GREAT ALBUM COVERS VOLUME 1: 15 OF THE BEST

GREAT ALBUM COVERS VOLUME 1: 15 OF THE BEST.

Recently, whilst looking through a large number of old albums, I was struck by how many great album covers I came across. Funnily enough, not every great album cover I came across was to be found on an album that one would call a classic album. In many cases the album covers were found on albums that I would classify as good albums, but by no means life-changing albums, they were hardly Pet Sounds, Dark Side of the Moon or Screamadlica. 

The other thing that struck me was that with the advent of the CD a great album cover’s impact is lost because of the smaller size of the artwork within the CD case. Nowadays, I wonder if as much care is taken over an albums artwork and ponder the question are there are many classic album covers being produced than there were when i first started buying vinyl. Over thirty years ago, when I first start buying albums, when you bought an album with great artwork such as Out of the Blue by The Electric Light Orchestra it was like holding your own personal piece of art, even better if it was a gatefold sleeve. So in this article the first of a series I intend to do, I will pick fifteen of my favorite album covers of all time and I will rate them out of ten. I hope that the readers of this site will enjoy this article and should they wish to pick their own favorite covers, I hope they will send them into the site. 

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA-OUT OF THE BLUE.

When preparing to write this article I spent some time firstly, thinking about what were my favorite album covers of all time and secondly what are the widely acknowledged classic album covers of all time? People have spent time researching this subject with a great deal of thoroughness and have even written books about the subject, for example, Classic Album Covers of the 60s: Over 200 of the Best Covers of the Decade byStorm Thorgerson and The Greatest Album Covers of All Time by Barry Miles, Grant Scott and Johnny Morgan.  Obviously there are certain album covers that most people will concede are classic album covers for example The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which was designed by Peter Blake and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell, known as Hipgnosis. 

 

THE BEATLES-SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.


PINK FLOYD-DARK SIDE OF THE MOON.

Other acknowledged classic album covers include David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and The Clash’s London Calling which was designed by Ray Lowry and inspired by an old Elvis Presley debut album cover.

DAVID BOWIE-ALADDIN SANE.

THE CLASH-LONDON CALLING.

ELVIS PRESLEY-ELVIS PRESLEY.


However, like most people I have my own personal favorite album covers and here are the first fifteen of them. These albums have some wonderful music in them and cover a wide range of music genres and I can recommend any of them. As mentioned previously, some may not be classic albums that no collection ought to be without, but they are good albums made by good musicians and are worth listening to.

The first classic album cover I have chosen is Screamadelica by Primal Scream, an album which i have previously reviewed when the 20th Anniversary Box Set was released earlier this year. Screamadelica was the third Primal Scream studio album and was released in 1991, and the album cover was designed by the late Paul Cannel. Cannel’s design has been so widely recognised as a classic that The Royal Mail even issued a set of stamps with his design on it. To me, this design is one of the best album covers not just of the 1990’s, but all time. For those who have never heard Screamadelica the standout tracks  are Moving On Up,  Higher Than the Sun, Loaded, Damaged and I’m Coming Down. My verdict is great album and great cover. Classic 9/10

PRIMAL SCREAM-SCREAMADELICA.


The second album that I have chosen to feature is the ABC album The Lexicon of Love. Trevor Horn produced the album which was ABC’s debut and also a concept album. This cover is one I have always admire since the album’s release in 1982. Again, this is not just a great cover but a great album. It is easily one of the finest albums of the early 1980’s and is the best album by far, that ABC ever produced.   This seemed to be the high-point in ABC’s career and they never, again, produced anything of the quality of The Lexicon of Love. Martin Fry’s vocals and the musicianship of the various personnel involved, including the various session musicians (many of whom played on many ZTT productions) and Trevor Horn’s slick production make this one of the decades best albums. Key tracks include: Poison Arrow, Tears Are Not Enough, The Look of Love (Part One) and All of My Heart. 8/10

ABC LEXICON OF LOVE.

