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Top 22 Best Album Covers of All Time

Let’s face it; albums covers are a thing of the past. In these days of downloads and streaming services, there’s less ability or need to produce cover art. But in the days of yore, the cover of your CD, tape, or vinyl record was one more way for musicians and artists to express themselves.

Everyone who bought a physical copy also got to see the images you wanted to represent your band and music.

Some album covers are iconic and unforgettable…

In this list of the best album covers of all time, I’m going to remind you of the greats. These images are seared into the memories of countless music fans.

But also crossed over into popular culture. Helping to forge fashion styles, sub-cultural identities, and countless imitators, too. Here they are in no particular order.


Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley / London Calling – The Clash

Elvis Presley

With such classic songs as “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Blue Moon,” Elvis Presley’s 1956 self-titled album is legendary. The cover art is just as iconic. It boasts what we might call a very simple design these days. But back in 1956, this was an unusual cover.

The main image shows a photo of the young king of rock and roll wearing a snappy white suit, strumming the guitar, and singing his heart out. It’s not clear who took the picture at one of his live concerts, but the photographer Pospie Randolph was originally credited.

The lettering made this cover sizzle…

With a vertical “ELVIS” in pink and a horizontal “PRESLEY” in green block letters, this record screamed out to buyers from the store shelves.

And this is a design that has been copied or, more politely, paid homage to again and again. Big Audio Dynamite, Chumbawumba, and K.D. Lang have all had a shot at the design. But, The Clash certainly did it best.

The equally legendary London Calling album released in 1979 featured the same general design. The boys in The Clash were born in the 1950s and must have seen the Elvis album from an early age. But their rebellious punk ethos is shown in the main image.

In contrast to Elvis’ clean-cut happy image…

The cover art on London Calling is one of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the stage at a New York City concert.

This iconic image of explosive frustration perfectly summed up the punk sentiment of the time. And then turned the music industry on its head.

God Save the Queen / Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols

Since we’re in the punk realm, there’s one punk album cover art that stands out above all others. This is the graphic cover of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. 

This iconic album cover shows a picture of Queen Elizabeth II of England defaced. The title and band name cut and pasted over her eyes and mouth like a ransom note. The song and the cover were a protest against the monarchy in general and the UK in particular. It was so controversial that it was completely banned from the BBC.

This is cheating a bit…

That’s because that 1977 single wasn’t an album cover, just a single cover. Well, you’re in luck, because the album the song appeared on is just as famous. Or rather infamous.

“God Save the Queen” is a track from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, released in 1977. Its cover used a combination of trashy, mismatched, and misaligned fonts and shockingly bright colors to display the album and band name.

The title was so controversial that many record stores refused to sell it. “Bollocks” is a British slang word that can mean testicles or nonsense. The State tried the band for indecency over the album, but the Sex Pistols won.

Ramones – Ramones

Let’s keep with the classic punk theme for one more record. If the Ramones aren’t the godfathers of punk rock, I don’t know who is. The Queens, New York band toured in the UK and inspired a whole generation of youth to start their own 3-chord bands. Including the Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Their first album, 1976’s Ramones, features one of the most iconic and best album covers of all time. Photographer Roberta Bayley from the then Punk magazine shot the image in a dingy New York alleyway.

This image has been copied again and again in pop culture…

In black and white, it shows the four Ramones (Johnny, Tommy, Joey, and DeeDee) up against a brick and concrete wall that’s covered in graffiti. In their leather jackets and ripped jeans, the image was a perfect representation of the group’s hard, straight-ahead sound and attitude.

The Ramones returned to a very similar image for their 3rd album. Alvin and the Chipmunks recreated the image in Chipmunk Punk. And the punk band Screeching Weasel released an entire cover version of the album in 1992. Complete with a very similarly posed yet sloppier cover photo.

Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

Arguably one of the most bizarre album covers has got to be Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. If we want to talk iconic, this is far and beyond the album cover with the most icons on it.

There’s no forgetting the image of the band in their day-glow military uniforms. A floral BEATLES in the foreground and a stunning blue sky behind them. But, the group of wax and cardboard figures is the real story.

A Who’s Who Album Cover

This collection of 57 photos and nine waxworks includes some of the biggest stars and most important figures of the day. That list also includes the Beatles in their suits and moptops. The look that first made them huge.

