Album covers are and long have been one of the most important aspects of any musical release by an artist. After all, no matter how good the music on that album is, it will remain forever silent if someone doesn’t hear it. Album artwork helps catch consumers’ eyes, give a first impression of what the album is about, and makes the case for you to buy it even before you’ve heard a single note.
Beyond that, album artwork can be seen as complementing the music inside while standing as works of art unto themselves.
This is the story of how album art became what we know and love it to be today.
In the Beginning
From the outset, having printed material on the cover of an album was an important trick for trying to get people to buy it. Big band singers such as Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and other stars of the world of jazz and big band music were early pioneers in this regard. The style back then trended towards big bold typography boasting whose music was inside, photographs, or both.
The Sixties and Sgt. Pepper
As with so much of musical history, however, the sixties changed everything when it came to album covers. Now they started to become a lot more artistic. The Beatles alone can boast several iconic album covers, with Sgt. Pepper to Abbey Road ranking as two of the most iconic images of the past century. Other bands followed that trend towards greater artistry as well, with the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground snagging Andy Warhol’s help.
From there, the number of artistic album covers only grew. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust are just a few of the many iconic album covers to come out of the next two decades. The site of Bowie’s album is commemorated with one of London’s historic Blue Plaques outside Trident Studios.
After a slump with the rise of CDs, vinyl and thus album covers are back in vogue, and they don’t look to be going away any time soon.