I spend a great deal of time thinking about music and movies. Maybe a bit more time than many experts would consider healthy, but not much. Recently I have been thinking about album cover art. The reason is probably because I have been adding album art to my iTunes files and this has given me the chance to look at all the albums I own and their corresponding artwork.
So I have decided to provide you with a list of my top ten album covers in no particular order and say a few words about each one. For those of you who are interested this is how I selected the artwork for this list; I sat down at the computer and went to Amazon and began typing in ten albums as they came to my mind. This ensures that the artwork in this post is truly memorable because I had to come up with it off the top of my head.
Artist: Bad Religion
Copyright Bad Religion
What makes this an awesome album cover? What doesn't make it awesome! To begin with the setting is obviously your average suburban neighborhood, much like the ones that many of us grew up in so we can identify with the artwork. Second there is a little boy in the picture and he is on fire! That is going to catch anyone's eye, I guarantee it. Thirdly notice how the boy is standing, he is clearly burning, but he isn't panicking. He has not taken this opportunity to stop drop and roll, instead he is standing there defiantly. And that is cool...well that and the red Chucks. If I was ever going buy a Chevy Conversion van this is what I would have air-brushed on both sides.
Album: Big Lizard In My Backyard
Artist: The Dead Milkmen
Copyright The Dead Milkmen
What can I say about The Dead Milkmen that hasn't already been said before? Yes the easiest way to describe them would be to dismiss them as sophomoric...which they certainly are...but they are also a really talented group of guys who just happen to write silly, happy little songs about strange stuff. Occasionally they will come out with a real gem of songwriting brilliance like Dean's Dream which happens to be one of my favorite songs ever. But on with the cover art. I like this cover because it reflects the sensibilities of the band perfectly. The name of the album is Big Lizard In My Back Yard...and that is obviously a gigantic lizard. I mean look at him, its bigger than the swimming pool and its snacking on a chaise lounge. The image is simple and defiantly memorable. Every time I hear someone say "big lizard" this is the image that pops into my head...and now it will pop into your head too.
Album: Songs About Fucking
Artist: Big Black
Copyright Big Black
Perfect marriage of image and words. Like the two previous covers this one share some similarities...first it is simple, some would say iconoclastic. Primary colors, simple line drawing. But the point, or the message is clear...but only because the words a so perfectly merged with the image. Much like the band Big Black there is more to this album cover than meets the eye. The title of the album is base, ok lets be honest some would call it obscene. But instead of going for any number of ten thousand obvious images that would illustrate this album the band chose a very subtle image. A woman's head obviously engaged in a sexual act...but what can you tell from her expression is she enjoying it, is she being raped? You can not really tell from what you can see there isn't enough information. Coincidentally that is how I feel after listening to Big Black did I enjoy this or were my ears just raped? The easiest way to describe the Big Black sound is caustic; or maybe abrasive...but like the title of the album that is too obvious...because the music is very catchy and excellently constructed...so there are a lot of subtleties at work here not only in the music but also in the artwork. If I ever lived in a dorm this would be the poster on my wall.
Album: Give 'Em Enough Rope
Artist: The Clash
Copyright The Clash
More primary colors, yeah!!!! This is not the best album that the Clash ever made...but I feel it is the best cover art ever. If I was going to get a Clash tee-shirt and wear it every day this would be the one. Again a simple memorable image a Chinese peasant being eaten by vultures while a Maoist looks on. Everything in the album screams china...the font, the Maoist...unless of course that is a cowboy being eaten by vultures and then perhaps the cover is a metaphor for the decline of the west in the mid-eighties. I'm really not sure. But this is one vivid album cover.
Album: Out of Step
Artist: Minor Threat
Copyright Minor Threat
This album...actually the entire Minor Threat discography has played a big part in keeping me sane while I struggle with navigating the bureaucratic Maelstrom that is UMASS. I used to print out this album cover and put it on the front of all of my binders and folders just to remind myself that that I wasn't wrong...I was just out of step with all the other sheep being processed at Umass. I was the black sheep happily going his own way...most likely away from the slaughterhouse. If I was going to get a tattoo it would be of the black sheep, right on my wrist so that I could look at it when ever I needed a little confidence. This cover is awesome because there is no mistaking the message, even the illustration styles is different between the black sheep and the white sheep.
Artist: Iron Maiden
Copyright Iron Maiden
Every eighth grade boy has a darker side...its just a release from all of the crud that happens at school, some guys get into horror movies others get into metal music...some get into both. The Killers album helped to satisfy my darker side without providing me with a rap sheet. Interestingly enough for the graphic violence depicted on the cover the music itself isn't really that violent at all. Another interesting side note is that when I was in middle school I never actually owned the album art...I had a tape of the album that a friend of mine had made me sans art. But I remember seeing the cover on his cassette, and what impressed me was not the coolness of Eddy himself but the hands of the victim sticking up from the bottom of the painting. This implied that someone clever...or subtle was drawing this album cover...it didn't have to be the unmitigated blood bath of your average Cannibal Corpse cover.
Album: Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?
Iron Maiden's mascot is Eddy, and he is clearly some kind of deranged homicidal zombie thing. Megadeth's mascot is Vic and he always appears as some kind of very sinister suit wearing skeleton business man. To me Vic is ten times more scary than Eddy because he might try to sell me a house or a used car...maybe even life insurance. Vic isn't going to kill you outright first he is going to rip you off. I love the title of this album because it just sounds so bitter...like Dave Mustaine...but not just bitter, a really mean kind of bitter. Like Dave Mustaine himself. I love Megadeth because I never really liked Metallica, probably because the cover art on Metallica albums sucked. Look at any Megadeth album cover and then look at the black album by Metallica and is anyone surprised that they ran out of steam. Could it be due to lack of vision? If I was ever going to sell junk bonds to the elderly Vic would be my business partner.
Album: Rated R
Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Copyright Queens of the Stone Age
I have not been listening to Queens of the Stone Age for that long. Unless you count Josh Homme's work in Kyuss. But I love this album cover because it instantly speaks to the movie geek in me. For those of you who do not go to the movies it is done in the style of an R-rated movie trailer band. Simple, and elegant. Ummm....if I made an R rated movie I would put this image on the screen after the credits were done.
Album: Surfer Rosa
Copyright The Pixies
O.k. in all honesty I probably included this album cover because I associate it with the awesome music inside. I do like the cover, it works with some of the other Pixie covers. Basically weird sepia toned photographs with understated text. In this case the photo is of a very pretty woman who isn't wearing a shirt...I think she might be a dancer. I don't know its just an odd cover that I happen to like.
Album: Washing Machine
Artist: Sonic Youth
Copyright Sonic Youth
I love this cover because it reflects the extreme artiness and the extreme indie rock sensibilities of Sonic Youth. For those of you not in the know this is how the cover was born. Two Sonic Youth fans made their own Tee shirts, blue shirts with a washing machine and the name of the band on the front. Memebers of the band saw the shirts and liked them enough to take a picture, they then made that picture into the cover of the album named Washing Machine. So I love this album cover because it represents two fan boys helping to shape the creative vision of one of the most visionary bands ever...Sonic Youth.
Thus concludes my Top Ten album covers, feel free to offer your two cents. As you can see from my selections I evidently prefer drawings to photographs.