“Don’t judge a book by its cover” goes the age-old saying, but it’d be a flat-out lie to pretend millions of us didn’t walk out of record stores with soon-to-be essential albums in our record collections just because the sleeve looked good. The best album covers can be as important as the music within, leading many fans to display them on the walls, like artwork, or to look for hidden details in the design (like the UFO you can spot in Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night album). Designing a great record sleeve takes skill – and while there have been no shortage of terrible efforts in the history of music, when they’re done right, the best album covers can lead to fame and fortune for the greatest designers.
40: Creedence Clearwater Revival: ‘Willy And The Poor Boys’ (1969)
Ever progressive and startlingly prolific, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best album shows John Fogerty and co performing for three children outside the since-demolished Duck Kee Market in California. Despite their impressive musicianship and Fogerty’s almost unmatched work ethic, CCR found themselves at the mercy of ruthless record labels more interested in capitalism rather than the abundance of humanity the band sought to project.
Photographer: Basul Parik
39: Nick Drake: ‘Bryter Layter’ (1971)
Like Elvis Presley’s debut album cover (later entry. Spoiler alert), Bryter Layter’s artwork went on to “inspire” other record sleeves. In this instance, Japanese experimental rockers Boris did a little Bryter Layter of their own with their 2003 album, Akuma No Uta, maintaining the late Nick Drake’s cool, calm and collected demeanour but replacing his guitar with an Ibanez: a menacing, double-necked beauty.
Photographer: Nigel Waymouth
38: Ohio Players: ‘Pain’ (1972)
Responsible for some of the best album covers in soul and funk music, Ohio Players were, for lack of a better word, unfazed when it came to their record sleeves. Almost every one contains some kind of sexual imagery or body liberation – particularly those belonging to their run of early 70s classics, Pleasure, Ecstasy and Climax – but Pain is the most striking. That’s model Pat Evans – who featured on other Ohio Players artworks – standing tall in dominatrix gear and carrying a whip, just five years after The Velvet Underground’s supposedly unimaginable inclusion of BDSM themes in their own work.
Photographer: Joel Brodsky
37: Joni Mitchell: ‘Blue’ (1971)
For her first bona fide masterpiece, Joni Mitchell examined her innermost feelings in extreme close-up, and presented them to the listener with unflinching intimacy. Fittingly, Blue’s album cover forces similarly intense engagement, with a close-cropped portrait of Mitchell singing into a microphone taking up most of the sleeve. “During the making of Blue, I was just so thin-skinned and delicate… I was so vulnerable and I felt so naked in my work,” Mitchell later recalled; the almost translucent hue of her skin in photographer Tim Considine’s cover shot brings that to the fore. For an artist whose paintings are as much of her legacy as her music, Mitchell knew how to make a visual impact, and there could only have been one colour to represent this rich outpouring of emotion.
Photographer: Tim Considine
36: Oasis: ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ (1995)
One of the best 90s album covers, the artwork for Oasis’ second album feels remarkably still, as if capturing the calm before the storm. “Cool Britannia” was about to break, and with it, waves of youths obsessed with the Britpop heroes. Picturing DJ Sean Rowley and artwork designer Brian Cannon crossing paths on London’s Berwick Street, the photo was one of hundreds painstakingly taken for the sleeve. Upon inspection, the group decided that the first photo was the best – much to Cannon’s dismay – and, thanks to the image, Berwick Street is still a hub for record shops and buskers to this day.
Photographer: Michael Spencer Jones
35: Supertramp: ‘Breakfast In America’ (1979)
There’s nothing like Kate Murtagh mimicking Lady Liberty while holding a tall glass of OJ to represent the good ol’ American diner. Trouble is, many keen-eyed fans feel the Breakfast In America album cover connects to American history a little too well: our waitress’ glass – orange, like a fiery torch – is pointing towards the two main World Trade Center towers, supposedly predicting 9/11 a whole 22 years early. Paired with the fact the rear sleeve shows a little drawing of a plane flying towards the skyline, and that the “u” and “p” of “Supertramp” could look like a “9” and “11” if you hold the sleeve up to a mirror, one of the best 70s album covers ends up provoking a full-blown conspiracy theory.
