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Teenage Dreams, Blackouts, and Unknown Pleasures

Will Cotton: Katy Perry “Teenage Dream”

D*Face:Christina Aguilera “Bionic”

I don’t think it would be a real large leap of faith to guess that the new Katy Perry album will be an artless heap of bubble gum, nor will any limbs be gone out on to guess the new Christina Aguilera album sounds vaguely like the last one… I assure you I am aware that these are blind assumptions, and I’m not even hinting at that fact that I probably have a “friend” who wouldn’t casually enjoy a song or two by either of the girls. The one thing both these albums usher in though, that is more important than a formulaic pop record, is a return of awesome album cover art by acclaimed artists. Ms. Perry’s new album “California Dream” is graced with an incredible painting by noted NY painter Will Cotton who is known for his saccharine landscapes that would resemble the set design for “Candyland: the Revenge of Gloppy the Molasses Monster” if there ever were to be such a movie. D*Face, the British street artist and Banksy contemporary lends his considerable hand to the cover of noted art collector Aguilera’s latest record to less spectacular effect. The composition seems an uneven mix of graphic and photographic work that serves no purpose other than to draw the disparate demographics that either of them skews towards together, and broaden their respective fan bases.

The Velvet Underground:Andy Warhol “The Velvet Underground

Andy Warhol: The Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers”

There is quite a history of art luminaries marrying their sensibilities with musicians, sometimes creating a perfect symmetry of sound and vision, other times creating a package that, let’s just say, won’t hold up to the test of time nearly as heartily. Andy Warhol was one of the first fine artists to dip his toes in rock ‘n roll waters, first managing the Velvet Underground, and providing the album with its iconic banana cover; later conspiring with The Rolling Stones on their “Sticky Fingers”, which was capable of making most men feel less than adequate, and at the same time making a perfect visual companion for the Stones, and arguably their most memorable cover.  It was perfect, Warhol’s brand of pop art’s willingness to embrace the fact that art could not only be a commentary on consumerism and commercialism , but in fact could become a precious item that exceeded its crass placement in a store bin simply by being art and commerce, was just what was needed to join the two worlds.

Patti Smith: Robert Mapplethorpe “Horses”

Duran Duran: Robert Nagel “Rio”

Guns ‘n Roses: Robert Williams “Appetite for Destruction”

Once the bridge was gapped, and both types of artists realized it behooved them to open themselves up to a different audience and maybe the work could be seen in another light if it were re-contextualized or if it were spoken in a different part of the cultural lexicon. Robert Nagel’s cover to Duran Duran’s “Rio” not only became a visual icon for them, but in some ways a symbol of the 80’s. (Not to mention about a billion nail salons) Together they were able to supercede simply being a band, or simply being a painter, and able to attain a temporal greatness. Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith achieved it with her “Horses” album, Robert Williams and Guns n’ Roses were able to tell the world they were outlaws without opening their mouths, but by simply getting the original artwork banned almost immediately. In both cases not only was the feeling of the album conveyed, but so was the world-view of both artists. Jenny Seville, Alex Ross, Mike Kelley, Yoshitomo Nara are among a legion of artists who have leant their cred to, or gotten mass exposure from working with musicians in an array of genres. It’s a mutual respect that benefits everyone involved, and enriches the product and makes it more than just a record. I can’t tell you how impactful some of these covers were to me; not only opening my eyes to certain artists, but also spurned on my own interest in art as a communicative tool, and hinted at its power.

Sonic Youth: Mike Kelley “Dirty”

Scorpions: Gottfried Hellenwein “Blackout”

Manic Street Preachers: Jenny Seville “Journal for Plague Lovers”

Kanye West: Takashi Murakami “Graduation”

Anthrax: Alex Ross “We’ve come for you all”

Rob Zombie: Basil Gogos “Hellbilly Deluxe”

Alright, history lesson over, here’s my top 10 and why:

Honorable mention Mayhem: “Dawn of the Blackhearts”

Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem clock in as a runner up just for the sheer audacity of photographing the scene of the lead singer Dead’s suicide and using it as a cover to the record. Youthful hi-jinx would later ensue and land a number of these kids in jail or a grave, so we can chalk this up to brilliant foreshadowing and tactless marketing.

Mayhem “Dawn of the Blackhearts”

10. Radiohead: “OK Computer”

A stark, barren landscape that still seems to hum with a life of its own. The art consists of a collage of images and words by British designer Stanley Donwood. Tom Yorke says of the cover “ Someone’s being sold something they don’t really want, and someone’s being friendly because they are trying to sell something…” well, I was sold, and it is a hauntingly good piece of work.

