Monday, 5 April 2010

30 Favourite Album Artworks I Own

Originally written: 27/04/08

Hi! This note was thrown together in a very short time, and although I worked really hard on it, it is not perfect. The reason why I say this is because I don’t claim to have the albums with the greatest artwork in the world. There are so many great covers out there that represent the music behind them in such original ways, and so many lists put together by critics, that I would never pretend to have all the answers. That is why I was careful to clearly state that these are my 30 Favourite Album Artworks I Own. All this means is that I looked through my (beautiful pride and joy of a) collection and narrowed it down to the 30 works you see here.

And I know that the three or so people reading this will go “well, who gives a fuck?”

Me! I give a fuck! I think 90% of people on facebook write notes for themselves above and beyond anyone else, so :P However, if you like music or if you scroll down the list and see an entry that looks interesting or you recognize, read it! You may actually learn something...

ALSO NOTE: If you can't see the cover's too well in this note... google it! Or wiki it! It'll be worth it, trust me. Ok, here goes something:

Patti Smith - Horses
30. Patti Smith - Horses (1975)
Credit: Robert Mapplethorpe
Simple yet effective using natural lighting, the record label wanted to make many changes to the image, including airbrushing out Patti's moustache, which she refused. This reflects the punk-rock attitude of the entire album, which you have to hear to fully understand the “fuck-you” approach Patti Smith had, the “Godmother of Punk”. Notice the horse pin on her blazer. Most definitely a classic.

Dry Kill Logic - Darker Side Of Nonsense
29. Dry Kill Logic - The Darker Side of Nonsense (2001)
Credit: The Collective
I hang my head in shame whenever I look over my collection and see it's diseased by late 90's/early 00's Nu Metal, but I refuse to let that deter from how cool some of the artwork was from this era. And in all fairness, Dry Kill Logic aren't bad per say, just not very... good. And while the music is far from nonsensical (instead rather quite ordinary) the title and the cover are matches made in heaven. To prove my point, and this is very important, this is the ONLY album I have EVER purchased in MY LIFE based on the cover art alone. I hadn't heard a damn thing, but the image on the shelf just begged to be bought. This is risky, but at the time, I wasn't dissapointed. Regardless of what I think now, it is quite amazing that one can be hypnotized to the point of spending R100+ (as it was in those days) for a small square picture. It achieved what every album cover attempts to achieve, and for that I will always recognize those disfigured characters as being quite remarkable.

Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist
28. The Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Credit: Frank Maddocks
Deftones covers are dodgy at best, and generally, I find them very unappealing. But their latest album (and most recent released album on this list) hit the nail on the head. To me, if you had to personify Deftones music, it would be a beautiful female figure. Because it is my experience with beautiful female figures that they bite. And that's what this album does, it's experimental and sound-scapey-ish, like a dream within a dream within a nightmare, which is the same feeling I get when I look at this piece. From what I gather, the images are from the film Roxana, which is about a proto-feminist character who carries out actions of prostitution for her own ends of freedom. So thats nice.

Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power
27. Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
Credit: Bob Defrin
It's not visually appealing, but gets the message across loud and clear, as Pantera do. I remember a story (that unfortunately I can't find to reference) that the poor guy getting smacked up did it for $10 - $100 a pop, and got the fist in his face many many times (my faulty memory recalls numbers as high as 30) to get the perfect shot. He was a fan and was honoured to get his faced pummeled for Pantera. Apparently the fist you see is Phil Anselmo's, the singer. Like the cover, there are no pretty moments in the music itself either.

Norma Jean - Bless The Martyr, Kiss The Child
26. Norma Jean - Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child (2002)
Credit: Asterik Studios
I love this album. The sound, the rawness, the song names, the title all work as an original unit, and yes, the cover plays a big role of it. It's just one of those pictures that leap at you. The yellow colouring is what makes it, so eery, a little kid with a sadistic smile, something that could easily be passed for a satanic death metal band even though Norma Jean are Christians to the 'core. The old-school feel is all over the album and is a nice achievement for something that was fairly low-budget. Sadly, this was the only album of theirs to feature singer Josh Scogin, who left to form The Chariot who never got as good as this, but still beat the fairly-common metalcore sound Norma Jean became.

