I'm lucky to be part of an agency that embraces music as an integral part of its culture. Employees take turns as DJ for the day, sharing their Spotify playlist over the speakers for the entire agency to experience.
To enhance the musical camaraderie and expression, we pass around a lovable stuffed animal and our music mascot known as "The Green Monkey,"a tradition started nearly two decades ago with, admittedly, a fuzzy origin story. We share album art, memes, gifs, and musical trivia over a dedicated Slack channel. It's all about fostering a strong connection among us through our shared passion for music.
While my affinity for music was honed in the pre-Napster periods of collecting vinyl records and CDs, I'm grateful to have witnessed the transformative evolution of the music industry over the last two decades. Technological advancements and the advent of streaming platforms have not only brought convenience but have added a dynamic layer to the musical landscape that I've come to really appreciate. Although, I should note how great it is to see vinyl's major comeback over the last decade!
Here are 10 examples of album art I've been drawn to over the years:
Blood on the Tracks (1975)
The cover art is the work of Paul Till, a 20-year-old Toronto-based photographer and devoted Dylan fan. Despite having never shot a concert before, Till attended one of Dylan's shows in 1974. Using images from the concert and applying innovative darkroom techniques, he crafted the grainy silhouette of Dylan that we see on the cover. Remarkably, Till sent the result unannounced to Columbia Records. The story goes that Dylan himself loved the photo, leading to its iconic place as the album cover.
13 Songs (1989)
I love the band Fugazi. Even now, tracks like "Waiting Room," "Bulldog Front" and "Burning Too" find a permanent place in my listening rotation. Fugazi, to me, epitomizes the essence of the post-hardcore era like no other band. While technically a compilation album (Fugazi and Margin Walker), what captivates me is how the album cover perfectly encapsulates the band's ethos—no frills, no nonsense, just that striking bold red color. If The Beatles had the white album and Metallica the black, I like to think of 13 Songs as Fugazi's red masterpiece.
The Bends (1995)
While The Bends may not be the go-to choice for the average Radiohead fan, it has always been an absolute favorite of mine. Intrigued by its cover art, I once believed it to be a depiction of lead singer Thom Yorke. In fact, the artwork is a collaborative effort between Yorke and the English artist and writer Stanley Donwood. The pair embarked on a journey to film the album cover concept, initially envisioning filming an iron lung in a hospital. However, they opted to film a CPR mannequin, captivated by its facial expression resembling "an android experiencing the sensations of ecstasy and agony simultaneously." The resulting footage was displayed on a TV set, and a photo was taken to create the album cover.
Steal Your Face (1976)
I'm a proud Deadhead and the Lightning Skull logo is like the Dead's official mascot. Originally introduced through the song, "He's Gone" ("steal your face right off your head"), which is a reference to drummer Mickey Hart's father who as the Dead's manager once embezzled money from the band.
The original design by Owsley "Bear" Stanley was used to mark the band's equipment cases on the road. It was later rendered by Bob Thomas and has become the iconic symbol of the band. Released in 1976 as a live double album from the iconic Winterland Ballroom, it was the last release off the band's self-owned record label, Grateful Dead Records.
Manchester Orchestra & Grouplove
Make It To Me (2013)
I'm a huge fan of Manchester Orchestra and this collaboration with Grouplove is one of my favorite pieces of cover art. Although not an album but a single, I love when bands collaborate to create something new and different from their signature styles. These two bands deliver on the song, "Make It To Me." The artwork, like the song, is a collaboration between Hannah Hooper (Grouplove) and Chris Freeman (Manchester Orchestra).
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Bruce Springsteen has released over 20 studio albums, but the album art from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. stands out the most to me. This was my initial introduction to Bruce. I've always had a fondness for 1950s-style postcards, and Bruce's concept for the cover of this album is just a really cool idea. Bruce handed the "Greetings from…" postcard (and idea for the cover) to the art designer at Columbia Records, giving birth to the conceived album cover.
A Tribe Called Quest
Midnight Marauders (1993)
As a big fan of hip hop from the '80s and '90s, A Tribe Called Quest stands out as one of my all time favorite groups. The album cover for 1993’s Midnight Marauders is likely the record I've studied the most up close. What sets Midnight Marauders apart is the release of at least three different album colors, (Red, Black and Green) with each one featuring a collage of about 70 different hip-hop artists and DJs serving as the album's background. Out of my entire record collection, it's easily the album art I've stared at the longest.
Sea Change (2002)
Beck, in my eyes, has always embodied a modern-day David Bowie, and this comparison is crystallized for me in the cover for Sea Change. Released as four distinct pieces of digital artwork, each designed by American digital artist and painter Jeremy Blake. What struck me is the subtle nod to Bowie, with the colors reminiscent of his Aladdin Sane album art spanning across Beck's face.
Wildflowers & All The Rest (1994)
I got to witness one of Tom Petty's final performances in 2017 during the Heartbreakers' 40th Anniversary Tour. I really love the cover of Tom's 1994 album, Wildflowers. A black and white snapshot of a peaceful-looking Petty and snippets of the recording process taken by renowned photographer Mark Seliger. To me, the images provide a glimpse into Petty and the personal journey he undertook during the recording process of this remarkable piece of art.
The Afghan Whigs
The Afghan Whigs were one of the earliest bands to sign with the iconic indie label Sub Pop, a label that played a role in introducing alternative music onto the global stage. Gentleman is considered by some to be one of the best break-up albums of all-time. The album cover was inspired by photographer and activist Nan Goldin's photo, "Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City," which currently resides in the Museum of Modern Art. I always thought the cover photo brilliantly captures the essence of both the innocence of young love and the harsh reality that relationships can be tormenting.