The Stories Behind Iconic Album Covers: Music, Art, And DesignPosted by Mike Schumacher
Album art is a very important part of music. Music is a form of art, and artists use their style and creativity to express themselves. Musicians use music as a medium to express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
Along with the lyrics, the music itself is a way for the artist to convey what he or she is thinking or feeling. Some songs are about love, some are about anger or frustration, and some are about nothing at all!
Just like any other art, music needs a medium to be displayed. Just like paintings need walls or canvases, songs need an audio file format to be displayed as an art form.
Album covers serve as that album-wide wall or canvas for art. Artists either personally design them or they work with someone else to do so. These artists are both known and unknown, young and old.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
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One of the most famous album covers of all time is that of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It features a man walking forward in what looks like a city landscape, with a large pyramid in the background and the word “Pink” in large letters.
This iconic image is actually a very cleverly designed piece. The man walking forward is representative of humanity, and the city landscape and pyramid imply a broader understanding of the world.
The song order on the album corresponds to the order in which you see these images on the cover, starting with the man walking forward and ending with the moon. This adds another layer of artistry to your listening experience!
The designer responsible for this cover was Sir Terry Pratchett, an English artist known for his paintings of landscapes and figurative subjects.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
The Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers features a man wearing briefs and little else, holding a pair of pants. The man is said to be a composite of several men, including singer Boy George.
The overall concept was to represent the idea of the album cover as a jewel case. The man is the jewel, or the album itself, and the pants he is holding are what you use to cover yourself, or listen to the music.
The band wanted something edgy and artful that would stand out on shelves and in collections. They chose designer John Pasche after meeting with several other designers and consulting with their record company representative about what would be cost effective.
This was Pasche’s first album cover design! He went on to do many more, including ones for Culture Club and Elton John.
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Although the cover itself is simple, the story behind this album cover is quite interesting. When Bob Dylan first released this album, it was titled Highway 61 Revisited.
However, when the album was re-released many years later, it was renamed Blonde on Blonde. Because of this, many people believe that Highway 61 Revisited is actually Blonde on Blonde!
The photos used for both albums were taken by Don Fichner at the same location. However, when looking at them side by side, you can see subtle differences. For one, there is more rain in the earlier image. Additionally, the lighting appears to be different.
It appears as though Don Fichner may have taken two photos at the same location using similar settings but with different weather conditions. Bob Dylan and his team most likely chose one photo over the other based on what fit best with the theme of the album.
Led Zeppelin – IV (aka Zoso)
One of the most iconic album covers of all time is Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, which is commonly referred to as Zoso. The band chose a simple white label cover with no writing or information except for a circle with a middle dot.
This was in accordance with music industry standards at the time, where the album cover was almost like a blank canvas for the music within.
The band wanted fans to focus on the music instead of pictures or graphics. Within this plain white cover, fans could interpret what they wanted from the art.
Fans could also personalize their own covers by painting or adding on pieces.
The Cure – Disintegration
Disintegration is one of the most iconic albums of all time, and its cover is one of the most iconic album covers as well. The Cure chose to pose in a cemetery for their cover, which fit with some of the song lyrics.
Several things about this cover stand out- first, all the flowers on Robert Smith’s grave marker, second, the number nineteen on his headstone (the album was released in 1989), and third, the spider web that appears on his face.
All of these details were added in post-production using a computer program. The spider web was added to represent something that had disrupted his life—perhaps a reference to him leaving The Cure and starting his own band?
This cover stands out because it uses advanced post-production techniques to add detail to the picture. Also, this is one of the few covers that mentions someone specific on it- perhaps as an homage.
Nirvana – In Utero
Nirvana’s In Utero album cover was designed by famous artist Ron English. Nirvana band member Kurt Cobain asked him to design the album after a friend of his suggested him.
English is known for his politically charged artwork, and he used this as inspiration for the In Utero cover. He painted a fetus in a jar, representing the band members’ artistic creativity being “in utero” before they were able to produce their next work.
He also painted scenes of violence and abuse, referencing some of the songs on the album and Cobain’s personal life experiences. The overall dark tone he aimed to create connected with his client very well.
He chose to use oil paint because it did not age quickly, meaning future generations could still see and appreciate the artwork on it.
Prince – Purple Rain
Purple Rain is one of the most iconic albums of all time. Not only is it one of the best-selling albums, it is also considered a classic album by music fans and critics.
The album cover was shot in 1984 by photographer Alan Light. The photograph features a then-young Prince in front of a lavender background with drops of water or sweat running down his chest.
Professionally, Light was already well-known for his work with Rolling Stone magazine. He had also taken pictures for several other famous musicians’ album covers, including The Police and Bruce Springsteen.
According to an interview he gave to PetaPixel, he said that shooting the cover was fairly quick and simple, but that he had to get the right lighting just right. He also had to make sure that Prince did not move too much to avoid getting sweat on the camera lens or fabric onto the backdrop.
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Lemonade was one of the most iconic albums of 2016, and its cover art was just as memorable. Created by contemporary artist Judy Berlin, the album cover features a golden frame with hands holding lemons and oranges.
The colors are vibrant and striking, making it pop on music streaming services. The simplicity of the fruit also allows the music titles to take center stage.
The typography is also very artistic, which matches the aesthetic of Beyoncé as a performer. The use of white adds more color to the cover, which ties into the theme of the album.
The songs on Lemonade touch on themes such as betrayal, love, and empowerment. These themes are conveyed through both music and visual elements such as music videos. By having such a striking album cover, viewers can look further into these themes through photography.
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