Ever bought an album just because the cover was cool?
Strawbs' 1977 album, "Deadlines," shows a man floating upside down in a phone booth filled with water in the middle of the desert. Too cool not to buy, although the music isn't all that memorable.
These days, downloads are the rule, so the good-cover/meh-music paradox is not really an issue. But with vinyl making something of a comeback, perhaps the 12-by-12-inch sleeve will become relevant again, too.
It's doubtful that anyone could tally up the number of teenagers and college-age students from 1970 to 1990 who decorated the walls of their bedrooms or dorm rooms with album covers.
The 1970s had some of the best and most iconic covers, which makes sense; it had some of the best and most iconic bands. The '80s were no slouches when it came to bands and LP covers, though. The '90s had its share, although CDs had taken over by then and the roughly 6-inch by 5-inch case didn't provide the same artistic canvas as an LP.
Hipgnosis may have been the best-known set of artists making album covers back in the day. Best-known because, day in, day out, they were the best. Their work included Led Zeppelin's covers from "Houses of the Holy" to "Coda," Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," many covers for UFO, Scorpions, Renaissance and Peter Gabriel. The late Storm Thorgerson, co-founder of Hipgnosis, created all of Pink Floyd's album covers from 1968 until 2007, including "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here."
Many of my favorites are Hipgnosis work, but there are others, too.
* UFO. "No Heavy Petting." Perhaps my favorite cover of all and, yes, Hipgnosis. A woman facing away, head slightly turned, a monkey on her shoulder and a couple of clear, medical-looking tubes coming out of her neck and into the monkey's chest. A tad weird, yes. A bit disturbing, oh heck yeah. And the album itself is pretty darned good, too.
* Golden Earring. "To the Hilt." One middle-age man, chains around him, lying on the railroad tracks on the cover. Underwater with a concrete overcoat, sharks swimming around in another. Falling from a building on a third. Striking.
* Yes. "Tales from Topographic Oceans." A double-truck album that, when opened, shows a scene of fish swimming through the air, an Aztec temple far in the back and, if you look closely at the rocks in the center of the cover, the same organic airplane that was on the cover of "Fragile," now covered by plants.
* Rainbow. "Rising." A huge hand holding a rainbow is shoving itself out of the sea, waves crashing around it. Impossible to deny the sheer oomph! of it.
* Frank Zappa. "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." Once you see it, you won't forget it. Whether that's good or bad depends on you.
Contact Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.