium for conveying their artistic aspirations; yet the medium seems to be on the decline. With the onset of the digital age, as well as artists expending less and less creativity on the album cover (and even the album itself), uninspiring covers featuring run of the mill imagery have become prevalent. This week we reminisce over the art that seems to be fading away, by looking at some of the most memorable, creative, and artistic album covers of all time.

* Memorable

It’s only fitting that some of the greatest albums of all time also came with the greatest album covers!

Abbey Road (1969) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles One can include pretty much any of the Beatles album covers here, but these are the two that this section would be absolutely incomplete without:
- Abbey Road (1969): After the group decided to call the album Abbey Road, photographer Iain Macmillan took the iconic photograph that appeared on its cover, and shows George Harrison, Paul McCartney (barefoot and out of step with the others), Ringo Starr, and John Lennon at the zebra crossing on Abbey Road outside the famous Abbey Road Studios, on the 8th of August 1969. The cover has since become one of the most imitated images of all time, and is considered to be the world’s most famous album cover ever; the zebra crossing is now a popular destination for Beatles fans and even has its own live webcam feed (, and the Volkswagen Beetle that can be seen next to the zebra crossing in the photo has been on display at the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): The Sgt. Pepper’s cover was originally going to feature a psychedelic painting by The Fool, but art director Robert Fraser convinced the band against it. Instead, a montage of famous people, known as ‘People We Like’, designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth and photographed by Michael Cooper in March 1967, adorned the cover of the album. The cover shows the Beatles as the Sgt. Pepper band, surrounded by celebrities chosen by the group, which included Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Marlon Brando, along with the original Beatles bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ, were also requested by John Lennon, but ultimately left out. The montage includes 57 life-sized cardboard cut-outs, 9 waxwork models (including figures of the Beatles) loaned from Madame Tussaud’s, a Shirley Temple doll in a “Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys” jumper, a Sgt. Pepper drumskin, a “Beatles” floral arrangement (and another one of a guitar), and several items that belonged to the group members, including small statues and a trophy. The final bill for the cover? £2,868, an estimated 100 times more than the average cost for an album cover in those days!

Nevermind (1991) by Nirvana
When Kurt Cobain’s original idea for the then-little-known band’s sophomore album cover led to images that were either too graphic or too expensive, Geffen Records’ art director Robert Fisher hired photographer Kirk Weddle to work on the cover; he in turn asked his friends Renata and Rick Elden, who agreed to let their three-month-old son be photographed underwater for a fee of $200. The resulting photograph, which shows an infant swimming towards a dollar bill on a fishhook, ended up gracing the cover of Nevermind, which is now owned by more than 26 million people around the world. The Nirvana baby, Spencer Elden, is now 18, and has been an intern at Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant studio. The cover was famously lampooned by Weird Al Yankovic for his Off the Deep End album, and has also had a few Simpsons parodies (one with Bart swimming after a Krusty Buck, and another with Homer chasing a doughnut!).

Wish You Were Here (1975) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s relationship with the design team of Hipgnosis has led to some of the most awesome album covers ever:
- Wish You Were Here (1975): Inspired by the ideas of fake gestures and the fear of getting burned, the album cover shows a man engulfed in flames shaking hands with a man in a business suit. The stuntmen, Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers, one of whom was dressed in a fire-retardant suit and protective hood, had to switch positions as the wind was initially blowing in the wrong direction; the image was later reversed. Also, based around the concept of “unfulfilled presence”, Storm Thorgerson concealed the cover in a dark coloured wrap, so that it would, in a way, be “absent”, and a sticker showing two mechanical hands engaged in a handshake, designed by George Hardie, was placed on the opaque sleeve.
- The Dark Side of the Moon (1973): Chosen out of seven designs, Pink Floyd’s magnum opus Dark Side of the Moon’s cover bore George Hardie’s iconic refracting prism; the spectrum of light (which is missing the colour Indigo that would be in a normal prism) continues through to the gatefold where another prism recombines the spectrum. It’s elegance and simplicity has rendered it as timeless and influential as the album itself.

- London Calling (1979) by The Clash: Paul Simonon smashes his bass in a moment captured by photographer Pennie Smith in September 1979; the typography of the cover, designed by Lowry, pays homage to Elvis Presley’s first album.
- IV (1971) – Led Zeppelin: A simple, yet remarkable, contract between the city and country, highlighting the ensuing change in balance, the cover shows a 19th century rustic oil painting (purchased from an antique shop by Robert Plant), contrasted with a 20th century English urban tower block on the back of the full gatefold album cover. The album also famously included the four symbols on the inner sleeve which represented the four members of the band.
- Relayer (1974) by Yes: The close association between Yes and artist Roger Dean has ensured that the band’s album covers offer striking artwork. The Relayer gatefold, often cited as Roger Dean’s most intriguing work, shows an epic, poetic landscape, which in turn inspired the album’s title. The artwork, originally only slightly larger than the LP jacket, reportedly took the artist about 300 hours to complete.


