The 6 Best Album Covers of All Time (and How to Preserve This Iconic Artwork)
With vinyl records going through a renaissance, they're increasingly looked upon as part of an enduring artistic medium in its own right. In vinyl’s first heyday, some of the best album covers became iconic. Exploring the crates at your local record store is like flipping through the history of musical art history.
Today, those LPs and rare editions are still well-regarded among audiophiles. Let’s take a look at some of the most recognizable vinyl record covers out there and some great tips on how to keep them in mint condition.
Best & Most Famous Album Covers of All Time
In no particular order, these are a few of the most famous album covers of all time.
Patti Smith, Horses (1975)
The artwork for Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, was shot by Robert Mapplethorpe, a fellow artist with whom Smith remained close for the rest of Mapplethorpe’s life. As one of the best album covers of all time, the cover photo’s composition is disarmingly simple, underscoring Smith’s enigmatic blend of punk and poetry.
Smith stands in a simple, yet androgynous outfit consisting of a white shirt, a black jacket draped over her left shoulder, a small horse pin on the shirt lapel, and a long black ribbon draped down the shirt’s placket. She’s pictured standing against a wall in the Greenwich Village apartment of Mapplethorpe’s partner, Sam Wagstaff.
Confronted with such a minimalist, non-commercial image shot by one of the era’s most controversial photographers, Smith’s record company originally requested several changes. However, Smith resisted and demanded creative freedom to be photographed for her debut album in a departure from the overtly feminine PR tactics surrounding female artists at the time.
Prince, Purple Rain (1984)
Another work by an equally enigmatic and iconic musician, Purple Rain encapsulated Prince’s signature style, and quite literally, his love affair with purple as a color that defined his visual style and art direction throughout his career.
Photographer Ed Thrasher had previously shot Jimi Hendrix, similarly on a motorcycle as Prince is depicted on Purple Rain’s cover art. For observant audiophiles out there, a close inspection of the bike will reveal the androgynous “Love Symbol” that would later be Prince’s legal name.
David Bowie, Aladdin Sane (1973)
Photographer Brian Duffy didn’t just create one of the best album covers of all time. He conjured one of the most iconic images of David Bowie. As an extension of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, “Aladdin Sane’s” lightning bolt across the eye represents the “cracked actor” that Bowie felt he’d transformed into after his seemingly overnight success as a commercial musician.
Smaller details underscore Bowie’s predilection for mystery and vulnerability, like the amorphous teardrop on his clavicle.
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
Rumours, as one of the most commercially and critically successful vinyl records of all time, also features a deceptively simple vinyl record cover. Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks are dressed in ambiguous period costume, alluding to the album’s passion and theatricality. According to Rolling Stone, “Not just a schoolboy prank in the spur of the moment, the balls were actually toilet chains that Mick pulled from a cistern and placed between his legs before performing one of the band’s earliest gigs – and there they would remain for future live performances, presumably dangling dangerously close to the drummer’s tom-toms.”
Nirvana, Nevermind (1994)
Similarly, Nirvana’s Nevermind was another one of the best and most controversial album covers of all time. The artwork depicts a naked baby ostensibly swimming towards a dollar on a fishhook, both as a nod to the band’s view on commercialism and materialism as well as Cobain’s own fascination with underwater birth.
The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
As a literal work of art, the cover image for The Velvet Underground & Nico is often credited to Andy Warhol himself, though it’s still unclear what exactly Warhol did in terms of creating the original banana print.
As a seminal album from the ‘Summer of Love,’ both the music and artwork for the album embody the era’s intoxicating sense of curiosity. Early versions of Warhol’s now iconic banana print were rumored to have read, “Peel slowly and see.”
How to Preserve Your Vinyl Record Covers
Whether you have some of the most famous album covers of all time in your collection or you’re a fan of some more obscure releases, these are the best ways to keep your sleeves in mint condition:
- Invest in premium outer sleeves (and consider framing the best album covers in your collection if they’re truly collector’s items.) For context, the most expensive vinyl record ever sold happened to be Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which sold for an astonishing $2 million. Even if you’re not sitting on a multi-million dollar goldmine, outer sleeves made from a durable, clear material such as high-density polypropylene can help preserve cardboard and paper sleeves records are packaged in.
- Get yourself some heavyweight, acid-free inner sleeves. At Big Fudge, we produce inner record sleeves that are both alkaline and acid-free, with exterior instead of interior seams. This makes it easier to slide records in and out without wearing down or tearing the sleeve. The rounded corners we use also help ensure perfect fits for any cover out there.
Preserving the Best Album Covers of All Time
At Big Fudge, we love helping vinyl lovers keep their collections in mint condition. Whether you have just started collecting or you’ve been enjoying your collection for decades, read our blog for the best record cleaning tips, vinyl storage inspiration, and music news.