11 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Zach Mortensen and Mark DePace of Ghost Robot

Funkadelic, Mike Oldfield, Frank Ocean and more

I have happily succumbed to algorithmic streaming. My music collecting years were on the tail-end of the vinyl dominance. I came up in the cassette era and then graduated to the CD long box. I decided to set some guard rails for this exploration of album art and I've limited myself to my own small vinyl collection. It isn't the best album, or the best album art, but it's a good cross section of my interests and taste in music from a certain time in my life. My record collection is focused on a few specific eras. I inherited my grandmother's vinyl collection, which appears to be almost exclusively from the 1960s, and makes for some great cocktail party openers. My personal vinyl purchases were in high school in the mid to late 1980s. And then there are two late aughts stretches of hipster album subscriptions, but I'm not including any of those. Here's a quick selection of greatest hits (covers) from my collection.—Zach Mortensen

Everyone has a nostalgia for album covers (that's probably why you do this). I remember flipping through CDs at Sam Goody, discovering my parent's forgotten record collection, and my early days in New York City spending afternoons hopping from record store to record store, building a collection that I hoped would eventually impress someone. After multiple moves, it's currently in storage, as it's taken me an extremely long time to find a shelving system that is equally impressive (and affordable).—Mark DePace

Agent Orange
Bitchin' Summer (1982)

While it doesn't seem to have the classic Agent Orange single "Bloodstains," it is a perfect encapsulation of the ultimate surf punk album in EP form. I'm pretty sure this album cover delivers exactly what it promises. You can almost see the checkered Vans firmly planted, Spicoli-style, on a southern-California high-school desk—just itchin' to hit the beach. The band logo isn't a hard-edged, street-style, punk-rock graffiti, it's polished, built with commercial art white outline and perfectly rendered drips. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the sanitized and commoditized parent-and-mall-friendly punk album. Regardless, the Dick Dale style riffs on this album were in constant rotation at the half pipes I skated in the late '80s.—Z.M.

The B-52's
The B-52's (1979)

I'm sure it was my brother's influence, but I ended up donning drag for a 6th grade talent show to lip sync "Mesopotamia" by the B-52's, and they've always held a soft spot for me. I honestly didn't even remember this album cover from their eponymous 1979 debut, but it's pretty fantastic. It's in-your-face, with that bold, pure yellow background. The collage treatment of the band harkens back to the barely-retro for the time 1960s beehive and big hair of the band's music and style inspirations, but the classy modern-art treatment of the clothes elevates it. The album cover was designed by Tony Wright (credited as Sue Ab Surd).—Z.M.

Trait (1988)

This is a pretty incredible cover. That's a real photo of a tornado over the Texas capitol building from the 1920s. The ominous cloud and the tension built into the inevitability of violent destruction looms large. The image perfectly captures the moody and explosive tracks on the album. This album bridged my punk rock to industrial techno phase. Pailhead features Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat and Fugazi and Al Jourgansen from Ministry in a rare and electrifying collaboration. Put on "I Will Refuse" and crank it up.—Z.M.

Andre Colbert and His Golden Violins
My Paris (1953)

I have to include both of these as a pair. Though different artists and albums, they are definitive examples of a 1960s genre of Paris albums that Capitol and Columbia were both releasing. I think you can hear these without even putting them on the turntable. What on earth! That candid ice cream vendor and that French cat with a beret and Beatnik glasses carrying a massive pumpkin! These are travelogues to transport the American family to the cafes of Paris without getting on a plane. The album covers feel like a slide show projected on a sheet in the living room while you recount your family adventures. You can feel every inch of their pre-packaged French tunes for an American audience, and I love them. They're excellent on crackling-needle-popping vinyl. If I still smoked, I'd put one on, light up, and enjoy a Cote du Rhone and pretend I'm sitting in Paris.—Z.M.

Michel Legrand and His Orchestra
I Love Paris (1954)

The Art of Noise
Paranoimia (1986)

The Art Of Noise was a cool bunch, and this album was a fantastic crossover that brought in the '80s pop-cultural icon Max Headroom as a sample. It drops him on what can only be envisioned as a thin, handheld TV screen, a nod to sci-fi-inspired communicators and an epic foreshadowing of the rise of our current cyberpunk handheld always on phone culture—set against a candy pill drug inspired step and repeat. I can only imagine (and hope) that the designer and group must have just finished reading William Gibson's Neuromancer. It led them to never-ending synth-pop beats and computer-generated news hosts in the palm of your hand—promising us a completely digital life.—Z.M.

Odelay (1996)

This was one of the first albums I ever owned. The cover reflects everything that's great about the music. It is chaotic and funny and random. This was before the internet and social media became dog obsessed. I don't think I'd ever seen one of these mop dogs before. The fact that Beck found the photo and chose it to be on the cover of his album proves he was really ahead of his time. Combining the photo with some vintage Country-Western type that's just a little bit off elevates the whole thing and speaks to his eclectic taste and style. Cover photography by Joan Ludwig.—M.D.

Maggot Brain (1971)

George Clinton was a genius. Besides the images being really powerful and striking, it's fun thinking about how they had a vision and just went for it. "We're gonna take this model and bury her in dirt up to her neck." And then on top of that, they were able to pull performance and emotion from her. There was probably nothing easy about it but it seems so simple and effortless. It's inspiring. If you have a vision, just go and do it. Photographed by Joel Brodsky and featuring model Barbara Cheeseborough.—M.D.

A Tribe Called Quest
The Low End Theory (1991)

A Tribe Called Quest opened my eyes to a whole world of hip hop that I had never been exposed to. Visually, this cover always jumped right out at me. I love tangible, practical things. Making things on a computer is cool, but painting on a real body is definitely cooler. The name of the album is also fantastic and just sticks in your brain. Photography by Joe Grant and cover design by JK and ZombArt.—M.D.

Frank Ocean
Blond (2016)

This is an amazing album that also sounds just like the cover. It's super intimate. You can hear every emotion and every detail. Nothing is unintentional. The green hair, the bandage, the pose. And then you lay it out with a font that's kind of over the top and the barcode as a design element. It's maybe the only album cover since things went totally digital that has left a lasting impression on me. Photography by Wolfgang Tillmans.—M.D.

Mike Oldfield
Tubular Bells (1973)

This was in my parent's record collection and stuck out to me, even amongst albums of artists that I was familiar with. I would never have listened to it if the cover wasn't so amazing. I didn't know who Mike Oldfield was when I was 12-years-old—and I still really don't know much about him. One of the songs from this album was in The Exorcist. It was made 50 years ago, but the art feels super modern and contemporary. So many people are taking pieces of digital art and combining them with organic, natural elements. This was way ahead of its time! Design and photography by Trevor Key.—M.D.

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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Zach Mortensen and Mark De Pace
Zach Mortensen is CEO and Mark De Pace is CCO of Ghost Robot.

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