Saturday, September 3, 2011

Coolest/Worst Album Covers

CDs are better than vinyl records. They're smaller and therefore take up less shelf space and they're not affected by minute flaws like the old vinyl was. Unless you have a very bad scratch, a ten-year-old CD sounds just as clean and pristine as the day that you bought it, unlike vinyl records, on which a speck of dust in the wrong place could mar your music with an unwanted pop or click. No matter how carefully you looked after them, vinyl records tended to deteriorate with time. Even if you were able to keep them 100% clean and scratch-free, the physical dragging of the stylus over the vinyl bumps and grooves tended to wear them down gradually, causing the sound quality to deteriorate ever so slightly with each playing. Unlike two-sided vinyl records, which necessitated pausing and turning the disc over half-way through your favorite album, CDs store all their content on a single side, so that you can listen to an entire album without interruption. Direct digital track access makes specific songs much easier to find and queue. Yes, CDs are superior to the old vinyl records in almost every way.

For all that, there is one thing that I miss about the old vinyl records; well, two things really. The first is the supplementary material that was often enclosed along with the record itself; large photographs, lyric sheets, extra artwork and so on. The second is the large, cardboard jackets in which the records were stored. These jackets were often adorned with colorful, imaginative graphics. Many of the most memorable album covers were arguably works of art in their own right.

Of course, these are usually represented, in a much-reduced size, inside the fronts of CD jewel cases, but it's just never the same as having those nice, full-size, 12.4-inch-square jackets. What`s worse, I fear that iPods and digital music players and the growing trend toward electronically downloading music is quickly making even CDs a thing of the past and, with them, any sort of album cover artwork at all.

Of course, not all album cover art was good. There have been many examples of mediocre album covers, and a few that were just outright bad. So today, I'd like to pay tribute to some of the coolest, and worst, examples of cover artwork ever to enclose an LP record.  Of course, I`ve posted pictures of all the album covers listed so that you can enjoy them for yourself.  Clicking on them will give you a much larger image that you can admire at your leisure.  These, incidentally, have been mostly copied from various web pages and it goes without saying that the copyrights belong to the original artists, publishers or distributors.

The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd

You don`t always have to be flashy to be interesting.  Pink Floyd`s landmark ``Dark Side of the Moon`` is simplicity itself - a prism on a black field with a white beam of light entering one side of it, and the refracted rainbow colors emerging from the other.  This is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable album covers of all time. 
In Through The Out Door
Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin`s ``In Through The Out Door`` bears the distinction of being one of the more imaginatively packaged records of all time. It originally came wrapped in an outer sleeve that looked like a plain brown paper bag.  Inside the paper bag sleeve was one of six different pairs of album covers (one for the front and one for the back) each of which depicted the same bar scene, but from a different perspective.  Because of the paper sleeve, the buyer never knew which cover artwork they were getting.

Finally, for the proverbial icing on the cake, each scene featured a lighter-colored brush stroke across its middle, as though the jacket were dust-covered and someone had wiped away a section of dust.  If you moistened this ``brush stroke``, it became suddenly colorized.  Try that with a CD!  Here are some of the versions of the inner album cover.

Sticky Fingers
The Rolling Stones

Also in the category of ``creative packaging`` we have The Rolling Stones' ``Sticky Fingers``.  The original ultra-suggestive vinyl album cover featured a working zipper and mock belt buckle.  When you pulled the zipper down, you could even see cotton briefs behind it.  This album cover was apparently designed by pop art legend Andy Warhol (you know, the ``Einstein sticking out his tongue`` and ``technicolor Marilyn Monroe`` guy), supporting my earlier observation that some of these album covers could be considered art in their own right.
Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield

I couldn`t call myself a Mike Oldfield fan if I didn`t include the cover of his seminal album, ``Tubular Bells`` in this collection.  This is right up there with Pink Floyd`s ``Dark Side of the Moon`` on the recognizability scale.  The bent tubular bell has become Oldfield`s de-facto personal logo over the years and will be forever associated with his unique ambient musical textures.

