Album covers must be among the most interesting works of art of the 20th Century – and beyond? They are among the Top Fifty Millennium Artworks. Millions of people buy and own music albums. They are still being made despite streaming and downloading.
Everyone likes music in some form or other. The job of an album cover is to present the music visually. It is often the audiences’ first impression of the recording and they form a perception of the musician. They are part of the culture of the music. Over the last 20 years, the internet has blurred album designs with website and social media designs.
There are many types of music. Musicians often make music that is different from their previous work. This is why album designs are so diverse. Sometimes people like and remember the album cover even if they do not like the music. Very often the artwork finds its way into merchandise – everything from T shirts to coffee mugs to posters to jigsaws. The only restriction or inspiration is that the artwork has to relate to the music.
In the end, a record sleeve is packaging. Unlike other forms of packaging it usually does not include a picture of the contents or instructions on how to use it. However, it should reflect the feelings, imagination, passion and artistry of the music. Just like music, some album covers are ‘turkeys’, although this is a matter of taste.
The artwork usually comes from several sources: photographs, manipulated photo images, existing art work and commissioned designs. Follow the links to see some famous album covers and hear the music.
Films usually involve or are based around music. Curiously, film related covers often just use poster images or photographs from the films. Presumably the music is seen as an accessory to the film. Here are some examples of films with outstanding music scores but which only offer visual images taken from the film:
The Sound of Music
(1965. Writers: Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein)
Lawrence of Arabia
(1962. Music – Maurice Jarre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.)
West Side Story
(1957. Music: Leonard Bernstien and Stephen Sondhiem.)
The Magnificent Seven (1960. Music: Elmer Bernstein.)
Famous Covers on Famous Albums
With the development of Long Playing records (LPs) from 1948, record companies and musicians saw the sleeve as a marketing tool and artistic extension of the record. Here are some exceptional examples.
(1967. Music: The Beatles. Artist: Peter Blake.)
At the time the most expensive cover ever made.
Dark Side of the Moon
(1973. Music: Pink Floyd. Artist: Storm Thorgerson (Hipgnosis))
(1970. Music: Carlos Santana. 1961 painting Annunciation by Mati Klarwein.)
Modern Life is Rubbish
(1993. Music: Blur. Stock image that Stylorouge—Blur's design consultants—obtained from a photo library in Halifax.)
Sometimes the wrong note is the right note. Follow this link to hear great rock ‘n roll in a dreadful sleeve. This is Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes from 1956. The cover was designed by his notorious manager Col Tom Parker – for a fee from the record company.
However, notice the similarly to this famous image taken in 1979:
The context and message make all the difference. The two images illustrate the massive change in contemporary music and culture in just 23 years. Both images were highly controversial. Follow this link to see the result.
Rival Sons are a hard rock band from Long Beach California. Their latest album, Feral Roots, 2019, features cover art image “Wildmother” by Martin Wittfooth. Material for the album was written in a cabin in the Tennessee countryside and this links to the image.
Follow this link to their website and you will see the range of band related merchandise – everything from clothing to a Feral Roots jigsaw.
There is even a Rival Sons COVID-19 mask. This illustrates a significant change. Very few musicians make any money from recording music. They rely on selling merchandise to cover recording and touring costs. The merchandise requires the input of graphic designers and visual artists to create striking images and designs. Some musicians take it further and develop clothing and perfume brands based on their musical work, which can be very profitable.
Not sure about this? https://www.thefragranceshop.co.uk/beyonce/b
Greta Van Fleet is an American rock band from Frankenmuth, Michigan. They are releasing their third album “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” on April 16 2021. (At the time of writing it has not been released.) However, you have been able to hear tracks and buy merchandise well in advance of the actual release. A single from the album was released in 2020 October as a way of creating interest within the COVID lockdown. Look round the website to see the interrelationship between the artwork on the album, the website design the merchandise and the recordings.
So is the music industry selling music, art, clothes or perfume?
Here are more covers worth seeing: