A fantastic album cover can leave a mark on your mind and heart just as strongly as the music it encloses, giving a visual idea of what to expect from the music behind the artwork. Oodles of such great album covers are out there, and although it’s seemingly impossible to whittle that down to just 10, we here at Gibson.com have done our best.
After careful consideration of popular music throughout the decades, here’s our list, in alphabetical order by the artist, of 10 of the most iconic album covers to ever hit the store shelves. What’s your favorite rock design? Let us know in the dialogue below.
The Beatles, Abbey Road
This immaculate image of The Beatles crossing the road in harmony was shot right outside the legendary EMI Studios on Abbey Road. This colorful cover art has enticed many fans to travel to the same street, hoping to remake the shot with their own images. At the time, The Beatles had the help of a handy traffic cop stopping traffic in order to give photographer Iain Macmillan the time to capture the perfect shot.
The Clash, London Calling
The Clash’s London Calling cover is something of a tribute to Elvis Presley’s debut album cover. The art shows Paul Simonon dramatically smashing his bass guitar on stage at the Palladium in New York. Photographer Pennie Smith was concerned the shot was too blurry to use, but what’s more “punk” than an imperfect cover shot, right? This slightly out-of-focus image is easily one of the most recognizable in punk and rock.
Green Day, Dookie
Green Day had the assistance of illustrator Richie Bucher for the cover of Dookie; an album that became one of punk rock’s biggest warriors in the ’90s. The cloudy, cartoony image was an apt symbol of the influence Green Day would soon have over the U.S. with an album that helped bring pop-punk to the mainstream.
Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Although it wasn’t the original choice for cover art, this clever illustration portraying the five band members of Guns N’ Roses as skulls on a spine-chilling cross was a great way to cement the GN’R brand into the hearts of the rock contingent. Appetite for Destruction wasn’t just a blockbuster rock album; it was the pinnacle of the GN’R brand that swept the country.
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
The cover art for “Led Zeppelin I” not only depicts the Hindenburg disaster, but it also functions as a brainy take on the basis of the band’s moniker. Perhaps the scorching, blazing annihilation featured on the artwork was an apt preface to the blistering, innovative sound inside the tracks.
Michael Jackson, Thriller
Thriller is the album that helped launched the Michael Jackson entity, and this album cover was the embodiment of all that was cool and hip when it dropped. Jackson’s too-cool-for-school slant in a fresh, white suit is one of the biggest symbols of ’80s pop.
Thanks to the unexpected, massive success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Spencer Elden will forever be the most famous baby in rock. This image was envisioned while frontman Kurt Cobain was watching a show about water births with drummer Dave Grohl, and the illustration depicts a baby already corrupted by money and greed. The image remains one of the most famous to ever adorn an album cover. This cover also – in a simple picture – got across the gist of Nirvana’s social commentary.
Pearl Jam, Ten
The idea behind the celebrated album cover for Pearl Jam’s Ten was to depict Eddie Vedder and company in Three Musketeers style, as in, “All for one, one for all!” Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament constructed the now-famous cut-out, and the name is something of a tribute to the original band name “Mookie Blaylock,” which the guys had to forego when they signed to Epic Records, due to legal concerns.
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon
Gunning for a slightly “classier, smarter” album design for the artwork for their eighth studio release, the guys of Pink Floyd went with this trippy prism design a la George Hardie. Now, this is one of the most recognizable images in rock, so it seems it was a good pick.
At the time of its release, Bono and U2 were an anomaly in the rock world, putting a child’s face on the cover of their album instead of a flashy band shot. The vulnerable image served to remind fans of the humanity involved in War, instead of simply the battle. The same child, Peter Rowen, was also featured on a few of the group’s other albums: Boy, Three, The Best Of 1980 – 1990 and Early Demos.