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The Forgotten Beauty of Vinyl Album Cover Art

Article by Alex Tokmakchiev in Design & Illustration - September 12

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 - OléJohn Coltrane - Olé
  • Bill Barron - The Tenor StylingsBill Barron - The Tenor Stylings
  • Chicago Style JazzChicago Style Jazz
  • Domnérus Antiphone BluesDomnérus Antiphone Blues
  • Doldinger - Jazz Made in GermanyDoldinger - Jazz Made in Germany
  • Jan JohansonJan Johanson
  • The Nick Travis Quintet - The Panic Is OnThe Nick Travis Quintet - The Panic Is On
  • Egil Kapstad Choir & Orchestra - LiveEgil Kapstad Choir & Orchestra - Live
  • Cool GabrielsCool Gabriels
  • Hans Kollers KvintettHans Kollers Kvintett
  • Charlie Parker And Arne DomnerusCharlie Parker And Arne Domnerus
  • Yosuke Yamashita Trio - DancingYosuke 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 - PathétiqueTchaikovsky - Pathétique
  • Ravel - L'enfant Et Les SortilégesRavel - L'enfant Et Les Sortiléges
  • Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 11 & 22Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 11 & 22
  • Tchaikovsky - Concerto In D MajorTchaikovsky - Concerto In D Major
  • The Beggar StudentThe Beggar Student
  • Andre Kostelanetz And His OrchestraAndre 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 - PyramidThe Alan Parson Project - Pyramid
  • Asia - AstraAsia - Astra
  • Van Halen - 1984Van Halen - 1984
  • David Bowie - Aladdin SaneDavid Bowie - Aladdin Sane
  • ZZ Top - AfterburnerZZ Top - Afterburner
  • Def Leppard - HysteriaDef Leppard - Hysteria
  • Blondie - Picture ThisBlondie - Picture This
  • The Rolling Stones - Sticky FingersThe Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
  • Joy Division - Unknown PleasuresJoy Division - Unknown Pleasures
  • Kino - Gruppa KroviKino - Gruppa Krovi
  • SacrosanctSacrosanct
  • NuggetsNuggets

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 HerePink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
  • Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The MoonPink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
  • Pretty Things - Savage EyePretty Things - Savage Eye
  • Elegy - The NiceElegy - The Nice
  • Al Stewart - Past, Present And FutureAl Stewart - Past, Present And Future
  • Renaissance - PrologueRenaissance - Prologue
  • The Electric Light Orchestra - ELO 2The Electric Light Orchestra - ELO 2
  • Wishbone Ash - Live DatesWishbone Ash - Live Dates
  • Bad Company - Bad CoBad Company - Bad Co
  • Black Sabbath - Thechnical EcstasyBlack Sabbath - Thechnical Ecstasy
  • Pink Floyd - AnimalsPink Floyd - Animals
  • Pink Floyd - MeddlePink 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!