It must have been around Christmas time in 1970. A London-based Rock band called Smile was playing at the Greyhound in Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, West London. They were doing okay, but they were nothing special. At the time, better bands were doing the pub circuit. But then things changed.
A name change to Queen. The singer changed, and finally, “Deaks” completed the lineup on bass in 1971. Who would have thought that 50 years later, we would be looking at the Top 10 Queen Album Covers?
- From Vinyl To CD… No Thanks
- All About The Covers
- What Makes One Album Cover Better Than Another?
- Some In-House Knowledge
- Top 10 Queen Album Covers
- Interested in Great Album Covers and Rock Music?
- Top 10 Queen Album Covers – Final Thoughts
From Vinyl To CD… No Thanks
In terms of cover art for albums, that was one big letdown. The ‘LP’ was able to accommodate great designs. The album cover mattered, and it became an art form all on its own. Then came the folding album cover. Now, we had four sides to look at. Some included posters of the band or advertising material as an insert to keep if it was a live gig.
As for CDs? Hopeless. Fiddling around, getting paper a tenth of the size out of a plastic box. Yuk! Not the same at all. Album cover art had been made less effective, just like the sound of what was inside. The ambiance had gone on the record and the cover. Welcome home, vinyl.
All About The Covers
That is what this list is all about. We are not choosing the album covers to look at based on the content inside. For example, two of their greatest tracks, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions,” were on the album News Of The World. So, it might surprise you that that particular album cover has not been included here.
What Makes One Album Cover Better Than Another?
All subjective, of course. But, personally, it is a visual that reflects what I expect to find and hear inside. It is supposed to create excitement and anticipation of hearing what they have offered. I suppose that is why ‘live’ albums often have the most exciting artwork, usually in the form of a great picture taken from the concert.
But, that isn’t all. Some albums can attract you through the clever use of photography or designs that could be almost cartoon-like at times. Some could even have a melancholy feel, of course. Reminding us of something that we have lost. That is especially poignant where Queen is concerned.
Some In-House Knowledge
Freddie Mercury had gone to Art School in London. Johnny Deacon had a GCE “A Level” in Art. There was an in-built appreciation of color and design already there. They would’ve known what they wanted and what looked good. The other two, Roger Taylor and Brian May, were both degree graduates from reputable universities. They weren’t stupid.
So, what about the Top 10 Queen album covers? What was chosen to represent the music and, perhaps more importantly, represent them? Let’s take a look at Queen’s top 10 album covers.
Top 10 Queen Album Covers
10 A Night At The Odeon
In terms of the band, let’s go back, geographically anyway, to their “home.” They weren’t necessarily born there, but they had spent years in West London, studying and then playing.
The Greyhound in Fulham is just a fifteen-minute walk down the Fulham Palace Road from The Odeon. The better local bands played at The Greyhound. But, when you were “big news,” it was The Hammersmith Odeon.
A Night At The Odeon was recorded on Christmas Eve, 1975, but it was not released until 40 years later, in 2015. Freddie in a “concert” pose outside this famous old Rock Music venue is the album cover. Where else could we have started?
9 Sheer Heart Attack
This was their third studio album, released in 1974. It became their best-selling album reaching #2 in the UK and #12 in America. Of course, this is the album that gave us “Killer Queen.”
Nothing particularly creative in the artwork, just a simple enough photo for the cover. The four of them look like they’ve just come off stage and are stretched out on the floor. But it is very effective, and why it’s one of the best Queen album covers.
8 A Kind of Magic
Our first glimpse of some creative artwork is the cover of the album, A Kind Of Magic. This was the first album to be released after their triumphant performance at Live Aid in 1985. The album went to #1 in the UK but only reached #46 in America.
This was the album that gave us “Who Wants To Live Forever” and “One Vision.” The cover was designed by Roger Chiasson, an animation artist and artistic director. He had previously worked for Hanna Barbera and Disney over the years.
7 A Day At The Races
A Day At The Races was Queen’s fifth studio album, released in 1976. It reached #1 in the UK, Japan, and Holland and #5 in America. They were on a roll now, but there were still a few rumblings.
Queen was seen as very much a “Creative Rock Band.” But, in some people’s eyes, that creativity was starting to go a bit far. This album contained, shall we say, some different ideas. However, it also produced one of the greatest Rock songs, “Tie Your Mother Down.”
The artwork for the cover was created by David Costa. His original work sold for nearly 30,000 UK pounds at an auction. It was a different type of artwork for a Queen release, but there was also something very eye-catching about it.
1973 saw the release of their first album. Freddie had made a huge difference to the band from that night at the Greyhound three years before. Now, they were unrecognizable.