Pixies - Doolittle
25. The Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
Credit: Simon Larbalestier and Vaughan Oliver
Great references to all the lyrics is what makes this a great visual representation. "Gouge Away" is interpreted as a spoon with hair in it, the bell with teeth in it is a reference to the line "it shakes my teeth". And, ofcourse, the monkey on the cover with the numbers (if man is) 5, (and the devil is) 6, and (then God is) 7 goes hand-in-hand with "Monkey Gone to Heaven". Coincidentally, the monkey with the halo is the reason why Frank Black chose to change the album's name from the original idea: "Whore". He said it would seem too "anti-Catholic". Yeah, maybe.

Otep - Sevas Tra
24. Otep - Sevas Tra
Credit: P.R. Brown and Wendy Dougan
Wow, this band came and went. No matter, this is not a note about the music, and while Otep bore me to tears, this is a damn cool cover. It's great cos it features the whole band on it without becoming cliché, I mean, there we have the lead singer INSIDE the fkn belly of the Shiva type monster. Plus the whole thing is cardboard that folds out into other interesting pieces with a little hand written booklet stashed inside. And I guess when you name your album "Art Saves" backwards, you gotta put your money where your mouth is.

Nirvana - In Utero
23. Nirvana - In Utero (1993)
Credit: Robert Fisher & Kurt Cobain
Although not as controversial as Nevermind, In Utero was still quite out there. Featuring a transparent anatomical manikin with angel wings (also used on the tour) on the front cover, this was just the front. The back was piece Kurt called "Sex and woman and In Utero and vaginas and birth and death", which includes fetuses and body parts lying in a bed of orchids and lilies. The cd itself was a photo of Frances Bean's nanny, a cross-dresser. Not to mention the album's original title was "I Hate Myself & I Want to Die", so it was pretty pushing. Go Kurt go!

Paul McCartney - Band On The Run
22. Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run (1973)
Credit: [Unknown]
Not only unarguably one of the best post-Beatles solo projects, the cover is very noteworthy. It features the Wings members plus six other celebrities including Liverpool's World Light-Heavyweight boxing champion John Conteh and Hollywood actor Christopher Lee (you may remember him as Saruman in Lord of the Rings) all dressed as convicts caught in the spot-light of the prison search. It was parodied for the Dreamworks animated film Madagascar.

The Prodigy - Music For The Jilted Generation
21. The Prodigy - Music for the Jilted Generation
(1994) Credit: Stuart Haygarth
It's difficult to find any special facts or even any information at all about this cover, but I guess that makes it all the more special. That is to say, there is no gimmick here, no fancy bullshit, it's just a really cool picture that makes you want to hear the album, I mean, just look at it! It's appealing as fuck. Definitely the best artwork for any release by this band.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Machina
20. The Smashing Pumpkins - Machina/The Machines of God (2000)
Credit: Vasily Kafanov
Just looking at this cover does not do the album justice whatsoever. But looking through the booklet itself which looks worn, burnt and even includes a coffee stain represents this album perfectly. It has been said that the artwork loosely explains the concept of the album, which I find very confusing, but it is said to be heavily symbolic, and wikipedia points out that it references themes of alchemy, chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics, mysticism, spiritualism, and art. It's all very medieval looking and was nominated for the Best Packaging Award at the Grammy's. I like it, ehyuk.

