10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Mark Frieser of SyncSummit

Kraftwerk, Capsule, Chic and more

Music has always been incredibly important to me, as has art and design. One of the things I truly love about cover art at its best is that it's a prism into the thoughts of the artist overall and provides insight on the theme of the album and the songs therein.

I've done my best to stay away from the cliches like The Velvet Underground Banana album, which everyone says is their favorite (I like it but it's referenced far too often). Instead, I'm focusing on album art that resonated with me on some level alongside the actual music. 

Heaven 17
Penthouse and Pavement (1981)

Heaven 17 is a group out of Sheffield comprising Human League co-founders Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh along with vocalist Glenn Gregory. I've been a huge fan of their music since I first heard it in 1982, and this album, released in 1981, combined great production, funkiness and witty lyrics that went into politics and interpersonal relations. 

The artwork for this cover was created by artist Ray Smith and satirizes the "emergence of the yuppie," the idea of which came from a Toshiba ad seen by Ian Craig March. Transforming the band into a trio of besuited, deal-making yuppies surrounded by for the time state-of-the-art technology was, to me, absolute genius and absolutely hilarious.

The Who
The Who Sell Out (1967)

Anyone who loves ad music should love this album. I've joked with artist friends several times that if they wanted to license music for brands, they should record an album of songs that are inspired by their ten favorite brands (still a good idea IMO). And The Who actually went and did it.

The Who Sell Out is comprised of a series of songs and mock commercials touting products of the time. The Who actually made some ad music at this time, so this was, at least in my opinion, an expansion of that concept. The album art was created around photos of The Who, taken by American photographer David Montgomery, which some of the products changed based on the country of release. There are amazing songs on this album, including in the 2021 edition, recordings of the jingles The Who recorded at the time.

Public Image Ltd.
Album (1986)

I've always been a huge fan of anything Johnny Lydon has done, and the artwork for this album is simply brilliant, as is the art of most of PIL's work. At the time, at most large American supermarket chains, there were lines of "generic" products with minimal artwork and just the names of the product (e.g., "beer"). This treatment was in the style/font/color scheme of the generic products sold by the Ralphs supermarket chain at the time.

I cannot find much information in terms of the designer so I'll just say it's a take on the generics style of the time. A fun fact, the theme was carried on throughout—the cassette was named "cassette" the label of the album was called "label." Overall, it's a fun concept that reflects the sensibilities of the artist and very smart packaging.

Duran Duran
Rio (1982)

And now for something completely different. When I first saw this album cover at J&R Music World in Manhattan back in 1982, I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Plus, I loved the music on the album and Duran Duran. I still do. I was a very artsy kid, so a super-stylized portrait from Patrick Nagel appealed to me. This album cover is a complete time capsule and I love it. 

For those of you that don't know, Patrick Nagel was an American artist and illustrator known for drawing women in a Pop Art style that screamed '80s. The idea to have Nagel draw this album cover came from Duran Duran co-manager Paul Berrow. From there, album designer Malcom Garrett, who was the design director of Assorted iMaGes, pulled together the other elements, creating an evergreen postcard from 1982. It remains one of the most iconic covers of its time and perfectly encapsulates the time and feeling of the band and the era.

The Talking Heads
Speaking In Tongues Limited Edition (1983)

The Talking Heads where/are one of my favorite all-time groups and this was the album that took them out from art-rock/funk to mass market success. It is one of the most iconic albums of the '80s with songs that have become timeless classics like "This Must Be The Place" and "Burning Down The House." The album's music has been used in many shows, ads and films from the '80s onward.

As to the album cover, this is replay special. There are two of them. The one that most people know was designed by David Byrne, and the limited edition, which is the one I am highlighting here, was designed by artist Robert Rauschenberg. I still have my copy from when the album was released and it's a work of art. A three-dimensional, multi-layered, clear pressing of the record was made, with a total printing of only 50,000 copies, and it was based on Rauschenberg's 1967 revolving artwork called, well, Revolver. In every way it is a unique, audiovisual work of art.

Peter Gabriel
Melt (1980)

This album is called melt, but the first three albums from Peter Gabriel didn't actually have names, so the songs and artwork spoke for themselves. This album, featuring the song "Games Without Frontiers" was Peter Gabriel's breakout album as a soloist after leaving Genesis in 1974.

Sonically, this album was way ahead of its time, and visually, it was designed by graphic designer/videographer Storm Thorgerson from the now defunct Hipgnosis design group. Peter Gabriel was very heavily involved with the design as well, which is based on Peter Gabriel and the design team manipulating SX70 photos as they were developing. The result was a cover that implied a tortured, melting psyche and soul, and acted as a fitting preview of what to expect from the music. I love it.

Player (2010)

This album, Player, is a 2010 release from the Japanese electronica duo Capsule. I'm the licensing agent for a number of Japanese artists, labels and publishers—including this album—through my company's relationship with Yamaha Music. It's a great album, with some very licensable and catchy music, all written by musical mastermind Nakata Yasutaka. The song "Hello" was featured in a KDDI (a Japanese mobile company) commercial.

Specific to the artwork, it was designed by Nakata Yasutaka and Ishizuka Masanori and features a simple photo of lead singer Yoshiko Koshijima with a superimposition of a semi-opaque black and silver image. It's simple and conveys to me an image that's fun and in motion. 

Post (1995)

I love Björk. Everything about her, her music and her life is a form of ever-changing art. And this album cover is no exception. The album, released in 1995, combined many musical styles and contained amazing works like "Army Of Me," "It's All So Quiet" and the amazing "Isobel."

The album's name, Post, and the artwork of the album both represent her life after leaving Iceland for the U.K., and the double meaning of post=mail/communication. The album cover was designed by Paul White of Me Company and shot by director/photographer Stéphane Sednaoui. The cover has Björk standing on a London street in front of Japanese-style signs, with the artist wearing a jacket inspired by the Royal Mail airmail envelopes of the time. It's a suitably artsy cover for a very artsy artist.

Chic (1977)

This album came out in 1977, and it was one of the best albums of the height of the disco era from one of that era's best groups, Chic. The album featured the hits "Dance, Dance, Dance" and "Everybody Dance."

As to this cover, what I like about it is that I remember Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers stating that he wanted the covers of Chic albums to be suave like Roxy Music. The inspiration is obvious, and it makes for a departure from the artwork of the disco and funk albums of the time. The cover, featuring an uncredited photo by Frank Laffitte, features models Valentine Monnier and Alva Chinn. The cover looks like there's a Chic roller-disco party happening inside, and I want to be a part of that party.

Tour de France (2003)

Kraftwerk has always been on of my favorite artists, and this album has always been special to me, as I was a racing cyclist when I lived in Europe during the '90s, and I love Kraftwerk. I feel this album is the perfect soundtrack to the sport, and the Tour de France. This album, which was recorded for the 100th anniversary of the Tour in 2003, was based around the 1983 song "Tour de France."

As for the cover art, it is the same for both the 1983 single and the 2003 album, and I think it is perfect: a stylized angled tricolor (the French Flag) with four cyclists traveling together in a paceline on a road created by the white portion of the flag. It's simplistic, representative and cool. This inspiration for this cover was a 1953 Hungarian Postage stamp and the artwork was created by the band.

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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