If you remember gazing at a 12×12 piece of album artworking wondering what it all meant, then this article from The Daily Beast is for you.
The golden age of the rock album cover, as I measure it, lasted exactly 14 years, 4 months, and 19 days. I can even give you the birth and death dates. My golden age started on March 12, 1967 with the release of The Velvet Underground’s debut LP (showcasing an Andy Warhol banana on the cover) and ended on August 1, 1981 with the launch of MTV.
Before 1967, most rock album covers featured boring portraits of band members. I love the music on the Rolling Stones’ Aftermath (1966) and The Beatles’Yesterday and Today (1966), but the covers are a step below meh. (The Beatles, you may recall, pushed for a less conventional album cover, but the record label vetoed it.) Yet just a few months later, the more visionary rockers forced a change, and by the time school got out in 1967 and the Summer of Love had arrived, the transformation was almost complete.
Those boring publicity photos were pushed to the side, and album cover designers instead drew on the full range of avant-garde and contemporary art techniques. But we knew it couldn’t last, didn’t we?