11 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Mark Greenberg of Wilco Loft

Don Cherry, The Shaggs, The Rolling Stones and more

There are too many fantastic album covers to come up with just ten favorites and I know if I try this again tomorrow, I'll come up with 10 totally different ones, but here are the ones that come to my mind today (and yeah, mine goes to 11). I tried to steer clear of obvious crowd pleasers that find their way onto everyone else's lists (Joy Division, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, any Blue Note, Blowfly) and shoot for ones that may be less celebrated but worthy of appreciation. I love when the cover art can somehow speak directly to the music within without being just descriptive or obvious, but adding to the art of the experience in a wonderful way. Here are a few I think do that very well. 

On the Way (1988)

Yeah, I could have picked any number of Jandek album covers from the over 120 released by the charmingly enigmatic Corwood representative, but this may be my favorite. The cover art feels like the music within. He used shots of this drum kit from different angles and times of day for a bunch of his self-released LPs during the '80s… maybe all from the same roll of film… maybe photos taken years apart. It's impossible to tell. Just like the music. So much mystery. So much murk. Pulled apart, each speaks for themselves but the real joy comes with the weight of the whole body of work both musically and visually.

Elton John
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)

This was one of the very first records I owned and I would spend hours upon hours listening to it while sitting on my red white and blue beanbag chair, feet up on the warm radiator, staring at the bizarre Boschesque weirdness with Easter egg boobs and butts and poops hidden here and there. Perfect for a seven-year-old! I didn't know until later in life that the artist Alan Aldridge also did stuff for the Beatles and eventually designed the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe logo. 

The Shaggs
Philosophy of the World (1969)

The cover gives you so much of what you will hear on the record just from the cover art. These three sisters posing awkwardly with their matching off-off brand gear almost like something found in a high school yearbook or Olan Mills outtake. They seem unlikely to be doing what they are doing, as if they were forced into a school elective that they knew little about, yet here they are every Tuesday and Thursday during their third period from 10:45 until lunch break. Due to a scheduling snafu, no teacher was assigned to this class this semester so they'll find their own way with the time afforded. And that is exactly what you'll hear on the record within.

Led Zeppelin
III (1970)

OK, yeah, I am sure this one lands on many lists but I had to include it because, you know… the printed spinning wheel and the die cut windows just rule. Sorry. They do. I've loved this cover (and the record inside, of course) since the moment my prepubescent eyes and ears connected with it. Perfect form and function. Every so often I spin the wheel and you know what? Forty plus years on, I still see something new peeking out of one of the windows… something that I’ve never seen before. And I'm not even high!

The Rolling Stones
Some Girls (1978)

I know the Warhol designed cover for Sticky Fingers gets all the attention, but this Stones cover really does it for me. Printed inner sleeve peeking thru die-cut windows in the cover: check! The Stones in drag: check! An appropriation of a Valmor Products wig ad with the Stones and other assorted celeb faces added in?! CHECK! The ensuing lawsuits from said celebs AND Valmer? Priceless. 

Sun Ra
Super-Sonic Jazz (1957)

Much like Jandek, I could almost throw a dart at a pile of Sun Ra's covers to pick the one to highlight. They all are great and deserving of appreciation. These were all self released on his own tiny Saturn label and some were pressing as small as only a couple dozen. This one is so simple and weird and direct and familiar yet odd and mysterious. The drawing is by Claude Dangerfield, a high school chum of some of the Arkestra guys. It has a real Zuma feel to it. Important yet casual. Well done yet crappy. Finished yet sketch-like. Just enough and too much at the same time. 

Rock And Roll Over (1976)

I was a big KISS fan as a kid and spent way too much of my time enjoying the bloody gore of Alive I and II, the sexiness of Love Gun, and the super-heroics of Destroyer, but the beautiful stylized graphics of Rock And Roll Over still gets me most. Each member reduced to branded logos, each displaying their super powers, surely meant to stick to a school notebook or skateboard or carnival cocaine mirror. Along with the Beatles and Ramones and the Monkees, even Cheap Trick, KISS were great at simplifying the image of each band member into unique cartoon characters easy for kids to relate to and see ourselves reflected in. Much like super heroes, these drawn characters don't even really look like the band members but it doesn't matter. It's visual language. We get it. 

Caroliner Rainbow Grace Blocks Used in the Placement of Personality
Rings on an Awkward Shadow (1994)

Like Jandek and Sun Ra above, the love for this specific album cover is more about the love for the whole creative girth of the overall body of work. The commitment to the bit. Caroliner (they added extras to their name every time just to keep you guessing) were (are?) a mysterious anonymous masked punk rock creative collective that played live so covered in florescent painted cardboard scraps, one could not tell where humans and instruments began or ended. You just watched colors undulating to undecipherable noisy noise. Is that a distorted banjo? Maybe. Is someone shrieking in tongues? Probably. In addition to their stage sets and instruments and selves, they hand-decorated each and all of their album covers, mostly starting from empty used record sleeves and taping and gluing and painting shit all over them. Each a unique piece of art. Rings on an Awkward Shadow is a two record set with similar art from cover to cover suggesting some sort of production line of band members and buddies in someone's dirty basement. The best!

Persuasive Percussion
Vol 1 (1959)

This series, produced by Enoch Light, was way ahead of its time on all counts, including the perfectly considered cover artwork. Simple minimal shapes and patterns in limited pallet suggested the sounds and rhythms one would hear on the recordings within. Each in the series related visually yet added to the visual language with an extra color or shape or pattern. A series very, very worthy of collecting and framing.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Australia version) (1976)

Recorded with Bon Scott but not widely released until after his death, Dirty Deeds was a bit of a thorn in the side of the AC/DC discography (though eventually also one of their biggest sellers), and dang it, it cooks. Here is the original cover art for the Australian released version before the more slick Wish You Were Here / Presence looking re-do. We all knew a kid in junior high school who drew like this and we all wanted him to decorate our jean jackets. It's PERFECT. Why would they ever change this?! It completely captures the look and feel and smell (a mixture of scotch, crotch, and halitosis) of AC/DC. One could practically hum the tunes from just looking at this cover!

Don Cherry
Organic Music Society (1972)

Moki Cherry collaborated with her husband Don Cherry in both music and visuals starting at the tail end of the '60s and not only designed a fair amount of the LP covers for his musical output, but also created a visual setting for his and their music with paintings and printed fabric and artworks of other mediums and even live painting performance. Their creative output was as a creative duet of music and visuals... so much so that it's hard to imagine one without the other. A marriage on many levels.

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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