He had given them his keyboard skills and on-stage persona and one of the greatest Rock Music voices ever. But there was something else. He had lifted the other three as musicians. They had always been good. Now, they were excellent.
They were packing out auditoriums now, but in the main many were coming to see Freddie and his antics. The album cover of their first album reflected that.
5 Made In Heaven
Moving forward now to 1995, and yet another successful album. Made In Heaven topped the album charts in the UK, Holland, Germany, and Sweden but only reached #58 in America.
Freddie died in 1991, and during the recording of this album, 4-5 years before, he was very sick. The band had been told this would be his final album, and he came into the studio when he felt up to it. It would be the last album they released as a band and the only album released as “Queen” after his death.
Most of the album was put together by the other three from bits and pieces he was able to record before he died. The artwork and photo on the album cover were created by Richard Grey. He said he wanted to depict Freddie pictorially leaving this earth as he would have wanted to – in a typically defiant pose. To this day, it remains one of the greatest Queen album covers ever.
4 Queen II
Back to happier times now and the second Queen album from 1974. This was the iconic Queen album cover that brought them worldwide attention. It was designed and photographed by Mick Rock, who was also David Bowie’s photographer. He is known as the man who photographed the 70s.
Mick knew that if you get attention through the cover, then people are more likely to listen to the music. And, of course, once they listened to it, they were well on the way.
Queen II was the album that brought the revised version of “Seven Seas Of Rhye” with the vocals. Originally, it had been an instrumental only.
On To The Last Three
Queen was noted for many things. But, above all else, it was the live performances that set them apart. No better place to finish this list than with the album covers depicting what they do best.
3 Live Killers
Released in 1979, this was a double album that consisted of tracks recorded during their ‘Jazz’ tour in Europe in early 1979. It reached #3 in the UK, #4 in Germany, #9 in Holland, and #16 in America.
The cover may have been a mock-up of the end of a concert with the band pictured against the lights. True, the album itself wasn’t the best that they produced from live shows, but we are here for the cover. And, that says a lot.
2 Live Magic
As the 70s turned into the 80s, some were beginning to think that Queen was on the downturn. Something was missing from the albums, but then there came a change of fortunes.
That happened at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13th, 1985 – Live Aid. Their live show slapped the doubters in the face and just said, “Watch out, we are still around!” It was Freddy’s finest hour as he conducted 80,000 people to sing and clap to “Radio Ga Ga.” That started a chain reaction of great concerts, and the Live Magic album was a poignant history of three of those 80s shows.
It was recorded back at Wembley and in Hungary, but mostly at Knebworth in Hertfordshire in the UK. The tour was in support of their album, A Kind of Magic. I say poignant because the Knebworth concert in August of 1986 was to be the last ever Queen live gig with Freddie as the frontman.
1 Live at Wembley ’86
The Live at Wembley ’86 album was recorded on just one of the ‘Magic’ tour dates, the 12th of July. This was one of the performances that made up the ‘Magic’ tour. But no tracks recorded on the 12th of July were used in the Live Magic album.
The London concerts were sold out, and right on cue, Freddie and the band did their bit. We were watching possibly the greatest live Rock performance ever at those 1985 gigs. But we just didn’t know it at the time.
It was a momentous live performance…
Even better than Live Aid. And Mr. Mercury once again returned to Wembley like a conquering hero to hold the 80,000 in attendance in the palm of his hand.
What sort of album cover could you give something like that? Precisely what they did give it – the greatest Rock frontman ever in front of his adoring “home” crowd in London.
Interested in Great Album Covers and Rock Music?
Well, check out our thoughts on the Best Album Covers of All Time, the Top 10 Led Zeppelin Album Covers, the Best Rock Drummers of All Time, the Different Types of Rock Music, and The Many Hand Signals Used At Rock Concerts for more insight and music.
And you’ll want to listen to that music. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, or the Best Sound Quality Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Top 10 Queen Album Covers – Final Thoughts
Sadly, some album covers look like the designers went home early. Queen‘s designers, however, managed to produce some good covers. More importantly, I think, not only eye-catching but relevant ones. Mick Rock got it right with his idea of grabbing attention through the cover. It worked, but as I said, it had to be relevant to the band.
Did They Lose Their Way?
Now, this might upset one or two, but Queens’ albums were sometimes very strange. To me, it seems they had moments where they seemed to lose their way musically. They were a Rock band, not preparing for a performance at La Scala in Milan. Having said that, some of the “alternate” songs they created, like “Who Wants To Live Forever,” were memorable and still are.
But, what they did better than the majority of others was put on a show. And that was largely down to Freddie Mercury. So, if you want to make album covers relevant and exciting, it isn’t rocket science, is it? You know who has got to take center stage. No doubt, Queen’s best album covers achieved just that.
Until next time, happy listening.