Creativity can take an artist a long way…as long as the UK album charts aren’t their preferred destination…

The Information (2006) by Beck
What do you do if you want no two copies of your album to have the same cover art? Well, if you’re Beck, you issue the album with a blank grid sleeve along with a random set of stickers, so that everyone can make their own album covers (some of which can now be seen at And if you’re the U.K. Official Chart Company, you punish the artist for being creative by deeming his album ineligible to enter the UK Albums Chart. Yes, that really is what happened. Its customisable cover concept was seen as a gimmick to increase sales hence giving it an "unfair advantage", and The Information was declared ineligible to chart in the region. Penalization for creativity…and they wonder why the music industry is in shambles!

No Code (1996) by Pearl Jam
Why was the album called No Code? “Because it's full of code,” explained Eddie Vedder. So what better way to present it than through a cover that adds more hidden allusions to the package? Constituting of 144 seemingly random Polaroid photographs, the cover, when viewed from afar, reveals a logo in the form of a triangle with an eyeball in the middle. The package also included sets of replica Polaroids - sets C, O, D and E - with lyrics printed on the back. Any chance Dan Brown might pick up on the Pearl Jam (no) code in his next novel?

Thick as a Brick (1972) by Jethro Tull
This prog rock concept album came with a spoof newspaper cover; the album’s packaging was based on a multi-page local "The St. Cleve Chronicle" newspaper written by Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Hammond, and John Evan, that included stories, competitions, adverts, and lot of inside puns and cleverly hidden continuing jokes, referencing the lyrics throughout the articles, and, according to the band’s website, actually took longer to produce than the music itself!

- Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) by Spiritualized: In keeping with its prescription medicine box cover, which itself was an analogy to the album’s title and concept, a special addition of the album came with 12 mini CD’s in blister packs, complete with a dosage instructions leaflet, which specifies that “Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul”.
- X&Y (2005) by Coldplay: A combination of colours and blocks, this cover shows a graphical representation of the album’s title X&Y in Baudot code.
- Amnesiac (2001) by Radiohead: The Stanley Donwood and Tchock (pseudonym of Thom Yorke) collaboration has led to some awesome concepts with great execution. A special issue of their 2001 album Amnesiac came in the form of a red hardback book, like the book pictured on the album cover, which featured many pages of art designed by Donwood and Yorke.


The Best Pakistani Album Covers

What are some of the best Pakistani album covers of all time, and why? Here’s what our musicians had to say:

· Junaid Khan (Call): I found the Daur-e-Junoon album cover the best. Even though I found almost all of the Junoon album covers great, but this was the best amongst them all. Why? Well what I believe is that an album actually depicts everything that the artist is about. The cover should be designed in a way that at the first glance a person can predict the genre and style of the band. Junoon was all about live soulful music, and whenever I used to think of Junoon, I used to imagine all those awesome live shows that I’ve gone to and remembered, which were full of energy. The Daur-e-Junoon album cover was a compilation of Junoon's best live performances and when you see the cover, one could easily say what’s inside. The cover had pictures of Junoon performances from venues throughout the world which thrilled a fan like me to a great extent, and once I go through the album cover while listening to the songs, the pictures connect with me in a way that I feel like I am actually seeing the artist live and the overall experience goes beyond imagination. I believe if an artist can connect a listener visually to himself through this, then it has actually succeeded.
· Faiza Mujahid: I pick the album cover of Mekaal Hasan Band’s Saptak, designed by Mehreen Murtaza…the first album which does not impose the band members faces on it and it’s about the music and so it is represented visually rather than the clich├ęd image of the singers with gel-back hair and lots of makeup! It is, I think, for the first time that even the audience has responded very enthusiastically to the album art and picked up the connection between the image and the sound.
· Goher Mumtaz (Jal): I think Junoon’s Parvaaz had a nice cover. The three things that can have a different effect and make the cover stand out are faces (for me, covers should always be without faces), colours, and theme.
· Atif Aslam: I think all the album covers designed for madam Noor Jahan [were the best]. There was nothing exceptional about them but the masses would react very differently to them because in Pakistan a good album cover just adds a little to the content that any of the big or small artists have to offer. So for the masses it’s different and for a niche it’s completely different whereas it totally depends on the popularity of an artist here in Pakistan how the album is going to work so it’s not very important.
· Nausher Javed (Inteha): I don’t have any particular favourites as far as Pakistani album covers are concerned, as I personally feel that an album cover should depict ‘a band’ or ‘an individual’ rather than a haphazard theme, which usually has always been the case. One should be able to get the message or the idea of the name of the band by just looking at the cover. I hope in the near future artists will also pay particular attention to this part.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 14th May, 2010

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