Music and art go hand in hand, as the artwork of an album can be as much a part of the record as the sound. Album covers have always played a huge role among music fans, from the late 1930′ when the concept of album covers was invented, to the psychedelic era of the 60s where the artwork became an inseparable part of the experience, to the modern days where the brand and image of an artist is more valued than ever. Album cover design has had a massive cultural influence since its birth and continues to do so even in times when the act of owning a physical album might be a rare experience. But from the millions of albums and album covers produces over the decades, what exactly makes one stand out and become an icon?
Album covers have always played a huge role among music fans, from the late 1930′ when the concept of album covers was invented, to the psychedelic era of the 60s where the artwork became an inseparable part of the experience, to the modern days where the brand and image of an artist is more valued than ever.
An album cover becomes truly iconic when it becomes part of the popular culture, and is known and recognized by persons beyond the listeners and fans of the artist themselves. Sometimes album covers are helped to reach the iconic status simply because of the musician they feature. When the charismatic and photogenic stars become godlike as their fame and popularity grow – it makes the covers become idolized and cherished. Another route to reaching the icon status comes with mesmerizing and creative artwork, as some album covers simply stand out with their unique covers, often created by actual artists and creative masterminds. The best example of this is the famous radio waves illustration of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures or the prism design of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon cover by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis, a firm that defined the 70s with their many optical illusion cover designs.
From The Beatles to Taylor Swift, here are 30 of the most iconic and memorable album covers
The most iconic album cover artworks can be roughly divided into a few categories, and keep in mind, that some of these are the trail-blazers of their time, so while the design might feel familiar and you might think – “Oh I’ve seen that done a thousand times” – the artist and cover designers were the first to do so. The main categories are; a prolific photograph of the artist in question (Janet Jackson, Lizzo), a unique illustration or an artwork (Joy Division, Pink Floyd, Green Day), a creative political or editorialized image (Nas, The Roots, Bruce Springsteen), or a replica of a more famous artwork or popular culture item at the time (The Velvet Underground, The Clash). Of course, there are album cover designs that reach beyond their categories, but when you browse through the thirty famous albums we’ve listed below, you notice how almost everyone can be placed in one of the above.
The thirty most iconic album cover designs below are listed in no particular order, and we’re 100% sure we’ve missed out on some great ones, while some of our choices can be debatable – so we’re happy to hear your suggestions!
The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
The Beatles, 'Abbey Road' (1969)
Taylor Swift, ‘1989’ (2014)
Janet Jackson, ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’ (1989)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)
Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)
Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Funkadelic, ‘Maggot Brain’ (1971)
Pink Floyd, 'Wish You Were Here' (1975)
The Beatles, 'Revolver' (1966)
Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956)
The Clash, 'London Calling' (1979)
Nas, ‘Illmatic’ (1994)
Lady Gaga, ‘The Fame Monster’ (2009)
Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010)