The Forgotten Beauty of Vinyl Album Cover Art

Vinyl record album cover designs

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Long before the digital era and the design disciplines that emerged with it, there was a unique canvas, reaching a visual audience of millions; every designer dreamed of working on a vinyl record album cover.

Invented in 1938 by graphic designer Alex Steinweiss while working at Columbia Records as an art director, album cover art quickly became one of the most important design disciplines in the world. Thanks to Steinweiss’s inventive concept and unique visual language, a new way of representing music was born.

In the following years, cover design became a vital part of music albums, not to mention a strong cultural influence. It was one of the few mediums at the time which reached millions of people and had a truly global impact thus providing designers with a canvas through which they could express their creativity and originality to the whole world. It was also considered to be among the most effective marketing tools. Oftentimes the album cover was the main thing that persuaded people to purchase an album, rather than the music itself. In many cases, the cover design was in fact much better than the music it represented.

The importance of cover design was so immense that it became a way for artists to popularize themselves and their work. Many renowned artists, such as Andy Warhol, Burt Goldblatt and Roger Dean either gained fame or kick-started their careers by designing album covers.

Here is a selection of some of the most creative and appealing album covers:

Jazz

Abstract and peculiar, just like the music they represent. Jazz covers were among the first to true pieces of album art. Most of the these covers utilize bold typography and illustrations to grab the attention of the viewer.

  • John Coltrane - Olé John Coltrane - Olé
  • Bill Barron - The Tenor Stylings Bill Barron - The Tenor Stylings
  • Chicago Style Jazz Chicago Style Jazz
  • Domnérus Antiphone Blues Domnérus Antiphone Blues
  • Doldinger - Jazz Made in Germany Doldinger - Jazz Made in Germany
  • Jan Johanson Jan Johanson
  • The Nick Travis Quintet - The Panic Is On The Nick Travis Quintet - The Panic Is On
  • Egil Kapstad Choir & Orchestra - Live Egil Kapstad Choir & Orchestra - Live
  • Cool Gabriels Cool Gabriels
  • Hans Kollers Kvintett Hans Kollers Kvintett
  • Charlie Parker And Arne Domnerus Charlie Parker And Arne Domnerus
  • Yosuke Yamashita Trio - Dancing Yosuke Yamashita Trio - Dancing

Classical

Faithful to the genre and the music it represents, the cover art for many of the classical albums released on vinyl was elegant and stylish, often directly depicting the title of the classical piece with beautiful illustrations.

  • Tchaikovsky - Pathétique Tchaikovsky - Pathétique
  • Ravel - L'enfant Et Les Sortiléges Ravel - L'enfant Et Les Sortiléges
  • Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 11 & 22 Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 11 & 22
  • Tchaikovsky - Concerto In D Major Tchaikovsky - Concerto In D Major
  • The Beggar Student The Beggar Student
  • Andre Kostelanetz And His Orchestra Andre Kostelanetz And His Orchestra

Rock / Heavy Metal / New Wave

Provocative, disturbing, genius, but most importantly unforgettable and immediately attention grabbing. The designers behind these covers, not without the help of some musicians themselves, were renowned for pushing the boundaries.

  • The Alan Parson Project - Pyramid The Alan Parson Project - Pyramid
  • Asia - Astra Asia - Astra
  • Van Halen - 1984 Van Halen - 1984
  • David Bowie - Aladdin Sane David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
  • ZZ Top - Afterburner ZZ Top - Afterburner
  • Def Leppard - Hysteria Def Leppard - Hysteria
  • Blondie - Picture This Blondie - Picture This
  • The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
  • Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
  • Kino - Gruppa Krovi Kino - Gruppa Krovi
  • Sacrosanct Sacrosanct
  • Nuggets Nuggets

Hipgnosis

Hipgnosis was a design agency consisting primarily of Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell, and Peter Christopherson specialized in cover art design. Due to their incredible talent and the influence they had on cover design, I decided to showcase some of their most notable, as well as not-so-famous covers separately.

  • Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
  • Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
  • Pretty Things - Savage Eye Pretty Things - Savage Eye
  • Elegy - The Nice Elegy - The Nice
  • Al Stewart - Past, Present And Future Al Stewart - Past, Present And Future
  • Renaissance - Prologue Renaissance - Prologue
  • The Electric Light Orchestra - ELO 2 The Electric Light Orchestra - ELO 2
  • Wishbone Ash - Live Dates Wishbone Ash - Live Dates
  • Bad Company - Bad Co Bad Company - Bad Co
  • Black Sabbath - Thechnical Ecstasy Black Sabbath - Thechnical Ecstasy
  • Pink Floyd - Animals Pink Floyd - Animals
  • Pink Floyd - Meddle Pink Floyd - Meddle

Join the conversation

Do you remember the beauty of the vinyl album cover art? Do you have any favorites? If you do, feel free to share a link to them, I’d love to see them! Finally, if you liked this article, share it with your friends so that they too can remember the forgotten beauty!

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By Alex Tokmakchiev

Alex is a multidisciplinary designer whose work has been recognized by Abduzeedo, CSS Winner, CSS Awards, Eight Mag and more.

cargocollective.com/becausedesign

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