Everyone who’s anyone is there. Sonny Liston, Mae West, Marlon Brando, Carl Jung, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, and Albert Einstein are just a sample of the notables.

This album was instrumental in changing the band’s image from clean-cut rock and rollers to psychedelic mustachioed proto-hippies. In 1967, it was a summary of 20th-century culture and a statement of a new direction.

Abbey Road – The Beatles

The Beatles didn’t stop at Sgt. Pepper. Arguably the most famous band ever, they had already progressed through a wide variety of album cover styles.

Even before Sgt. Pepper, they had gone surrealist and weird with Revolver. They’d tried out stark and simple with the White Album. They’d tried downright silly with Magical Mystery Tour. And they’d even become cartoons for Yellow Submarine.

But the cover of 1969’s Abbey Road was the first time since 1965’s Rubber Soul that fans got to see the Beatles dressed and looking normal. But that didn’t stop the album cover from generating controversy.

Simple, but Mysterious

The cover art has turned into one of the most iconic music images for two reasons. First and foremost, this album has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Meaning at least that many people have seen it.

In addition to that, the image of the four Beatles crossing Abbey Road generated one of the weirder conspiracy theories in music history.

John leads the Beatles procession in a white suit. Ringo follows in a black suit. Paul is next, wearing navy blue and, unusually, bare feet. George is in the rear, wearing a simple blue shirt and jeans.

Around the same time, the album was released…

A rumor began that Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by an imposter. The Abbey Road crossing was then interpreted as a funeral procession. John as a priest, Ringo as a mourner, Paul as a barefoot corpse (this was the imposter Paul), and George as the gravedigger.

Paul was 27 when the album was recorded and released. However, a license plate visible in the photo with the number 281F was interpreted as a message. It was intentionally misread as “28 IF” by fans.

Suggesting to theorists that Paul would have been 28 if he hadn’t died. Of course, the Beatles denied these theories.

But either way…

The image is one of the most recognizable album covers around the world. It has also been recreated innumerable times by bands, Beatles fans, and just about everyone else.

The Simpsons did it, and so did the Red Hot Chili Peppers for their The Abbey Road E.P. Wearing their trademark strategically-placed socks and not much else.

One final fun factoid about the album cover is that depending on which year the album was pressed, it may or not feature a cigarette in John’s hand. It was airbrushed out for certain territories for certain years.

The Velvet Underground and Nico – The Velvet Underground

It’s hard to categorize the Velvet Underground’s style. The New York group swung from rock and roll to psychedelic rock to noise. But it’s easiest to call them an avant-garde art-rock band.

The group was hugely influential for generations of musicians to come, even though they weren’t all that popular during their own time.

The Attention of Andy

The band started playing together in 1965, and by 1966 had attracted famed pop artist Andy Warhol as their manager. They worked with him on various performance art projects.

Then, in 1967, they put out their debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. This album featured cover art by Andy Warhol that has since become an iconic music image.

The First of its Kind

The cover is a simple white background with a pop-art painting of a banana smack dab in the middle. And while Warhol was a growing celebrity in 1967, this wasn’t enough for the artist to settle on.

Instead, he designed a peel-off sticker (labeled “peel slowly and see”). This would allow you to remove the banana peel to see the pinkish flesh of the banana underneath.

While this may seem gimmicky by today’s standards, it was a music first. And one that cost a lot and took a whole lot more time and work to produce. If you ever find a copy of this record with the original sticker in place, grab hold of it. They’re now ultra-rare collector’s items that can be worth big bucks.

Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones

In 1971, a band that needs no introduction, the Rolling Stones, put out Sticky Fingers. This album has since gone triple platinum, selling more than three million copies in the USA alone.

With songs like “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” and “Dead Flowers,” this is one of the best-known and most-loved Stones records out there.

The album cover art was supposed to be simple…

The band gave instructions to their chosen designer to keep it basic and easy to produce so that the release wouldn’t be delayed. Of course, their designer being Andy Warhol. He completely ignored these instructions to create one of the most difficult to produce album covers ever.

Warhol and his designers came up with the idea of a picture of a man’s crotch area in jeans with a real working zipper. Fans could zip down the zipper to reveal tighty-whities beneath. And, as if this wasn’t enough, the image of the model in tight jeans displayed a rather obvious bulge.

