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Album Art: We love you, please don’t go away.

February 22, 2010

Greetings to all you artists, art lovers, and art critics.

Recently, I was listening to music via my iPod, and I came across a song I liked, but I had forgotten some of the lyrics to it. I searched for the CD booklet to look up the printed lyrics, but could not find the booklet, nor the CD case it came in. I eventually found the lyrics online, but the experience got me thinking about CDs as a whole. With music fans sassing, “I don’t care if it’s not legal, I want music, and I want it now,” the era of CDs is slowly going the same route as the cassette tape — into obscurity. More and more people are purchasing (or “sharing”) their music online, in a completely digital format.

But before you say anything, let me be clear that this is NOT a rant about how you should all go to your local record store and buy their CDs (although I do think we should). What I am concerned about is the album artwork that gets lost in this transition from physical to digital.

I started thinking about the days when I’d go buy a CD from a store. The first thing I’d do (after ripping off the cellophane and stripping the top sticker off by some sheer force of will) would be to pop open the case and peruse the artwork and lyrics — even before listening to the music. Most of the time, the better the artwork was, the better the music was. Perhaps this was my eyes telling my ears what to hear, but even now, I still admire the artwork of some of my favorite albums from years past.

The truth is that music and visual art go hand-in-hand. If you were to name your top 5 favorite albums of all time, chances are those album covers are memorable to you as well.

Albums that have spent quite a bit of time in my CD player and iPod are, to name a few:

Catch for us the Foxes by mewithoutYou (2004)
Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate (1994)
Shortest Day of the Year EP by Bears (2007)

Each album is unique and amazing it its own right, as is the artwork. I still go back every now and then to appreciate the paintings, sketches, and drawings that go alongside the lyrics to some of my favorite songs.

Digitally downloaded music (legal and illegal) has lived up to its hype, and definitely deserves a place in the music lover’s life. Some albums even come with digital album artwork. There’s just a feeling of excitement and nostalgia I get when looking at my old album covers through scratched and cracked plastic that I don’t get when viewing my entire iTunes library; it’s as if I’m holding history in the palm of my hand. It assures me that as long as there’s good music, there will be good art to go with it.

Which albums have had your favorite artwork to go along with the music?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 11:53 am

    I love album art. Although 99% of my music is digital, I can’t keep anything unless it has album art. The music isn’t complete without it. If it’s too obscure and I can’t find any album art, it goes in the trash. There always has to be album art. It’s part of the music.

  2. Eugene permalink
    February 22, 2010 7:31 pm

    So hard to pick just a few covers out of the vast, amazing array that’s out there, but off the top of my head right now these ones are pretty cool:
    Death From Above 1979 – Heads Up

    GZA – Liquid Swords

    Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson

    The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde

    Lovage – Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By

    Nightmares on Wax – Smoker’s Delight

    Funkadelic – Uncle Jam Wants You

    Funki Porcini – Fast Asleep

    Bad Company UK – Shot Down on Safari

    Pendulum – Hold Your Colour

    Kid606 – Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You

    Radiohead – Kid A

    J Dilla – Welcome 2 Detroit

    The Strokes – Is This It

    Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecolegyst

    Aesop Rock – Bazooka Tooth

    Quasimoto – The Unseen

    The Chemical Brothers – Come With Us

    King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King

  3. February 22, 2010 8:30 pm

    Top 5:

    1. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

    2. Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective

    3. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

    4. Ok Computer – Radiohead

    5. Axis: Bold is Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

  4. Matthew L permalink
    February 23, 2010 12:34 am

    I’m still working on my music collection but recently having gone lowest of the tech to vinyls my fave thus far
    1. Joshua Tree, U2, 1987
    I mean the photography in itself is amazing, with the large vinyl cover you can actually see the detail of the landscape and come on Bono wasn’t in goggles and the Edge had hair.

    2. Paradise Theater, Styx, 1980

    Not only does it rock both the best and worst of times front and back cover of the Paradise Theater the actual vinyl has a holographic on it of the band name and the arches of the paradise theater on side b

    3. Soundtrack from Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same”, 1976

    Now the cover art might not be anything to ride home about, but with 4 sides of jimmy page make his guitar ejaculate awesome and photo collage inside of scenes from the film… oh yeah, great, but i digress…

    4. Infinity, Journey, 1978

    Sure on a cd it looks cool and retro, but upsclose this vinyl cover has some ill detail, late 70’s cutting edge graphics! to the max! Back cover: shot of the band, oh Steve Perry with your top 3 buttons undone… such a man, and Neil Schon with your perm the size of Texas, you.. are… awesome!
    with such classics as wheel in the sky, lights, anytime, feeling that way… awesomeness

    5. Third Stage, Boston, 1986

    Who can forget the classic “organ”ic mother ship launching the band pod to the Earth below… Plain as it may be back cover tells the story “It took six years to conceive and complete this album. No orchestral instruments or synthesizers were used to create the sounds. Each individual piece of music relates to a human experience. And together they tell the Story of a journey into life’s Third Stage”

    I concur, my dear Panama. the more awesome the album art, clearly the greater the classic.

  5. February 24, 2010 8:51 am

    I have a different philosophy on album art. As a graphic designer I feel like I need to understand the use of album art. But I really feel like the music is what makes an album artwork good or not. Maybe it’s just the fact that art is in its postmodern state but sometimes I see the art for my favorite bands and I think ‘wtf’? But after I listen to the music the album art grows on me and I can no longer separate the too. That’s what album artwork is supposed to do. It’s supposed to be transparent so that the music comes first. I can’t really say what album art is my favorite. The music makes me bias.

    My favorite art is probably Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction”. It’s this eerie picture of the side of a girl in a red hood. With the allusion to Red Ridding hood, it is the perfect representation of the album title, “Gimme Fiction.” But I’m pretty bias because that album is hella good.

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