Diana Billings Art Blog

Album Cover Art - The Record Cover


Album artwork is as important at identifying the music as much as the musician. Buying the album was like buying your own little piece of artwork and part of the music. Album art in the later twentieth century became a massive cultural influence. It opened our eyes and minds to new and wondrous ideas and music. Many people like myself hang onto our records our entire lives. We become nostalgic about our music and the album cover. There are many times when we say, “ Hey, remember the Hotel California record cover?” This starting a conversation about music and why we loved the particular album so much.


The album book came from the pre World War I era. It literally meant that the record was stored in what looked like a booklet, similar to a photo album. Development of album cover design started that early.


When musical recordings were first being made, it quickly became evident that the commercial availably of music would change how music would be heard forever, going from listening to music only in concert halls, dances, church, and pubs to becoming an item of personal ownership. If you have the opportunity to own a gramophone or phonograph you could play music any time you wished. The first gramophone was invented on 1895, the discs were fragile wax cylinders, sold in boxes and were susceptible to damage. By 1910 the 78 rpm record had appeared and were made of rubber coated with shellac, but still easy to damage. Sold in a paper envelope with an open circle in the centre, so you could read the label of the music. This envelope was an opportunity for advertising on the paper sleeve by the recording companies and stores that sold the records.


With Word War II over, commercialism grabbed hold of the recording industry. The film and music industries worked hand in hand. With the rise of teen culture, the music business changed again. Jazz, Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues all were very popular. Album covers were clean images of performers and bright colours. Representing a clean and wholesome culture. Album covers sometimes would look like movie posters.

The 1960’s Jazz album covers were abstract and colourful showcasing the musician. Artist like Peter Max and Andy Warhol designed covers for Kenny Burnell and Meade Lux Lewis. Some of the album covers were true works of art. Album cover design was becoming an art form. Rock and Roll caused the album covers to expand just like many ideas of the 1960’s. Album cover artwork was no longer becoming a new art form, it was an Art Form. There was everything from psychedelic images, to black and white art photos. You name it, it was on an album cover. Pink Floyd, a cow? - Atom Heart Mother, designed by Hipgnosis and John Blake. The Beatles - White Album designed by Richard Hamilton. Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers designed by Andy Warhol. Santana’s - Abraxas designed by Abdul Mati Klarwein and Bob Venosa. Lastly, Tommy - The Who designed by Mike McInnerney and Barrie Miller. All amazing and unique covers. There were well known photographers like John Mapplethorpe who photographed Patty Smith. In the 1970’s and 80’s Mascots and Logos were popular with bands, such as Iron Maiden’s famous mascot “Eddie”.


In the 1980’s the development of the CD (compact disc) was a concern for albums and cover art. The thought of a 4”X4” plastic case holding a real piece of art seemed impossible. But there were artist still making beautifully designed work like, Rush’s - Power Windows, painted by Hugh Syme. Now with the digital age album art is still here but not in the same compelling way. The concept has developed into marketing a brand, all put together with videos, photoshoots and promotional merchandise.


There have been a number of individuals and groups who have been notable in the cover design field, such as the Hipgnosis group and Roger Dean, among others.


But all is not lost, some artist have embraced the album cover again and there has been a resurgence on buying albums. Newer artist like Kendrick Lamar, Lorde and Bastille, have all put out albums. There are now collectors of albums for the music and the artwork. The album may never die, because it is an art form!

I will always treasure my albums some from my youth, and some more recent. I have them in my family room on display for all to see. Many of the older albums are still playable and do get played from time to time. Some are just for saving.

My source for this article is:

The Album Cover Album.

The Book of Record Jackets Edited by Hipgnosis and Roger Dean

Introduced by Dominy Hamilton

Published in 1977 by Dragon’s World Limited

I have to say, I have had this book since 1980, there are other album cover book published as well. I love this book and have looked at it over the years repeatedly. The introduction about the development of the record, and album covers is worth the read alone. I encourage you if you have the opportunity to look at this book, do so!! You will throughly enjoy it!

I sorry to say that I can not show images from the book due to copyright. The book is still available for purchase.


Hope you all still have albums you love too. Diana

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