Radiohead “OK Computer”

9. Kiss: “Love Gun”

It seems anathema to my generation of comic loving boys to hate KISS, but I really do. Whatever they lacked in musical stylings, they made up for in unadulterated ass-kicking covers. I don’t think anything needs to be said about this one that a bunch of half naked ladies covered in face paint can’t say for themselves.

KISS “Love Gun”

8. New Order: “Power, Corruption, and Lies”

This is New Order’s 2nd album, and my favorite cover of theirs. Peter Saville designed the piece, and he is quite prominent on my list… the man is genius. The cover is just a reproduction of a Henry Fantin Latour painting, and the lush, almost Baroque feel of the flowers contrasts beautifully with the starkness of the graphic color bar and typography, which in essence sums up the album and its sound of organic and synthetic.

New Order “Power, Lies, and Corruption”

7. Jane’s Addiction: “Nothing’s Shocking”

This cover was emblematic as Nirvana’s “Nevermind” cover was to the early 90’s alt scene, but less literal, which is what makes it a superior piece of art. The conjoined girl sculpture was made by the lead singer Perry Farrell and his girlfriend, then set on fire and photographed. The inexplicable art was as much as a shot in the jaw as Jane’s music, and I was floored. Thankfully subtlety was never one of the band’s virtues, and all the artwork associated with them was as perfectly avant-garde as the band itself and all of it was ahead of its time.

Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s Shocking”

6. Iron Maiden: “The Number of the Beast”

When I was 8 years old, this cover depicted what pure evil looked like. The painting is as awesome as it is iconic, and it scared the pants off of me, until I heard Bruce Dickinson’s almost operatic vocals, which kinda pulled them back on. I still will always love Maiden, some of their mystique was gone though, and I realized that the forbidden apple tasted vaguely like canned fruit. That day I realized a fundamental truth… image is everything.

Iron Maiden “Number of the Beast”

5. Pulp: “This is Hardcore”

Peter Saville’s 2nd entry on this illustrious list finds him working with Brit-pop band Pulp and American painter of ladies John Currin. Just as Maiden’s cover was pure evil to me, this cover is pure sex. The pallor of the model works so well with the reds and blacks, that it’s almost a Pavlovian reaction to the image. Needless to say, the public cried foul on this one, saying it was sexist and demeaning-really?!

Pulp “This is Hardcore”

4. Beastie Boys: “Licensed to Ill”

The first album from the trio depicted perfectly the impact that these white boys would have on white America, all the while utilizing the space of an LP perfectly. The design is simple and the painting is perfectly executed, much like the album itself. I remember staring out this cover for hours, reproducing it, and just completely enjoying it. Such an amazing piece.

The Beastie Boys “License to Ill”

3. The Clash: “London Calling”

Could a more perfect pairing of sound and design be planned? With the color, font, and layout resembling Elvis Presley’s eponymous album, and Paul Simmonen smashing his bass almost  symbolically through the letters, you can feel the birth of something new and vital.

The Clash “London Calling”

2. Joy Division: “Unknown Pleasures”

The most succinct of all the art on my list, however in that minimalism is all of its power. Peter Saville yet again is responsible for the cover, and it is as legendary as the band. Though their career was short lived due to Ian Curtis’s suicide, this motif and image has been repropogated and reused so many times, that it makes you feel that there isn’t an original thought left in the world anymore. (sigh)

Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures”

1. Andrew WK: “I Get Wet”

It must be something from my childhood, as I realized this is almost the same as the Pulp cover, just with a vertical composition… I’m nothing if not consistent. Sorry for the digression, WK’s first album was graced with this awesome photo that you can believe either had the singer bloodied with a cinder block to the face, or alternately, the illusion was completed with boring ol’ stage magic. Whatever got the nose bleeding doesn’t matter, just that it is. The image was a hint of the happy pummeling that you would receive upon listening, and has always stayed with me

Andrew WK “I Get Wet”

So that’s my list, which in no way is comprehensive and is completely subjective. I would love to throw the ball to you guys now, and hear what everyone’s vote would be for their favorite album art.




Images: Capitol Records, Island, London Import, Sony Music, Def Jam, Universal, Sanctuary, Warner Off Roster, Quest, UMe, XL Recordings, Warhammer, Geffen, Sanctuary, Columbia, Roc-A-Fella, Universal Motown, Parlophone UK, Sony Legacy, Capitol, PSP Co., RCA Records

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  1. helling says:

    I would like to throw in Jethro Tull’s ‘A Passion Play.’

    and it is the inverse of ‘This is Hardcore’ – a desaturated image of a dead, supine brunette.