Joanna Newsom - Ys
19. Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006)
Credit: Benjamin A. Vierling
The reason why I am so fond of this cover is that when I look at it, I hear the music. It looks like a book, it reads like a book, it sounds like a book, it's pretty much a book. It's filled with amazing lyrics telling stories of mythical creatures in a folklore manner which has wooed almost every critic under the sun. Even it's title is a reference to the mythical city of the same name, built in the Douarnenez bay, and then swallowed by the ocean. It's a modern day epic lullaby, a full package of perfection and some parts are even raised so that you can physically feel the picture's outlines. As a whole, this album restored much faith into modern music for me, it's magical, and if you suddenly feel frustrated that you haven't hear it... you should.

KoRn - Follow The Leader
18. KoЯn - Follow the Leader (1998)
Credit: Todd McFarlane
Todd McFarlane is the shit. One of my favourite comic book characters of all time is Spawn, who was created by this man. And his toys are well beyond the line of duty ( So despite this album almost single handedly creating the Nu Metal plague of 1999, it is solid, and the cover work is just oh-so stylish. So stylish, in fact, that the hit single "Freak on a Leash" was inspired by it, and Todd animated the scene to life in front of our very eyes. And then it won the Best Short Form Music Video Grammy of 2000, which at the time was huge thing for any Metal Sub-Genre band to achieve.

Mars Volta - DeLoused In The Comatorium
17. The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
Credit: Storm Thorgerson
The Mars Volta always rock the party with their artwork. And you know you can trust Storm Thorgerson as his name appears on this list a few times as himself and as a part of the Hipgnosis team. And besides being a massively-innovative debut album from one of the most talented bands on our planet, this cover is a great image to symbolize one falling into a coma and getting lost in a world within your head, which is exactly what this album is about. I don't feel like going into that again, but if you are interested, read my note on concept albums to see what it's all about. Or alternatively, just look at the cover, because even the densest of admirers can say "duh, that looks nice".

A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
16. A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step (2003)
Credit: Dean Karr
I was excited enough about this release after owning their debut for a while, but when I saw the cover, it just jumped at me. It's beautiful in an unorthodox way, and really clicks with the music itself. I speculate (although it is possible that I am wrong) that the model's name is Tanya and she is the same women scrounging around in the dirt collecting insects in the fantastic video for "Weak and Powerless". Simple but so effective, a part of this perfect album. I suggest looking up Dean Karr himself, his work is stunning and has made covers for Marilyn Manson, Iron Maiden, The Goo Goo Dolls, Chris Rock and so many more, as well as music video's for Cypress Hill, Billy Talent, Queens of the StoneAge and home-grown boys Seether.

Cradle Of Filth - Cruelty And The Beast
15. Cradle of FIlth - Cruelty and the Beast (1998)
Credit: MEZ
Cradle of Filth always ROCK with their covers. That is, of course, if you are into hot chicks being mutilated with religious symbols everywhere. This specific cover might make you roll your eyes, thinking it is just another pointless attempt to shock people, and you may be right. Except for the fact that what you are looking at ACTUALLY HAPPENED. That lady in the bath of blood is playing the role of Elizabeth Bathroy, a countess who believed that the blood of virgins kept her young. She did horrible things to these kiddies, and yes, one of them was bathing in their blood. If you want to know more, look at my note on concept albums, or go here: . The point is that, yes, it IS shocking, she IS hot, and it feels like you WANT to be turned on but something inside of you just won't allow you to be. This all coupled with it being an awesome album with a true story, gives this entry and artwork that little extra "yeah".

Muse - Black Holes And Revelations
14. Muse - Black Holes & Revelations (2006)
Credit: Storm Thorgerson
At first glance it may no seem like anything special, but allow me to enlighten you. The red surface of the shot is supposed to be the planet Mars, specifically, the area Cydonia (where the famous face on Mars is) and the four men are the Knights of Cydonia, the same name as the 11th track on the (very impressive) album. Matthew Bellamy has also stated that the guys represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mentioned in the Christian Bible, chapter six of the Book of Revelation. He went on to say that "the horses [on the table] are miniature in size to emphasize the fact that the horsemen have outgrown them". Which I think is very smart and much like most of Muse's recent work, very apocalyptic. Storm Thorgerson is a genius and has worked on superb projects for Pink Floyd and The Mars Volta, amoung many others.

