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23 Album Covers that Changed Everything!

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There are several reasons I loved working on the Saints and Sinners Issue. It's the only magazine I've ever seen with Madonna and Gandhi elbowing for cover space, it's the first issue we ever got the fantastic authors John Green and Michael Stusser to write for, and it had this piece by Chris Smith. It's just 23 quick notes on 23 important album covers, but it's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

wearing their art on_their sleeves:
23 album covers that changed everything by Chris Smith

Long before MTV, performers expressed the visual dimension of their art through their album covers. Every music fan has his/her favorites, but several covers stand out for their brilliance, their impact and their ability to make as much of a statement as the music they represent. Every art form has its giants, and album cover art is no exception. The work of the designers featured here spans over 40 years of music.
THE SIXTIES: Before the 1960s, most albums featured portraits of musicians, instruments or musicians playing instruments. But the 1960's spirit of exploration and experimentation found its way into music and, consequently, onto album covers.

1967 The Beatles, Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles' album covers act as a kind of scrapbook for their mythmaking career: a serious With the Beatles, a hippie-esque Rubber Soul, a stripped down The White Album, and a funeral procession on Abbey Road. Each is a testament to the band's creativity and insight into their culture. Yet no single album cover defines its era and its artists more than 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As with any good cult artifact, stories built around the album: Was Paul McCartney dead? (No.) Are the figures cardboard cutouts? (Yes.) Are those pot plants? (No.) The album was also legendarily difficult to execute—securing the faces of the band's heroes and influences, from Alistair Crowley to guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—was a logistical nightmare. Finding photographs of everyone, blowing them up to specifications and tinting them with color all turned out to be well worth the effort, however. The album became the single most recognizable (and, according to many, the greatest) album cover of all time.

1965 Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights

herbf.jpgThis concept album pushed the 1960s envelope all the way to the fridge. Every song on the album is named for some kind of food, something the cover model seems to be enjoying in a more than metaphorical way. This was Herb Albert's most successful album, but whether the songs or cover sold the album has yet to be determined.

1969 Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa

2031738.jpgIt's an iconic example of psychedelic art by one of the giants of the genre, graphic artist and California surfer, Rick Griffin. The band met Griffin backstage after a concert and fell in love with his style. In fact, they were so sure of his talent that they gave him total artistic freedom for the cover. Griffin also designed the first masthead for Rolling Stone.

1967 The Doors, Strange Days

51VV3VKNQML._AA240_.jpgWith this album, The Doors touched on the decade's surrealism with a Fellini-esque circus, but still escaped the psychedelia that typified its generation. The cover's zoo of characters were a mix of professionals, amateurs and friends. The juggler is the photographer's assistant. The trumpet player in the background was a cab driver who agreed to pose for $5 right before the image was shot.

1969 Blind Faith, Blind Faith

410FJRY7ARL._AA240_1.jpgBy the end of the decade, idealism had given way to cynicism, yet this album offered a strange vision of hope. A maiden in the nude, holding a silver spaceship matted onto a pastoral setting, forms a metaphorical union of innocence and achievement, life and knowledge, uncharacteristic of the decade that spawned it.

THE SEVENTIES: The stylistic fragmentation of the 1960s continued in the 1970s. Bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin claimed music—and their respective album covers—were definitely a trip.

>>Lots more after the jump!

1971 The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

41D56JD6YEL._AA240_.jpgRock n' roll is sometimes used as a euphemism for sex, so it's no wonder that the crotch has been the centerpiece of countless album covers. Yet, The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers is the most famous and innovative example.

Sticky Fingers stands out as the best album cover of the decade. The cover features an Andy Warhol photograph of a well-endowed young man (contrary to legend, it was not Mick Jagger). A working zipper on the man's pants could be opened to reveal another shot of the model, this time in his skivvies. The zipper left its mark on the album cover genre. Unfortunately, it also left its mark on the record itself (right in the middle of "Sister Morphine").

1973 Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

e90917w9hct.jpgThe classic simplicity of the prism on Dark Side is partly derived from a textbook illustration designed to show how light passes through a prism to form a spectrum. In a science book, however, a prism spectrum has seven colors. The album cover only has six; they got rid of indigo simply because it looked too much like purple.

1977 Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols

g40130e1tkg.jpgNothing sums up the punk ethos better than this album. Like the record itself, the cover resembles a ransom note (actually designed with cut-up newspaper bits), boldly proclaiming the Pistols had stolen the music industry's thunder ... and didn't plan on giving it back. The album was first refused in record shops because of the word "bollocks," and the issue was later taken up in court.