Sex Sells

Fans originally assumed this was a picture of Mick Jagger. After all, he was considered one of the sexiest men in rock and roll. However, it was revealed that a model was used.

To this day, it’s not clear who that model was as Warhol kept that secret close to his chest. Still, the image was sexually charged and helped the album to stand out.

The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd

In 1973, Pink Floyd released an album with a simple cover image. And yet this image has become one of the most recognizable and most re-produced album cover images in music history.

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was released in 1973 to critical acclaim and unbelievable sales. It propelled the psychedelic/progressive rock band to international fame and recognition. The album is certified as 14x platinum in the UK and is one of the highest-selling records of all time.

The cover itself was designed by George Hardie and Hipgnosis. Meant to be a representation of the band’s lyrics and stage lighting while also using a bold graphic image.

Embodying Originality

Unlike almost every other record in history, there is no text on this album cover. Nowhere does it say the band or album name. This was apparently a very hard concept for the record company to swallow. Good thing they did.

The prism dispersing a beam of white light into a rainbow has become one of the most iconic images relating to music ever. And it’s everywhere, despite the diminished popularity of Pink Floyd. These days, you can get it on a t-shirt, a coffee mug, or even golf balls.

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

If the Beatles can have two of the best album covers of all time, then Pink Floyd can, too. The cover of The Dark Side of the Moon was simple and bold. Creating a new direction for album cover art into the future.

However, the band didn’t follow that new direction themselves for their next album, 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Using the Hipgnosis designers again, they went in a startling new direction once again.

One of Floyd’s founding members, Syd Barret, had been ousted from the band in 1968. After what could have been drug-induced behavior changes. The Wish You Were Here album was written partly as a tribute to him, and the designers took that to heart.

Something unheard of in the music industry…

They used a black cellophane wrap to intentionally hide the album’s cover artwork. Representing the idea of the absence of Barrett. However, they then placed a sticker on the wrap showing an image of two robots shaking hands. This was a hint of what was to be found inside.

The actual cover image is still one of the most talked about album photos in music. It shows two businessmen shaking hands on an empty movie studio lot. Except one of the men is on fire.

The photographer, Aubrey Powell, used two stuntmen for the shot, one wearing a fire-proof outfit under his business suit. Even though these precautions were taken, he still lost part of his mustache in the shoot.

Have A Cigar

The image is a clear statement about the music business and deals in general. The man on fire is getting burned in the deal he’s making by his own hand. And this echoes the disillusion with the music industry found in some of the album’s lyrics.

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against the Machine

Pink Floyd’s astounding album cover was created by a photographer and stuntmen. Yet, there’s another burning image that came from a totally different source.

Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album was released in 1992 and exploded in popularity. The band’s angry, energized political lyrics electrified more than just music fans.

The band also became a loudspeaker for the youth of the day. Revolting against the seemingly unbridled excesses of the 1980s and issues of social injustice. The cover image for this album reflects all these themes.

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

The album cover shows a photo of the self-immolation of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức. A photo captured by journalist Malcolm Browne in 1963. The monk sacrificed himself in protest against the South Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists.

This shocking act of protest helped to inspire President John F. Kennedy to get involved in Vietnam. He said, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” It also became a fitting cover for Rage’s first album.

Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

Perhaps not so obvious, the cover of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew had a strong political leaning. Miles Davis is one of the most original, innovative, and forward-thinking players and composers in jazz. So, it’s also fitting he is on this list of the best album covers of all time.

In 1970, this jazz legend had begun experimenting with electric instruments. Blending them into his sound and creating the beginnings of jazz-rock and fusion music. At the same time, the artist was exposed to the brew of new social and political ideas floating around the US.

The cover image was painted by psychedelic and surrealist French-German painter Mati Klarwein. While the front cover is extraordinary in itself, the gatefold album opens up to reveal the full front and back cover image.

Reflections on the Future

While the front cover is dominated by a bright, daytime sea and sky, the back is a dark starry sky. This interplay between light and dark elements was meant to represent the music inside and also the racial tension of the times.

The black figures on the front and surrealistic figures on the back speak to a sort of black futurism. An idea that Sun Ra and other artists had been playing with.

However, the unity of the whole piece shows a tandem or a complemented whole. The space and futuristic images also point towards the new directions in art and music that this album represented.