Photographer: Aaron Rapoport
34: Prince: ‘Purple Rain’ (1984)
One of the best 80s album covers, Purple Rain encapsulates the decade’s aesthetic. The High Priest Of Pop’s sixth album turned him into a global superstar, and the record sleeve is fit to match: a prime-era Prince in all his pomp atop a purple motorcycle in a nighttime scene, with a gorgeous floral border to boot. Not only does Purple Rain offer a snapshot of Prince at the height of his 80s superstardom, but it’s the record that truly earned him the nickname The Purple One.
Photographers: Ed Thrasher, Ron Slenzak | Designer: Laura LiPuma
33: King Crimson: ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’ (1969)
Robert Fripp felt the now-renowned painting of the 21st Century Schizoid Man truly reflected the music King Crimson’s debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. Considering that it’s probably the best prog rock album ever made, artist Barry Godber (who died at just 24) did immensely well in crafting a visual aid to such a celebrated conceptual work. Fripp says if you cover the mouth, the man’s eyes indicate a great sadness. Talk about a deeper meaning…
Illustrator: Barry Godber
32: Gorillaz: ‘Demon Days’ (2005)
Using The Beatles’ Let It Be album cover as a template for the Demon Days artwork, Gorillaz cemented themselves as pop-culture heavyweights, even though they were virtual characters devised by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. Clockwise from top left, the masterminds behind DARE, Feel Good Inc. and Kids With Guns are: Murdoc Niccals, Stuart “2D” Pot, Noodle and Russel Hobs.
Illustrator: Jamie Hewlett
31: Duran Duran: ‘Rio’ (1982)
Known for a series of portrait illustrations dubbed the “Nagel woman”, Ohio-born artist Patrick Nagel developed his distinctive style while working as a contributor to Playboy magazine in the mid-70s. Drawing on Japanese woodblock prints and art deco fashions of the 20s and 30s, his vision of glamour was the perfect complement to Duran Duran’s own high-gloss visuals, and Nagel’s work for Rio – coupled with graphic designer Malcolm Garrett’s simple yet sophisticated framing – immediately secured its place among the best album covers of all time, with keyboardist Nick Rhodes calling it “the Mona Lisa of the 1980s”.
Illustrator: Patrick Nagel | Designer: Malcolm Garrett
30: Cyndi Lauper: ‘She’s So Unusual’ (1983)
Seemingly overnight, Cyndi Lauper became an icon to thousands of young women who didn’t fit in with the glamour of MTV or identify with the impossible standards of 80s supermodels. Comfortable in her natural habitat – dancing on a beach-side scene with her fire-red hair and outrageous outfit – Lauper was the hero that so many didn’t realise they needed.
Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
29: Green Day: ‘Dookie’ (1994)
A humorous representation of the kind of explosive impact Green Day’s third album had when it was released in February 1994, Dookie’s album cover was packed with the kind of anarchic humour that characterised many of the best Green Day songs. The shit-flinging animals are likely a reference to the album title (it was named after the phrase “liquid dookie” – the group’s own slang for diarrhoea), while Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong once explained that the artwork was like a pop-punk take on Where’s Wally: “There’s pieces of us buried on the album cover,” he told VH1’s Ultimate Albums, adding, “The robed character that looks like the Mona Lisa is the woman on the cover of the first Black Sabbath album. AC/DC guitarist Angus Young is in there somewhere, too.” One of the best album covers of its era, Dookie’s artwork was drawn by Bay Area artist Richie Bucher, whose fantasy destruction of Telegraph Avenue, in Berkeley, California, paid homage to the local scene Green Day came up in.
Illustrator: Richie Bucher
28: Ramones: ‘Ramones’ (1976)
Effectively establishing the punk uniform of ripped jeans and leather jackets, the photo used for the artwork of Ramones’ self-titled debut album had originally appeared on the cover of Punk fanzine, and was taken by that publication’s photographer Roberta Bayley. A number of imitations by other bands have ensured its place among the best album covers of all time – ironic, given that Ramones had initially planned to use their own parody of The Beatles’ 1964 US album Meet The Beatles! for the sleeve. Like the album itself, this cover was no-fuss attitude in the face of all comers.
Photographer: Roberta Bayley
27: David Bowie ‘“Heroes”’ (1977)
There are no shortage of iconic David Bowie album covers that we could have included in our list of the best album covers of all time. The artworks for both “Heroes” and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot (also released in 1977) were based on Roquairol, a painting by the German printmaker Erich Heckel. Bowie was clearly into the painting and the pose he struck; the “Heroes” album cover made a surprise comeback when he repurposed it for his 2013 comeback album, The Next Day.
