Iconic Album Covers Throughout the Decades


Album cover art has always been an integral part of music since the mass-producing of albums for public consumption.  They first began with simple, leather covering or photography.  But the early 30s, before WWII, commenced what we now know to be cover art.

Some of it was controversial, others were artful masterpieces and yet some display the outright avant-garde.   Although there are millions of iconic albums covers throughout the decades that display one or all of these qualities, here’s a list of five of the most iconic.

1. Nat King Cole – The King Cole Trio

This is a series of albums released by Capitol Records between 1944 and 1949, performed by the famed jazz pianist, Nat King Cole.  The four-album series features lively abstract images, cartoonish figures and elements of surrealism never before used on such a global scale.  

The albums were a huge success, set the standard for the coming era of album covers and their influences on culture.

2. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

This 1956 album depicts a quintessential Elvis with bright green and neon pink graphics, which were an unusual twist at the time.  It was Elvis’s first album and America’s initial introduction to what would become the reign of rock-n-roll.  Artists like The Clash, kd lang, Big Audio Dynamite and Chumbawamba have all tried to parody, replicate and mimick it.

3. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

Based on Arthur C. Clarke’s book, “Childhood’s End,” Led Zeppelin hired Hipgnosis to illustrate their classic 1973 album, Houses of the Holy.  It paved the way for more controversial and taboo album art in the decades to come.

The cover features a scene where children, naked, climb the Giant’s Causeway.  Interior art displays a figure of a naked Overlord holding one of the children in a ritualized position imitating child sacrifice.  The children’s bare bottoms and satanic overtones caused controversy upon the album’s release.

4. Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast

You can’t have a list of iconic album covers and NOT talk about Eddie, Iron Maiden’s instantly-recognizable, zombie-looking mascot.  Released in 1982, Number of the Beast shows Eddie controlling Satan like a puppet while Satan controls a miniature version of Eddie amid a heaven-and-hell scene.

A Doctor Strange comic book influenced this design along with Riggs’s knowledge of European Christian art.  Many artists and musicians have tried to parody this image of Eddie and, whenever you see Eddie, you know Iron Maiden is sure to follow.

5. Tori Amos – Boys for Pele

The 1996 release of Boys for Pele, photographed by Cindy Palmano, shows Tori Amos throughout the album in strange, rare and compromising positions.

The front shows her holding a rifle while on a rocking chair with a coiled snake and a dead hanging rooster.  The interior art shows further disturbing scenes, like a pig suckling from her breast that many construed as the classic image of Mary nursing baby Jesus.

This image of Tori sparked one of the largest public backlashes.  Atlantic Records compounded the issue by having a giant billboard of it on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood.  This shocked and amazed tourists, Christians and residents alike.  The ripple effects reached the UK, where they removed her songbook with the image from store shelves.

So Many Album Covers . . .

As mentioned earlier, there are endless and countless album covers that are iconic in their own right and deserve looking into.  But the ones listed here not only depict engaging artwork, for better or worse, but also set cultural standards, influencing generations and society


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