Aladdin Sane – David Bowie

Aladdin Sane

Not long after Bitches Brew, the legendary David Bowie released Alladin Sane. By this point, Bowie was a star, and the record was highly anticipated. It also marked a return to the David Bowie name after his previous record under the pseudonym, Ziggy Stardust.

However, on the cover of 1973’s Alladin Sane is probably the most recognizable image of Bowie, even if he’s not his Ziggy here.

The cover is a simple head and shoulder shot of the artist. Although because of the intentionally costly color system used to print it, it was the most expensive album cover art ever produced up to that time.

Solidifying the Bowie Style

This cover stands out because of the make-up. Bowie’s hair is dyed red in stark contrast to his pale, silvery skin. His face is cut in half by a lightning bolt that divides it into two parts.

One side is meant to represent Bowie’s wild and theatrical stage presence. The other side, his introspective and quiet side. A teardrop is also pooled on his collar bone, perhaps representing some lost innocence.

Having sold over a million copies worldwide, this image of Bowie became seared in the consciousness of his fans for decades to come.

Queen II – Queen

Just a year later, Queen made music history with their latest album Queen II. This album was a new direction for the band. It was harder-rocking and involved more progressive elements and experimentation. And the cover stands out as one of the most iconic music images of the 70s.

Freddy Mercury and the boys were photographed by rock photographer Mick Rock. He had previously worked with Ziggy Stardust (Bowie), Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. Here, they wanted a glamorous and striking cover to go with their glam rock personality as a band. And they sure got one.

The Stuff of Legends

It shows the band in a sort of diamond formation. The deep black background envelopes them, and only their heads and Mercury’s hands stand out. The lighting used creates deep shadows and adds an incredible dramatic element to the image.

This image was later recreated in the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the band’s most well-known work. The four members sing in harmony in the same lighting and formation that helped to make this album cover iconic.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin chose their name as a sort of joke. The idea of Led Zep’s Jimmy Page starting a band with The Who’s Keith Moon and Peter Entwistle, as well as Jeff Beck, was considered to be a failure in the making that would go over like a lead balloon, or even a lead zeppelin.

So when Page got together with Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, they decided to not only use this joke name but also reinforce it with the artwork. Their 1969 self-titled debut album shows an image of the famous Hindenburg airship catching fire.

While the use of this image was controversial, it has been lauded by art critics. The phallic ship on fire seemed to encapsulate the sex, energy, and tragedy of the rock scene at the time.

A special note…

This 1937 disaster that killed 36 people was still fresh enough in people’s minds that in 1970 it led to a concert promoter being threatened with legal action.

Eva Von Zeppelin, a relative of the creator of those airships, had seen the cover logo and was furious. She threatened to sue if the band played a planned concert in Copenhagen.

Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division

Joy Division was a short-lived yet highly influential band that brought about a change in the music scene. The dark and brooding sounds of this band created what is now known as “post-punk” music. It had a huge influence on acts like the Cure and New Order.

The 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures was ahead of its time in many ways. But one of them was the cover art. The image on the cover seems like a simple line drawing on a black background but has a lot more depth to it.

A Message from the Stars?

The strange squiggly patterns represent radio waves received from space. They’re the energy signature of a pulsar, a highly magnetized neutron star. It doesn’t matter whether or not you recognize these waves as a message from space. The image is so iconic you’re sure to recognize the cover art.

Unlike many of the best album covers of all time on this list, Unknown Pleasures was not a massive commercial success. However, it was a cult classic that holds an important place in music history. And so does its cover.

Nevermind – Nirvana

What was Nirvana? A grunge band? A punk band? A shock-rock group? Whatever the band was, they were providing the right sound at the right time in the right place.

Kurt Cobain has been called “the voice of his generation,” and his angst-filled lyrics still resonate with many. And so does the image for the cover of the band’s breakout record, Nevermind.

The blue cover features a baby swimming towards a reward – or punishment? – a dollar bill on a fishhook. It’s simple but an incredibly memorable image. One that has been recreated on t-shirts, posters, and the covers of over 30 million copies of Nevermind.

Relevant to This Day

The baby was photographed in a baby swimming class, and the bill and fishhook were added later. No one was really fishing for babies, no matter how strange you might think the Nirvana boys were.

