I know the saying goes don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but an album cover definitely speaks for itself — even before you put that record on. Just like you love that signature green Bottega Veneta box or that aesthetically pleasing Boy Smells candle box, we know that packaging and design matter. This past year, I recently got into vinyl — I know, I know, I’m now that pretentious guy who talks about how everything sounds better this way, which is true. I bought a record player and suddenly going to my local record shop on Saturdays and diving through the bins, searching for gems became self-care. As I would search through these crates, I truly found even more of an appreciation for album packaging and design. I started collecting albums — not only for the music but the cover art. I realized a standout album cover can take an album from being great to iconic.
Get into some of my favorite album cover art below:
blood Orange—Freetown Sound
Not only is this one of the most beautifully poetic albums I’ve ever heard but the album art itself slaps! The cover image is a piece by world renowned image maker and 2020 Hugo Boss Prize recipient, Deana Lawson titled Binky and Tony Forever, 2009.
Lorde’s sophomore album, Melodrama, was a moody, emo-pop experience that took you through all the feels. The cover art reflects the music perfectly. Drawn by Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinniss, it’s a beautiful impressionist rendering of the singer, very much in the style of French Post-Impressionist masters Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh.
Aesthetic queen of cool Solange Knowles is known for her discerning taste and eye for quality design. For her 2012 EP, True, she collaborated with esteemed contemporary artist and collagist, Mickalene Thomas. The cover is designed in the signature style of Thomas, with a mix of fabric, prints and images within images.
Kanye West—My beautiful dark twisted fantasy
When we talk about quality packaging and design, memorable cover art, iconic imagery, we needn’t look any further than this album. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the stuff of album design legend honestly. For Kanye’s fifth studio album, he and his design studio, DONDA, collaborated with contemporary surrealist artist, George Condo for a full deck of album covers. Condo painted various different caricatures and scenes for a full album experience. The album acts as a gallery with a cut out designed to change out the cover image at your discretion.
king krule—the ooz
This album cover is incredibly minimalist showing an airplane drifting through a cloudless sky during at sunset, with thick contrails steaming along behind it. Taken by King Krule himself, it exudes simplistic DIY energy. After its unveiling in early 2017, Krule asked fans to submit their own version cover even starting an Instagram page for the submissions. I like it so much because it brings to mind the minimalist work of famed Argentine-Italian painter, Lucio Fontana.
Diana Ross—‘silk electric’
I also have this beauty on vinyl — I promise I won’t say vinyl again — and it’s a reason why Ms. Ross is the “boss.” To be honest, no one is seeing Miss Ross in the album cover department. She’s worked with art titans from Victor Skrebneski to photographer Francesco Scavullo to bring her album covers to life. This album is no exception with cover art by Andy Warhol. It’s literally a piece of pop art!
My dad has this record on vinyl (sorry, I’m mentioning vinyl yet again) and the visual of the cover art is forever etched in my mind. Photographed by Joel Brodsky featuring iconic 60s and 70s model Barbara Cheeseborough, it’s a menacing image that foreshadows the tone of the album.
When we talk about new-wave afrofuturism, we can’t have that discussion without this album. Photographed by renowned photographer Rankin, Kelis dons the cover dressed in her futuristic garb proudly taking up space in the house/EDM music scene. This image stands out in my mind because it was completely different than what the other pop or R&B girls were doing at that time. Kelis on this cover brings to mind Janet Jackson in that purple afro-futuristic look from Busta Rhymes’ 1998 video for “What’s It Gonna Be?!”
So those are mine, what are some of your favorite or most memorable album covers?