10 Great Album Covers to Hand Down to Your Kids, Chosen by Stephen Niedzwiecki of Yard NYC

Derrick Harriott, Kendrick Lamar, King Hammond and more

I have been a big fan of this column and have loved all the different talented people's cover choices. As I was pulling mine together, I wanted my choices to be albums that I own and that impacted my life as a kid, adulthood and career. Albums—and perfectly crafted covers—that I would hand down to my kids and ideally influence their taste.

The choices I made would make sense to my kids, hopefully, as they would see a part of me in them. No matter if it's the type of music, its crossover into fashion and design, or what they've overheard me say when I got excited talking about albums or shows I saw when I was younger and working night clubs or running through the streets of New York.

I have 2 boys—14 and 7 years old. The 14-year-old was born premature and had to stay in the NICU for seven weeks. While he was in there I hung a little CD player on his incubator and sat there holding his little hand and playing him music through the night to help heal and calm him. Songs by the likes of Marley, Aretha, Devendra Banhart, My Morning Jacket and the Jungle Book soundtrack, to name a few. He has been attending live shows with me since he was 2 years old. His first show was on my shoulders for Q-Tip in Central Park, and others range from KISS to Kendrick. There was a time when my taste had a strong influence on him, like my older brother on me, but now he has started to form his own opinions.

As both of my kids get older, I hope my love for music will continue to run through them and they will see the importance of having an open and creative mind, and embracing all types of music to bring them love, joy, and healing at times.

Alan Hull
Pipedream (1973)

Pipedream was Alan Hull's first solo album after leaving the band Lindisfarne. The front cover painting is "La Lampe Philosophique" by Rene Magritte. The sleeve design was created by Ian Vincenti. This album was a record that was in my brother's collection and I always loved this cover. The fact it had a famous artist's work on the cover was amazing to me. This specific painting was a popular painting by the surrealist Magritte. An ironic representation of the knowledge (the candle coil) and the philosophical thought focused on itself (a nose/head that smokes itself). His paintings always left a long-lasting impression on me, so for it to be put on an album cover was a surefire way to stand out. This cover always made me laugh as it fed my sense of humor, and I know my boys would find it funny, too.

Derrick Harriott
Reggae Funk & Soul 1969-1975 (Released 2016)

When I was in my teens I was collecting reggae, ska vinyl and 45 records. In New York, I would go to the club Reggae Lounge just to be around that sound and the culture. I would also go to Kingston with some good friends who had family in Jamaica and we would pick up 45 record pressings to bring back. Later on, I would spin those records at small East Village spots and my most important gig ever was playing at my son's elementary school for Jamaica Day!

Derrick Harriott interprets the music of the American Black Consciousness Movement in Kingston, Jamaica, for this sophisticated collection.

The cover was designed by Maya Saito. The photograph was courtesy of Derrick Harriot. Put out on the Dub Store Records label in Tokyo, Japan, the simplicity of this cover with the serif font and the classic B/W portrait of Derrick pulls you in to check it out. The gatefold inside lists the tracks with descriptions of them, and there are more pictures of Derrick and artifacts of his records and label including pictures of Dennis Brown and Kim Harriot. The printing on the sleeve makes it feel like this album was originally made in the '70s, like the music.

The Roots
Phrenology (2002)

Phrenology was The Roots' fifth album. In 2002, Kenny J. Gravillis designed and Tom "Evil Prints" Huck illustrated the cover of Phrenology, bringing his unique woodcut engravings to its largest audience ever. The band wanted a certain look and they wanted Tom because he does that antique look of woodcut. There's that age-old look to his stuff. They wanted those old phrenology drawings of the head.

The version of this record I'm recognizing is my copy that was reissued by Vinyl Me Please (VMP) in 2019, which was the first vinyl reissue of this super-incredible rap album. VMP did a lot of cool stuff with the cover on this one like printing it on brown chipboard, which is a different texture than normal record sleeves. It’s this softer, cooler paper and featured gold foiling around the Phrenology head. Every time I think they have topped out on the different stuff they can do to a vinyl jacket, something like this comes along and the caliber of production and design craft continues to be surpassed. There is also a comic book-style insert created by illustrator/animator Joren Cull.