Nirvana - Nevermind
13. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
Credit: Robert Fisher
There isn't too much I could say about this that you don't already know, as this is one of the most recognizable album covers for undeniably one of the most important alternative albums of the 90's. It's inspiration came when Kurt and Dave Grohl were watching a program on underwater births, and mentioned this to Robert Fisher who went and found some stock photography on the subject. Most of the examples were deemed to graphic by Geffen Records, so they settled on a photo of a baby swimming. However, the company which owned the image was charging $7,500, so instead they got a photographer friend, found three-month-old Spencer Elden and took the photo on their own for a much more reasonable $200. The fishhook/dollar was added later. Ofcourse the label freaked a bit, already preparing versions with the little penis airbrushed out, but Kurt put his foot down, and would only agree to the censorship if the genitalia was covered with a sticker that read "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet paedophile." And ofcourse, today, Spencer Elden has one of the most famous dicks in the world. And I'm sure it's a great pick-up line if there ever was one.

Rage Against The Machine
12. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Credit: Malcolm Browne
As one of the most (if not THE most) politically active bands of the 90's, it is only fitting that Rage Against the Machine's ground-breaking debut album reflected this accordingly. It shows the monk Thích Quung Ðuc protesting President Ngô Ðình Diem's administration for oppressing the Buddhist religion. He did this by pouring 5-gallons of gasoline on himself and setting himself on fire in Saigon in 1963. He never moved, never made a sound, until he burnt to a human crisp. The Buddist clergy made a circle around him, preventing anyone getting to the man. Journalist Malcolm Browne won the 1963 World Press Photo of the Year for this image.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers - One Hot Minute
11. Red Hot Chili Peppers - One Hot Minute
(1995) Credit: Mark Ryden
I admit, I am biased about this one, for two reasons. The first is that Mark Ryden is one of my all time favourite artists EVER (look him up, you will adore him the same) even if this isn't his best work. The second is that I own a limited edition version of this album I just so happened to stumble upon, where the girl playing piano ACTUALLY PLAYS THE PIANO. You move it around and she MOVES! It’s nuts, ask me to show you some time. Anyways, it is a widely known fact that this isn't the Chili's best work, but their artwork is often hit or miss for me (Stadium Arcadium cover sucks!) and this is, most definitely, a hit.

GlassJAw - Worship and Tribute
10. GlassJAw - Worship and Tribute (2002)
Credit: Mick Haggerty
For those of you looking at this cover for the first time are probably thinking that it looks really shitty and that I have no taste. Not true! The main attraction of this is that you are in fact looking straight through the cover onto the CD, which is shaped like a record. This is not the first album to do this (Superunknown by Soundgaren was almost a decade earlier) and is probably is not the first album to even make use of a see-through cover, but frankly it's the only one I have. What's cool about it is that the record/cd appears to sit on a record player, and when it is opened, the styli and needle appear to rise off the record, allowing you to pluck it off the table. This is all nice and dandy but it would be useless if there wasn't a PC enhanced section on the cd itself with the lyrics, credits and even some video's. Seems some people agree with me as this album was nominated for the Best Album Art Grammy in 2003, but lost to The Dixie Chicks.... What?

SlipKnoT - Iowa
09. SlipKnoT - Iowa (2001)
Credit: t42design and M. Shawn Crahan
Maybe it isn't you thing, and maybe this album is regarded as the band's weakest work, but there is no doubt that by the time SlipKnoT's sophomore was ready, they had made enough money for RoadRunner Records to allow them to pretty much do what they wanted. And while I am a big fan of the goat theme itself (an obvious reference to Satanism, eek) that's hardly enough to get it on the list. The real gimmick is the shine, it is almost like a foil where you can literally see yourself behind the goat if you look. The inside is also something to be impressed by, see-through paper with all the lyrics and lots of creepy pictures of the band throughout. And as someone who has seen this band live twice, let me assure you, that there is a scary presence when nine full-grown men tower above you with masks on.

Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals
08. Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals (1998)
Credit: Joseph Cultice
Where to begin? First of all, this cover caused kak, Wal-Mart wouldn't stock it, and Japan called for it to be edited. Not because Manson had tits mind you, it's because he has 6 fingers on one hand, and Japanese folks don't like deformities. The original image had nipples, but that was edited out because it would be too far (?). But wait, there's more. You can actually remove the cover, reverse it, and you have a brand new cover. That's because the album itself is presented to be written half by Alpha (the lonely alien with boobs) and half by Omega (a glam rockstar addicted to drugs). Further more, and probably the coolest part, is that the casing is a light blue. Within the cover there is illegible yellow and blue text around, and when viewed through the blue cover, the blue text disappears (much like those red and green glasses you had when you were a kid) to reveal additional phrases and lyrics. Another interesting fact Manson revealed is that Johnny Depp currently owns the alien suit.

The Beatles - Abbey Road
07. The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
Credit: Kosh and Iain MacMillan
This is one of the most famous and perhaps the most imitated covers of all time, which is fitting because to this day this album still gets cited by many critics as "the best album of all time". Released when The Beatles were on the verge of murdering each other, this was their final recorded album and so one of the final shots taken of the whole band together. Still not convinced? How about the fact that it has been parodied by The Shadows, Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even Paul McCartney himself? What, you want more? Ok, how about the fact that tourists flock to Abbey Road everyday to mimic the cover themselves almost 40 years after the original shot? Further more, a webcam has even been set-up so you can watch people doing it, over here: Does that do anything for you?

Radiohead - Kid A
06. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
Credit: Stanley Donwood and Tchock (Thom Yorke)
Radiohead cover's are... strange. Which, in the case of an album like Kid A, is just perfect. The coolest thing about Radiohead is that the team extends well beyond the 5 members, as they have worked with Nigel Godrich as the producer since before The Bends, and Stanley Donwood as the artwork-man since The Bends. This gives them a great understanding of what it is they are all attempting to achieve. Kid A was a reflection of the war in Kosovo in winter of 1999, made as an oil painting and creating the sharp texture with knives and putty, and then digitally modified and pixilated all over to look like it does. Just open up the fucking thing, pages fold out of nowhere, including weird sketches on tracing paper. Not to mention the hidden-booklet featured in the casing underneath the Cd (UK version only), it's enough to make even the artiest of us go "huh?" If God was an album, he would be Kid A.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
05. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1974)
Credit: Hipgnosis and George Hardie
There isn't too much to be said about this cover, except that even if you don't know who Pink Floyd are, there is a 99.9% chance you'll recognize it. This is because this album has spent well over 1,500 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 and is the 20th highest selling album of all time. The thought process behind the art isn't clear, but it has become a symbol for the band, even being recreated in recent tours with a 3d light version of itself, which is just fucking beautiful, look here. Not to mention there was NO title on the sleeve which was a bold move for the time.

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
04. David Bowie - Diamond Dogs (1974)
Credit: Guy Peellaert
You might look at this and say "sure, it looks pretty good, but it's not THAT amazing". Well, that's because you aren't seeing the bigger picture, and I urge you to look here.
and You may notice that David Bowie becomes a man-dog hybrid, flashing you his penis. RCA Records freaked and quickly airbrushed the genitalia out of the gatefold, but a few copies did manage to slip out into circulation making them among the most expensive record collectibles of all time, as high as thousands of US dollars being spent for a single copy. Luckily the progressively desensitized nature of the public means that modern cd issues leave the David-doggie's penis intact. It's also great because the entire album is based on George Orwell's classic novel 1984, one of my favourite books of all time, and so the fun doesn't end at the artwork alone. Then Bowie released "Young Americans" and it sucked.