At the same time, the baby who was photographed has grown up. And is now trying to sue the remaining members of the band for exploiting him as a child.

The Number Of The Beast – Iron Maiden

I’ll be straight up with you. The Number of the Beast is probably Maiden’s best-selling and most popular album. That’s why I chose it for this list. The art, though, is pretty much at the same level for each Iron Maiden record. It’s always charged, scary, and edgy.

They always feature Eddie…

Now, if you’re not familiar with Iron Maiden, you might not know who Eddie is. But the band’s mascot has appeared on all of their album covers. That now totals 41 albums, so you’ve probably seen him before.

Eddie is a sort of heavy metal demon or zombie monster who was created by artist Derek Riggs. He’s usually shown with his skin partly or fully missing, so you can see his sinew. And his electrifying eyes stare deep into your soul.

I remember seeing Maiden posters featuring Eddie when I was a kid, and they gave me nightmares.

Layers of Meaning?

On the cover of The Number of the Beast, Eddie is seen as the puppet master, controlling a less-frightening Satan like a marionette. If this suggests to you that Maiden is even more badass than the devil, then you get the point.

But if you look even closer, the Satan figure is controlling a puppet of Eddie – just to mess with you.

Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.

Now we’ve talked about a lot of rock, pop, and even jazz covers already. But hip-hop has its icons, too. And the N.W.A. album Straight Outta Compton has got to be the most memorable of all.

Whether or not you’ve never seen this cover before, the image is instantly recognizable. A bunch of hard gangstas standing over you scowling, with one holding a gun that’s about to end you.

Gangster Rap Goes Mainstream

The image is something that was rarely, if ever, seen before in the media. The violence portrayed by the photographer staring down the barrel of Eazy E’s gun was something that most audiences had never seen.

The feeling of the cover photo kept with the lyrics of the Compton crew. Those lyrics from Arabian Prince, The D.O.C., Ice Cube, DJ Ren, and Dr. Dre were explicit and violent.

The FBI sent a threatening letter to the record company, and many record stores refused to sell it. But gangster rap was destined to become a new hot genre, and the album went platinum anyway.

Ready to Die – Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G. only released one studio album while he was alive, and Ready to Die was it. In 1994, Biggie Smalls dropped this album, and it was an instant success.

Over the years, his bars and the tight productions have stood up to the test of time. The album has gone 6x Platinum, selling nearly 4 million copies. It could be in part due to the great cover.

Innocence Lost?

While Biggie’s lyrics referenced his life as a young thug coming up, the image on the cover is one of innocence. On a clean and simple white background, a baby with a big afro stares at some hopeful future.

It was meant to represent the B.I.G.’s beginnings. Although, the baby was a model and not an old Biggie baby photo. Either way, this was an image that was impossible to get out of your head.

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

When Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, it was an instant hit. One that blasted the artist to number 1 in its first week of sales. The diverse musical styles and themes brought Lamar a wide audience. The album cover certainly didn’t hurt either.

Like nothing we’d seen before…

Shot as a somewhat blurry black and white, the main image imagines an alternative history for America. A group of mostly shirtless black men and boys, and even a baby, posing in front of the White House. Showing off fat stacks of cash and celebrating over the body of a dead judge.

This strong statement of celebration has the men triumphing over a broken judicial system. It is an image that speaks to racial tensions that exist today as much as ever in America.

Interested in Awesome Albums and Songs?

We can help with that. Have a look at our handy articles on The 20 Best Jazz Albums of All Time, the Best Songs About Friendship, the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Change, the Best Songs About Dreams, and the Best Songs about Friday for more great music options.

You’ll need to listen to all this music. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones Under $200, the Best Bass Earbuds, the Best Wired Earbuds, and the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones you can buy in 2023.

The Best of the Best Album Covers of All Time

So, that’s my list of the best album cover art of all time. I’m sure you’ll have some favorites that you think should have been included here. And, maybe you’d argue against some of my choices, too. But all of these covers are here for a reason.

Some of this art was revolutionary and never done before. Others were shocking and controversial. Some helped to create new aesthetics and sub-cultures. And some were just brilliant. But, any way you slice it, music is just that much better with cover art.

In our current world of streaming and auto-run, it may be worth it to step back and look at the important role visual art has played in music history. And how it helps to explain and illustrate the music; it’s there to represent.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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