From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
An album cover is the front of the packaging of a commercially released audio recording product, or album. The term can refer to either the printed cardboard covers typically used to package sets of 10" and 12" 78 rpm records, single and sets of 12" LPs, sets of 45 rpm records (either in several connected sleeves or a box), or the front-facing panel of a CD package, and, increasingly, the primary image accompanying a digital download of the album, or of its individual tracks.
The cover became an important part of the culture of music at the time. Under the influence of designers like Bob Cato who at various stages in his long music career was vice president of creative services at both Columbia Records and United Artists, album covers became renowned for being a marketing tool and an expression of artistic intent. The Band's 1970 release Stage Fright with Norman Seeff's photograph as a poster insert is an early example with the poster quickly becoming a collector's item. Gatefold covers, (a folded double cover), and inserts, often with lyric sheets, made the album cover a desirable artifact in its own right. Notable examples are The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which had cut-out inserts, lyrics, a gatefold sleeve even though it was a single album, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street which had a gatefold and a series of 12 perforated postcards as inserts (also by photographer Norman Seeff), and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon which had a gatefold, lyrics, no title on the sleeve and poster and sticker inserts. The move to the small (less than 1/4 the size of a record) CD format lost that impact, though attempts have been made to create a more desirable packaging for the CD format, for example the re-issue of Sgt. Pepper, which had a cardboard box and booklet, or the use of oversized packaging.
The importance of cover design was such that some artists specialised or gained fame through their work, notably the design team Hipgnosis (through their work on Pink Floyd albums amongst others) and Roger Dean famous for his Yes and Greenslade covers, Cal Schenkel for Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and Frank Zappa's We're Only in It for the Money.
The talents of many photographers and illustrators from both inside and outside of the music industry have been used to produce a vast array of memorable LP/CD covers. Photographer Mick Rock produced some of the most iconographic album covers of the 1970s, including Queen's Queen II (recreated for their classic music video Bohemian Rhapsody), Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, and Lou Reed's Transformer. In addition to the examples mentioned previously, a number of world-renowned graphic artists and illustrators such as Ed Repka (Megadeth), Andy Warhol (The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones), Mati Klarwein (Santana, Miles Davis), H. R. Giger (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Debbie Harry), Frank Frazetta (Molly Hatchet), Derek Riggs (Iron Maiden), Jamie Reid (The Sex Pistols), Howard Finster (R.E.M., Talking Heads), Al Hirschfeld (Aerosmith), Gottfried Helnwein (Marilyn Manson), Rex Ray (David Bowie), Robert Crumb (Big Brother & the Holding Company), John Van Hamersveld (The Rolling Stones), and Shepard Fairey (Johnny Cash) have all applied their talents to memorable music packages.
A number of record covers have also used images licensed (or borrowed from the public domain) from artists of bygone eras. Well-known examples of this include the cover of Derek and the Dominoes Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (from the painting "La Fille au Bouquet" by French painter and sculptor Emile Théodore Frandsen de Schomberg), the cover of Kansas's debut album, adapted from a mural by painter John Steuart Curry, Norman Rockwell's cowboy (Pure Prairie League), and, more recently, Coldplay's Viva La Vida, which features Eugène Delacroix's painting Liberty Leading the People (a favorite in The Louvre) with the words "VIVA LA VIDA" brushed on top in white paint.
Legends from photography and video/film who have also produced record cover images include Drew Struzan (Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Iron Butterfly, The Beach Boys and others), Annie Leibovitz (John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith), Richard Avedon (Whitney Houston, Teddy Pendergrass), Norman Seeff (The Band, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, Aerosmith), David LaChappelle (No Doubt, Elton John), Anton Corbijn (U2, The Killers, Depeche Mode), Karl Ferris (Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, The Hollies), Robert Mapplethorpe (Patti Smith, Peter Gabriel) and Francesco Scavullo (Diana Ross, Edgar Winter), David Michael Kennedy others.
As one would expect, a number of artists and bands feature members who are, in their own right, accomplished illustrators, designers and photographers and whose talents are exhibited in the artwork they produced for their own recordings. Examples include Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin IV), Chris Mars (Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me and others), Marilyn Manson (Lest We Forget…), Michael Stipe (REM's Accelerator), Thom Yorke (credited as "Tchocky" on misc. Radiohead records), Michael Brecker (Ringorama), Freddie Mercury (Queen I), John Entwistle (Who By Numbers), Mike Shinoda (various Linkin Park albums), Joni Mitchell (Miles of Aisles) as well for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (So Far), and M.I.A. (credited variously on Elastica's The Menace, her records).
- Tony Wright (artist)
- Shusei Nagaoka
- Pedro Bell
- Robert Springett
- Dave Nodds
- Mati Klarwein
- David Stone Martin
- Jim Flora
- Burt Goldblatt
- Rick Griffin
- Mouse & Kelley
- Roger Dean
- Jack Davis
- Peter Max