I was lucky enough in my career to have had the opportunity to work with The Roots on a campaign for designer John Varvatos, created with photographer/director Danny Clinch. My oldest got to see them perform at their annual Picnic show.

Joe Cocker
Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1970)

This album was handed down to me by my older brother. The first time I heard him play it, I heard Joe's voice on "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and I ran into his room to find him and his girlfriend tripping on his bed. He was a lot older than me. But my focus was all on Joe's voice. The record is a live recording of the Mad Dogs tour fronted by Joe Cocker and backed by a cast of 50 singers and players, including classic rock legends Leon Russel, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner and Rita Coolidge. It became known as one of the most exciting live events of all time as well as almost driving Joe over the edge from drugs and alcohol.

The album is a 2 LP incredible fold-out cover/poster designed by Tom Wilkes and photography by Jim McCrary. Packaging concept by Craig Braun and illustrations by Ron Wolin. It has this trippy circus carnival vibe to it. My kids know I grew up loving the traveling carnivals my dad took me to as it's where I first fell in love with those types of performers—the illustrated man especially.

My older son grew up listening to the track "With a Little Help From My Friends" by the Beatles on the Sgt. Pepper's record which as we know had amazing cover art and packaging as well. I believe he sang it in elementary school with his class. But he hasn't heard Joe's powerful version, which isn't on this record but on another named after the song recorded in 1969.

I think he would also like my comparison of this cover to the cover of Dr. Dre's The Chronic.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Carnage (2021)

Seeing Nick Cave live is like entering into a place of worship and being healed by the power of music and pure creativity.

Carnage is a 2021 studio album by Australian musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Longtime collaborators in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, Carnage is their first full-length studio album as a duo, apart from their extensive work in film music. It was recorded during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The fragmented treatment of the title was employed as a means of softening the brutality of the word itself—compositions are continuously rearranged across formats to evoke the idea of something in flux. An expansive use of white space is a deliberate nod to the idea of emptiness, where words and lyrics appear suspended in a void.

Nick co-designed the cover with Hingston Studio, resulting in a simple design with endless white space. The studio also designed the accompanying booklet, intentionally printed on delicate Bible paper to represent the delicacy of the words and titles printed throughout the pages. The design balances bold typography and expansive white spaces so beautifully that one almost doesn't even have to listen to the album to gather that the songs are both brutal and brilliant.

This album cover is a type-nerd's dream, which I'm all in for. It's the type of album cover I would have bought even if I didn't know the artist.

My kids would not have to think too hard on why I handed this one down.

The Clash
London Calling (1979)

My kids have heard me say many, many times how much this band and this record changed my life when I came across it in the early '80s.

I used to talk about it all the time. I used to tell them how it influenced the way I dressed, finding like-minded friends, the places I hung out at and other bands I listened to. I collected all their records and loved many of them but this one was a game changer.

Crazy story—about 10 years ago we rented a house out on Fire Island and there was this guy who had a bit of a rockabilly look to him, and a heavy english accent. I introduced myself. I had just met Kosmo Vinyl, longtime associate and sometime manager of The Clash as well as being connected to Ian Drury, the blockheads and The Jam. He can also be heard introducing The Clash on the Live at Shea Stadium album. He had lived an interesting life to say the least and meeting him blew my mind!

London Calling went beyond their punk roots, bringing in reggae, rockabilly, ska, pop, lounge jazz, New Orleans R&B and rock. Everything I was loving. What they sang about spoke to me.

This album's front cover features a photograph of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage at The Palladium, NYC. He was frustrated that the audience was not allowed to stand up from their seats. The image was caught by photographer Pennie Smith, who originally didn't want them to use the photo as she felt it was too blurry. But Joe Strummer and graphic designer Ray Lowry felt different. In 2002, Q magazine named the image the best rock 'n roll photograph of all time.

One day my kids will understand why!

Willie Bobo
Uno Dos Tres (1966)

Killer material, and one of Willie's best-ever albums for Verve! The album is filled with grooving tracks that hit the good mix of soul and Latin that was coming out of the New York scene at the time—and Willie delivers!

