Truth be told, there really aren't a lot of great album covers. There are many that are pretty good, many more that are just OK, and innumerable covers that ain't very good at all. The truly "great" ones? They are few and far between. Most music album covers just feature a photo of the musician or the band and rarely display much creativity or originality. A lot of them are decorated with artwork, but most of it is immediately forgettable.
Some old album covers have, over time, achieved iconic status, but a cold, detached, unsentimental examination of them will, more times than not, reveal them to be rather pedestrian. For example, an album cover like the one created for 'Meet The Beatles' is immediately recognizable - it inspired countless other covers by other bands - but it really isn't anything special. The same goes for Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon' - while it is considered by many to be a classic because its triangle/prism symbol has become so identified with the group, I seriously doubt that many teenagers who bought that album when it was first released in the 1970s immediately thought: What a great album cover! I was certainly one of those teenagers who purchased it within a few years of its release, and I know that I never thought the cover was anything especially unique or "bitchin'" (as we would have said back then).
A fair number of album covers which I admired back in my teenage years have failed to hold up over the decades. I imagine that had I compiled this list back when I was 18 years old, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's cover for 'Brain Salad Surgery' would have made the grade. The same for one or two 'Yes' and 'Uriah Heep' album covers. But time changes our perceptions.
So, what was my criterion for selecting the 15 below? Well, it was pretty basic, really: Which album covers are supercool and/or superclever? I figured the most memorable ought to readily present themselves to my mind without a whole lot of thought 'n' searching. And they did.
I believe I could have extended this list to 20 or 25 selections, but after that, the drop off in quality would have been quite noticeable. This goes to show how, in my opinion, few truly "great" album covers have ever been created. Here are my choices for the Top 15 in no particular order.
WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DELIGHTS
Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass (1965)
The album cover that launched 100,000 prepubescent fantasies (and that's counting only my own!) My Grandpa had this record when I was just a tot. I remember staring at it often, wondering what was beneath all that whipped cream, and thinking that I would certainly be willing to eat my way through it to find out.
ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES
Blue Oyster Cult (1975)
Man, this is just the creepiest album cover ever conceived. It's even creepier than that one by Black Sabbath with the witchy-looking woman standing before that haunted-looking house. This is definitely horror movie material!
My Ma mostly hated my music way back in the day; she was always yelling at me to "Turn that racket down!" But she later admitted that she loved this album cover. She told me it was all she could do to keep from taking a bite out of it.
THE DIRTY BOOGIE
Brian Setzer Orchestra (1998)
"Cool Lounge" cover for the neo-Swing crowd. Great illustration in "cool" colors and great music behind the image, too!
THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN
Bob Dylan (1963)
A Jewish boy "doin' his best James Dean." The girl is just hangin' on for the ride (and what a ride it turned out to be!) I love the Old School 'Americana' of the Greenwich Village buildings and the fabulous automobiles of a bygone era! How cool was that?
Van Morrison (1968)
When I first put this Blog Bit together, I had 'Waylon Jennings' Greatest Hits' in this spot. And although that album does include a really great cover featuring "The Nashville Outlaw" looking his coolest and cockiest, I realized shortly afterwards that I had overlooked Morrison's 'Astral Weeks'. This was a particularly odd oversight in light of the fact that I have always considered 'Astral Weeks' to have one of the best covers ever conceived.
Well, as you can see, I have corrected my unfortunate error. Here we have a deep, dreamy and introspective cover for an album of deep, dreamy and introspective music. An eye-catching photograph that perfectly illustrates what the buyer can expect to hear on the record.
Nils Lofgren (1975)
The colorful, flamboyant atmosphere of Rock And Roll is expressed in the circus painting background and in Nils' T-Shirt. The punky attitude of Rock comes across through the black leather jacket. And the youthful rebellion that is Rock music is illustrated by the singer swilling 80-proof Grand Marnier right out of the bottle. Everything that is Rock 'N' Roll can be found in this album cover! For my money, Rock music's best cover ever. (How do I know that's Grand Marnier that Nils is tilting? I axed him. "Read all about it.")
WILLOW IN THE WIND
Kathy Mattea (1989)
The black and white color combination expresses the sturdy Country-Western outlook. But the flowing willow branches and the pretty, delicate pattern of Kathy's dress speak of her lovely femininity. If only more modern women felt this comfortable with their femininity, and stopped trying to pretend that they are men, then maybe more men like myself would consider marriage.
The Pat Metheny Group (1979)
Remember seeing those 'silver bullets' On The Road? What a perfect cover for an album that includes song titles such as 'Cross The Heartland', 'Airstream', and 'The Search.' Songs and a photograph which celebrate life on the open road. It's not Metheny's best recording but it is his best album cover.
Wes Montgomery (1966)
The wood patterns in the table, guitar, and knife handle contrast beautifully with the clear, smooth glass of the bottle and shot glass. The title and the lime wedge add just a touch of bright color. A very artistic concept. Tequila itself is a poison extracted from a certain type of cactus and it nearly always leads to jail time. Avoid real tequila like it's the plague (you're even better off taking your chances with deadly absinthe), but the music is great. And Wes Montgomery is without question one of the best guitarists of all time!
THE CALL OF THE WILDEST
Louis Prima (1957)
One of only two covers on this list with a sense of humor. My Pa owned this record when I was a kid and I spent what seemed like hours upon hours staring at it. I don't know why it appealed to me so much back then, but I know why it appeals to me now. Prima wasn't even really there - a close examination reveals that his image is merely superimposed over the background.
But even if Prima had been there, his safety was guaranteed: those animals couldn't have eaten another bite; they were stuffed! But my favorite aspect of this cover is that the photographer deliberately gave it all away: Study the bottom left corner and you'll notice that it's a potted plant there. Ha! Funny stuffs! How Primaesque! Great tunes inside, too, including one of the funniest songs ever recorded: 'There'll Be No Next Time.' (Right, Mr. Paulboy?)
Todd Rundgren (1971)
Bruce Springsteen (1973)
The Ultra-Lounge Series; Vol. 6 (1996)
OK, those are my choices for 'Music's All-Time 15 Best Album Covers.' How'd I do? Did I score a 100% on this test, or what?
Yesterday, Brother Nappy and I went to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. In a weak and famished moment, I ate a piece of spinach quiche. And as if that weren't bad enough, I later stopped at a grocery store and purchased a box of fabric softener sheets for use in my dryer. These unmanly acts have been eating away at me for over 24 hours now (I could hardly even sleep last night). I just wanted to come clean about these things and assure you all that I have already agreed to attend meetings at my local 'Quiche-Eaters, Fabric Softener-Users Anonymous' organization. Please don't judge me too harshly.
Whew! I do feel better. That's a huge weight off my mind.
For Your Information, the next thing I intend to post here at 'Stuffs' is a Blog Bit about reincarnation and The Holy Bible. After that, I am going to compose a Bit about my all-time 15 favorite music albums, music-wise rather than cover-wise. In conjunction with that, I will be asking all of you friends of mine (you know who you are) to list your own 15 favorite "Desert Island" music albums. I WILL even call you out individually by name if necessary, so you might want to start giving some thought to your own music list now while it's still early.
Of course, it's also possible that on a whim, I might post a bunch of other stuffs here at 'Stuffs' before I get around to composing these aforementioned "Coming Attractions." After all, it's a doggone quiche-eating, fabric softener-using girlie-man's prerogative to change his/her mind.
.~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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