The third album cover I would like to feature is The Beatles album Revolver. The reason I have decided to feature this album cover is that it is that Revolver is widely held to the first psychedelic albums produced and within the album the listener is taken on a musical journey where the music’s mood changes and George Martin’s production sees a manipulation of the sounds involved and new hitherto seen instruments and sounds finding their way onto the album. One only has to listen to the sitar on Love You To and the way the guitars are blurred on She Said, She Said. The cover was designed by Klaus Voorman a german artist and bass player and is part line-drawing and part collage and is my favorite Beatles cover. Standout tracks: Taxman, I’m Only Sleeping, She Said, She Said, Dr Robert and Got To Get You Into My Life. 8/10

THE BEATLES-REVOLVER.


The fourth album cover I would like to feature is Little Feat’s fourth album Feat’s Don’t Fail Me which was released in 1974. Little Feat are one of the most under-rated bands of the 1970’s and their most widely known and highly acclaimed albums is Dixie Chicken, a great album and one incidentally, with another great album cover. Little Feat, at that time, were a great live band and they attempted to replicate their New Orleans influenced live sound onto Feats Don’t Fail Me. Lowell George’s totally distinctive vocals and guitar playing are complemented by guest backing vocalists Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. The cover was designed by Neon Park. Sadly, Lowell George lost interest in Little Feat and died in 1979. Standout Tracks: Rock and Roll Doctor, Oh Atlanta, Down the Road and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. 7/10

LITTLE FEAT-FEATS DON’T FAIL ME NOW.

The fifth cover I will feature now is Teenage Fanclub’s album Bandwagonesque. Bandwagonesque was released in 1991 and was their third album and is recognized as the album that brought the band to the attention of the wider music-buying public. Produced by Don Fleming the mini-masterpiece that emerged is a nod to great groups such as The Byrds and Big Star who have influenced many Glasgow bands including Teenage Fanclub. Over the decade the band produced other great albums, notably Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain, either of which are a good introduction to one of Scotland’s finest bands. Standout Tracks: The Concept, What You Do To Me, Sidewinder and Alchoholiday. Should anyone get the chance to see Teenage Fanclub live, my advice is simple, go along, you will be assured of a fantastic live performance from a band that nowadays is at the top of their game. 8/10

TEENAGE FANCLUB-BANDWAGONESQUE.

The sixth album cover that is a particular favorite of mine is The Blue Nile’s second album Hats which was released in 1989. The Blue Nile to many people are one of the most underrated bands of the last thirty years. In the past twenty-five The Blue Nile have only released four albums. They are hardly the most productive of bands, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. Hats to me is the best Blue Nile album, and is the perfect introduction to one of Scotland’s finest bands. The album explores the trials and tribulations of romantic love. I will not spend too much time reviewing this album as I plan to review the album and Blue Nile’s other albums in greater detail at a later date. Regarding the cover, it was changed for the slightly for the American market, as The Blue Nile had very little profile in America. In fact, their American record company went as far taking out an advert in a music paper with a telephone number that people could ring and they would then receive a free copy of Hats. My advice here to anyone who has never heard The Blue Nile is simple, go out and buy Hats and then invest in their other three albums. Standout tracks: Over the Hillside, Let’s Go Out Tonight and Saturday Night. 9/10

THE BLUE NILE-HATS

The seventh album  I wish to feature in this article is the Sly and the Family Stone album There’s A Riot Goin’ On. There’s A Riot Goin’ On was released in 1971 and is a change in sound from their previous album Stand which had a psychedlic soul sound, whereas this album has a harder, funkier sound. Gone was the much more melodic sound that had served the band well, until then. However, There’s A Riot Goin’ On features what must be the band’s most recognizable song Family Affair.  The album was an immediate success selling over 500, 000 copies in the first year. Funnily enough, the album was not as that well received on its release, but subsequently has been recognized as a classic album. The cover was features a black, white and red American flag with suns instead of stars which Stone later explained was meant to represent people of all colours. The photomontage on the album’s cover is designed by artist Lynn Ames. There’s A Riot Goin’ On and Stand are god introductions to Sly and the Family Stone. Standout Tracks: Luv ‘N’ Haight, Family Affair and 

Runnin’ Away. 7/10

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE-THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON.


