How to create iconic album artwork

[In the digital age and in the era of streaming, album artwork doesn’t have the cache it used to. However, people are still buying CDs and vinyl, so it will live on, albeit in a diminished form. Contributor Jess Walter argues that it’s still important to consider visuals when it comes to your music. -AC]

The secret to iconic album art

Many people would agree that a great album cover stays with us for a lifetime. We all have our own favourites from childhood, and they carry with them a never ending and powerful sense of familiarity and nostalgia. An iconic album cover goes beyond just defining the album in question but instead can represent an entire musical genre and even a generation. 

Many album covers achieve iconic status not just because of their memorable and provocative design, but for the artist behind them. A great album cements an artists long lasting legacy and the album cover provides a portal into a different era, keeping it alive and creating a lasting impression in our minds and hearts.

The most iconic album covers

So what’s the secret? Iconic album art is often representative of a keen artistic vision that transcends the familiar and the ordinary. They can be highly symbolic, abstract and emotionally provocative and in some cases, capture an entire musical genre in a simple and elegant yet profound way. Below is a list of three of the most iconic album covers of all time.

The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The garish bright colours and audaciousness of this album cover is hard to forget. It features 58 different people chosen by the band members, representing their own personal interests while at the same time providing an interesting cross-section of different cultures and movements throughout history. At the time, it was one of the most expensive album covers ever made, its pop art style is in keeping with some of the most influential pop artist of that generation including Andy Warhol and Peter Blake, it has served as a source of inspiration ever since.

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) 

At the risk of sounding cliché this is definitely one of my personal favourites. It remains one of the most memorable and emblematic album covers to this day and for good reason, it was created by one of the most iconic art design groups of all time; Hipgnosis. The band wanted something that was minimalistic yet striking, and so it was born, a prism refracting light into its different colours. The idea was to try and connect with the mood and feeling of their live shows which were famous for their lighting, ambition and madness this was represented in the finished result by the refraction of light and the three points of the triangle.

Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

This was one of the album covers from my childhood, and while not the most flattering to look at, it certainly sticks in the mind for being so unusual and intriguing if not slightly disturbing. According to the art director at Geffen Records where it was produced, the cover was the fruit of Cobains interest in maternal themes, sparked by his fascination of a documentary that he watched about underwater birth. The dollar bill is a metaphor for chasing record company money, to symbolise the fact that they were being considered as sell outs by fans for switching to a major label. Yet in reality it was at this point that Nirvana were able to begin writing their most original songs.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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