Iconic Album Covers And Their Stories


May 02, 2023

Album covers are an integral part of the music listening experience because looking at the artwork or photos could enhance the music contained within the records. Album covers can define an era, a generation, or the whole genre of itself. There are also many album covers that have become iconic due to the musicians they feature on the cover: from the lightning struck artwork of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” to the Prince posing with his motorcycle on “Purple Rain.” In addition, there are many album covers that have been recognizable for their creative art work. From the dark and technological waves of “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division to Andy Warhol’s banana on the Velvet Underground’s debut album, a lot of these images have been cemented into the minds of their listeners since each release. Now, we are going to discuss some of the best album covers of all time and share their back stories.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The concept of the classic “Sgt. Pepper” cover was developed by Paul McCartney and art director Robert Fraser. At the time, the Beatles were no longer playing live and they wanted an album cover to present the band as if they were performing as a different band (or a fictional al-ego). The cover shows a colorful and intricate collage of more than 70 life-sized cardboard cutouts of various celebrities, historical figures, and the Beatles themselves. The designers collected the images from different magazines, newspapers, and photographs. Many of the notable figures on the album cover were from various fields including music, literature, science, art, and politics. This includes Marilyn Manroe, Bob Dylan, Karl Max, Albert Einstein, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley, and more.

The band on the album cover were depicted in a military-style outfit designed by Manuel Cuevas, a tailor famous for outfitting country and rock stars. These costumes helped emphasise the themes and concept of the album. Surrounding the band and array of cutouts were flowers, a bass drum with the album’s title, and a statue of a woman (known as the “Sandra” doll) that represents the real-life “Lovely Rita '' character from the album.

The Dark Side Of The Moon: Instantly recognizable as one of the most famous album covers of all time, “Dark Side Of The Moon” is easy to identify once we view the iconic prism. Originally designed by British graphic designer Storm Thorgenson and his company Hipgnosis, the artwork is just as famous as the music contained. At the center of the album cover is a triangular prism dispersing a beam of light into a spectrum of colors. The prism was inspired by the band wanting to have a cover that represented the album’s themes of human experience and the journey from darkness and light. The spectrum of colors produced by the prism represents the various stages of the human experience, emotions, and themes explored in the album such as life, death, mental illness, greed, and time. Each color is supposed to represent each track on the album, which is not necessarily straightforward.

Storm Thorgerson and his designers achieved the artwork by using a simple prism and shining light through it onto a white card. The photo was taken in black and white, and the colors were added later during the printing process, resulting in a simple but striking image. The use of a black background highlights the prism's effect, making it the focal point of the cover. The original vinyl release of "The Dark Side of the Moon" had a gatefold cover that opened, revealing the rainbow pulse. This added to the surreal and immersive experience of the album.

Aladdin Sane: "Aladdin Sane" by David Bowie is one of the most striking album covers in the history of rock music. The cover was designed by British photographer Brian Duffy, who worked closely with Bowie to create an image that perfectly matched the vibe of the album's themes and Bowie's alter-ego. Bowie's distinctive red hair and intense gaze added to the cover's allure. The shoot took place in Duffy's studio in Primrose Hill, London. The most iconic part of the cover is the bold lightning bolt painted across David Bowie's face. The lightning bolt has become synonymous with Bowie's alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, who was presented on the previous album's cover, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." The bolt symbolizes transformation, a common theme in Bowie's music and image.

The album's title, "Aladdin Sane," is a play on words, reading "A lad Insane.” The title reflects the album's exploration of the difference between sanity and madness, and the concept of a fractured identity. The background of the photo is a minimal studio setting, which allows Bowie's striking appearance to take center stage. The original cover art featured Bowie's bare midriff, but for some markets in the United States, it was considered too provocative, and a censored version was released. The original artwork was eventually restored and reissued in later years.

Purple Rain: Another album cover that is deeply connected to the artist behind it is Prince on the “Purple Rain” cover. The original photo was taken by Ed Thrasher, an American art director and photographer who worked with Warner Brothers Records. He collabed with photographer and director Gary Weis to create the overall design. The cover art concept was named after by the movie of the same name. The album was used as the soundtrack for the movie released in 1984. The image served to capture the enigmatic and alluring persona of Prince, while also incorporating the central theme of the movie. The color of purple holds as a significant symbol for Prince, since it was his signature color of choice. Purple is associated with royalty, creativity, and individuality, all of which were characteristics that Prince embodied in his artistry and public image.

The photo presents Prince in a semi-profile pose, gazing into the distance. He is wearing a frilly white shirt with a purple jacket, chains, and ruffles, showcasing his unique and flamboyant fashion sense. The album title, "Purple Rain," is displayed prominently at the top in white capital letters, matching the overall purple-themed design. The font used for the title adds a touch of elegance to the cover. The cover features raindrops falling from the top, adding a dynamic element to the design. This element ties directly to the "Purple Rain" film's narrative, which revolves around Prince's character's struggle and triumphs in his music career.

Born In The U.S.A: The cover photo for “Born In The U.S.A.” was taken by Annie Leibovitz, a famous American portrait photographer. The concept behind the album cover was aimed to symbolize the American spirit and identity. It was intended to represent Springsteen's music and lyrics, which usually tackles themes of working-class struggles, patriotism, and the American dream. The photo was shot at the historic home of the late Walt Whitman, a famous American poet. It was located in Laurel Springs, New Jersey and it served as a backdrop for the photo shoot. In the photograph, Bruce Springsteen is portrayed as a blue-collar worker, which resonates with the themes of his music. He is wearing a simple white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a red cap, presenting the working-class imagery.

The background of the album cover hangs a massive American flag behind Springsteen. The flag's stars and stripes are intentionally visible, representing the patriotic theme. Springsteen's body language in the photograph exudes strength and determination. He is shown with his back to the camera, gazing out toward the distance. The positioning of his arms and legs adds a sense of power and resilience. The title "Born in the USA" is displayed in bold white letters at the top of the album cover, standing out against the background.

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