1979 Supertramp, Breakfast in America

f32520v6fj8.jpgThis album reflects the English band's move to the United States and the cynicism that went along with it. A view of the Manhattan skyline, uncannily recreated with salt shakers, creamers, coffee mugs, egg cartons, napkin dispensers and silverware, stands behind a friendly waitress named Libby who offers you a tall glass of OJ—all through your airplane window. Good morning, indeed.

1979 The Clash, London Calling

d95264o1973.jpgPunk thrust a rusted safety pin into the nostril of the bloated music industry with this one. London Calling juxtaposed the concept of a 1956 Elvis album with a blurry image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass. Incidentally, during the shoot, he smashed his watch in the process. That's the price you pay for ripping on Elvis.

THE EIGHTIES: The 1980s offered an interesting contrast: Musically, the decade was both an extension of the excesses of the 1970s and a reaction to it. So what was the product of this conflict? The ability to stir up some controversy.

1988 Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking

1927.jpgThis album was shocking in every way. A pair of Siamese twins joined at the hip and shoulder (actually plaster sculptures built by lead singer Perry Ferrell himself) sit naked on a love seat, their heads on fire.

According to Ferrell, it's harder to get big flames burning on plaster twins than one might think. Nine national record chains refused to stock the album.

1980 Gamma, Gamma 2

f55492e9yd5.jpgThis cover perfectly illustrates the fear that 1980's punk rock brought into the otherwise serene suburbs of America. Originally, the pair of feet in the bottom right corner of the cover were only those of a woman, but Electra Records felt the image might seem inflammatory to certain female customers. At the last minute, a pair of male feet were added to the cover.

1988 Prince, Lovesexy

f61458f9n0i.jpgWhile heavy metal and punk were making waves in music during the 1980s, Prince pushed the envelope in a different direction. Celebrating both sexual freedom and ambiguity, Prince combined a feminine pose with overt phallic imagery. Believe it or not, the shot was spontaneous: the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino suggested Prince go nude just before the session.

1983 Def Leppard, Pyromania

c33511kk8d2.jpgThis album made Tipper Gore's "filthy fifteen" list when she crusaded against "porn-rock" in the mid-1980s. By organizing the Parents' Music Resource Center, she encouraged the Recording Industry Association of America to adopt an explicit content labeling policy to protect minors.

THE NINETIES AND BEYOND: By the 1990s the CD had replaced the old vinyls of yesterday. While the classic square shape was back, the smaller size meant designers didn't have as much space with which to work. Time will tell what images from the 1990s will stake their claim as classics. Some are immediate standouts.

1991 Metallica, Metallica

alb263.jpgThe rock band reflects their stripped-down sound with this none-more-black cover, known to fans simply as "the black album." The album marked the band's transition from heavy metal to mainstream.

1990 Pixies, Bossanova

Pixies_Bossanova_large.jpgThe Pixies took their listeners to another world with Bossanova, mixing the old with the new and the new with the kitsch and retro. Pixies' vocalist Frank Black claims he saw a UFO as a child and was always infatuated with outer space. In fact, the band's founding members decided to form the band while on a trip to New Zealand to see Halley's Comet.

1996 Beck, Odelay

images7.jpgOne of the decade's strangest covers comes, fittingly, from one of its strangest artists. Beck's album shows a Komondor, (a Hungarian sheepdog with a dreadlock-like coat), leaping over a hurdle. It's almost impossible to tell it's a dog, but it's even harder to forget.

1997 Prodigy, Fat of the Land

4d4e224b9da00f3409a3c010._AA240_.L.jpgThe rise of electronica brought acts like Prodigy to the fore, which featured a crab with brandished claws, symbolic of their aggressive beats and attitudes. The image was chosen at the last minute as an illustration of the album title: a crab coming out of the sea to enjoy the bounty of the land.


Andy Warhol: 1967 The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico

f86637hbo58.jpgDespite what it insinuates on the cover, the album's title is not Andy Warhol. Rather, the then-unknown The Velvet Underground used their well-known album artist'of Warhol's name created a persistent myth about The Velvets. Everybody thought Andy Warhol was the lead guitarist."

Reid Miles: 1962 Freddie Hubbard, Hub-Tones

f87257icfkw.jpgReid Miles produced almost 500 graphically striking covers for Blue Note Records jazz acts like Freddie Hubbard. Apparently, Blue Note often didn't have the budget to print full-color album covers, so Miles was confined to using two colors. With his creativity and resourcefulness though, you'd never know.

Neon Park XIII: 1970 The Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh

f07169ewhes.jpgA painter, whose name is as colorful as his work, Park produced quirky paintings for Little Feat and the Beach Boys, and the infamous Weasels Ripped My Flesh for Frank Zappa's band, The Mothers of Invention. This one was based on an ad for an electric shaver from a 1950s Life magazine.

