May 21, 2009 by MK
Because the first one has been so popular and there are so many great album covers out there, the Top 15 returns with a look at the best of “The Alternate Universe”, aka “Another Excuse to do a Top 15.” If you’re worried about relevance, try this on for size: Vinyl sales are climbing. Translation? The return of album art!
Rules for the list remain the same. Only one per artist/band (still looking at you plethora of awesome Pink Floyd covers!). So don’t lose your shit if you don’t see The Beatles or Led Zeppelin – they’re in the other one. On with the show!
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers ~ Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Tongues N’ Roses. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
All photography, paintings and art direction for Blood Sugar Sex Magik were credited to filmmaker Gus Van Sant.
14. Prince ~ Sign o’ the Times
Prince does his best to blend in but you just can’t hide cool.
13. Beastie Boys ~ Licensed to Ill
No, it’s not comforting but it makes you want to see if the music inside can smash large, flying objects as well. It does. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
The full album cover, front to back, features a Boeing 727 — with “Beastie Boys” emblazoned on the tail — crashing head-on into the side of a mountain. The tail of the plane has the Def Jam logo and the legend ‘3MTA3’ which spells ‘EATME’ when viewed in a mirror.
12. Pete Townshend ~ Empty Glass
The drunken, libidinous, rock & roll Christ figure for our times. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
The sleeve was designed by photographer Bob Carlos Clarke. The album’s title is an allusion to a poem by the Sufi poet Hafez. The sleeve cover of the vinyl album (SD 33-100) includes this dedication: “This album is dedicated to my wife Karen. “Rough Boys” is dedicated to my children Emma and Minta and to the Sex Pistols.”
11. Eddie Floyd ~ Knock on Wood
Usually, literal-minded album covers don’t work. Maybe it’s the incongruence of a sharp suit in the middle of the woods with an axe. Whatever it is, Eddie Floyd sells it.
10. The Doors ~ Strange Days
“They’re going to destroy / Our casual joys.” I believe it. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
The cover photo was taken in Sniffen Court, a small residential mews in New York City. Jim Morrison refused to appear on the cover, so photographer Joel Brodsky decided to use a circus-like photograph for the cover image. However, most carnivals were out on summer tours so it was a struggle for Brodsky to find professional circus performers. The acrobats were the only ones he could find; the dwarf Lester Janus and his younger brother (not twins) Stanley Janus (who appeared on the back cover) were hired from an acting firm; the juggler was Brodsky’s own assistant; the trumpet player was a taxi driver; and the strongman was a doorman at a club.
9. Talking Heads ~ More Songs About Buildings and Food
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
The front cover of the album which was conceived and executed by David Byrne is a photomosaic of the band made of 529 close-up Polaroid photographs.
8. U2 ~ The Joshua Tree
Four Irishmen walk into a desert… and come away with something timeless thanks to their perennial photographer Anton Corbijn. The photo evokes the giant landscapes U2 were about to conquer. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
Corbijn later recounted the photo shoot in Death Valley, California; “This is the most serious set of shots I have taken of U2 and they became my most well-known photographs at the time. It was taken with a panoramic camera to take more of the landscapes in which was the main idea of the shoot: man and environment, the Irish in America.“
7. Roxy Music ~ Country Life
Tasteful and perverted. Who knew? The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
The cover features two scantily-clad models, Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald. Bryan Ferry met them in Portugal and persuaded them to do the photo shoot as well as to help him with the words to the song “Bitter-Sweet”. Although not credited for their photos they are credited on the lyric sheet for their German translation work.
6. Funkadelic ~ One Nation Under a Groove
Like Iwo Jima popped out of a champagne bottle on planet Funkadelic. One of the very best bands when it comes to album art, Funkadelic often worked with the illustrator for this record, the great Pedro Bell.
5. The Ramones ~ The Ramones
Bad. Fucking. Ass.
4. The Band ~ Music from Big Pink
“The elephant in the room,” aka Bob Dylan, performed the honors for his band on this cover.
3. Peter Gabriel ~ Peter Gabriel (Car)
Worthy of Blue Velvet. The one and only design team of Hipgnosis strikes again. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
Hipgnosis’ approach to album design was strongly photography-oriented, and they pioneered the use of many innovative visual and packaging techniques. In particular, Thorgerson & Powell’s surreal, elaborately manipulated photos (utilizing darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques) were a film-based forerunner of what would, much later, be called photoshopping.
2. Bruce Springsteen ~ Born to Run
The Boss becomes an icon. The ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
It was taken by Eric Meola, who shot 900 frames in his three hour session. The photo shows Springsteen holding an electric guitar, a cross between a Fender Telecaster (body and pickups) and a Fender Esquire (neck), while leaning against saxophonist Clarence Clemons. After he plugged in an amp and started to play, he casually leaned on Clemons. That image became famous as the cover art. “Other things happened,” says Meola, “but when we saw the contact sheets, that one just sort of popped. Instantly, we knew that was the shot.” Ultra-thin lettering graced the mass produced version: an unusual touch then; a design classic since.
1. Miles Davis ~ Bitches Brew
Simply put, the best abstract album cover of all time. In regards to the album designer, the ‘must-be-true’ Wikipedia says:
Mati Klarwein is still best known for his art of the 1960s and 1970s, with its clear links to surrealism (Klarwein studied with Salvador Dalí and the Viennese Fantastic Realist Ernst Fuchs), popular psychedelic imagery, and religious art from a number of different traditions.