Today we countdown rock acts who took their branding seriously and best employed interesting and original artwork on their album covers and beyond to complement their music.
Prog rock band Kansas found a fitting image for their first album cover, using legendary Kansan abolitionist John Brown. From there, the group employed impressive artists with original concepts for each of their albums, including a medieval scribe on Leftoverture and Point of Know Return‘s iconic ship sailing off the edge of the world.
8. Pearl Jam
The cover of Pearl Jam’s excellent debut album, Ten unfolded to reveal a band huddle apexed by ten hands. The later album Vitalogy, came complete with a medical book that necessitated that the CD be opened horizontally. Subsequent albums continued to use unique artwork and packaging.
Most Rush album covers from 1975 forward were designed by sometime session keyboard player Hugh Syme, who designed indelible symbols which alternate between serious artistic statements and humorous puns. You’ll find the former type on the cover of A Farewell to Kings, which seamlessly shows a visual timeline, and the latter type on Moving Pictures, with movers literally moving large framed pictures.
6. The Beatles
Known mainly for two of the most iconic album covers (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road), The Beatles actually used very standard album covers through the bulk of their early career. Then they made a controversial statement with the cover of the American compilation Yesterday and Today, which was quickly pulled off the shelves and is now out of print. Album covers have not been the same since.
5. Iron Maiden
Perhaps the most “evil” entry on our list is Iron Maiden’s iconic “Eddie the Head”. The very first version of this icon was designed way back when the group was part of London’s initial punk scene but persisted and proliferated when the group struck it big as a heavy metal headliner. From there, an animated Eddie has been present on album covers while a giant mechanical Eddie appears at the group’s live concert.
4. Joni Mitchell
Legendary composer and performer Joni Mitchell has also long been an impressive painter, specializing in landscapes and self-portraits. Many of these portraits have been used for Mitchell’s album covers, starting with her 1969 album Clouds. In recent years Mitchell has spent more time on visual art than on musical art.
3. Led Zeppelin
In order to appreciate the Zeppelin association with art, you have to physically possess the original vinyl LPs. Starting with 1969’s Led Zeppelin II, the group’s album packaging each included a middle fold with unique and interesting artwork that usually complemented a comprehensive outer packaging. Beyond this, the group used some other distinct packaging schemes, such as the crop rotation-like pinwheel on Led Zeppelin III, the changeable windows on Physical Grafitti, and the “secret” wrapped packaging of In Through the Out Door.
2. The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead fostered their own sub-culture of dedicated fans and lifestyle enthusiasts. Along with this came the rich and fantastic world of Grateful Dead visual art that includes iconic images which range from the surreal to the friendly. Starting with their creative concert posters when they were an up-and-coming band in San Francisco in the mid 1960s and continuing with early albums such as Aoxomoxoa, the Dead’s visual imagery expanded with each album and concert tour, spawning variations of flowers, skeletons, the iconic “Steal Your Face” symbol, and the loveable Grateful Dead dancing bears. Through all of this, the Grateful Dead grew beyond being just a legendary rock band.
1. Pink Floyd
Aside from the cover of 1969’s Ummagumma, the artwork associated with Pink Floyd during their early years was nothing really special. However, starting with massive blockbuster The Dark Side of the Moon and the elaborately staged tours that followed, the band procured some of the most fascinating visual paintings and photographs in rock history. The flying pig on the cover of Animals was so large that, when it escaped its tethers, it shut down a local airport. The animation associated with The Wall made that album’s accompanying film the most successful of its kind. And even after the group split into factions in the 1980s, both camps’ stage shows remained the best in the world, as illustrated by the 1990 production of The Wall Live in Berlin. Even though the group has released only one album in the past two decades, their library of associated artwork continues to expand.
With this subjective list we’ve doubtlessly left out scores of artists who may have deserved consideration for this list. Please give us your comments below and tell us where you agree and disagree.
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