Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have taken the music industry in an entirely new direction. While it has been lauded for its ability to promote new artists and expose new users to new genres of music, it has also signalled the demise of several other aspects of music. Take for instance, album cover art. When was the last time you admired the cover art of the album you’ve been playing on repeat all week?
Before digital streaming existed, album art was a precious method of making a statement about the musician or band and their work. It was an opportunity to push the limits and do something different – high profile artists would even be commissioned to help convey these messages in cover art. The age of groundbreaking album covers may be over, but the influence of those that came before remains. Here are just some of the album covers that changed the face of music:
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
British artist Peter Blake was responsible for this iconic album cover, which featured a collage of the Beatles stood among many other of famous figures in history. The inserts included with the album included cutouts of the band, a postcard of a statue from John Lennon’s house, paper moustaches, and paper sergeant stripes. These additions made the record more interactive for the fans, and created an experience between the band and listener.
The many famous faces, as well as the novelties in the sleeve, made Sgt Pepper’s one of the most expensive covers ever created. A lot of this was due to having to pay celebrities to use their likeness on the cover, which had rarely been done before for a rock LP cover.
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
The surrealistic cover of Bitches Brew was designed by German artist Mati Klarwein, a psychedelic masterpiece lauded as equally as the revolutionary jazz of Miles Davis. At its centre, Klarwein’s design depicts a black woman and a white woman with intertwined heads and fingers. Surrounding them, an image of an approaching storm lies opposite a fierce tribal woman and a peaceful African figure.
Some believed the artwork represented the death of jazz, and that Davis was leaving behind “black” music for the commercial success of “white” music. However, others appreciated the album as a pivotal moment in both jazz and art.
Elvis Presley by Elvis Presley
First released in 1956, Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut became the first rock album to make it to the top of the charts. It also became the first million-selling album of the genre. The album cover was a photo captured of Pressley, taken by William V. “Red” Robertson during a performance at the Fort Homer Hesterley Armory in Tampa. Red’s iconic photograph, known as the “Elvis Tonsil” photo was subsequently used extensively in newspapers and promotional flyers and posters for future shows.
The iconic cover art has since been replicated by many artists for their own album artwork. The Clash’s album London Calling, released in 1979, featured a black and white image of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass guitar against the stage at The Palladium in New York City. Other albums that have reinvented Pressley’s cover art include F-Punk by Big Audio Dynamite and Reintarnation by k.d. lang. British band Chumbawamba also paid homage to Elvis’ original cover on their controversial single, Tony Blair.
Sticky Fingers by Rolling Stones
The cover for Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers was designed by Andy Warhol, who also designed the cover for The Velvet Underground’s debut album. It perfectly emphasised the sexual innuendo associated with the title, and featured a close up photograph of a male crotch in tight jeans. The original vinyl LP release featured a working zipper, which users could unzip to reveal a second cover of cotton briefs. However, the zipper was later abandoned due to damage caused to the records.
Sticky Fingers also marks the first time Rolling Stones used the iconic “tongue and lips” logo of Rolling Stones Records, which was originally designed by John Pasche in 1970. Glam metal band Mötley Crüe paid tribute to the cover art with their 1981 debut album Too Fast For Love. The cover depicted a close up of singer Vince Neil’s crotch, clad in tight black leather pants, with various studded leather bracelets and leather gloves.
Aoxomoxoa by the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead were known for their experimental and psychedelic sound, and their iconic artwork was designed to reflect this. The album artwork designed by Rick Griffin was originally used as a concert poster, but this was later adapted as the cover art for their 1969 album. The top half of the artwork depicts a sun, which also appears to be an egg being fertilised, while the bottom half symbolises death and rebirth.
Grateful Dead first met Griffin backstage after a concert and became massive fans of his style of artwork. They reportedly gave him free reign for the cover, as they were that confident in him. The back cover of the record features a photograph of the band and roadies sitting beneath a tree. One rumour suggests the little girl in the front is Courtney Love, as her father Hank Harrison had been a college friend and roommate of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. While Courtney Love’s involvement with the Dead has been up for discussion, the psychedelic album artwork has cemented itself as one of the most iconic album covers of all time.