I miss vinyl records with their big, square jackets. Sure, I know they're still around, but nowadays I get most of my music online and covers don't have the same impact for me as they did back when I would hold them in my hands. Even CDs were close enough. Smaller, but still something to carry around. I remember the excitement of going to Tower Records in eager anticipation of acquiring a new album, then I'd take it home and curl up in a big chair, skim through the liner notes and read every lyric along with every song, and sometimes cry. Yeah, those were the days!
When I got invited to write this column on my 10 favorite covers, I felt a little like Whoopi Goldberg when she plays a medium in the movie Ghost, and hordes of dead people are always crowding around, vying for her attention. In this case, it was hordes of album covers, the ghosts of music past, that came clamoring to the forefront. And there were a lot more than 10 covers. But I sat with them all, and eventually a smaller group of unforgettables came rising to the top, many of them paired with equally unforgettable songs.
Song to a Seagull (1968)
I love all her covers, actually. I could do a whole column just on Joni Mitchell album covers. She's always been such a great inspiration. Creativity spills out of her like a wild river. But if I had to choose only one, I'd go with her debut album, Song to a Seagull, where her original artwork sets the stage for the decades to follow of increasingly brilliant, organic and flowing music and art.
The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds (1966)
This cover cracks me up. The photo is very basic, but the image of grown men all standing around happily feeding goats is warm and irresistible. I can't believe I only discovered Pet Sounds a few years ago when a friend in radio said this was his favorite album of all time. Then I read that Pet Sounds had inspired The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wow.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Speaking of Sgt. Pepper's—this album cover is also so much fun—colorful, multi-layered and replete with hidden symbology. Years after I first took this one home, I was still discovering new people and deciphering hidden meanings in the pictures. And just like the cover, this is a richly textured, wonderful and eclectic collection of songs, and I think I know the lyrics to every single one.
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Whipped Cream and Other Delights (1965)
This is not on my top ten favorite albums list, and the only song I know from it is "A Taste of Honey," which, admittedly, is a great song. But I do remember seeing this cover, many years back, and it just stuck in my mind. Rose right to the top. It's just so… silly. And obviously unforgettable. And I like whipped cream, so, there you go.
Lana Del Rey
Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021)
Ok, this is an album that I did actually discover online, and the cover grabbed me and made me want to download the album. I was intrigued and drawn in by the ironic juxtaposition of the title, which invokes horror, over the cover image—a party photo of glamorous and seemingly oblivious ladies. It looks like they had a lot of fun shooting this.
This album cover sets such a rich, introspective mood. The lighting is poetic and the photo beautifully captures the essence of this artist and her songs. I can just imagine her sitting there, in that very spot by the window, with her cat, penning those so very relatable lyrics.
Nothing Will Be As It Was… Tomorrow (1977)
Mystical, gorgeous, surreal, magical, and dreamlike. Like something out of a Carlos Castaneda book. I want this painting for my living room.
Come Away With Me (2002)
This is the first CD I ever bought not knowing anything about it but the cover image and a two-minute listen through headphones at Borders Books and Music. Something about the look in her eyes drew me in, and then "Don't Know Why I Didn't Come" came on, and I knew I had to have this record, and it didn't disappoint. I love everything about it: the light jazz sound, and Norah Jones' innocently smoky and pure vocal delivery. She sounds just like she looks. The cover font is very nice, too. Whoever designed it did a really good job.
Bare. No apparent surgery, flattering lighting, or Photoshop enhancements going on here, standing in sharp contrast to the iconic glam image of Annie Lennox's Eurythmics days. Women especially can very much relate, appreciate, and admire her putting it out there like this. It's so in-your-face real. Just like her songs.
Rockin' the Suburbs (2001)
This cover image looks like a nondescript photo taken from a room that looks like every other room in every other house in a neighborhood out in the suburbs somewhere, and opens up to a collection of plain-speak story-songs of ordinary people's lives, told with extraordinary insight. The songs are honest, powerful, and direct. It's like the imagery brought forth in the lyrics needs no help from a fancy cover, so the cover is doing its modest best to step aside and let the songs pop out for themselves, which they do, and stick with you for a very long time.