CURIOSITIES

10 iconic album covers in music history

Although today music is listened to almost exclusively digitally, there was a time when, in order to sell physical records, it was also important to make iconic covers.

Music in fact is art in all respects and it is not only the tracks that count, but also the images: throughout history, unique covers have been made, full of stories and legends about their creation.

Here are ten historical covers, represented by photographs or realised through graphics, and the stories behind their creation.

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Some covers are true works of art
Although today music is listened to almost exclusively digitally, there was a time when, in order to sell physical records, it was also important to make iconic covers. Music in fact is art in all respects and it is not only the tracks that count, but also the images: throughout history, unique covers have been made, full of stories and legends about their creation. Here are ten historical covers, represented by photographs or realised through graphics, and the stories behind their creation.
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Abbey Road - The Beatles
This is the only cover of the Liverpool band on which neither the album title nor the band's name appears. The shot was taken by Iain Macmillan, who on 8 August 1969, standing on a ladder in the middle of the street, captured the scene: of the six shots, the fifth was chosen, where the Fab Four were well lined up. This cover contributed more than any other to the legend of Paul McCartney's death. Here are some of the alleged clues: Paul is the only one barefoot and out of step with the others, the number plate of the Beetle parked on the left would indicate Paul's age if he had been alive at the time of the record's release, and on the opposite side a large black van is reminiscent of those used by the mortuary police in road accidents. The pedestrian crossing in this famous photo is now a tourist attraction: hundreds of visitors every day pose to have their picture taken at the famous 'Abbey Road' pedestrian crossing.
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The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground
It is impossible not to recognise the iconic and provocative cover of the New York formed band's debut album. The banana depicted was conceived and designed by Andy Warhol and in early copies of the album, by 'peeling' the banana, i.e. removing a sticker, one could see a shocking pink banana, a clear reference. The early copies are very rare, as the cost of producing the print, made with a special machine, was very high.
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The Dark Side of The Moon - Pink Floyd
Light passing through a prism to realise the colour spectrum: a simple idea, but not trivial and in perfect harmony with the theme of Pink Floyd's concept album. The design was created by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson of the famous Hipgnosis studio, which has done many historic covers, including those of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. It is said that the inspiration for the cover came from an image of a prism found in a photography book.
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Born in the U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen
The photo of 'Born in the U.S.A.' was taken by Annie Leibovitz (professional photographer who also took the last photo of John Lennon, five hours before his death). Bruce Springsteen has said that the idea for this cover was unintentional: so many different shots were taken, and in the end everyone agreed (including The Boss) that the image depicting only Bruce's backside was the most iconic.
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Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
The cover of 'Aladdin Sane' features one of the most famous and iconic images of Bowie's career. Photographer Brian Duffy believed that the lightning bolt design was inspired to the singer by a ring that belonged to Elvis Presley: in fact, the image aspired to represent all the nuances of the singer-songwriter's personality. From the various shots, the photographer chose a frontal, downcast-eyed image in which the expression would be contemplative, in full contrast to the harsh lightning bolt dividing the face. The tear on the collarbone, on the other hand, was Duffy's idea.
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Nevermind - Nirvana
The baby on the cover is Spencer Elden, photographed at the age of 4 months in a swimming pool in Pasadena, California, by photographer Kirk Weddle: obviously the dollar note hanging from a hook was added in post-production. The idea for the image had come to Kurt Cobain after watching a documentary about giving birth in water. In 2008, Elden offered again to redo the same photograph and was portrayed in Bermuda shorts, in the same pool as then: he also tattooed the words 'Nevermind' on his chest. However, on the 30th anniversary of the record's release, Elden filed a $150,000 lawsuit against the people involved in making the cover, claiming that his image was exploited.
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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
Created at Paul McCartney's suggestion by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, this cover is a collage in which the Fab Four inserted some symbolic characters, with the idea of gathering an audience in front of whom they would have liked to perform. Among the figures are: Albert Einstein, Marlon Brando, Karl Marx, Edgar Allan Poe, Sonny Liston, Lenny Bruce, Aleister Crowley, Laurel and Hardy, Lewis Carroll. Even on this cover there would be clues to McCartney's alleged death: for example, on the back cover Paul is the only one photographed from behind.
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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
The album cover recasts a still from the video of the 'Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg' disaster, a German airship that caught fire at the Lakehurst Air Station, New Jersey. In the disaster, which occurred on 6 May 1937, 35 of the 97 people on board died. After seeing the cover that juxtaposed the name 'Zeppelin' with the Hindenburg tragedy, Countess Eva von Zeppelin, granddaughter of Count von Zeppelin (famous designer of the eponymous airships), threatened to sue Led Zeppelin for illegal use of the family name: during a live performance in Copenhagen in 1970, the band had to call themselves 'The Nobs'.
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Horses - Patti Smith
The cover of Patti Smith's debut album was taken by the famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, her partner at the time and later a great friend. The photo is iconic because it shows the singer-songwriter dressed in men's clothing (a provocative choice at the time), recreating an equally famous posed photo of Frida Kahlo.
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Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division
The cover of Joy Division's debut album was created by Factory Records graphic designer Peter Saville. The image is famous because it depicts, in inverted colours, a series of electromagnetic waves produced by the pulsar PSR B1919+21, the first neutron star ever discovered: to look at them, these waves seem almost hypnotic and may remind one of mountain peaks or real sea waves. Today, this image is printed on t-shirts worn by many people around the world.
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