6 Great Album Cover Designers, Chosen by Mike Goldstein

Steinweiss, Hipgnosis, Bubbles and more

Many of us have looked forward to our favorite musical acts' next releases as much for their cover images and packaging as whatever new songs. Why is that, and just who is responsible for such longings?

Since the introduction of the retail LP format in the late-1940s, artists and the labels have worked, with varying degrees of success, to impress potential buyers through images and text.

The art associated with these records have benefitted from the work of many folks who've brought their talents and the tools—and the dynamics of what constituted pop culture at the time—to create just the right cover images for their clients.

Here, we'll focus on some of those atop the food chain—the creative talents and art directors who've led teams on some of popular music’s best-known projects.

Alex Steinweiss

Steinweiss was the lead designer for Columbia Records from 1939-43 and again—as a freelancer—from 1948-50. He introduced the first individually-designed record cover in 1940 (Smash Song Hits by Rodgers & Hart) and later pioneered cardboard sleeves for 33-1/3 RPM LPs. He continue as a freelance designer and art director for Remington, Decca/London and Everest Records from 1950-74, and his musical clients included Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Woody Herman and Andre Kostelanetz.

John Berg

Berg (1932-2015) served as the creative lead for Columbia/CBS Records (and their sub-labels) for nearly 25 years. During that time, he led teams that created over 5,000 album packages. Just a few of his notable album cover credits include the Barbra Streisand Album; Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits and Blonde on Blonde; Jeff Back's Blow By Blow; and Chicago V, VI, VII, VIII and X. In addition to covers, Berg worked with designer Milton Glaser to create the now famous "psychedelic" Dylan poster, the first of its kind packaged inside Dylan's Greatest Hits in 1967.

In 1960, John brought his portfolio to Columbia Records, where he met creative lead Bob Cato, who was so impressed that he offered Berg a job on the spot. Working first with Cato and then as art director, creative director and, finally, vice president, John stayed at Columbia/CBS until 1985 and, as the art director for a prominent, NYC-based record label, John was able to work with a host of talented designers, illustrators and photographers. His later acclaimed work includes Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run.

Mick Haggerty

Mick moved from the U.K. to Los Angeles in 1973 where, as a freelancer, as well as in his roles as the art director for both Virgin and Warner Bros., he has developed memorable designs and videos for a wide variety of musical artists.

In 1979, Mr. Haggerty won the Grammy Award for Best Album Package, along with the late Mike Doud, for Supertramp's Breakfast in America. In 1983, along with Ginger Canzoneri, manager of The Go-Go's Mick was nominated for the Best Album Package Grammy for Vacation. He’d later go on to earn nominations for record covers including The Pointer Sisters Steppin' and Glassjaw's Worship and Tribute.

Haggerty has also influenced many of today's best new designers in his role as teacher and Chair of the Design Department at the Otis/Parsons School of Art & Design in the L.A. area.

Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell & Co)

Few design teams have had more of an impact over the past 50+ years than London-based graphic design studio Hipgnosis. Graphic artist/designer Storm Thorgerson teamed up with fellow Cambridge school chum Aubrey "Po" Powell to launch their business in 1968. That year, the young firm produced their first album cover—for Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets. Acclaimed efforts Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Black Sabbath and many others (including more work soon followed.

Two further outings for Floyd— Dark Side of the Moon's prism and Wish You Were Here's flaming handshake—rank among the most iconic pop images of all time.

When the first iteration of Hipgnosis split in 1982, Powell began work as a film maker, working both alone and with Thorgerson (and Hipgnosis alum Peter Christopherson) to write, produce and direct a series of film and music video projects. Going solo after folding the film company in 1985, Storm continued designing album covers for Pink Floyd, Catherine Wheel, Alan Parsons, Anthrax, amongst others, and branched out into documentaries, and in 1994 he directed six short films for Pink Floyd which were screened at concerts during their world.

Pacific Eye & Ear (Ernie Cefalu, Drew Stuzan and others)

Graphic artist and designer Ernie Cefalu started his career on Madison Avenue in the late 1960s at the Norman Levitt Advertising firm, where he soon began churning out award-winning work for Decca Records (including designs for the original Jesus Christ Superstar album). A new chapter in Ernie's career began in 1970 when he joined forces with design firm Craig Braun in New York. Knowing the importance of first impressions, the team wanted to make a mark and the results have become icons in the rock music pantheon—an early iteration of the lips and tongue logo for The Rolling Stones and then the rule-breaking Sticky Fingers album. Three months later, Ernie opened a satellite office for the agency in California where he would be art director and the hits kept coming—Alice Cooper's School's Out, Cheech & Chong's Big Bambu, and the lenticular image cover for Captain Beyond, among others.

In 1972, Ernie was at the top of his game and left to start his own firm. He opened the legendary Pacific Eye and Ear agency where, over the next 13 years, he created another 183 album covers for rock legends such as The Doors, Aerosmith, The Bee Gees, The Guess Who, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad, and Iron Butterfly. Pacific Eye and Ear was now on the map forever, and as PE&E's top dog, Cefalu served as the conceptual link for some of the day's top illustrators, designers, writers and photographers, including Drew Struzan, Ingrid Haenke and Joe Garnett.

Colin Fulcher AKA "Barney Bubbles"

Perhaps best-remembered for his design work in the '70s and '80s for U.K. outfits like Stiff and Radar, Bubbles' standout imagery pushed album package design into uncharted territory and forced most other designers to either up their games.

In 1967, Fulcher changed his name to "Barney Bubbles," with the name being derived from the results of the psychedelic bubble effects he created for light shows he produced for underground clubs. In 1969, he was introduced to the band Hawkwind and forged a relationship with them that would result in three memorable album cover designs, as well as a wide array of associated products.

In 1977, Bubbles joined the staff at Stiff Records as art director and the label’s reputation grew quickly for both the creativity of their acts and Bubbles’ designs. When label founder Jake Riviera started a new label, Bubbles joined him, crafting materials for artists such as Carlene Carter and Nick Lowe.

Working freelance, he also produced impressive designs for Big Star, Generation X, Billy Bragg, Dr. Feelgood and The Psychedelic Furs. Notable examples of his album cover credits include—Hawkwind's Space Ritual; Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, This Year's Model and Armed Forces; Ian Dury's New Boots & Panties; The Damned's Music For Pleasure and Parkerilla for Graham Parker.

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Mike Goldstein
Mike Goldstein is curator of AlbumCoverHallofFame.com.

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