What Are the Best and Worst Album Covers Ever?

One of the disappointing things about the rise of downloadable music is that it is becoming less common for people to buy CDs. While listening to digital music direct on your phone or PC is pretty convenient, it means missing out on the pleasure of having a collection of music which you can hold and look at time and time again.

Over the years many vinyl records and CDs have been almost as famous for their artwork as for the music on them. What are very best and worst ones ever?

Fantastic: The Beatles – Abbey Road

As far as iconic images go they don’t get much better than this. At the time no one could have imagined how famous the image of the 4 Beatles crossing Abbey Road would become over the subsequent decades. It has been copied and parodied by many people over the years and has also inspired some crazy conspiracy theories. You have presumably seen it countless times with different people in place of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Weird and Wonderful: The Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake

This is the first album cover and presentation which blew my mind. When I started my first job I would go to my local record store during my lunch break and stare longingly at the records I wanted to buy. In among the vinyl and cassettes (yes, it was a long time ago now that you mention it) there was a bizarre oddity. It was some sort of tin box and it had the weirdest album title ever. I used to look at it out of the corner of my eye and I even touched it once but I never plucked up the courage to go any further.

Brilliant: The Doors – Strange Days

The memorable cover of this fantastic record features a group of street performers, after Jim Morrison apparently refused to appear on the artwork. It is a wonderfully strange cover which seems to fit perfectly with the psychedelic nature of the songs contained on it.

Great: Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin Bob Dylan

If there is one image of Bob Dylan which is my personal favourite it is this one. The relaxed and informal nature of the shot was revolutionary at the time and still looks fantastic eve now. I could look at CD covers like this all day, but if you can no longer stand looking at some of your albums then you can sell your old CDs online.

Unforgettable: The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

To be honest, we could put just about any Beatles cover on the list, as they are all such a big part of what we see at the most important aspects of pop culture of the last half century. However, if we limit ourselves to just one more Beatles album then the deranged and inspired artwork of Sgt Pepper should probably be the one. Apparently John Lennon wanted Hitler and Jesus on it but even without them this is one weird and wonderful piece of art.

Fantastic: The Clash – London Calling

This album has a fabulous picture on the cover which sums up the music on it for me. The picture of Paul Simonon smashing up his bass guitar has been voted as the best rock n roll photo of all time.

Great: Nirvana – Nevermind

The popularity of this record means that homes all over the world now contain pictures of male genitalia in pride of place in their record collections. It’s a simple image which just looked right for the record and still looks fresh and original 22 years after being released.

Great: Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

Springsteen has the knack of producing simple, iconic covers with powerful images. This one shows an incredibly cool looking Bruce holding his guitar while leaning on a band mate and smiling. Classic stuff.

Terrible: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Zuma

This was one of my favourite albums a few years ago but I have to confess that the artwork is pretty horrendous. It features a naked woman being carried by an eagle over a pyramid and a cactus which looks like a hand with its middle figure extended. Young is a bit of a serial offender when it comes to bad album covers but this is probably his worst. It was hand drawn in 10 minutes and it shows.

 Disastrous: Battleaxe – Burn This Town Down

Heavy metal provides us with a lot of terrible artwork to choose from. I could have chosen any one from a number to add to the list but this is one I was especially drawn to. In a classic case of taking the literal approach, the shabby artwork shows a guy with an axe watching a town burn down.

What are your favourite or least favourite album covers?

Charles Barley is a writer who enjoys looking through his CD and vinyl collection at both the great and the awful artwork in it.