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I know a lot about art, I just don’t know what I like – 10 Classic Album covers

The Government estimates we produce over 10 million tones of packaging waste each year. The Daily Mail have declared war on the simple plastic bag, declaring it a hazard up there with nuclear war, Labour and immigrants. Even asking for one in Marks and Spencer is now akin to saying ‘I would like you to show me your most effective cakes for luring children back to my shabby abode for inappropriate fun’. The world hates packaging.

But truly great albums are not complete without a stand-out package. You simply couldn’t imagine, say, Full Moon Fever or Parklife coming in different covers or having a different track order. The sleeve notes, the insert photographs….they all have a part to play. In these days of instant individual download and songs never accruing any physical status, it’s sometimes hard to give albums that almost mythical status that some of these classics achieved.

Here are some of the albums you simply can’t imagine coming in a different cover.

(Incidentally, all albums on the shortlist had to have been reasonably successful. It’s part of the perfect package, hence why no Half Man Half Biscuit.)

The BeatlesWith the Beatles

The fabs artwork was, in the main, fantastic. Creating a myriad of unforgettable images, the simplicity of their second album cover – head shots, black on white, the logo – still looks like it was created by God as a ‘how to’ guide on creating an image. Nearly 50 years on, it’s iconic power is undiminished.

The BandThe Band

Looking like a photograph of late 19th Century prospectors who were down on their luck, everything about this cover screamed roots. When describing music as other-worldly, critics can often be trying to suggest an unearthly atmosphere. On this album, it was a World which had existed but had passed into folklore, an Americana the Band dusted down or created, depending on your view. This cover, stark yet elegant, perfectly suits what the listener will discover inside.

The Ramones The Ramones

Whereas this was of its time, utterly. Yet the image that it presented – four New York punks in Cons, leather and ripped jeans – created an eternal fashion which simply never goes away. A good quality Ramones t-shirt will cost you more than their entire back catalogue. The cover conveyed the dirt, the sheer unadulterated ‘fuck you’ contained within.

Joy Division Unknown Pleasures

It was, you have to say, not an album which would have benefitted from a rainbow on the sleeve. Stark, beautiful, eerie, a little scary and quite confusing…this image perfectly reflects the quiet emotional holocaust to be found inside, Almost matched by Closer’s cover from the greatest Manchester band of all time.

R.E.M.Murmur

Murmur is a sublimely odd album. This cover – a trestle covered by kudzu vines – doesn’t make a lot of sense, but hints at a thousand things and conjures up a million images, if you are that way inclined. The deceptive depths of the music couldn’t be better suited by anything else.

The Stone RosesThe Stone Roses

Jackson Pollock-style art, a multi-coloured, layered vortex of sounds and a kalediscopic array of colours for both ears and eyes. They were never this good again, either in design or execution. But you simply cannot imagine this album coming in anything else.

Nirvana Nevermind

Everybody owned this. 1992 seemed blue simply because of this album. The baby appears at conventions now. Honestly.

OasisDefinitely Maybe

Remember when Oasis were cool? Everything in this carefully ordered photograph – the Franny Lee and Burt Bacharch posters, the wooden floor, the glass of wine – seemed almost aspirational to the gangs of working-class males who flocked to the Gallagher banner. You could see yourself living there, snorting Class As and listening to ‘Rock’N’Roll Star’.

The StrokesIs This It?

Simply perfect. S&M? Who knows. It’s what it doesn’t tell you that makes it intriguing. The Strokes were the coolest people on the planet for two years. Then they made the same album in a much less cool cover and lost it. Go figure.

Richard HawleyColes Corner

Richard Hawley, self-described ‘hairlipped mong’, may well be the coolest bloke in Britain. This cover looks like it could double as a cinema poster for some undiscovered 50s classic. The music, so big-screen it makes you feel like you could date Doris Day, doesn’t disappoint either.

Agree? Disagree? Got some more to add? Let us know!

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13 Responses

  1. Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ have beautiful covers by James Marsh.

    Red House Painters always had lovely album covers too.

  2. Good call there Bert – RHP especially did, Down Colourful Hill being a favourite of mine.

    We may revisit this for another with a more esoteric selection. In this article we wanted to focus on albums the majority of music fans would be familiar with.

    ‘Bat Out of Hell’, ‘Blonde on Blonde’, ‘Aftermath’, ‘The Clash’and The Queen is Dead’ just missed the cut.

  3. these are goodies…

    growing up – some of my fother avourite album covers or ones that bring back memories

    Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water
    The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
    Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen
    10,000 maniacs – In My Tribe
    Velvet Underground & Nico – Andy Warhol

  4. Juju by Siouxsie & The Banshees had quite a cool cover I seem to remember, I think I thought it was like one of those Benson & Hedges adverts where you had to find the packet of fags.

    Although I’m not of that persuasion Parallel Lines by Blondie had a particularly hot pic of Debs I seem to remember and this overlaid some very striking artwork – one seen never forgotten.

    I personally love the cover of “The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse” which features a horse which is quite lovely and arty and that

  5. the jayhawks , hollywood town hall cover is a favourite of mine and any of the drive by truckers artwork, especially as they have kept the same theme in the covers / packaging over something like seven albums now.

  6. Led Zep? A giant Zeppelin on the cover…fairly striking.

  7. Led Zep bring me out in hives Bert and are therefore banned from this site. Screaming idiocy over inelegant blues-rock.

  8. men at work , featuring a ” men at work ” roadsign surely has to be the king of them all…….though if they had screen printed it in lurid colours , in an andy warhol stlye , it would be hailed as a true masterpiece !

  9. No, I didn’t like that one. When I think Men at Work, I think the ‘Down Under’ video. I don’t like the cover, too utilitarian.

  10. but , y`know , the genius of it ; a band called “men at work ” with a picture of a men at work sign on their album , like, wow , cosmic serendipity.

  11. Hmmmn. By the same token, imagine if everyone took music titles literally?

    What if your name was Eileen?

  12. …..and Kevin Rowland had, in fact, come on her??

  13. Bowies ” Wild Is The Wind ” would have made for an interesting ” literal” cover ……….. 70s icon depicted in turbulant flatulence artwork.

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