Debut Elvis album which inspired London Calling
There’s a lot that goes into making an album. First things first, you have to write the songs, get them polished up, record the tracks, mix and master them… and when all that is done, you’re still not done. You will need a way to get your songs noticed… and what better way to get your memorable songs noticed than with an equally memorable album cover! Although the main part of rock will and forever be about the music, there is no doubt that an iconic album cover can go a long way in making great songs reach the masses, because for better or worse, it’s much easier to simply look at a picture than it is to listen to an entire 45 minute album. Sure, of course that’s not ideal and the songs should speak for themselves, but there are a lot of things that should happen that don’t. All that aside, read on and check out some of the most memorable album covers in the world of rock. These are among my favorites and are not necessarily the best of the best but won a spot on my list for not only being iconic representations of the bands themselves, but a perfect depiction of the songs within.
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Quite possibly the most iconic album artwork in the world of rock and roll, the cover is as well known as the songs it represents – the a truly artistic and revolutionary style that perfectly match the psychedelic and groundbreaking vision of classic rock’s most prolific group. At about one hundred times the cost of an average album cover at the time, the Beatles spent $62,500 equivalent in today’s cash on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s artwork. The cover featured a collage of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of several famous historical and artistic figures including writers, film stars, musicians and even Indian gurus – albeit at George Harrison’s request. Among the 70 people depicted on the album cover are Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, James Dean, W.C. Fields, Marlon Brando, William S. Burroughs, Aleister Crowley and Aldous Huxley. John Lennon had requested that Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ be included as well, although the idea was turned down for obvious reasons. Former Beatle’s bassist Stuart Sutcliffe was also among the cutouts. The Beatles themselves were outfitted in their now iconic psychedelic military-style uniforms, custom designed by Manuel Cuevas to portray the groups’ fictional band. Both McCartney and Harrison wore their MBE medals while Lennon chose to garner the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom on his right sleeve. The cover’s art director was Robert Fraser, a famous London art dealer, with the design created by pop artists Peter Blake and wife Jann Haworth and photographed by Michael Cooper.
The Clash – London Calling
Yes, that old saying that I’m sure we’ve all heard before… imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… although I’d argue that if done right, it can be the sincerest form of making fun of somebody too, but I digress! It is not an uncommon thing for a band to pay homage to their past heroes by taking inspiration from their work, whether it’s their music or personal style. It is uncommon though for a band to surpass their inspiration’s original work in terms of cultural significance, which is exactly what the clash did with their London Calling album cover. Taking direct inspiration from Elvis Presley’s first album, London Calling featured the exact same pink and green lettering – albeit with a much more punk rock cover photo. Sure, Elvis is and will forever be the king of rock and roll, no argument there, but I’d say that Presley’s first record’s cover (strictly speaking of the cover, not the artist or the songs themselves) would not be as memorable as it is today if it weren’t for The Clash deciding on paying homage to the album’s simple artwork. The reason the album cover works so well despite the similarities to Elvis’ album was mainly due to the picture chosen; a shot of Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass at New York’s Palladium – a stark contrast to the king’s youthful and straight forward shot of him wearing a dapper suit while holding his guitar. The Pennie Smith photograph, who did not want to use the shot since she felt it was too out of focus, went on to be named the most iconic picture in rock and roll history by Q magazine, stating that "it captures the ultimate rock'n'roll moment - total loss of control.”
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Before I was even old enough to attain my own personal preference of music I was already familiar with the album design of Pink Floyd’s 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon. Simple in its execution yet deeply conveying of the album and the band itself, the cover features no words whatsoever and little to speak of as far as wide-reaching artistic endeavor, but it didn’t need that. Designed by the art group Hipgnosis and George Hardie, the album itself features a band of light going through a prism, dividing the single band into six separate colors. Pink Floyd’s previous two album covers had received mixed emotions by their label EMI, and although they were prompted to come up with something a little more conventional, the fact that Hipgnosis was hired by the band and not the label meant that they would not have to answer to previous criticisms of the band’s album covers by label heads. The lead designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell had been instructed by Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright to come up with something “smarter, neater – more classy,” and finally came upon the prism design after being inspired by a photograph that Thorgerson had seen during a brainstorming session with Powell. The group gave Pink Floyd a choice of seven designs, with the group ultimately all agreeing on the prism idea for its representation of three main elements: the band's stage lighting, the album lyrics, and Richard Wright's request for a "simple and bold" design. The artwork itself was created by an associate of Hipgnosis, George Hardie.
There you have it, my choices for the three most iconic album covers in rock and roll history. They were all original for their time, even the London Calling album in that it was willing to obviously mimic the cover art of a legend and give it their own spin. While there are certainly hundreds of clever album art concepts that genuinely capture the feel of the songs and the spirit of the era, these three are by far the standouts for me. From the simple yet abstract design of The Dark Side of the Moon to the famously psychedelic artwork on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, these three albums prove that a good album cover can certainly go a long way.