10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Musician Mike Thomas

Tom Waits, Chris Stapleton, Johnny Cash and more

First off, picking my top album covers was a bit harder than I expected. I had a hard time narrowing it down to just ten. In the end, I went with albums that I have continually gone back to over the years as just exceptionally timeless works of art, musically, lyrically and aesthetically. The albums on my list span several genres, but each has an album cover that perfectly captures the essence of each album and is instantly recognizable.

Lucinda Williams
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)

This is one of my favorite albums, and the cover image just really captures the title track and the overall vibe of the record.

Bruce Springsteen
Born in the U.S.A. (1984)

I mean, it doesn't really get any more iconic than this cover! Bruce in his old blue jeans, ball cap in his pocket against the American Flag background... Such a great album and an iconic cover.

Willie Nelson
Red Headed Stranger (1975)

I had a hard time deciding between this one and the Shotgun Willie album. I don't think it gets cooler than a double-barrel shotgun with Willie's face in it, but in the end I had to go with Red Headed Stranger because it is just such a classic cover and great album.

Tom Waits
Closing Time (1973)

I've always thought Tom had some of the most interesting album covers, especially those older records. When I listen to this record, I can see him sitting at that piano on the cover and playing all these songs in some old, dark and smoky lounge.

Chris Stapleton
Traveller (2015)

The most recent album to make my list, this is the record that really put Chris on the map. He is such a generational talent, and this cover fits the record perfectly. I love everything about it—the image, the color tones, the text font.

Merle Haggard
Big City (1981)

Merle was so cool. Such a fantastic songwriter, vocalist, and overall musical icon. He is definitely on my country Mt. Rushmore, and this one is definitely my favorite album cover.

Dwight Yoakam
This Time (1993)

Dwight is quite high on my list of musical influences. This one might be my favorite Dwight album, but it is definitely my favorite Dwight album cover!

Tom Petty
Wildflowers (1994)

This album had and continues to have a profound influence on me. Arguably Tom's best. For me, this cover is slightly understated but very memorable. It captures the essence of the record perfectly. Interestingly, this has become one of my 11-year-old son's favorite records. Such a timeless American record.

Johnny Cash
American Recordings (1994)

The first in the American Recordings series, this album cover is haunting. Such a powerful image of the man in black. I love all the album covers from the American series, but this one is my favorite.

Bob Dylan
Slow Train Coming (1979)

I once read that Dylan had a very specific idea of a drawing he wanted for this album cover. Word is that he rejected a number of covers before having a freelance artist, Catherine Kanner, draw this image. The first time I ever saw Dylan live, he opened his show with "Gotta Serve Somebody." I was probably 14 or 15 years old, and Dylan's music was my first major influence. That concert changed my life.

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.

Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas is an emerging country/Americana artist steeped in tradition. Drawing from a wide array of influences and experiences, his music has been best described as "eclectic country with a vintage vibe."

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