The Art of the Album Cover

The Art of the Album Cover

The name Alex Steinweiss may not be familiar to most people, but his work has surely shaped an art aesthetic that is used cross-culturally by some of the world’s most lauded creatives. Steinweiss is credited with having pioneered the concept of album art, and in 1938, Columbia Records hired Steinweiss as the label’s first art director.


Album cover design has been used a means to express not only artistic intent but also political stances and social commentary. The cover of Otis Redding’s album Otis Blue featured a photo of a young white woman. According to author Peter Doghett, this decision to showcase a white woman on the album cover was done to show music’s ability to transcend racial barriers.



In 1955, Dali lent his art to Jackie Gleason for the album cover of Lonesome Echo presented by Capitol Records. Gleason described his friend’s artwork by saying, “This first effect is that of anguish, of space, and of solitude. Secondly, the fragility of the wings of a butterfly, projecting long shadows of late afternoon, reverberates in the landscape like an echo. The feminine element, distant isolated, forms a perfect triangle with the musical instrument and its other echo, the shell.”



Milton Glaser, one of the world’s most famous graphic designers, best known for his design of ‘I HEART NY,’ designed the cover art for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1960s). The album cover featured a photograph of Dylan by Rowland Scherman taken at one of Dylan’s concerts in 1965, and he later won a Grammy for best album cover. Fashion photographer Richard Avedon designed Simon & Garfunkel’s cover for Bookends (1968), and even Annie Leibovitz was the creative force behind Bruce Springsteen’s iconic cover for Born in The U.S.A (1984) featuring the singer in a pair of worn in jeans.



Famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe designed the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses in (1975). The pair is said to have met in 1967, beginning a longstanding friendship. Mapplethorpe’s photo of Patti Smith on the sleeve of Horses has long been considered one of the industry’s best of all time.





A young Andy Warhol designed his first album cover for Mexican composer and conductor Carlos Chávez’ record titled A Program of Mexican Music. Warhol designed several album covers, all of which show the artist’s development in art history. Notable works include: Toscany’s William Tell Overture; Semiramide Overture. His signature pop-art style became most notable in his designs for The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), Paul Anka’s The Painter (1976), The Rolling Stones Love You  Live (1977), Liza Minnelli’s Live At Carnegie Hall (1981), Billy Squier’s Emotions in Motion (1982), Diana Ross’ Silk Electric (1982), Peer Raben’s Querelle Ein Pakt Mit Dem Teufel (1982), Rat’s & Star Soul Vacation (1983), John Lennon’s Menlove Ave (1986), and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha (1986).



Unbeknownst to Warhol, Jagger would add handwritten copy to the cover of Love You Live ending the end of their collaborative working relationship.





Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon (1973) remains one of music’s most critically acclaimed albums, featuring album cover design by Storm Thorgerson (Hipgnosis) and George Hardie. The infamous image depicts the phenomenon of light refracting through a triangular glass prism, which disperses light beams of colors.



Another cult favorite album cover is the Talking Heads limited-edition LP by David Byrne and Robert Rauschenberg for the album Speaking in Tongues (1983). Rauschenberg set out to create a unique packaging for the album that involved a transparent plastic case with artwork and credits printed on three twelve-inch transparent collages, one for each of the primary colors. This creative design would later land Rauschenberg a Grammy.



In 1988, contemporary artist Gerhard Richter lent his blurred photo-painting aesthetic for the cover of Sonic Youth’s Daydream. The band chose to feature Richter’s 1983 painting titled Kerze, which translates to Candle and is also a name of one of the album’s songs.



The band continued to curate its album cover designs by featuring Richard Prince’s iconic Nurse paintings. The series by Prince has become by far his most valued at auction. The album Sonic Nurse was released in 2004 and designed by Prince.



In 2000, Banksy lent his work for the cover of We Love You…So Love Us. A few years later, his work for Blur’s album Think Tank (2003) sold at auction in 2007 for over 75,000 Euros.



Banksy for Blur’s Think Tank (2003); Banksy art on the cover of We Love You…So Love Us (2000); Banksy for Dirty Funker Let’s Get Dirty (2006)



Keith Haring for David Bowie’s Without You (1983); Keith Haring for Emanon’s The Baby Beat Box (1986); Keith Haring for Malcom McLaren’s Duck Rock (1983)



Jean-Michel Basquiat for the cover of The Offs First Record (1984); Jean-Michel Basquiat for Rammellzee and K-Rob’s Beat Bop (1983)




One of Grace Jones’ most famous images is the album cover created by Jean-Paul Goude for Island Life (1985). He later (to Jones’ dismay) would attempt to reinvent this style of image for Kim Kardashian’s cover of Paper Magazine (2014) that, as we all know, broke the internet.









LBV Fall/Winter 2021 can be viewed through the lens of album art. Three of the FW21 lookbook images were highly inspired by musical imagery from the 1970s. In this series you can see a female protagonist taking center stage wearing power items from LBV FW21.



first image: Ed Ruscha for Mason Williams Music by Mason Williams (1969)

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