The eight album cover that I feel is worth featuring is Nightmares On Wax’s album Carboot Soul. The artwork on the album was created by Lee McMillan (Monkee) and is one the best album covers of the 1990s. This is, in my opinion, one of the best chill-out or downtempo albums that was released. It was released back in April 1999 on Warp Records and is the fruits of George “Herbs” Evelyn’s crate-digging exploits far and wide, trying to find those hidden gems that go towards making the Nightmares On Wax sound its very own. On the album you find string sounds that have a beautiful retro sound, sweet vocal choruses and a lovely laid-back hip hop sound that is inimitable. All Evelyn needed to make this glorious album was a drum machine and a shedload of lovely vinyl. However, unlike his imitators, vocals, keyboards guitar and bass are all recorded live. Like certain albums of yesteryear, this album has a glorious summer feel about it. So if you have not heard this album, I urge to go out straight away, and part with your hard-earned cash, you won’t be disappointed. Standout Tracks: Les Nuits, Ethnic Majority, Morse, Jorge and Survival. 9/10

NIGHTMARES ON WAX-CARBOOT SOUL.

The ninth album cover that I will feature is The Smith’s second album Meat Is Murder, which was released in February 1985.  Meat Is Murder differs from the eponymous debut in that this is a much more political album than its predecessor.  Included in the album are the anti-corporal punishment songs Barbarism Begins At Home and Rusholme Ruffians. The best known track is obviously the title track Meat Is Murder, the pro-vegetarianism track and rumor has it that Morrissey would not allow the other band members to eat meat. Two other classic Smith’s songs This Joke Isn’t Funny Any More and How Soon Is Now are to be found on this album. The cover is an edited still from Emile de Antonio’s 1969 documentary In the Year of the Pig, which traced the origins of the Vietnam war. Standout Tracks: This Joke Isn’t Funny Any More How Soon Is Now and Meat Is Murder.  8/10

THE SMITHS-MEAT IS MURDER.

The tenth of album I will feature is Terry Callier’s album What Color Is Love. This is one of a trio of albums Callier recorded for Cadet Records in between 1972 and 1974. Sadly, Callier’s music failed to an impact commercially. He continued to record and perform until 1983, when he became the only musician to quit music to become a computer programmer and look after his young daughter. However, Callier made an unexpected comeback and recoded with Beth Orton on her Trailer Park album. Since then, Callier has produced a number of albums and for the listener who has never heard Callier’s work a good start is Essential, a compilation of his early work on Cadet, which features the best of the music he produced for the Cadet label. For those wishing to try his more recent work, I would recommend Lifetime and Timepeace, two fantastic album which showcase Callier’s considerable talents. At a later date i will feature Terry Callier in more detail as he has produced some great music at different times of his life. Regarding What Color Is Love, Joel Brodsky is responsible for the photograph that features on the album’s cover. This cover is one of my favorites of all the albums I own. The standard of Callier’s vocals, the musicianship and songwriting on this album are of the highest standard and for anyone thinking of buying this album, I can wholly recommend doing so, it is a worth addition to any collection and will lead to a lifetime love affair with Callier’s music. Standout tracks: Dancing Girl, What Color Is Love, Just As Long As We’re In Love and I’d Rather Be With You. 9/10

TERRY CALLIER-WHAT COLOR IS LOVE.

Number eleven on this list of favorite album covers is Steely Dan’s Gaucho album. This album was originally released back in 1980 and demonstrates the considerable lengths that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker went to whilst trying to achieve perfection within the studio using the available recording methods. When making Gaucho in excess of forty-two musicians were used and the band were beset with problems regarding the creative direction that should be taken. This is Steely Dan’s concept album, two words that usually send a shiver down the record buying public’s spine. The album is said to be  seven inter-related stories about seven wanna-bee hipsters. 

