Most album covers have a meaning, but not every album cover has an impeccable design. Here are our picks for the best designed famous album covers of the past 6 decades.
1960s: The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed, 1969
The sculpture displayed on the cover is quite complex and unique. It consists of the Let It Bleed record being played by an antique phonograph arm, with a record-changer spindle holding a tape canister labelled Stones – Let It Bleed, a clock dial, a pizza, a tire and a cake with elaborate icing topped by figurines representing the band (made by famous English cook Delia Smith). The sculpture was designed by Robert Brownjohn, an American graphic designer known for combining formality with wit and sixties pop culture, inspired by the original title of the album, Automatic Changer. Between the pastel colour palette, symmetric features, and use of ordinary objects, the cover gives off a very soothing, artistic feel.
1970s: Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon, 1973
Storm Thorgerson designed Pink Floyd’s iconic album cover after the band suggested he not use a photograph, but rather graphics. So, Thorgerson used inspiration from Floyd’s live light shows and a triangle - the symbol of thought and ambition - to create this simple yet powerful, dark yet illuminating design. Of course, the cover is legendary for reasons beyond design, but we think if it weren’t for this specific design, the punch it packs wouldn’t be as powerful.
1980s: The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You, 1981
Now, now, I know we have a repeat artist here, but when it comes to albums of the 80s, you really can't argue with the Rolling Stones. Plus, Tattoo You is, in fact, beautifully designed. It even won the Grammy for “Best Recording Package,” awarded to the best visual design of the year. Artist Peter Corriston designed this cover, using photographer Hubert Kretzschmar to photograph Mick Jagger and illustrator Christian Piper to illustrate over it. The intricacy of the tattoos on Mick’s face and neck (in grayscale) against the clean red background make the cover interesting but not overdone, all grounded by the solid black border.
1990s: A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory, 1991
Seemingly sticking to the red-and-black trend, we have here one of A Tribe Called Quest’s famous album covers. Using the art direction of ZombArt and the photography of Joe Gran1, a model’s body was painted with glow-in-the-dark paint to create an entirely black, red, and green image that would become iconic and continually utilized throughout the band’s career (see their Midnight Marauders album). Not only is the cover a spectacular art piece with its use of lines and rhythm, but its balance between simplicity, sex appeal, and Afrocentric references reflects the Jazz-heavy sound of the music itself.
2000s: Muse - Origin of Symmetry, 2001
Simple, striking, and incredibly deep, Muse’s sophomore album’s cover is artist William Eager’s interpretation of the album’s title - “Origin of Symmetry.” Inside the album is a collection of 14 other artist’s interpretation of the title, as well. Frontman Matthew Bellamy has stated that the artists were to question where the balance of the universe comes from. Seen on the cover is a white field of tuning-fork-like structures and shadows against an orange sky, making it seem more alien-like than not, but none the less artistic.
2010s: Hozier - Hozier, 2014
It’s not too surprising that Hozier’s music is accompanied by a cool, alternative album cover. It may surprise you, however, to learn that Hozier’s mother, Raine Hozier-Byrne, created the piece! In this very Salvador Dali-inspired piece, a painted, distorted Hozier is featured in an office-like setting with intricate details and colours.