14 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Chris Colbourn and Tom Maginnis of Buffalo Tom

Echo & The Bunnymen, Devo, Maria Callas and more

During my formative years as a teen music enthusiast in the 1970s, I primarily indulged in purchasing vinyl albums, although 8-tracks and cassettes were also in vogue. I frequented suburban Boston mall chain stores like Strawberries, often located next to an Orange Julius or a pet shop that sold sad looking puppies.

Albums were expensive, demanding careful selection. The 1970s represented a golden era for rock music and album cover artistry, marked by lavish budgets and a diverse range of artistic styles and concepts.

While my older siblings and their friends utilized gatefolds for sifting through marijuana seeds and stems, pondering over albums like the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks or Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, I was more intrigued by the inserts or back covers. There, I could uncover lyrics, discover who played which instrument, or even learn about the recording studio the band recorded at. I still own most of the albums I acquired during my youth.—Chris Colbourn

Miles Davis
Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968)

A striking abstract portrait of Mile Davis' second wife Betty Mabry on the cover of Filles de Kilimanjaro immediately signals a new sound in jazz music in 1968. Mabry is credited in influencing Miles' music by introducing him to rock and funk music and new fashion styles. Miles never looked back. Cover art: Hiro.—Chris Colbourn

The Fall
Bend Sinister:The Doomsday Pay-Off (1986)

The Fall's anti-art work design was a breath of fresh air in the mid-eighties gloss synth pop world, and a perfect match to the raw power of the music they contained. Bend Sinister is a perfect example—monochrome images of Mark E. Smith mirror the intense and non filtered music and lyrics, and chaotic live shows of that era. A great dark chemistry designed by the artist not constrained by any commercial composition rules.—Chris Colbourn

Jutta Hipp
New Faces—New Sounds From Germany (1954)

A mysterious post-war arrival from Germany, female jazz pianist Jutta Hipp is beautifully rendered on the Blue Note cover by Trudi Farmilant as a somnambulant wide eyed specter—hands rising above invisible piano keys. Design: Trudi Farmilant.—Chris Colbourn

Maria Callas
Callas At La Scala (1955)

Great action cover captures the intensity of Maria Callas' revolutionary opera singing and theatrical style. A tempest caught in mid acrobatic run—Callas brought was a wild child siren of the staid opera establishment of the times. Design: Georgina Ward.—Chris Colbourn

The Gun Club
Miami (1982)

A friend lent me his copy of The Gun Club's Miami to tape in college around 1984, right about the time the guys in Buffalo Tom had gotten together and were trying to figure out a direction and sound for our new band. The album cover designed by Jeffrey Fey has a striking image of a bleaching L.A. sun, over-saturated colors and a bleach-blonde Nosferatu styled lead singer. One of the first songs we performed live in our basement rehearsal space was "For The Love of Ivy" from the Gun Club's raw debut album Fire of Love. The Gun Club were an L.A. band whose sound had its roots in Creedence Clearwater revival AND L.A. punk rock bands like X—fronted by a seemingly unhinged operatic voiced Jeffrey Lee Pierce. This was a very appealing model to us—left of the dial. When it was time for us to mail out our first demos to prospective record labels, we chose the labels who put out our favorite albums—The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, X, The Rolling Stones, The Clash. The Gun Club had released a live album called Dance Kalinda Boom on Megadisc Records. Out of the 20 or so demo tapes I mailed out, Megadisc was the only label that reached back to us. They gave us the money to hire J Mascis from Dinosaur to produce our debut album. We once opened for The Gun Club in Paris and got to meet Jeffrey Lee Pierce just before he passed in the mid 1990s.—Chris Colbourn

Echo & The Bunnymen
Ocean Rain (1984)

I bought the 12" single "The Killing Moon" from Echo & The Bunnymen's fourth album based on the stark black and white cover photo. This classic song and album became a giant influence on the young Buffalo Tom band. We loved the music but also were attracted to their very curated and stylized images.  These guys planned photo shoots carefully, not just sitting on the roof of an old house like The Replacements' Let It Be (who we also loved), the Bunnymen carefully posed inside the Carnglaze Caverns, in Liskeard, Cornwall for the Ocean Rain cover. So cool. Martyn Atkins design with photography by Brian Griffin.—Chris Colbourn

Bob Dylan
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Buffalo Tom was once asked by Rolling Stone magazine to do a fashion photo shoot in the early '90s. On top of the surprise fashion invite—we found the magazine had hired a young female model to join us for the whole day and to be in all the shots with us! There was a quick band discussion where I later found out that bandmate Bill Janovitz was persuaded to okay the model inclusion because Bob Dylan had posed with a model on his famous Freewheelin' album cover. Of course Bill was mistaken and the iconic Don Hunstein photo on the cover of Freewheelin' is of Bob and his actual girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking along Jones Street. Suze Rotolo, while striking and charismatic, was no model, which gave the image an amazing chemistry, and inspired an entire generation of kids to trail their own paths—in questionably light winter jackets. Dylan means the world to us and we recently went to see him perform in Boston for three nights in a row. Design: Don Hunstein.—Chris Colbourn

