The following list of ‘Top 7 Iconic Album Covers’ has been created with a series of core, qualifying factors in mind. Each album has been selected based on their popularity – at the time and in the present day – how the artwork represents the artist, how striking the image is as an individual piece of art and how strongly it evokes emotion from us. All of this equates to the level of iconic status perceived for these album covers.
With that out of the way, we hope you enjoy the list and feel free to let us know how wrong we are in the comments section at the bottom of the page!
7: ALADDIN SANE – David Bowie
David Bowie was always much loved for his quirky, catchy music as well as his eccentric pop persona. The cover for Aladdin Sane is a relatively simple yet appropriate way to capture his image for the time.
Released in 1973, the album artwork shows David Bowie further exploring his Ziggy Stardust alter ego with styled back red hair and a lightning bolt running through his face. There are several different stories concerning the tale behind the lightning bolt, but regardless of its background it remains a remarkably apt way of presenting David Bowie during this prolific period. The way that the cover attracts the attention of the eye is particularly impressive.
6: ISLAND LIFE – Grace Jones
Grace Jones has been a centre piece for a series of categorically iconic images throughout her career, but the Island Life artwork displays an impressive aesthetic quality combined with stunning design.
The album was released in 1985 and helped to catapult Grace Jones to international stardom. In addition, the cover itself is believed to have stamped her identity on the music scene. The boldness of such an album cover highlighted Jones’ courage in sharing her individualism and helped her to become an inspiration for many of the generation.
Though not without its controversies itself, the cover is a spectacular representation of Grace Jones and a true piece of art. A piece of art that has been dubbed ‘credible illusion’ (because the position was not really assumed by Jones) by its photographer / graphic designer Jean Paul Goude. The illusion displayed is incredibly clever in that it presents the artist doing something that looks realistic but flawless to the observer and fittingly adds to the icon status of Jones herself.
5: THE FREEWHEELIN’ BOB DYLAN – Bob Dylan
As opposed to image and complex visual art, Bob Dylan has always been a master of words. The combination of the words lyricist and artist might make many think of Dylan and it could be argued that the artwork for his albums are highly recognisable because of the song content, as opposed to the artwork itself.
However, there is something (or many things) particularly special about the cover for ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. Whilst not especially flash or clever in its set-up, the picture looks like it could be a famous scene from your favourite film of all time. The album cover captures Dylan around the time that he was becoming a global star although this would remain the only cover to feature someone else sharing his spotlight. The romantic scene of a young couple walking arm in arm in the snow is nice on its own, but the benefit of hindsight allows us to peer at this with different goggles and wonder at the dynamic of these two people – one of which was on course to becoming one of the most iconic musicians in history.
4: LONDON CALLING – The Clash
When thinking of The Clash, most people will probably conjure up this image and start reciting the melody to London Calling in their head. Though fans will know the depth of the band beyond this image, the opportunistically taken photo for this cover so emphatically creates an impact.
The album and accompanying artwork came at the start of a fundamental shift in music and perfectly sums up the energy and uncontrollable rage expelled through coursing rock music. The identical font and lettering style to that used for Elvis Presley’s debut album is not only a nice nod to the previously acclaimed ‘King of Rock’ but also an ironic marker for kings of a new rock revolution.
3: LED ZEPPELIN I – Led Zeppelin
Strangely enough, Led Zeppelin’s entry on this list signifies the first entry to exclude any band members on the cover……though it is a picture of a Zeppelin, so maybe that counts? Regardless, this is not only their first in a series of incredible albums but also the first cover to spring to many a mind when people think of Led Zeppelin.
The artwork for the cover was created to reflect the musical content whilst the fact that it was their debut album also played a significant role in the aesthetical choice. When graphic designer George Hardie created the image (adapted from the photo of the famous Hindenburg disaster) the words he wanted to come to mind for the observer were impact, iconic and dramatic – I’m sure that many will agree that he hit the mark.
The use of ink and contrast ‘dampens’ the image whilst also magnifying it and drawing the observer in. It’s likely that, when looking at the image, your brain will already start imagining a variation of sounds of equally monumental effect. On this point alone, the artwork is a tremendous success.
2: ABBEY ROAD – The Beatles
It’s a bit hard to begin writing about an album cover that is so synonymously attributed to an artist and one that has been parodied on so many occasions. Irrespective of the duplication of this product, it’s also a piece of art that is likely to bring a smile to your face for one reason or another.
Another artwork coming from the ridiculously creative year of 1969 (along with Led Zeppelin I on this list), this is a cover that came as a result of time pressure and a couple of simple stylistic choices. The aim was to capture all four Beatles on the crossing with similar ‘V’ shapes in their stride. Once the framing had been set, there was one decision that made a major statement on the band during that period. The decision was to omit the band’s name and the title of the album. This might not seem as unusual anymore but at the time it was a contentious choice. However, the confidence in the public knowing who they were was rightly placed.
The image presents a clear and positive scene with an aesthetically pleasing presentation of the band themselves. The lack of any band name and album title only further brings attention to the graphic, allowing you to enjoy the details whilst inviting you to muse on what’s contained within. Simply put, it’s a wonderful advert for The Beatles during that period and something that demands attention.
1: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – Pink Floyd
When discussing or casually searching classic record covers it’s highly likely that Dark Side of the Moon will feature heavily. The most simple design on this list, it’s also wonderfully easy on the eye whilst being simultaneously striking.
Even though this isn’t the first cover on the list absent of any text whatsoever, it’s a remarkable example of how one image can evoke the words of the band’s name. Show most people this image and they’ll say Pink Floyd or, alternatively, ask people to describe an image that comes to mind when they think of Pink Floyd and many will describe this image.
The band members themselves offered only that they wanted something clean, elegant and graphic when tasking Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson (legendary graphic designers) with the cover. The image of white light travelling through a prism to form the colours of the spectrum delivers exceptionally on the brief whilst exciting the emotional response the most effective types of modern art will. The minimalist approach to the design combined with the reluctance of the band to explain the accompanying music has helped to ensure an iconic status for the album as a package.
The common format at the time of the album’s conception was, of course, records, so in the midst of a creative peak in music history, the competition in displaying something striking on a physically large format like vinyl was huge. Unlike many others, however, Pink Floyd had succeeded in showcasing an artwork that not only matched their creative musicianship but also complemented it to elevate each medium to such iconic status.
Alternative Mention: YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS – The Flaming Lips
The final entry on this list is by no means an 8th position or likewise, it is an entry that has not received the same kind of fame or adulation of the items on the main list but is iconic in its own right for its sublime but unusual design.
Painted by the band’s singer (or visual artist as he likes to be known) Wayne Coyne, the visuals aim to reflect the sound within. As much as we can imagine what the content of music can look like, Coyne wants us to get a feeling for what the visuals sound like.
If this was your first time in seeing the album then at the very least I hope that you’d be curious, but based on Coyne’s sentiment you’d probably also be wondering how any album could sound like that. If, however, you’ve had the pleasure of hearing the record then you’d have the answer right there. Quirky, bizarre, bright, nightmarish and playful could all be words associated with a viewing of this artwork, but the craft, passion and expertise in conveying a concept to the observer ensure that this is an iconic album cover for the modern age of music.