  2. daniel says:

    Thom Yorke, not Tom

    GREAT thought including License to Ill

  3. GayPuppy says:

    Coop’s cover for “Voodoo-U” by Lords of Acid

    Patrick Demarchelier’s photo for both “janet” by Janet Jackson and the cover of Rolling Stone

    The Rolling Stones seem to have some desire for great covers:

    Robert Brownjohn’s sculpture for the cover of “Let It Bleed”
    Robert Frank’s photo used as the cover of “Exile on Main Street”

  4. Carla says:

    Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy: Elton John. I remember being mesmerized (and often revolted) by the creepy things hidden in there. I have no idea who did the artwork.

  5. Driveby Commenter says:

    The Andrew WK album cover always had me thinking a woman titled it after Andrew WK ravaged her lady bits bloody. Not sure if that is a comment on myself or some half-formed political opinion regarding a woman’s all too oft position in rock or what, but that’s what I think every time I see the cover. FWIW, my ears couldn’t pick Andrew WK out of a lineup if their hearing depended upon it. The cover tells me I won’t like the music, and thus I’ve never listened. Awful that I haven’t given it a go.

  6. Bill says:

    How can you overlook all the amazing work by Hipgnosis? Still, great choices and good news!

  7. User_Xero says:

    No Beatles covers? Sgt Pepper and Revolver are amazing. Also you could mention the White Album if only for it’s simplicity and influence.

  8. Staxeon says:

    Sooo happy Licensed to Ill was on here. It was the first cover to pop into my head when I read the headline of the article.

  9. LaurelKaye says:

    Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
    Don McLain – American Pie
    King Crimson- In the court of the Crimson King
    Peter Gabriel- Peter Gabriel I
    Meatloaf- Bat out of Hell
    Genesis- Foxtrot

  10. Niicky says:

    Don’t forget ELO – Out Of The Blue – that image of the spaceship was amazing!

  11. stixx23 says:

    Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was one of my favorites growing up. And many jazz albums from the 50’s and 60’s had amazing art. The Getz/Gilberto album is iconic, possibly because of the music it contained as well.

  12. Matthew Burnside says:

    Some of my favorites are Radiohead’s Amnesiac, Sonic Youth’s The Eternal, Liar’s self titled album, and Thom Yorke’s The Eraser. I also like Rx Bandits’ art. It may not be my favorite to look at, but how the get made is cool. The artist sits in with the band while they record the album and paints, pulling inspiration from what happens in the studio.

  13. Paul in Louisville says:

    Brain Salad Surgery – Emerson, Lake & Palmer

    News of the World – Queen

    Give Us A Wink – Sweet

    School’s Out – Alice Cooper

  14. Jack says:

    If I remember correctly, the Andrew WK cover is a mix of pig’s blood which they had planned to use and his own blood after he realized the pig’s blood didn’t look quite right and he hit himself with a brick

  15. Andrés says:

    No “Dark Side of the Moon”???????

  16. Rodrigo says:

    Iron Maiden Somewhere in time, with all the details Derek Riggs put in that cover, it makes me go back and look at it to see if I can find any other references.

  17. ian says:

    TOO MANY! Buut if I had to say just one,

    Jethro Tull’s Aqualung

  18. Jaym says:

    There’s countless Prince covers that are top of the class, hard to pick just one. A good start? The holographic Diamonds and Pearls- something never done before.

  19. Sam says:

    Seen the cover art for Circa Survive’s “Blue Sky Noise”? Love love love love love.

  20. Creed says:

    Thanks for “digging up” that Mayhem cover. Should I send the cleaning bill for getting the throw-up out of my couch directly to you?

  21. Katerina Jebb’s cover for Tori Amos’ From the Choirgirl Hotel, the blatantly omitted Nirvana Nevermind cover and randomly, the Hair soundtrack cover.

  22. Tod junker says:

    Man let’s not forget rush hemispheres cool Brains floatin around doing stuff

  23. Matthew Bone says:

    Yes it is James, noted correctly in the photo caption, but incorrectly in the post… my most humble and sincere apologies.

  24. James says:

    Katy Perry’s album is called “Teenage Dream”

  25. MoFo says:

    Licensed to ill – you forgot to mention the plane’s “clever” call letters (when viewed in a mirror)…

  26. chuck says:

    Pink Floyd… enough said. Dark side of the moon, Wish you were hear, and the division bell are all amazing album covers.