Freedom of Choice (1980)

Often dismissed as a novelty act, these guys always struck me as something much more. Getting the chance to see them in high school in a small theater confirmed they were a great rock band and delivered the goods. They seemed to create their own world, with its own visual language and retro-future esthetic that was hard to define, all delivered with snarky humor. Rock band as performance art! This striking cover captured it all perfectly, the "energy dome" hats, silver suits, all in bright red, white and blue, with dimly lit American flags in the background, a not so veiled comment on America's "Freedom of Choice." The cover was designed by Arttrouble, a.k.a. Jules Bates, a famous L.A. scene photographer and artist who tragically died at the age of 27 in a motorcycle accident two years after this album's release. Some sources credit Bates with coming up with the energy dome idea.—Tom Maginnis

Santogold (2008)

A striking image for a debut album that is instantly recognizable and immediately gets your attention. The soft focus, grainy black and white image of the artist staring straight at the camera with shimmering gold glitter gushing from her mouth just grabs you. The album was released for the first time on vinyl this year. Having only had it on CD, I didn't fully appreciate the quality of art design of the whole package. It also made me think that there's a lot of great covers from the CD era that were short changed, deprived of a format to properly present the art. Designed by Isabelle Lumpkin, who eschews technology to create the layout using an old school technique, cutting paper fonts and images from various sources. It reminds me of cheaply made flyers used by bands to promote their gigs back in the day, often plastered all over town by the musicians themselves, but taken to another level. The vinyl edition includes a nice booklet with unique graphics with lyrics for each track. The cover works perfectly with the music inside, a unique blend of new wave, dub, ska and hip-hop, that can't be easily discerned or "judged by its cover," inviting the listener to go deeper and discover what might be inside.—Tom Maginnis

Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass
Whipped Cream and Other Delights (1965)

This famous cover from 1965 always sticks in my head. As a little boy it seemed downright scandalous that my parents could own such an open and disturbingly delicious display of sexuality… and they didn't even try to hide it! It also sparks the imagination, "what would it feel like to be naked and covered in whipped cream?" Well, it turns out model Dolores Erickson, who was three months pregnant at the time, is actually covered in shaving cream and a white blanket from the waist down. She was also wearing a white bikini top with the straps pulled down. Oh well, the imagined past is always better than reality. I have since come to actually appreciate the music within as well, which includes several members of the Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine on drums, Carol Kayne on bass and a young Leon Bridges (Leon Russell) on piano. This iconic cover has been spoofed many times, from Spaghetti Sauce & Other Delights by comedian Pat Cooper to Soul Asylum's Clam Dip & Other Delights.—Tom Maginnis

The Wailers
Catch A Fire (1973)

The album that introducing Bob Marley and the Wailers to the world was accompanied by an ingenious and totally impractical cover modeled on a Zippo lighter. The top of half of the jacket was riveted to the bottom half and opened like a Zippo, so you essentially flip open the top of the "lighter" to pull the record out. The top inevitably separated from the bottom and it was a minor project to get the top half of the record to fit correctly into the bottom the record. So cool, but so impractical. Designed by Rod Dyer and Bob Weiner for Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who requested something special for this special artist. However, the cover had to be assembled by hand and was not cost effective. As a result, only 20,000 of these were issued before it was replaced with a sturdier cover. If you have one with the halves still attached, it's worth some serious coin!—Tom Maginnis

Gang of Four
Entertainment! (1979)

Direct political message delivered on a striking red cover and dripping with sarcasm, Entertainment! perfectly captures the rebellion of early English art punk. The band were experts at skewering capitalist consumer culture and the exploitation of the common man armed with cold dance grooves, slashing guitars and polemic rants. The cover is dominated by communist red, sarcastically labeling their own product as yet other form of consumer entertainment! The asymmetrical sidebar features a repeated image with the caption: "The Indian smiled, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him."—Tom Maginnis

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)

Awesome mid-century modern art. For a long time, I thought it was the tail end of a jet plane pointing down, but when you really look at it, it's not that at all.—Tom Maginnis

Buffalo Tom
Jump Rope (2024)

We (Buffalo Tom) and our main art designer, Bob Hamilton, have often relied on a contrast of photography and abstract art for album and single cover designs. We engaged a wide variety of photography through the years like Iranian Magnum photographer Abbas Attar for the cover of Sleepy Eyed, Helen Levitt's Girl Playing At The Side of The Car for the "Soda Jerk" single from Big Red Letter Day. For Jump Rope, we chose images from the great street photographer Mark Cohen's book True Color. Based in rural Pennsylvania, Cohen's photographs reflect a rural American melancholy. The absence of any fonts or titles bring more attention to the colors and details of the photo—like the slightly worn and dirty feet of the adolescent jump roper in the cover image. Photograph by Mark Cohen (Pink Jumprope; 1977)

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 Chris Colbourn and Tom Maginnis
Chris Colbourn and Tom Maginnis
Buffalo Tom is an alternative rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, formed in 1986 while students at UMASS Amherst. Its principal members are guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist Chris Colbourn, and drummer Tom Maginnis. They will release their tenth album, Jump Rope, in 2024.

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