10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Gavin Lester of Zambezi

Grace Jones, Frank Zappa, Beck and more

They say never judge a book by its cover. Well, when it comes to album cover art, seeing will always be a part of listening. As far as I'm concerned, an album cover is a visual guide that prepares the listener for the world into which they are about to enter. And there is such a myriad of beautiful, engaging, disturbing, exciting and enticing album covers to choose from. Here, in no particular order are my favorites. 


Pixies
Doolittle (1989)

The label 4AD had some of the greatest indie bands and equally great album art of its time. All 14 tracks on the Pixies second studio album, Doolittle, released in 1989, threw large machinery that you shouldn't operate under the influence of certain prescription medication at my ears while the sleeve art stained my eyes till I cried blood with jealousy. The designer was the late Vaughn Oliver, who is probably sitting happily next to this monkey in heaven.


Isaac Hayes
Black Moses (1971)

Not so much a great album sleeve but a gatefold of Biblical proportions. 


Frank Zappa
Ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch (1982)

I have so many words that I would love to use to explain the genius and simplicity of this sleeve art. But I won't.


Sonic Youth
Goo (1990)

Possibly one of my all-time favorite Californian artists, Raymond Pettibon, created this album sleeve for the mighty Sonic Youth's album Goo. His lefthanded, counterculture art style gives the bird to the hand-on-hip art establishment.


Tyler, the Creator
Wolf (2013)

A hip-hop album seems the last place you would expect to see the artist Mark Ryden's gothic style. However, Tyler, the Creator's give-a-shit attitude to music category norms makes this so right wrong.


The Cramps
Off the Bone (1983)

Did you know the late Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps, was paid thousands of dollars to puke on stage? Thankfully, none of it hit this album sleeve. Off the Bone was from another dimension, so why not make the cover 3-D? I still have my copy and the glasses that came with it.


Beck
Odelay (1996)

Come on, who doesn't love a dreadlocked dog jumping over a hurdle in a field? 
Please note, this is not a reggae album.


The The
Soul Mining (1983)

Andy Dog, the brother of The The's Matt Johnson, created a lot of the album art for this band. Andy Dog really epitomizes '80s style and its appropriation of the Memphis movement. The joint-smoking lady is instructional on how best to listen to this album. 


Björk
Homogenic (1997)

Björk approached the fashion designer Alexander McQueen to create this outfit for the Homogenic sleeve cover. I didn't think there was a room large enough to house these two creative geniuses. And WOW, how they squeezed all of their creativity together on a 12-inch-square album sleeve is beyond me.


Grace Jones
Nightclubbing (1981)

Not only does Grace Jones look like a badass on this album sleeve, but I want to pay my respect to geometry and all the tools that it birthed. Rulers, you rule!

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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