Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Iconic Album Art

As an avid music fan, much of my spare time is spent listening to artists old and new, attending live performances and generally immersing myself in music culture as much as I can.

Over the last four decades or so, whole generations of people have been influenced by artists, bands, and even individual albums; affecting the way they behave, the language they use and even the clothes they wear. Iconic albums; albums that have secured their place in history as one of the greats, generally share one of two factors: excellent music, or a strikingly orignal album cover. When the latter of the two is able to earn iconic status, with or without the help of the music, it is a humbling achievment for any designer.

One of the most famous images of all time was photographed for the Beatles 1969 album, Abbey Road. The pose is so well known throughout the world that hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to liverpool each year to have their picture taken where their idols once walked. What is particularly impressive about this image is that the band name and the album title are not needed in order to identify who the image is of and where they were at the time it was taken.

The photograph has been satirised on many occasions, including an episode of the simpsons (shown above).

These two album covers (shown below) epitomise a youth punk rock culture that dominated teenagers in Britain during the late 70's and early 80's. They're incredibly simplistic images; both powerful, both hugely famous.

Although these two bands dominated the punk culture, they had completely different attitudes and styles and this could not be more apparent in the album covers. They both demonstrate a two-fingers up approach to authority in an equally effective and shocking manner. The sex pistols cover uses vivid colour and coarse language to make sure that it is an album that will not only stand out to any fan wishing to buy it, but is also so attention grabbing, you find yourself looking at it whether you want to or not. The phrase and typography are so well known that productions such as the BBC's music quiz; Never Mind the Buzzcocks use the title and styling of the cover its logo. The Clash's 1979 album, London Calling, uses an image of frontman, Joe Strummer (now deceased) smashing up a guitar on stage. An act for which the band became well known in their later stages. Partnered with the title 'London Calling', the image is used brilliantly to demonstrate that the punk culture, which was growing throughout London at the time, would not only be heard, but was here to stay.

Both covers are powerful and unforgettable images that have stood the test of time.

Nirvana's 1991 album is widely credited for commercialising the alternative 'grunge' movement during the early 1990s. Selling over twenty five million copies worldwide, 'nevermind' is also one of the most sucessful albums of all time.

The image concept was conceived by the now immortal frontman, Kurt Cobain. It brilliantly depicts an innocent baby floating peacefully whilst being lured by a dollar on a fish hook - Cobain's not-so-subtle way of rebelling against the money grabbing executives he claimed were trying to control Nirvana's musical direction.

The cover was initially thought to be too offensive due to the baby's genitals being shown, however, Cobain argued his corner and the album was released with a sticker covering the questionable area stating 'If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile'. Brilliant publicity, and a brilliant cover design.

Like the beatles cover, this image has been satirised many times, including the 1992 album 'Off The Deep End' by Weird Al Yankovic (pictured above).

Other iconic Album covers can be viewed below. They have not only boosted the fame of their artists, but have become famous in their own right. Every cover mentioned in this post is a fantastic piece of design, and excellently captures their intended artist, audience, time period and purpose.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Tomorrow (8th August) is the anniversary of Abbey Road being released and so I was thinking about iconic album covers as well.

I saw that Joy Division's album was voted as the most iconic, but I suspect that what most of us mean when we say 'iconic' is 'this appeals to me'. Abbey Road is iconic in the true sense.

I would cite 'Trout Mask Replica' as being iconic, but then it is my favourite album, QED.

I doubt if it matters how we interpret iconic. What does matter is that with the onset of CDs the importance of covers was reduced. With the onset of downloading where will album art be in 10 years? I fear the worse.

I run a blog about Rock and bluesand have had similar conversations with readers. We are in danger of losing something, and almost none of us realise it.