The Beatles White Album
03. The Beatles - The Beatles [White Album] (1968)
Credit: Richard Hamilton
At first glance, the artwork appears to be extremely bland and perhaps only included because I am a Beatles fanatic. Allow me to change your mind there. First of all, this followed the amazingly detailed "Sgt. Pepper" cover [see below] and was in huge contrast to it. Second of all, the first 5 million copies (or something) were numbered with Serial Numbers, so the first printed would have the number "1" on the cover, the second would have the number "2" and so fourth. Which means if you get number "1" (which Ringo owns), you could make a pretty penny. To give you an example, number 7 is currently (as I type this) for sale on eBay for $9,000. And finally, the cultural impact was massive, it has been parodied by such heavy weight names such as: Metallica; Jay-Z; Weezer; They Might Be Giants and Prince. And of course, it's a fucking good double album if there ever was one, even going so far as to talk Charles Manson into murdering people.

The Velvet Underground and Nico
02. Velvet Underground & Nico - Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
Credit: Andy Warhol
You've seen it before, even if you can't remember where. Designed by one Andy Warhol (maybe you've heard of him) the Cd versions we buy today loose the point a bit. Sure, it's iconic, and much like the music, definitely gives off that "what the fuck" vibe. But the original LP versions are where the magic happened. Look closely at the top of the banana, you will notice the words inviting you to "Peel slowly and see". On the original pressings, that’s what people did, and to their surprise, the banana skin peeled off, revealing a naked unskinned banana. Of course, then rumours started to fly that the sticker was laced with LSD. Which might have been a good idea to boost the terrible initial sales, which took decades to recover, eventually becoming accepted as the classic it deserved to be.

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Credit: Peter Blake
This is it. This is THE cover of all covers. Yes, it's The Beatles, ok, I know, try forgetting about that for a second and listen to what I am saying. First of all, The Beatles themselves became a brand new band, the Lonely Hearts Club Band, complete with new names and uniforms, mustaches and... well... LSD. Behind them you will notice a lot of people [I beg you to go and find a larger version to understand], and this is where the fun begins. Included inside the album is the names of each one of those people, meaning you can research and learn about a lot of individuals you knew nothing about. People you may recognize on the cover would be Marilyn Monroe, Oliver Hardy, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, and yes, even wax models of The Beatles themselves during their mop-top days. Even more impressive is that this was the FIRST EVER album cover to have the lyrics on it, and it even included a cut-out mustache and badge just so you can become your own Sgt Pepper. EMI freaked out because at the time it was about 100 times more expensive than any other cover ever made at £2868, which even in these days is a pretty disgusting amount of cash. It paid off tho, as this album and it's cover paved way for many album's to come. It was so good in fact, that it sent Beach Boy Brian Wilson into a deep depression because he felt he just could not compete with The Beatles anymore. The artwork won the Grammy for Best Album Cover in 1967, as well as winning the Album of the Year and Best Engineered Album among many others. Rolling Stone magazine did a massive article recently on the top 100 album covers ever, this was number 1. Similarly, the magazine ran an article on the best 500 albums ever, and this was, once again, number 1. It is safe to say that everything about this album changed music forever, even studio's around the world had to learn new stuff just from what was achieved on this album. And of course, the artwork has been parodied by such names as Frank Zappa, Devendra Banhart, Pearl Jam, and even The Simpsons, despite it's complexity. In my opinion, the greatest album ever made, by the greatest band that ever lived, The Beatles, amen.

And that's it, please leave comments to tell me how wrong I am, how right I am, or what your favourite album cover is, because it turns me on. Thanks for reading!

HONORABLE ALBUMS I DON'T OWN but would've included:
Tool - 10,000 Days
The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers (its got a freaking zip on it!)
The Cars - Candy-O
Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking
Carly Simon - Playing Possum
Frank Zappa - Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Ohio Players - Honey

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