Learn about some of the most memorable and popular album covers.
With the creation of CDs, record albums became a thing of the past, and many album covers became instant collectibles. A marriage of art and music, album covers constitute the front of an album's packaging. Album covers were commonly used on 10-inch and 12-inch 78 rpm records, but their popularity increased when 12-inch LPs hit the scene. Album covers used powerful visual stimulation to promote sales by advertising the album's content. The popularity of the art featured on the covers catapulted onto the music scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when rock and roll took off.
For music collectors, sometimes an album's cover art can be worth as much as the album itself. Because the cover was originally designed to protect the vinyl, it has a higher risk of becoming bent, smudged or ruined, so it's important that collectors take good care of their album covers. When it comes to valuable album covers, it is unclear whether the album itself is worth so much money or if the value lies in the actual cover.
One of the most famous album covers belongs to the Fab Four. In 1966, the Beatles released Yesterday and Today, which featured the band members adorned in butchers outfits with red meat and doll parts scattered around them. Capitol Records was inundated with complaints from stores and DJs who were shocked at the cover's contents. The company tried to pull the albums before all 750,000 went on sale, but the album managed to appear in stores for one day. Afterward, Capitol hired workers to place a different cover on the butcher block album, but the new cover received mixed results. Some workers plastered the new photo directly on top of the offensive one, resulting in several different versions of the same album. In 2003, one of the original non-plastered covers was appraised on PBS's Antiques Roadshow for $10,000 to $12,000.
Whether the artists themselves created the artwork, famous photographers took the pictures or the art was enhanced by a computer, album covers were strongly appreciated by music lovers.
Some of the better-known album covers of the 1960s and 1970s include:
Sgt. Pepper is one of the most famous albums of all time, partly due to its cover image. The cover art showcases the Beatles among a multitude of celebrities. The record also featured a gatefold album cover, which meant that the album could be opened up like a book. Once opened, the listener saw a larger picture of the Beatles, all in costume, standing in front of a yellow background.
The Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers has a storied history. The idea originated from famed artist Andy Warhol, who joked to Mick Jagger that there should be a real zipper placed on top of an album as part of its cover. Jagger thought this was a great idea, and he asked Warhol to take the now-famous cover shot. Contrary to popular belief, the jeans shown on the cover do not belong to Jagger. Unfortunately, it was realized that adding an actual zipper to the cover would damage the vinyl record during shipping. Due to the cover's still-provocative shot of a man's tight jeans, many department stores refused to display or carry the album.
The vinyl LP was retired in the eighties due to the advancement of the cassette tape and then the compact disc. This forced album cover art to take a backseat to the music, since the cover was now much smaller. After the music medium switch happened, the desire of music listeners to own album cover art became practically nonexistent.
Today, music fans are moving away from physically going to a store to purchase music. Instead, music is downloaded from online stores and then uploaded to MP3 players. This shift toward digital music has prompted some people in the media to claim that cover album art is obsolete.
Regardless, there is still a lingering interest in record albums, particularly the albums from the 1960s and 1970s, when album cover art was at its prime. According to TIME Magazine, in 2007, 990,000 vinyl albums were sold, up more than 15 percent from the previous year. An album's cover art continues to remain one of the primary reasons for its appeal.