When one listens to the album what Steely Dan delivered, it is probably their most polished album. When released Gaucho was given favorable reviews by many reviewers. Commercially the album was a great success. The quality of the album is comparable to the rest of Steely Dan’s back catalogue, even though this was a departure in style for them. The sound is much changed and gone are the complex chord changes to be found on previous albums. In its place there is a much more pared down sound with a much more of a jazz influence to the sound, although Steely Dan have always been inspired by jazz. Indeed Fagen and Becker clearly listened to Miles Davis who believed sometimes that music is improved by what is left out of a song, and that space could add to a song’s impact. The artwork was designed by Susanne Walsh and has great visual impact. Standout tracks: Babylon Sisters, Hey Nineteen and Gaucho. 7/10

STEELY DAN-GAUCHO.

The twelth album in the first installment of this series of great album covers is the Grace Jones album Nightclubbing. This album cover had to make the cut for its sheer visual impact alone. Released in 1981, it was Jones’ fifth album and her second of her post disco albums and was the album that saw Jones make a breakthrough commercially reaching number 35 in the UK charts. Three singles were released from Nightclubbing, the first Demolition Man is a cover of a Police song, the second was Pull Up To the Bumper, is one of Jones’ best tracks and still sounds good today. The final single was I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango). The album is a melting pot in styles and influences ranging from disco, funk, reggae and bossa nova. It is worth pointing out that Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespear aka reggae duo Sly and Robbie, were part of the team of musicians to feature on the album, and their contribution as a rhythm section make the album much stronger than it would have been without them. Sly and Robbie have featured on many other artists ranging from Black Uhuru and Jimmy Cliff to Mick Jagger Madonna. The album cover for Nightclubbing was painted by Jean Paul Goode and remains one of the most striking album covers of the past thirty years. Standout tracks: Walking In the Rain, Pull Up To the Bumper and I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango). 7/10

GRACE JONES-NIGHTCLUBBING. 


Number thirteen on my list of favorite album covers is The Stone Roses debut album The Stones Roses. It was released in June 1988, and produced by John Leckie. To support the album The Stone Roses played a number of high profile concerts and very quickly The Stone Roses became one of the biggest bands of the Madchester era. Nearly twenty-five years later, this album is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. It certainly is the greatest album of the Madchester scene. 

Sadly, after such a promising debut, The Stone Roses failed to achieve the same level of success. Their second album Second Coming was nowhere near as good, and after that the group split, both Ian Brown and John Squire went on to become a solo artists and Mani later joined the Primal Scream. 

Away from music, John Squire became a highly successful artist and was responsible for designing the album cover for the band’s debut album. Squire was greatly influenced by Jackson Pollock abstract expressionist style when designing the album cover. Squire has since gone on to have successful exhibitions. 

Brown and Squire proved to be very talented songwriters and the album is crammed full of great songs. When you listen to the album you are struck by the power and quality of Brown’s vocals, Squire’s is an extremely talented guitarist. The Stone Roses were one of the greatest live bands of their time. When one watches Brown on stage at the time I am struck by his sullenness and his sheer confidence. One only has to witness him spread his arms wide and confidently declare “I am the resurrection and I am the light”. Then in come the rest of the band Squire and guitar and the top-class rhythm section of Mani and Reni. 

The sad thing about the Stone Roses story is that they only recorded two albums, and even then, Second Coming failed to live up to their debut album. When asked about the possibility of the band reforming, it seems highly unlikely that will ever happen. However, we are fortunate that The Stone Roses made such a brilliant album, which is much more that many bands ever achieve in a far longer career. Standout tracks: I Wanna Be Adored, She Bangs A Drum , Made of Stone and I Am the Resurrection. 8/10

THE STONE ROSES_THE STONE ROSES.

