12 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Director Jonas Åkerlund

Sparks, Sex Pistols, the Star Wars soundtrack, and more

If only we all could travel back in time to the line outside the record store that stretched around the block, to the paved sidewalk where we'd sleep all night just to be first to get our hands on Alice Cooper's School's Out. If only I could go back in time to the basement of my family home where I spent countless hours, days, even months listening to the music, studying the album covers, basking in their brilliance. It feels so different from today—I wasn't casually scrolling through the internet, I was active, immersed, flipping through the vinyl collection I kept organized in beer crates. I knew every picture, every word. I could still draw all the logos simply from memory. The worlds of these artists felt so far away, and yet they meant everything to me.

It's no wonder, growing up with such a deep love of music, that I believed I was going to become a rock star. That dream was incredible, filling me with so much passion and drive. But the more I immersed myself in these designs, the more I realized that the visual aspect of this dream resonated even deeper with me. I never lost my love of music, but I was just so drawn to the image of these bands, the logos, the makeup, the instruments, the fashion, the visual worlds they created. It was endlessly inspiring.

In so many ways, these visual worlds were expressed through their album covers. Growing up, each one felt like a promise, something that could transport me somewhere I had never been. It is no exaggeration to say that I lived through those images—they taught me that the world was bigger than I had ever imagined. In some ways, that experience was only possible back then.

And yet, all these years later, I am still working to channel that experience for new audiences, to capture the spirit and connection between music and image that these bands gave me. To touch people, and ignite emotion in them. This is what I've always strived to do, forever driven by the way these albums made me feel as a kid. They made me into the person I am today.

In no particular order:

Black Sabbath
Sabotage (28 July, 1975)

This album cover was my introduction to Black Sabbath. I had no idea what it was but I was drawn to the image, the music, the graphics, and of course Bill Ward's red tights. When you think you've seen it all, you flip it over and there is more. This moment changed my life forever. Black Sabbath have been my house gods ever since.

Rock and Roll Over (11 November, 1976)

It's impossible to talk album covers without including KISS. And it's also impossible to select one of them. KISS always paid attention to style, graphics, their images. This had a huge impact on me growing up. I've always loved the music, but looking back, I think the mystique around the band was the main attraction.

John Williams
Star Wars soundtrack (10 June, 1977)

1977. My cousin Frederick returned from San Francisco and he brought me a gift—this amazing soundtrack, a double vinyl from the then brand-new movie Star Wars. The powerful logo on the front, the gatefold had images from the movie, and Darth Vader on the back. These images were the first I saw of Star Wars, and not until a year later did I finally see the film.

These images and moments stuck with me for a lifetime, and 45 years later, when I was working on the soundtrack for my Netflix series CLARK by the incredible Mikael Åkerfeldt, I could not stop thinking of the power of the simple Star Wars cover. So I recycled the ideas, hoping to achieve the same impact. Basically, I ripped it off.

Iron Maiden
(Self-titled, 14 April, 1980)

Iron Maiden's first album, the birth of their mascot Eddie, and number one of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The iconic logo and their strong visual images have kept them going to this day. I even named my daughter after Eddie (but she is much prettier).

The Beatles
Yesterday and Today (15 June, 1966)

I did not discover this cover until 15 years after it was released. I could not understand why it was so controversial and why people were so upset. All I could see was a powerful image by a band that wanted to communicate something. That's what I've been trying to do all throughout my career with my work. This is creative integrity at its best.

Desolation Boulevard (1 November, 1974)

Long before I knew what Sunset Boulevard was, I saw this cover. Sweet was the first band I fell for. Their music and extreme attitude was everything. Years later, every time I drive by this exact spot, I always think of this strong image.

Sheet Music (28 May, 1974)

10cc. One of the most visual and underrated bands, who understood the value of great visuals. They had their own look and style, always different, unexpected, and smart. There has never been a band like this since.

Alice Cooper
Billion Dollar Babies (25 February, 1973)

All Alice Cooper covers from this era were incredibly creative and made a massive impact on whole generations. There were many of them to choose from and it was hard to pick just one, but this one sticks out. The big green wallet made of snake skin on the cover, the band picture with the crying baby in makeup, and the dollar bill poster. The ultimate fan package.

This is one of the most clever and creative album covers ever made. Alice knew what the fans wanted and how to scare the shit out of kids in the '70s, and I was one of them.

Judas Priest
British Steel (14 April, 1980)

This cover from the metal gods Judas Priest represents the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" on every level. The amazing logo, the sharp idea, all full of metal attitude. As metal as it could be. Just looking at this cover makes me want to drink beer, play air guitar, and head-bang.

Propaganda (11 November, 1974)

I could never figure Sparks out. I loved it all and I spent hours upon hours fantasizing about the images I saw. Was there a story? Why are they tied up in the back of a boat? Is there a story I could not see? It was so cinematic, so there just had to be a story behind all these dramatic images.

Today, we don't always allow our audience to think for themselves. Everything has to be explained. Sparks knew how to challenge their fans and make them use their imagination. I sure did, and I still haven't figured it out.

Status Quo
Hello (6 September, 1973)

At first, it looks all black with silver graphics. But then, you see them. It was like they waved hello to me. I still remember the smell of the black vinyl when I put it under the needle for the first time. Bold and memorable moments, and yet another simple and strong design. And of course, it came with a poster.

Sex Pistols
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (28 October, 1977)

The London punk scene took over the world in 1977 with the Sex Pistols in the lead. It had a huge impact on me. The simple, colorful graphics and the "we don't give a fuck" attitude represents the era perfectly. And it feels as fresh and cool today as it did back then.

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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Jonas Åkerlund
Jonas Åkerlund is a director repped by RSA Films and Black Dog Films. He has directed music videos for many iconic artists—Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Ozzy Osbourne, the Rolling Stones, Pussy Riot, the Struts, Metallica, Sigur Rós, Maroon 5, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and many others. He's won over 20 MTV VMA awards, including Video of the Year and four others for Madonna's unparalleled "Ray of Light" video, and Best Dance Video for the Prodigy's renowned "Smack My Bitch Up" promo. He has also directed six features, and wrote and directed the Netflix series Clark. His commercial credits include campaigns for Lexus, Target, Cadillac, Calvin Klein, Dior, VW, H&M, IKEA and L'Oréal, to note a few.

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