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The bright and vibrant world of album covers

by Cathy B | Sep 07, 2016

One thing I have noticed working in the Art, Music & Media Department is how creative much of the CD cover art is.  Sometimes it blows me away.  I was very happy to have found a section of books on the art and graphics of album and cd covers.  Here's a look at seven titles I absolutely loved, along with sneak peeks of some of the covers they feature:

1.  Jazz Covers by Joaquim Paulo

Jazz CoversA collection of over 650 of the most celebrated and rarest Jazz album covers from the 1940s through the early 1990s.

The first section of Jazz Covers is a series of interviews conducted by Joaquim Paulo with denizens of the jazz community:  art directors, record store owners, producers, sound engineers, authors and jazz critics.  These interviews are filled with a rich and detailed history of the business and the genre.

The second section presents top 10 favorite album cover lists by 12 jazz DJs, complete with a detailed history of the artwork and the graphic artist as well as the impetus for the album itself and the musicians. 

This is a thoroughly fascinating work and I would think it would be a must for the serious student of jazz and its history.  I only wish there were a few more hours in at least some days so that I could have time to really pore over it!

Two of my favorite covers featured in this book:

 Anatomy of a Murder              Goodness

Anatomy of a Murder/Original Soundtrack, Duke Ellington, Columbia Records 1959

Houston Person
Prestige, 1969



2.  Album Cover Album by Storm Thorgerson and Roger Dean

Album Cover AlbumThe charming preface by Peter Gabriel:

“We are here to inaugurate – 30 years on- the facsimile reprint of the Album Cover Album – the first in the definitive series.

It celebrates the glorious art of the album cover.

Remember them, record sleeves?  Physical objects to possess, touch, sniff, scrutinize, read and savor – not so easy in the digital world.

What would musicians be without their sleeves?  Uncovered and undiscovered.

Now we send our little babies out into the world naked and we wonder why they catch a cold.

Sweet memories,

Peter Gabriel, June 2008”

Album Cover Album is a history of records and how they have been packaged.  There are sections on jazz, psychedelia and influences.  A section compiling various artists’ portfolios highlights the wide range of artistic talent found in this genre.

I thought I’d be able to choose my favorites but I can’t, there are just too many that I like.  A few that jumped out at me when I flipped through the pages:

 Ozark Mountain Dare Devils              Billie Holiday God Bless the Child

The Ozark Mountain Dare Devils, A&M 1974 (ACA p47). I love the use of the quilt design, and the choice of this particular quilt.


Billie Holiday/God Bless the Child, CBS 1972   I love the watercolor portrait and the light shining through the gardenia.

 Lighthouse 68              Skies of America

Lighthouse ’68 The Jazz Crusaders, Pacific Jazz    I love the vibrancy of the color and the energy of the design.


Ornette Coleman, Skies of America, London Symphony Orchestra, Columbia 1972


3.  Factory Records, The Complete Graphic Album by Matthew Robertson

Factory RecordsThis book is wonderful!  I absolutely had to make myself stop looking and start writing.  It is a compilation of covers from and history of the British company Factory Records.  From the introduction:  “From the outset, Factory played with a set of visual codes that would act as a beacon for the like-minded, and possibly as an active deterrent for the uninitiated general public.”  It was a completely new direction for album cover design.

Cover designs range from an early 20th century still life by Henri Fantin-Latour to designs evoking minimalist artists like Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra.  There is also a hint of Ellsworth Kelly and Gerhard Richter.  Beautiful stuff! 

Here's a peek at my favorites:​

 A Certain Ratio              Duretti

A Certain Ratio, Sextet 1982


The Durutti Column, LC 1981

 Happy Mondays              True Faith

Happy Mondays and Karl Denver, 1989


True Faith, New Order, 1987

4. The Blues, Album Cover Art edited by Graham Marsh and Barrie Lewis

The Blues“No image recurs more persistently or powerfully through the iconography of the blues than that of the man with his guitar.” Intro, Keith Briggs

Album covers from the time when the blues became recognized as a genre in and of itself, separate from jazz and folk music.

My favorites:

 John Lee Hooker              Harmonica Blues

John Lee Hooker, Black Rhythm’n’ Blues Festival, 1969


Harmonica Blues, Yazoo, ca. mid 1079s

5. Blue Note, The Album Cover Art edited by Graham Marsh, Felix Cromey and Glyn Callingham

Blue Note"One jazz music label, Blue Note, created a cool, recognizable house style and this strong identity was summed up on John Coltrane’s Blue Train.

The image encapsulates what music listeners found on the album: cerebral, stylish and complex nocturnal jazz.”  Travis Elborough

A history of the label and the images of the covers makes this book very readable and enjoyable. 

The album cover that "sums" up the style of Blue Note:

 Blue Train              

    Blue Train, 1957


6.  In the Groove, Vintage Record Graphics 1940-1960 by Eric Kohler

In the GrooveWork by Alex Steinweiss, a pioneer in record design, and those who followed, Jim Flora, David Stone, Rudolph deHarak, and Erik Nitsche are featured in this groundbreaking survey of vintage album covers.

"In the Groove pays homage to the great covers created by legendary designers for the music giants of yesteryear.”

At a time when American pop music came into its full popularity and the music rose to its historic popular heights, the artwork on album covers became iconic as well.  Mr. Kohler had a passion for, and collected, the early jazz albums.  As a graphic designer he was heavily influenced by these albums.  Most of the covers are from his collection.

I love these covers for their highly stylized graphic design.  The artists were certainly influenced by the avant garde styles that were flourishing in the art world at that time.

Bix and Tram
             Billie Holiday

7.  1000 Record Covers by Michael Ochs

1000 Record CoversThis book follows album covers from the 60s through the 90s.  The artwork is an expression of the time in which it was created and a sweeping history of those decades is explored through these 1000 albums.  The book is divided into decade sections with a synopsis of each.

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