Photographer: Masayoshi Sukita
26: Eagles: ‘Hotel California’ (1977)
Searching for somewhere that could have been the Hotel California album’s titular retreat, photographer David Alexander and Eagles’ art director John Kosh photographed the façades of three Los Angeles hotels, hoping the results would prove sinister enough for the band’s liking. A shot of The Beverley Hills Hotel, on Sunset Boulevard, did the trick, as the waning daylight cast the building in an ominous shadow. With the album’s title styled as a neon sign in the lower right-hand corner, the final image captured all the implied decadence of a residence “you can never leave” – something that initially bothered the proprietors of the real-life establishment, who threatened legal action against the group. They were soon appeased when Hotel California became a smash hit and bookings at the hotel increased threefold.
Photographer: David Alexander | Art director: John Kosh
25: Kraftwerk: ‘The Man-Machine’ (1978)
In their attempt to present themselves as automaton creators of machine-tooled electronic music, Kraftwerk looked to Soviet-era suprematist art for a clean, uncluttered style that matched their robotic poses and modernist outlook. Designed by German artist Günter Fröhling, who took the work of Russian illustrator El Lissitzky as a jumping-off point, The Man-Machine’s album cover was mistaken by some for having fascist overtones. “They were unable to understand that it was pure irony to us,” the group’s former percussionist Wolfgang Flür wrote in his memoir, Kraftwerk: I Was A Robot.
Photographer: Günter Fröhling | Designer: Karl Klefish
24: Elvis Presley: ‘Elvis Presley’ (1956)
Elvis Presley’s debut album cover, complete with its pink and green right-angled text, was later homaged on the artwork for a little album by The Clash, London Calling, as well as Tom Waits’ critically acclaimed Rain Dogs. It’s not the only iconic Presley album cover to be reimagined by other artists: The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me nodded to the G.I. Blues soundtrack artwork, while The Fall’s 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong artwork offered a suitably post-punk take on the gold lamé-clad King’s 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.
Photographer: William V “Red” Robertson
23: Bruce Springsteen: ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (1984)
Bruce Springsteen’s often misinterpreted “patriotic” release is paired brilliantly with its album cover: a photo of The Boss from behind, embodying the American dream in a plain white T-shirt, strong blue denim and red baseball cap slung into his back pocket, forever gazing towards those Stars’n’Stripes, freedom-bound.
Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
22: Iron Maiden: ‘The Number Of The Beast’ (1982)
Setting up future reinventions across the best Iron Maiden album covers, the metal stalwarts’ undead mascot, Eddie, evolved from street punk to puppet master for the sleeve of the group’s 1982 album, The Number Of The Beast. Painted by long-term Maiden collaborator Derek Riggs, the image – in which Eddie is seen pulling the Devil’s strings, while the Devil, in turn, toys with his own miniature Eddie puppet – was the first of many artworks which would depict Eddie in ever more complex roles. Originally intended to be the picture sleeve for the group’s Purgatory single, the image was deemed to good not to be used as an album cover – a smart move which made Iron Maiden’s first record with newcomer singer Bruce Dickinson all the more impactful.
Illustrator: Derek Riggs
21: The Notorious B.I.G.: ‘Ready To Die’ (1994)
Picturing an infant adrift against a large white background, the design for The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album, Ready To Die, is almost unbearably poignant in the face not only of Biggie’s own tragically early end, but also the violence that, over three decades on from the album’s release, poses a continual threat to Black communities around the world. Despite persistent suggestions that the cover star was a young Biggie himself, it was actually a boy named Keithroy Yearwood, whose identity was revealed by the New York Daily Post in 2011. Found though a child modelling agency, Yearwood made $150 for just two hours’ of work – and, since revealing his identity, is set for a lifetime’s worth of fame.
Photographer: Butch Belair
20: The Slits: ‘Cut’ (1979)
Punk crashed and burned as quickly as it emerged, but some artists stayed true to the message. On their stellar debut album, The Slits covered Clash guitarist Mick Jones’ failures as a lover, the thrill of shoplifting and the shambles that was the New Towns act in the UK, among other things. All of it is packaged in a classic sleeve dominated by the image of a topless, defiant and mud-covered Slits.