Roger Dean: 1973 Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans

c85091rj7bo.jpgInfluenced by John Michell's The View Over Atlantis—which argues the entire earth is connected via a single prehistoric ancient culture—and by P. Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, Dean imagined otherworldly dreamscapes for prog-rock groups like Yes and Asia. In 1970, Dean also designed the first logo for a new record label, Virgin.

Hipgnosis (A British design pair led by Storm Thorgerson): 1975 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

e423395we8t.jpgHipgnosis produced widespread cover art, including Led Zepellin's Houses of the Holy and over 20 Pink Floyd covers. In Wish You Were Here, the burning man shaking hands actually is on fire. At the photo shoot, the stunt man wore an asbestos suit and a wig, then doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.

From "Nevemind" to "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" to "On the Corner", we definitely left a lot off the list. Be sure to tell us which ones we should have included in the comments below.

A few other posts you might enjoy:

The First Time Aerosmith Made the New York Times

Smarter than they (musically) act: See what Weird Al, Garfunkel and other celebs majored in in college.

Baby Jessica and other kids we'd forgotten about

And a Classic Guitar Solos Quiz (that'll definitely have you feeling good about your music addiction)

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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
Pop Culture
Take a Sneak Peek at the Brooklyn Museum's Upcoming David Bowie Exhibition
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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands

David Bowie was born in London, and spent his final years in New York. Which makes it fitting that an acclaimed traveling retrospective of the rocker’s career will end at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018, five years after it first kicked off at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Following a whirlwind global tour, “David Bowie is” will debut at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2, 2018, and run until July 15, 2018. Curated by the V&A, it features around 400 objects from the singer’s archives, including stage costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs, set designs, and Bowie’s very own instruments.

Together, these items trace Bowie’s evolution as a performer, and provide new insights into “the creative process of an artist whose sustained reinventions, innovative collaborations, and bold characterizations revolutionized the way we see music, inspiring people to shape their own identities while challenging social traditions,” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

“David Bowie is” has received nearly 2 million visitors since it left the V&A in 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the show is a timed ticketed exhibition, with priority access reserved for Brooklyn Museum members and certain ticket holders.

Tickets are on sale now, but you can take a sneak peek at some artifacts from "David Bowie is" below.

Photograph from the David Bowie album cover shoot for "Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph from the album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Striped body suit worn by David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" tour in 1973

Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from David Bowie's album Heroes, 1977

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from Heroes, 1977

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

A 1974 Terry O'Neill photograph of musician David Bowie with William Burroughs.
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974. Photograph by Terry O'Neill with color by David Bowie.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original photography for David Bowie's 1997 "Earthling" album cover

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997

Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3

Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

One of David Bowie's acoustic guitars from the “Space Oddity” era, 1969

Acoustic guitar from the Space Oddity era, 1969

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An asymmetric knitted bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for musician David Bowie's 1973 "Aladdin Sane" tour.

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour.

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum
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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
8 Musicians With Incredibly Brainy Side Gigs
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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The Pink Floyd line “we don’t need no education” might hold true for some musicians, but for others that couldn’t be further from the truth. The musicians highlighted below didn’t just swing by a university to pick up an honorary diploma only after finding musical success. Nope, they put in the long hours to earn doctoral degrees and then picked up jobs with outfits such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Because as cool as having “rock star” on your Wikipedia page is, having “rocket scientist” follow it is just that much cooler.


British guitarist Brian May could have easily called it a day when Queen’s recording career came to an end following the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991. While May continues to play live with his remaining bandmates, he has also embraced his interest in astrophysics.

May had abandoned his doctoral studies at the Imperial College of London in the mid-1970s to live the rock star life, but returned to complete his PhD in 2007. Since then, May has co-authored two books on the cosmos, and in 2015 collaborated with NASA as the New Horizons space probe passed by Pluto. If that weren’t impressive enough, May can lay claim to compiling the first high-quality stereo image of the dwarf planet. Not too shabby for a guy who had already made his mark with arena rock staples like “We Will Rock You” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”


Punk rockers the Descendents weren’t joking around when they named their first album: 1982’s Milo Goes To College. Frontman Milo Aukerman put all those punk rock lyrics about binging on coffee to serious use, earning a doctorate in biology from UC San Diego and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For many years, Aukerman split his time, leading the Descendents while working as an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware and plant researcher with chemical company DuPont. The two chosen fields of study, punk rock and biochemistry, might not seem to have much in common, but Aukerman found many similarities. In 2011, he told The Scientist that in both fields, he was “always looking for discoveries that challenge current thinking.” Fans shouldn’t expect Aukerman to get too geeky with his lyrics though: “I will probably never ever write a song about DNA,” he said. In a 2016 interview with Spin, Aukerman shared that he's now dedicating his full-time life to music. “[Science has] gotten less and less interesting to me,” he said. “Also, working in a corporation has become a misery of sorts. As I was discovering this and realizing maybe I should just do music full-time, lo and behold, [my job] laid me off anyway.”


Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Orange County, California punk rockers The Offspring have been regularly touring and putting out albums since the mid-1980s. What fans might be surprised to learn though is that in between writing songs like “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy),” the band's lyricist and frontman Dexter Holland was working on HIV research.

In May 2017, Holland earned his PhD in molecular biology from the University of Southern California, completing a 175-page dissertation titled Discovery of Mature MicroRNA Sequences within the Protein-Coding Regions of Global HIV-1 Genomes: Predictions of Novel Mechanisms for Viral Infection and Pathogenicity. Lengthy scientific jargon thesis titles aside, Holland told Rolling Stone his focus was on the molecular dynamics of the HIV virus. "I am interested in virology and wanted to contribute in some small way to the knowledge which has been learned about HIV and AIDS,” Holland said.


People fall into side gigs like dog-walking or crafting all the time. Finding yourself unexpectedly taking on a second job as a consultant in missile defense systems, on the other hand, is a little more out of the norm. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter spent much of the 1970s and '80s playing guitar with acts like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and Elton John. Since the mid-1990s though, Baxter has had a second job working with the Congressional Advisory Board on Missile Defense and consulting for General Atomics. And he landed those gigs almost entirely out of sheer luck.

Baxter credits his natural curiosity to look at technologies and how they can be improved upon as his springboard into the field of missile defense. The guitarist would regularly pick the brain of his next door neighbor, a retired engineer who had worked on the Pentagon's Sidewinder missile program. Baxter spent the next several years doing his own research and learning everything he could about the hardware developed for missile use. He would eventually submit his own proposal on how to improve the ship-based Aegis missile system to California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher and the rest is history.


Katie Stratton/Getty Images

For more than three decades, Bad Religion has held a spot as one of the most respected punk bands in the genre, with vocalist Greg Graffin commanding the stage. Graffin’s politically-charged lyrics have helped the band maintain a healthy following, but music isn’t Graffin’s only passion.

Since 2008, Graffin has split his time between playing with Bad Religion and teaching evolutionary biology at several universities. Graffin earned a PhD in zoology from Cornell University and has returned to his alma mater to teach courses on the subject. The punk rocker has co-authored three books on the subject of evolution and religion and taught life science courses at the University of California Los Angeles. Like other musicians who dabble in the sciences, Graffin has found parallels in the two. “If I’m behind a lectern or onstage, I’m just trying to provoke people to use and expand their minds a little,” Graffin told the San Diego Tribune.


The life of Philip Taylor Kramer was one filled with both exceptional success and horrific tragedy. Kramer first made a name for himself in the 1970s playing bass with psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly. He went on to play with other groups into the early 1980s, but would later leave music and find success in the field of computer engineering.

The musician’s father was a professor of electrical engineering and after a career in music, Kramer co-founded a company that produced significant work in missile guidance systems as well as computerized facial reconstruction models. Tragically, Kramer’s life was mysteriously cut short in 1995 when he disappeared after making a frantic call to his wife from the Los Angeles International Airport and telling her to meet him at a hotel.

The musician/computer engineer then called the police and said he was going to kill himself before abruptly hanging up. He wasn’t heard from again until his burned-out van was discovered in the bottom of a ravine four years later. The death was ruled a probable suicide, though some of Kramer’s closest family and friends suspected foul play.


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Deadheads will probably best know the name John Perry Barlow from the liner notes of Grateful Dead albums as a co-writer on a number of classics like “Mexicali Blues” and “Cassidy.” Further exploration would reveal that there are many sides to John Perry Barlow besides Grateful Dead lyricist. Barlow can be credited as a pioneer in the digital revolution, leading the way to preserve and protect internet freedoms as a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1990.

These days Barlow has shifted his focus to a new calling—pond scum. More specifically: algae. He is the vice president of Algae Systems, a company working to grow microalgae as a biofuel and convert sewage into a fertilizer.


Rock band Boston had one of the best-selling debut albums in music history with their 1976 self-titled debut selling 17 million copies. Almost all of that success can be attributed to guitarist Tom Scholz’s background as a mechanical engineer.

Scholz had received both his bachelor's (1969) and master's degrees (1970) in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he had dreams of rock n’ roll stardom. To pay the bills, Scholz took a job as a senior product design engineer at Polaroid. The young guitarist and engineer spent his paychecks and nights building his own basement recording studio and creating nearly every sound, except for the vocals and drums, of what would be Boston’s debut album. The DIY process was unheard of at the time and Epic, the band's record company, demanded that the demos be redone in a proper studio. Scholz refused to budge with nearly all of his original recordings eventually making it onto the highly-successful album.


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