The Alan Parsons Project

Alan Parsons must have been very disenchanted with women when he made this record.  The title recalls the Biblical woman who was, ostensibly, responsible for man`s fall from grace.  Song titles such as ``You Lie Down With Dogs`` and ``Ì`d Rather Be A Man`` are anything but flattering to the fairer sex, and the cover certainly completes the message.  This is one of the all time great double-take photos.  At first glance, it simply looks like a pair of high-fashion ladies.  Then you look closer.  Wait a minute!  That spot isn`t on her veil, it`s on her face!  And that`s not just a shadow, it`s a crease!  Even the title`s lettering degrades and decomposes.  Unnerving, a little repulsive, but very nicely done.

Long Distance Voyager
The Moody Blues

I once had a large wall poster of this album cover artwork.  It`s only when viewing a very large print of this that one can properly appreciate the subtlety and detail in it.  The artwork encompasses both the front and back covers of the record jacket.  You need to open up it and lay the cover face down, so that both front and back are facing upwards, to take in the scene in its entirety.  This scene ostensibly depicts a travelling musician; a one-man band, as it were, performing for the townsfolk of a small community during the Victorian era.  A closer examination reveals a myriad of subtle details.  The track list (complete with song lyrics) that adorns the inner face of the album cover associates each title with a section of the blue-tinted, pointillistic scene.  To wit...

The Voice
Talking Out Of Turn
Gemini Dream
In My World
22,000 Days
Painted Smile

Reflective Smile
Veteran Cosmic Rocker
and, yes, that is the Voyager space probe that you see incongruously floating in the sky over this Victorian scene, just underneath the album title (you caught that, right?)

Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles

No list of classic album covers would be complete without ``Sgt. Pepper`s``.  Featuring the Beatles, dressed in psychedelic military uniforms and standing amonst a host of life-sized cardboard cutouts of famous people including the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, H.G. Wells, Shirley Temple, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, several Indian gurus and wax models of themselves in their usual garb, this album cover truly deserves a place among the classics. 

Whipped Cream And Other Delights
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

My personal pick for the coolest album cover ever would have to be ``Whipped Cream and Other Delights``, by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Taken at face value, the titular ``Whipped Cream`` is, of course, the name of the album`s title track; one of the Tijuana Brass`s best-known and most popular songs, and the ``other delights`` would be the other songs on the album. However, the album cover, which features an attractive Spanish lady, covered in whipped cream and, apparently, nothing else, gives new meaning to the term ``double entendre`` not to mention casting a whole other light on those ``other delights``, all of which make this, in my humble opinion the best album cover EVER!

So iconic is this particular album cover that it has inspired several parodies, a few of which I offer here.  (Thanks to the Unified Manufacturing blog, from which these images were borrowed).

Okay, since we`re getting a little silly, let`s move on to some of the worst album covers of all time.  Before continuing, I wish to make it clear right here and now that none of the following are to be found in my personal record collection, so I can`t offer an opinion on the music itself except to say that, if it`s anywhere near as bad as the jacket cover that encloses it, best leave it be!

On this Spanish album cover, Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha look like they`re out on a day pass from some federal penitentiary.


If I worked for the Hawaiian Tourist Board, I`d lobby to have this record banned.

Memo to record distributors:  Naked fat guy wallowing with a pig under a title that screams of beastiality does not generally boost record sales.

Jesus to The Faith Tones ... ``Er ... pass``.

If you really feel that you must...

Now don`t go giving Latoya any ideas...


If this is a childrens` album, some poor little tykes are liable to be scarred for life!

Just because they can does not mean that they should!

No!  No no no no no no no no no no no!  NO!!!


I don`t have anything to add to that.


The only thing scarier than the religious right is the religious right wielding an axe.


Martin said...

Some of those covers were truly disturbing! Thanks a lot Andy! Now if you'll pardon me, I have to go and wash my eyes out with bleach.

FCBBCN said...

Fantastic "worst" covers ever!!! Laughed my head off!!

Anonymous said...

The album cover for Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" features a genuine American Girl, the model Dolores Erickson. And she lives in the thriving metropolis of Kelso, Washington.

Halmanator said...

Well... she certainly looks Spanish. And thank you for helping to make The Halmanator the repository of useful knowledge that it should rightfully be.