Photographer: Pennie Smith
19: Grace Jones: ‘Nightclubbing’ (1981)
The chameleon-like Grace Jones has made an art of donning totally different outfits and seemingly fitting in just about anywhere (as on the Island Life album cover, a piece of collage trickery that finds her balancing like a fully-accomplished gymnast) while always remaining the centre of attention. On the Nightclubbing sleeve, her intimidating gaze, hugely exaggerated figure and air of inhuman – even alien – quality made her the most David Bowie-esque glam figure since, well, David Bowie.
Photographer: Jean-Paul Goude | Illustrator: Jean-Paul Goude
18: Madonna: ‘Like A Prayer’ (1989)
No record sleeves defined female fashion in the 80s like the best Madonna album covers. A notable – and unapologetically forthright – take on The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers artwork, the Like A Prayer album cover made it clear for anyone who hadn’t been paying attention that Madonna would be for her generation the controversial headlines-grabber that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been for theirs. Not for her, however, a cyclone of drug busts and other police scuffles; having the gumption to take on patriarchy, religion and small-minded conservatism – as the Like A Prayer song did to full effect – was more than enough. Note the crown above the logo: the “Queen Of Pop” was in control – and so famous, she no longer needed to show her face to get recognised.
Photographer: Herb Ritts
17: Prince: ‘Sign O’ The Times’ (1987)
With their distinct colour palettes and Prince’s own changing fashions, the best Prince album covers did as much as the music within to define their respective eras. And none were more effective in doing so than the Sign O’ The Times sleeve. Created for Prince’s high-water mark 1987 double album, it reflected the peach-and-black colour scheme that he had adopted following the black-and-white glamour of the Parade era, and its stage-set look – with a backdrop on loan from a local Minneapolis production of Guys And Dolls – inspired the set design for what would be Prince’s most theatrical tour to date, in support of the Sign O’ The Times album. The plasma ball made for a deliberately pointed reference to the record Prince had initially intended to release – a triple-disc album called Crystal Ball – but the blurry portrait was a result of serendipity, after Prince asked photographer Jeff Katz to take an off-the cuff shot without lighting or proper focus. “He was so careful in his thought process, music and visuals,” Katz later recalled, “but he was also willing to go to this very loose, surreal, conceptual place.”
Photographer: Jeff Katz | Art director: Laura LiPuma
16: Fleetwood Mac: ‘Rumours’ (1977)
Representing most fans’ entry point to Fleetwood Mac, the Rumors[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/fleetwood-mac-rumours-album/] album boasts an artwork that doubles as an invitation. In the flowing robes that would forever define her image, Stevie Nicks[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/best-stevie-nicks-songs/] holds a crystal ball out to the viewer – a piece of iconography that would remain part of the group’s image throughout their career – while drummer Mick Fleetwood[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/best-mick-fleetwood-performances/] poses deadpan, his foot on a stool, with a pair of wooden balls dangling between his thighs. Clearly, this group inhabited otherworldly mysticism and earthly good humour at once, and Rumours’ status as one of the best album covers of all time is in part thanks to the way it has forever defined these twin poles of Fleetwood Mac’s existence.
Photographer: Herbert Worthington
15: Miles Davis: ‘Bitches Brew’ (1970)
Miles Davis’ bold step into fusion territory, the Bitches Brew album made it clear from the jump that the jazz trumpeter had reached a whole new level with his art. No portrait photo of the man who had, up until very recently, largely worn tailored Italian suits that made him look as though he belonged in a past era. Instead, the cover painting, by German-born French artist Mati Klarwein, was a perfect expression of not only Davis’ musical evolution, but also the artist’s own style, which managed to pull psychedelia, surrealism and religious symbolism into one cohesive whole. “I like to paint paintings that I haven’t seen,” Klarwein once said. While neither the jazz nor rock worlds had seen anything like this glorious gatefold at the time, Bitches Brew is now rightly recognised as one of the best album covers in any genre.
Illustrator: Mati Klarwein
14: Björk: ‘Homogenic’ (1997)
Creative people are said to suffer for their work, and Björk more than proved that theory true when she posed for the cover of her fourth album, 1997’s Homogenic. Later revealing that she had balanced a ten-kilo wig on her head while her waist had been bound by gaffer tape, her feet crammed into a pair of high clogs and her fingers manicured in a way which restricted their use, the Icelandic singer said that the album cover was meant to represent “someone who is put into an impossible situation, so impossible that she has to become a warrior. A warrior who has to fight not with weapons, but with love.” Designed by the late Alexander McQueen, the Homogenic sleeve brought a touch of high fashion to a decade which had largely been defined by the anti-style of grunge in the US, or the casual streetwear of Britpop in the UK.