The album is very much designed in the Verve jazz vernacular by designer Acy Lehman. For me, it's all about the image on the cover. A solid band at the top with simple, fine, non serif typography and the Verve logo sitting above an image. Warm and beautiful colors showing New York in 1966, pigeons and all. This image taken by Charles Stewart simply makes you want to be right there. I feel like I'm transported to the other side of the street watching it happen. You can imagine some of these tracks playing in the grocery story or coming out of an open apartment window.

My kids have seen old family pictures taken in Brooklyn that feel and look like this one.

David Bowie
Pinups (1973)

The photo was taken midway through the sessions at a Paris studio by Twiggy's then-manager and partner Justin De Villeneuve. During the photo shoot, Bowie and Twiggy had different skin tones, partially attributed to the latter just returning from holiday in California. The problem was solved by make-up designer Pierre Laroche, who used make-up masks to balance the tones out. The photo was meant to be on the cover of Vogue but was rejected because there was a man in the picture, so Bowie used it for this album. The typography was created by Ray Campbell.

Bowie's influence on fashion had a huge impact on my own interest in fashion and beauty. And his influence continues to show up in designers’ work, on the runway and the world of beauty, like in the work of makeup artist Francelle Daly and her own makeup line @lovecraftbeauty.

The original LP's rear sleeve featured two photos by photographer Mick Rock, one of a concert shot from the Ziggy tour and another of Bowie wearing a double-breasted suit cradling a saxophone. Bowie wrote in the book Moonage Daydream: "I chose the performance photos for the back cover as they were favorite Rock shots of mine.”

I was lucky to have worked with the great late Mick Rock and spent time going out with him and hearing his amazing stories of his work and friendship with Bowie. Meeting him has given me stories to share with my family and friends. Anytime I brought up Mick Rock's name my son would ask me, "what band was he from?"

King Hammond
21st Century Scorchers (2018)

Reggae and Ska are played a lot in our home. My older son first heard ska on a "Yo Gabba Gabba!" animated segment and loved it. Ska band GOGO13 teaches the importance of picking up your room while paying homage to Prince Buster, The Specials, and bands alike. It's great seeing my sons have an interest in Reggaeton music lately, and I take pride in believing I had something to do with it!

King Hammond is a Grammy award-winning British musician, singer and songwriter, also known as Nick Welsh. In his four decade career in Ska and Reggae music, Nick has worked with artists like Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Rico Rodriguez, Dave Barker, Judge Dread and Susan Cadogan. In 2002 he won a Grammy award for his work on the Lee "Scratch" Perry album Jamaican ET. He has also been a member of The Selecter & Bad Manners as well as his groups Big 5 & Skaville U.K.

Ska Ska Ska! Love it! From Jamaica to the U.K. Love this record cover specifically for its cut-out sleeve and two different image covers that come through the keyhole. Love the simple black, pink and white color palette. The artwork was created by Txarly Brown and the photography was taken by Carlos Cabrera.

Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

This is one for the ages! I grew up with the hip hop music of Run DMC, Slick Rick, Beastie Boys, Dr.Dre, Jay-Z, Biggie, Public Enemy, Mos Def, the list goes on and on. I have played it for my older son, and even though there are some songs he really likes and respects, he prefers the new wave of hip hop of the past 5-6 years.

That being said, he does share my love for Kendrick, but I'm not sure if he knows how important this album is or how this cover has become one of the most powerful pieces of iconography representing the Obama era—especially considering he was a baby in the voting line that day with his Obama onesie on.

Imagery has always been a huge narrative to Kendrick Lamar's music and his other albums. Taken by famed photographer Denis Rouvre under the art direction of Kendrick Lamar, Dave Free and Vlad Sepetov, it shows a group of primarily Black men and children in a celebratory display in front of the White House. Rouvre's choice in lighting and exposure reveals the well-worn scars and burns on the skin of all the subjects as they proudly show off the bottles and cash in their hand within the foreground. Every detail of the picture pops juxtaposed against the faded backdrop of the White House, with the group in front representing the gutted urban communities that surround the White House.

This record and cover will forever remind my kids how important this narrative is to American politics, and how important it will be for them to pass this one down to their own kids.

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.

Profile picture for user Stephen Niedzwiecki
Stephen Niedzwiecki
Stephen Niedzwiecki is co-founder and creative chairman of YARD NYC.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.