For someone who loves music, and has essentially made a career combining music, comics and animation for the last 10 years, choosing only 10 album covers is pure joyful torture. This is like asking Tarantino to write a silent movie—his head would explode in a 1982 "Scanners" film fashion, much like mine as I rattle between the thousands of records I love.
There's been so many times when a cover gets tattooed in my brain, from the very moment you see it you fall head over heels like a lovesick teenager. Every record store is like that "Monster's, Inc." title sequence, where thousands of beautiful doors move around, only in this case the doors summon you into a spectacular world created by the artist's music… the album cover is simply the most exquisite invitation ever created.
I selected covers that, in my opinion, cannot be ignored. Ever. Please check out each artist below, because your mind will be blown every single time (Also in a 1982 "Scanners" film fashion).
Gene Krupa and His Orchestra (1947)
The artist of this album cover is the legendary Jim Flora. He invented that "profile" flat style that became a signature for hundreds of other artists. Mr. Flora is often imitated but never, ever matched. His play on colors here is unapologetic, bright, and representative of the music in the best possible way. He often used patterns over the characters, adding a tapestry of joy and uniqueness. In fact, those very patterns are so fabulous that they should be used on sweaters and clothes.
This cover's single color background makes everything pop! What an awesome way to introduce one of the greatest drummers of all-time: The one and only Gene Krupa, perhaps Rush's Neil Peart's primary influence to pick up the drumsticks. I could easily pick all of my 10 covers using the work of Jim Flora, and all would be incredible.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Waxwork Records, a relatively young record label, redefined the horror score genre with their art treatment on every one of their records. The label inspired me to start collecting horror soundtracks on vinyl! The artwork is just phenomenal and terrifyingly beautiful. This release recreates the classic Bride of Frankenstein character design with an inset illustration over her white hair—just brilliant! I can't stop looking at it. The light gray on the background makes it so classy. Keeping the original black and white style alive and well, but making it feel modern. Timeless.
I remember the first time I missed out on the release. I'm grateful they did a second printing so I could buy this beauty. Art by Phantom City Creative.
Moving Pictures (1981)
Hugh Syme is one of the greatest album cover artists of the past 50 years. This is Rush's most successful album, both critically and commercially. The album cover is essentially a very funny pun done exquisitely. It's impossible not to chuckle a little once you know the title of the album. Hugh did something that I admire to this day, he changed Rush's logo on every single album he worked on! I absolutely love that. He kept the canvas open on every single album cover, which is very ballsy for both the band and him. In this case, the lettering was inspired by Coppola's Zoetrope type, keeping a very limited color scheme that became synonymous for the band's identity for the remainder of their existence.
I had the opportunity to write and direct a Fantoons produced animated documentary for Universal and Rush, where Hugh Syme talks about his process and inspiration of the making of this album cover. To say I was "geeking out" would be an understatement.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Brain Salad Surgery (1973)
Okay, let me start by saying that H.R. Giger designed the famous creature from the movie Alien. I've never seen an artist who can be so dark, complex, sexually perverted, and yet, so captivating to watch. This artwork captured my eyes even before I ever listened to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Giger never shied away from darkness, he made it work for him and created a style that is instantly recognizable.
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (1971)
Everyone knows the original album cover for Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, an Andy Warhol cover featuring a man's crotch right in your face, with a real zipper that could be opened to see the underwear. Now, what happens when you submit that cover to Spain and it gets rejected? Bam! A new cover featuring what looks like dismembered female fingers inside a can full of blood! For the record, I absolutely adore this cover, not only because it is incredibly weird, but because it is a bold way to say to defy censorship. I love the simplicity and darkness of the photography. I read it as the Stones flippin' the finger to the government. Rock n Roll's visual poetry at its best. Art by John Pasche.
Looking at this cover after years of listening to this album, it still catches my eye. It still feels fresh. There's this blend of TRON and the Millennium Falcon cockpit under a surreal lens. If you listen to the beginning of the track "Rocket," it really makes the cover move. This is a piece of art that is not static, it's caught in the act! It's a dreamlike scene with drama, passion and chaos; surrounded by sci-fi elements that demand your attention. The art truly belongs to the music, I feel it is the perfect match to the classic Def Leppard harmonies that became a trademark of their sound. From a composition standpoint, the use of the triangle brings order to the chaos. Sometimes such a simple shape can bring everything together. Almost 40 years later, this piece of art is still captivating and the perfect complement to the sound of this timeless album. Art by Andie Airfix.
Buhaina's Delight (1963)
Blue Note defined the look of Jazz to me and millions of others. This cover may appear simple, but the combination of that perfect photograph with smoke weaving through the lettering is so damn perfect! The typography color choices, the composition of the words, everything just flows beautifully, elegantly. And of course, Art Blakey looking so badass that he makes you want to smoke, even though that crap killed my dad with cancer. But that's just how cool this cover looks. If that doesn't make you want to listen to the record, I don't know what will. Designer: Reid Miles. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Sueño Stereo (1995)
Soda Stereo is probably the greatest Latin rock band that will ever exist. Canción Animal is a classic for any language, not just Spanish speakers, so you should listen to that album. But this cover for Sueño Stereo is just genius. The double meaning of the image is creatively beautiful. Covers that are provocative such as this one can generate conversations simply by asking, "What does this piece mean to you?" I bet you'd get a hundred different answers other than just "getting laid with music." A valid answer, but certainly not the only answer. Art by Gabriela Malerba-Alejandro Ros.
On Stage (1979)
First of all, how awesome that Kate Bush is now super popular! (Sometimes the world makes the right turns.) I've always loved this cover; her pose is intriguing, sexy and incredibly powerful. A perfect invitation to her show, which unfortunately only a few lucky people ever got to attend, due to her sparse touring career. The lettering from the designer is gorgeous, with the "ON STAGE" title bleeding over her name. So much dynamism everywhere, so much to enjoy and yet we only have three elements. Simple makes perfect. Art by The Cream Group.
Orgasm Addict (1977)
Malcolm Garrett is a freaking genius! There's no one else that can make punk rock album covers look aggressive and elegant at the same time! No one! There's an inch of minimalistic retro illustration, combined with DIY collage techniques that were intrinsic to punk's DNA. And yet, Mr. Garrett integrates everything so perfectly that it is impossible to see these elements without each other. His choice of bold colors is always phenomenal. This man makes everything work for him. And the Buzzcocks logo? Are you kidding me? Before I ever heard a single note from the band I knew the logo, extremely well. That's when you know a design will stand the test of time. Maybe you all can join me in a petition to get a design book from Malcolm Garrett—the world needs it. Over and out.