Album covers – a lost art form?

In my youth, album covers were often an important artistic expression of the musical contents inside. Sure, some could be rather hokey, and others just plain self-indulgent, but many were superb expressions of pop art.  In today’s digital age of wireless and electronic transmission, there is little room leftover for artistic design. I find that rather sad.

The golden years of album artwork took place in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, prior to start of the digital revolution. Eight-track and cassette tapes competed with vinyl albums as a way to listen to the music, but never for experiencing album art.  As compact discs became more popular, vinyl album sales began to plummet. While CDs are an improvement over tapes, the limited scale of the art work on a CD is a fraction of what it had been on a vinyl album cover.

In recent years, there has been a bit of a resurgence in album-sized releases, though I doubt it will ever return to the glory days. Somehow, lying on my bed or the floor while reading the liner notes and admiring the album art work helped me identify with the performer and better understand what they were trying to express through their music. Compact discs also have this ability, but to a lesser extent, largely due to their smaller size.

For today’s iTunes generation, many of them may never have or take the opportunity to know that special feeling of holding an artist’s visual work in their hands. Now and then, new releases will include digital liner notes and artwork, but it is not the same when you cannot hold the record your hands, feel the texture of the album sleeve, and peruse the pages of  an insert of photographs and lyrics.

As I noted earlier, I find this rather sad, because it was all part of a magical experience — absorbing the music, admiring the artwork, and reflecting on the thoughts of the performer all at the same time.

Here are just a few of my personal favorite album covers. Some of these may have never seen publication on a 12.5″ x 12.5″ cardboard based album sleeve, but would look grand in such a depiction.

Astronomy for Dogs, The Aliens (I chuckle every time I see this cover – see image at the beginning of this post) – My favorite funny album cover.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith (A toy story before “Toy Story”) My favorite artistically – also a cool metaphor to think of each song as a meaningful toy.

Boston (cool science fiction image)

Breakfast in America, Supertramp  (Manhattan made from tableware)

Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (simple, yet thought-provoking)

Draw the Line, Aerosmith (perhaps a bit self-indulgent, but fun)

Escape, Journey (another cool science fiction image)

Heartbeat City, The Cars (an Andy Warhol-esque cover)

London Calling, The Clash (best live photo cover ever – sorry, KISS fans)

Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin (like the title in the windows)

Reach the Beach, The Fixx (cover and title in unison)

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire (the image sums it up)

Yellow Submarine, The Beatles (great pop art image with vivid hues)

You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish, REO Speedwagon

Please feel free to write back with your personal favorites. No doubt there are some I have overlooked. Enjoy!

This entry was posted in art, entertainment, Music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Album covers – a lost art form?

  1. AIO says:

    Couldn’t agree more.


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