10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by amp's Michele Arnese

Beastie Boys, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar and more

Music has always been an integral part of my life, growing up in Italy, I was born with a love for good food and beautiful melodies. Culturally speaking, these two go hand in hand, with each experience heightening the other. The sound of the needle hitting wax will always bring me back to specific memories … I love being transported to the streets of New York via the Beastie Boys, or Detroit by way of Donald Byrd.

Working at the intersection of music and art is a great passion of mine, one that infuses my work as the CEO and CCO of amp sound branding. We are surrounded by sonic from the moment we wake up to the second we fall asleep. Every single day. With many of these interactions being unsolicited, discordant noises, I enjoy taking a moment every day to listen for pleasure. We spend an average of 13 years of our lives listening to music. Why waste 13 years of life on bad music?

These 10 covers represent a combination of my favorite sounds with intricate artistry … the true embodiment of creativity personified in the form of tangible, lasting pop culture.

The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (1971)

This cover, the materials used, the roughness of the picture, give me the preview of the music inside. Andy Warhol's work marked the start of the global megabrand we know as the Rolling Stones. I love the story behind one of the most controversial covers in history, censored or just "retouched" (in Russia, the model appears to be a female!). This work breaks conventions: Why shouldn't an album cover contain a real piece of art for everyone? Love the working zip that opened to reveal underwear fabric!

A little trivia: The model was Joe Dallessandro, who worked on Andy Warhol's Flesh. A little curiosity: The Smiths also used Joe as model for their first album, using a shot taken from the movie Flesh.

Quincy Jones
The Dude (1981)

Quincy Jones is the God of music, and the planet is burning with his hot basslines, glowing grooves and sticky melodies. The figure of "The Dude" featured on the album cover was created by Zambian sculptor Fanizani Akuda. The Dude is the root of everything, the African ancestral sense of rhythm, combined with dance, that is at the origin of everything music. And you can feel it when you press play: A post-disco pop-soul cornucopia of groove resonates as a testament to his ear for anticipating new sounds. Quincy once said, "One day, Henry Mancini and I were at an art gallery on Wilshire Boulevard, and I saw a sculpture that just called out to me. It said, 'Hey man, take me home. I want to be an album, I want to be a tune.' "

Donald Byrd
A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1964)

As a jazz lover, vinyl collector and Blue Note aficionado, I have to include at least one Blue Note cover in this list. I could make an entire list of Blue Note albums, since these are the most iconic graphic representations of music I know. This one, A New Perspective, is a special one. The most iconic car ever, the Lamborghini Miura, is depicted together with Donald Byrd, looking from the back. 

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)

Created by the German painter Mati Klarwein, the sleeve served not only to reflect the music that listeners would find inside but also the different thematic elements. In fact, the music is jazz infused with rock elements and genres as if they were mere suggestions, with no hard-and-fast rules. This fusion of different styles and instruments is represented beautifully on this cover. A recommendation: Open the vinyl and look at both sides as one picture!

The Cinematic Orchestra
Man With a Movie Camera (Ninja Tune, 2003)

I was fascinated by this cover since the first time I saw it and I bought this album. It was love at first sight, and it never stopped. The iconic simplicity, the typography and the silhouette, create the same tension and atmosphere you feel when listening to this fantastic album. Openmind, the designer, said, "The whole look was supposed to be evocative of Eastern European film posters of a certain era, basic, flat graphics and minimal text. The actual 'cameraman' figure was drawn in about 20 seconds and then given a camera to hold and a head from images sourced on the web."

Herbie Hancock
Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973)

The image on the album cover, designed by Victor Moscoso, is based on the African kple kple mask of the Baoulé tribe from Ivory Coast. The image is also based on tape head demagnetizers used on reel-to-reel audio tape recording equipment at the time of this recording. Hancock is represented by the man wearing said image while playing the keyboard. In my mind, when listening to "Chameleon," this mask became the symbol of the ethereal kind of far-out spacey stuff Hancock started to create at that time. 

New Order
Blue Monday (Factory, 1983)

The 1983 edition artwork is designed to resemble a 5¼-inch floppy disk. Peter Seville, one of the most famous album cover designers of all time, did this cover inspired by computer art in the early '80s. The color chart suggests new machine-led, color-coded design. It's literally coded, too. Saville placed a color wheel on the back of the album Power, Corruption & Lies that helps reveal the song's title. The fact that I was taking out a vinyl from a floppy-disk always made me think and still does to this day.

Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope, 2012)

This photo from the early '90s is so personal, intimate and intriguing for simplicity. The van is in front of Lamar's house. The designer Don Clark didn't want to have this Polaroid on the cover … but Kendrick's attitude was like "This is exactly what I want" and now we have this piece of reality put together with the very personal style in his second album, revealing the story of Lamar's teenage experiences in the streets of Compton.

Beastie Boys
Hello Nasty (Capitol Records, 1998)

I am a big fan of French sardines in a tin. Everytime I open a tin of sardines, this cover comes to my mind and I imagine the Beastie Boys coming out of it … this is really nasty! This cover from Bill McMullen represents well the explosive mix you get when you start listening to the album, from the retro-funk of "The Move" to "Intergalactic" with its witty "space riffs" and voices. The cover is a fantastic visual callback to the line, "MCA, where have you been/Packed like sardines in the tin" from "Body Movin'."

Grace Jones
Island Life (Island, 1985)

Created by the photographer and graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude, this cover is as striking as it is unique. An impossible pose, the final piece was constructed as a composite image made up of numerous shots, embodying strength, power and beauty. This album exudes cool with reggae beats and a disco stylized mid-'80s pop feel. I love "Slave to the Rhythm" and "I've Seen That Face Before." She always pushed boundaries and created trends … instead of following them. 

Art of the Album is a regular feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write for the series, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

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Michele Arnese
Designed in Italy and assembled in Germany, Michele Arnese is a self-driven strategic and creative thinker with a strong entrepreneurial approach. He founded the worldwide leading sonic branding agency amp in 2009.

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