Designer: Alexander McQueen | Photographer: Nick Knight
13: New Order: ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ (1983)
Having released a string of truly groundbreaking singles throughout the 80s, New Order were also, thanks to the work of Peter Saville, responsible for some of the era’s best album covers. Another of Saville’s revered works, the textless record sleeve for Power, Corruption & Lies was intended to retain New Order’s mystery (and, presumably, to distance themselves from the tragedy that befell Joy Division). If anything, however, it only made them more appealing. Depicting a bouquet of flowers displayed against a backdrop that looked like the interior of every council house in 80s England, the artwork has become unavoidable in post-punk culture and romanticised to the extreme, especially by the folks who feel The Smiths and The Breakfast Club are the best things since sliced bread.
Designer: Peter Saville
12: Rage Against The Machine: ‘Rage Against The Machine’ (1992)
The self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức is a powerful image that captures the turbulence of 20th-century politics. It’s fitting, then, that Rage Against The Machine (who would play a major role in riling millions with Killing In The Name, Bullet In The Head and Wake Up) adopted Malcolm Browne’s iconic photograph for their untamed self-titled debut album’s cover.
Photographer: Malcolm Browne
11: The Beatles: ‘Abbey Road’ (1969)
Dashed off in just ten minutes during a break from recording, The Beatles’ Abbey road cover rivals other Beatles sleeves, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and “The White Album”, for being the most famous album cover in the world. With a policeman briefly stopping the flow of traffic, photographer Iain Macmillan had just enough time to take six photos while perched on a ladder as the group crossed and re-crossed the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios. Based on a few sketches made by Paul McCartney – who later selected the final shot – the artwork was seized upon as a supposed source of clues fuelling the infamous “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy theory. After all, why else would he have taken his shoes off (other than the fact that they were, apparently, too tight to wear with comfort)?
Photographer: Iain Macmillan
10: Led Zeppelin: ‘Houses Of The Holy’ (1973)
Standing tall among the best Led Zeppelin album covers, the photo that made for the basis of the Houses Of The Holy sleeve was taken at Giant’s Causeway, in Northern Ireland, by Aubrey Powell, co-founder of the legendary design company Hipgnosis. Seeking to create something inspired by the Arthur C Clarke novel Childhood’s End, in which children climb off the edge of the Earth, Powell staged two photo sessions a day for ten days – returning at sunrise and sunset – shooting in black-and-white with child models Stefan and Samantha Gates, before he was happy with what he’d captured. After creating a collage out of the best photos, an accidental tint, added in post-production, gave the final image an eerie effect which set it on its way to becoming one of the best album covers of its era.
Photographer: Aubrey Powell | Design: Hipgnosis
9: The Rolling Stones: ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971)
If its title was heavy on innuendo, the Sticky Fingers album cover doubled down on that suggestiveness. With a working zipper which, when unzipped, revealed a glimpse of underwear inside the jeans (with the name of Andy Warhol, the design’s mastermind, rubber-stamped on them in gold), the sleeve caused some controversy – and not just because of the image. Genius in its conception, but slightly less well-thought out in execution, the zipper ended up causing damage to records it was stacked against. Upon Sticky Fingers’ release, it was immediately assumed that Mick Jagger had posed for the image, though the model was actually part of Warhol’s Factory stable and had been picked anonymously from a number of Polaroid photos taken by Warhol cohort Billy Name.
Concept: Andy Warhol | Photographer: Billy Name | Designer: Craig Baun
8: Sex Pistols: ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ (1977)
One of the best album covers – and certainly the most controversial – to come out of the punk era, Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols was seized upon by censors, purely on its title alone. Instigating nationwide police raids on record stores that refused to cover up the word “bollocks” when they displayed the record, Jamie Reid’s Day-Glo design would have been eye-catching enough without the inclusion of a supposedly offending word which sent the UK press into hysteria. The fuss somewhat overshadowed the brilliant simplicity of the design itself, with Reid’s “ransom note” lettering and cut’n’paste style proving a high-water mark of punk-era DIY design. The band pushed back against the negative press, running ads in music magazines which claimed, “THE ALBUM WILL LAST. THE SLEEVE MAY NOT.” Time has proven that both have gone the distance.
