Like many people here at GY&K, I find music to be a great passion. I used to be in bands as a kid and have been an “uber-fan” of many bands and artists over the years, going to shows, collecting and absorbing everything related to their music. In fact I think my brain contains far more wasted knowledge of music than it should. Being an artist (and all around creative person), I have definitely appreciated the many visual offerings bands created to accompany their music. Album covers before the era of digital music, were the main artifact fans owned relating to a band, and they created a ubiquitous language and expression that everyone shared when referring to a band.
So, without further ado, here are ten album covers that I’ve come to appreciate over the years:
#1 Radiohead “Kid A”
This album cover was created during the age of the Compact Disc, but they maximized the visceral experience by including a very elaborate multi-folding inner jacket. It contained a collage of hand created imagery that blended with digital patterns and with the use of translucent pages, blurred the linear tradition of going through the booklet, and turned it into more of an emotional journey. I get so lost in it, I can’t even remember if there were any words in it.
#2 The Police “Ghost In The Machine”
Most Police albums were photo centric, they had a couple good covers. This one came in the heart of the early 80s and couldn’t be more graphic and simple. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized the digital LED patterns were actually their faces.
#3 TOOL “10,000 Days”
From a creative perspective, I love everything about Tool, their music is deep, their shows are mesmerizing, and they package themselves very skillfully. When this CD originally came out, it contained cardboard Stereoscopic glasses to view the inside cover and jacket, creating a sense of depth and perspective.
#4 Yes “Relayer”
This list wouldn’t be complete without some mention of Roger Dean, considering all he has done for Yes over the years. This album has an amazing painting by Roger, creating dreamlike fantasy worlds that helped Yes project the progressive rock persona that was in their music. This is an example of a perfect visual pairing with their musical style. I can’t even listen to Yes without seeing these visuals in my mind.
#5 The Cult “Love”
As a band from the mid 80s, they managed to escape without the cheesy tainting of MTV and all things icky about that decade. This album showcased a Lexicon of symbols that contributed to their mysterious image. I first saw this kind of stuff used by Led Zeppelin back in the 70s, when they used symbols and mystical lyrics. As a typography enthusiast, I loved the runes and tribal imagery, and I really thought this dark and difficult to interpret cover was a great contrast to the title “LOVE”.
#6 Jason Mraz “Love is a four letter word”
This album cover is the opposite of the one in #5. Here, Love is simple, approachable, vulnerable. I love simplicity in design. Not only is this cover graphically minimalistic, but the idea is too. The use of simple shapes and colors to clearly communicate a word is refreshing. But the way that technique transfers to the concept of the album is great too. “Love” doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s THAT easy.
#7 Led Zeppelin “In through the out door”
When this album first came out, it was in a brown bag, stamped with a label like a bootleg or secret package. Inside, the jacket was plain, until wiped with water, then it magically turned permanently colored to reveal the image on the cover and backside. That pretty much blew everyone’s mind. But wait, theres more… There were half a dozen versions of this album. Each having a different photo on the cover. All taken in the same bar scene, but each from a different angle as seen from different people within the photo. Now, who wouldn’t want to own all of them? Genius!
#8 The Hold Steady “Stay Positive”
I am fascinated by bands that are able to create a mark that represented them. Led Zeppelin had the “swan song” guy, Grateful Dead had the “steal your face”, Rush had the “Star man”, and The Stones with “the lips.” I’m not sure bands can even achieve this anymore. Maybe we’re too saturate, maybe fan bases aren’t united enough? Even though this is a mark for an album title and not a band name, the “stay positive” mark is pretty cool, and it stands for an anthem that could use a mark.
#9 Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavillion”
Clearly, Indie music created a whole new “indie artwork” movement. Cheap, homemade, iconic, unexpected, clever… Anything goes when packaging Indie music and the “hipster” culture. This album used an example of illusury motion, a type of optical illusion. I like it because although it’s a bit gimmicky, its definitely memorable, and in the cluttered landscape of indie bands and hipster band names, this album has become a standout on the iPod coverflow. Knowing that the 12” album is long gone and the digital age only allows for small displays and thumbnails, this is a very ingenious way to identify the record.
#10 Weezer “Hurley”
This is a perfect example of how immediate our culture is now. I don’t think we care anymore about whether what we say or do will mean anything tomorrow, in a year, or in ten years. Naming their album Hurley and using an image of Hurley, who was a lovable character on the TV show LOST, almost seems like a tragic mistake made during a forgotten night at a sake bar. But, whether it was calculated or not, it places this band’s album in a time and place that includes some context to popular culture. I mean, who doesn’t associate a song or album with a time in their life? Perhaps they were cashing in on the hype around that show at the time.
What’s your favorite album cover?
Jeff Topping is the VP, Associate Creative Director at GY&K Marketing.