Number fourteen on my list of favorite album covers is the Talk Talk album Spirit of Eden which was released in 1988 and is easily Talk Talk’s magnum opus. The album is widely recognized as a masterpiece and is the cumulation of numerous musicians performing a multitude of various instruments, much of which was totally improvised. As is often the case, the album was not a commercial success. Throughout Talk Talk’s career Mark Hollis was was heavily influenced by jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane and classical composer Claude Debussy and these influences are apparent on Spirit of Eden. The album has a serene quality to it, and the album is noted for its tranquil soundscapes. Hollis’s believes that his lyrics although they feature religious and spiritual references are more humanitarian and he tends to eschew from stating that they are representative of one religion. Overall, this is a beautiful album to sit and relax to, each time you listen to it, you will hear something different and it is an album that you will return to time and time again, each time noticing a nuance that you failed to notice the previous time that you listened to this album. If you do not have this album in your record collection, I strongly recommend that you go out and buy it straight away, you will not regret doing so. Standout tracks: Eden, Desire and I Believe I You. 9/10

TALK TALK-SPIRIT OF EDEN.


The fifteenth and final album cover  that I will feature in this installment of my favourite album covers is Donald Byrd’s album Street Lady. Street Lady was released in 1973 and is one of Donald Byrd’s best albums of the 1970’s. The album and its cover designed byMike Salisbury are typical of the Blaxploitation albums of that time, such as Isaac Hayes Shaft, Bobby Womacks’s Across 110th Street or Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly. This album brims over with wah-wah guitars, electric pianos, plentiful percussion, fantastic flute solos and catchy vocals. This is another concept album, one that Larry Mizell composed, produced and arranged. Street Lady tells the story of an independent prostitute and if you listen to this album and you are transplanted to a different time and place, where you will find yourself striding alongside Detective John Shaft, clad in the loudest of suits, wearing a wide-brimmed hat set at a jaunty angle and a pair of platform shoes upon your feet, alongside pimps and hustlers aplenty. This is definitely an album that is worth checking out, and if you do you will be hooked. Who knows, maybe you will even buy a loud polyester suit and a pair of platform shoes as well! Standout tracks: Lansana’s Priestess, Miss Kane and Woman of the World. 8/10

DONALD BYRD-STREET LADY.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article, it is the first of a series that I intend to do. My intention is not to pick obvious album covers and to look at albums that the casual and serious music buyer may not be familiar with, and in doing so, introduce you to some great new music. After all, isn’t it fantastic when you discover a new and wonderful record? If you are anything like me, the last thing you want to do when you come across something new and wonderful is keep it to yourself, no you want to share it with everyone. So if anyone out there has a wonderful album cover that just so happens to have some great music on it, don’t keep it to yourself, come on here and tell everyone about it. Tell me and others why this is such a great record and then we can tell other people about it. So if anyone has anything they want to share, come onto this site and tell us about it, and then we can all know about it.

Finally, I have really enjoyed doing the research for this article and I have learnt so much about the music I have written about, and I hope that by you having taken the time to read this article, and others on this blog, that you know more about the wonderful music that I have had the privilege of writing about. If you have enjoyed this article, keep looking at this blog, I will be putting new articles up on a daily basis and I would welcome your comments and feedback. So if you have enjoyed the music, don’t keep it to yourselves, and if you have enjoyed this article and others on the blog, don’t keep it to yourselves, tell your friends and get them to tell their friends.


4 Comments

  1. Pål Wold

    Hi! This is a comment thats overdue;) Regards to the record covers,I was very surprised not to see any by Barney Bubble or Andy Warhole (especially the series he made over the Debbie Harry Rockbird,came in 8 versions) Sorry for commenting over 2 years late.Just recently discoverd your blog and I like a lot.Thank you for all the great posts. Pål

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re quite correct to point out the omissions on the list. The article that you commented on, was meant to be the first of a series. I’ve been meaning to do Parts 2 and 3, given how many great album covers there are. I will get round to it. It’s just there’s so much new music being released every month. Keep reading my blog and one day, Part 2 will be posted.Later this year, when the releases die down, that’s when I post articles like that.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

  2. Gregg Brown

    Phoebe Snow’s debut album cover should definitely be part of the all time best album covers. It is stunning.

    • Hi Gregg,

      Good call about Phoebe Snow. If I do another volume, that’s a definite for number 16. I’m a huge Phoebe Snow fan. Was listening to an album just last week. One of music’s best kept secrets. I must review a Phoebe Snow album soon. Watch out for that.

      Regards,
      Derek.

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