Designer: Jamie Reid
7: Pink Floyd: ‘Wish You Were Here’ (1974)
Picking up on themes inherent in the album’s lyrics, Hipgnosis co-founder Storm Thorgerson came up with a design concept for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here which reflected the insincerity that the band felt ran through the music industry. Picturing one businessman literally being burned by a handshake deal, the image remains one of the best Pink Floyd album covers – and its photoshoot was as dangerous as it looked. When, on the 15th take, a gust of wind blew fire straight into the face of stuntman Ronnie Rondell, a first-aid team rushed to spray him with foam and rescue him from serious burns – or worse. Rondell refused to do another take, but, luckily, photographer Aubrey Powell had captured everything he needed.
Photographer: Aubrey Powell | Design: Hipgnosis
6: Nirvana: ‘Nevermind’ (1991)
Inspired by a documentary on water births, Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover was an ironic commentary on commerciality in the music industry at a time when Nirvana themselves were about to go super nova. One of the best album covers of any era, Nevermind’s sleeve could arguably only have been created in the 90s, when “alternative” music was making unprecedented strides in the mainstream – in turn causing many indie bands to wonder how to reconcile their self-proclaimed outsider status with newfound fame and wealth. Cobain would struggle more than most with this dilemma, and the Nevermind album cover would later leave its model, Spencer Elden, feeling conflicted over his involvement. Having variously embraced his infamy and sought legal reparations for the band’s decision to picture him as a fully naked infant, Elden does very much mind his place in rock history.
Photographer: Kirk Weddle | Art director: Robert Fisher
5: Joy Division: ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979)
Peter Saville’s influence on the Manchester music scene is unprecedented. Whether for New Order, The Haçienda or the dozens of other artistic exploits that came out of Factory Records, he was at the forefront of cutting-edge design. Perhaps his most famous work is the artwork for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, which depicts a radio signal given out by a pulsating star. Like many of the best album covers, the image has transcended the music and is now as famous as the band (and the Manchester post-punk movement) themselves.
Designer: Peter Saville
4: David Bowie: ‘Aladdin Sane’ (1973)
An hour of make-up, one simple pose, and one of the best album covers of all time was complete. Selected from a number of portraits that photographer Brian Duffy took of David Bowie in his studio in London’s Primrose Hill area, the Aladdin Sane portrait has gone on to define what’s arguably Bowie’s most unforgettable look. Inspired by Bowie’s interest in Elvis Presley’s “TCB” ring – a gold ring which featured diamond-encrusted lightning bolts, and whose initialism stood for “taking care of business” – Duffy came up with the idea of placing a lightning-bolt flash down the centre of the singer’s face, hitting upon the perfect visual representation of Bowie’s increasingly fractured sense of self as he became lost in his own Ziggy Stardust creation. With a teardrop later airbrushed on by designer Philip Castle, who also added the silvery effect given to Bowie’s skin, the album cover became the most expensive ever made at that point, thanks to the use of a seven-colour printing technique which gave the image extra depth.
Photographer: Brian Duffy | Designer: Philip Castle
3: Pink Floyd: ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973)
Designed by the legendary Hypgnosis production team, The Dark Side Of The Moon immediately ensured its place among the best album covers of all time. Now appearing on T-shirts the world over (leading angry progonauts to demand, “Oh, you like Pink Floyd? Name five of their songs”) Pink Floyd’s exceptional prism art is as iconic as they come, and had lost none of its power when recreated with lasers at Roger Waters’ 2018 Hyde Park performance.
Designer: Storm Thorgerson
2: The Beatles: Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The best album covers are sometimes more famous than the albums themselves. Case in point: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Peter Blake design nods to some of the best-known figures in pop culture, history and literature, among them Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich and The Beatles themselves, of course – both in their Sgt. Pepper regalia and as wax dummies designed by Madame Tussauds.
Led Zeppelin did something similar with their second album, two years later. Based on a World War I photograph of the infamous Red Baron, the pilots’ faces were replaced with those of the band members’. (It was also one of two times the band tried put Neil Armstrong in the mix, but added the wrong astronaut. The second attempt was with 1975’s Physical Graffiti.)
Designer: Peter Blake
1: The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
Not only one of the best album covers of all time, but a bona fide work of art by the leader of the Pop Art movement. Andy Warhol’s legendary banana print conjures both the debauchery and mystique surrounding The Velvet Underground’s debut album. The effect is aided by the “Peel slowly and see” instruction which, on early copies of the record, indicated that the banana skin could be peeled back to reveal the flesh-coloured fruit underneath.
Designer: Andy Warhol
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