20 All Time Best Album Covers
The Beatles / Apple Corps
The all time best album covers are a complex discussion, yet we've wrangled down a list of what we know to be the best. It wasn't easy, but we did it.
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From the earliest days of recorded music, album covers have long been a way for musicians to express their artistic vision. Capturing memorable and eye-catching artwork on record jackets has become almost as important as the music itself in evoking emotion and identity. Through colorful compositions, striking visuals, and symbolic imagery, many iconic album covers are instantly recognizable symbols of generations past - they draw us into an artist's world while leaving lasting impressions. From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to The Velvet Underground & Nico, lo and behold, here is our list of the all time best album covers, across all genres and decades.
20. Green Day - 'Dookie' (1994)
First off on our list of all time best album covers is Green Day's third album, Dookie. The album included their most eye-catching artwork to date, and the music within left the same impression. Dookie proved to be memorable in many ways, and still carries an undying legacy to this day.
19. N.W.A. - 'Straight Outta Compton' (1988)
N.W.A's debut album included a very creative cover art to go with similarly describable songs; the artwork featured the entire group looking downwards at the camera, immediately putting them in a position of power before the first listen. The music would go on to solidify this notion, and their music has continued to shine over thirty years later.
18. Led Zeppelin - 'Led Zeppelin III' (1970)
Led Zeppelin's third album is not the only Led Zeppelin project to make its way onto our list (sorry for the spoiler). This album has scored the eighteenth spot on our list thanks to its qualities that were very uncharacteristic of artwork at the time. It stands out both visually and musically, to say the least. This album sounds notably different from their prior albums, and features an array of different vibes. You'll notice that while they retained their edge sonically and visually, they still made it clear they were continuing to evolve over and over again with each and every album they dropped.
17. Rage Against the Machine - 'Rage Against The Machine' (1992)
Rage Against the Machine has always been about social commentary. What could've been more fitting for their self-titled album than one of the most iconic photos of all time: the burning monk? They hit the nail on the head with the cover art, just as they did with the music.
16. David Bowie - 'Aladdin Sane' (1973)
David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album is so precisely characteristic of him, that it absolutely had to make its way onto this list. Rarely does an album cover have this ability to encapsulate an artist so accurately, and the music mirrored the same effect. Classic.
15. The Notorious B.I.G. - 'Ready to Die' (1994)
In 1994, The Notorious B.I.G. unveiled his first and final album while he was alive, which was ironically called Ready to Die. His next album, Life After Death was dropped a mere two weeks after his tragic passing. Through not just the title, but the corresponding image, this album tells a story of a long, vivid life lived by Biggie Smalls. The music does most of the talking, however.
14. Prince - 'Purple Rain' (1984)
NPG Records / Warner Records
Purple Rain is unarguably Prince's most popular album, primarily thanks to the classic collection of hits within. However, the album art just so happens to be one of the most memorable covers of all time, and even went on to inspire a mixtape cover for Future in 2016.
13. The Rolling Stones - 'Sticky Fingers' (1971)
Universal International Music
Sticky Fingers is an absolutely legendary Stones album, and rock album, for that matter. The classic album came with artwork that gave the same effect, and it features some of their most incredible songs of all time.
12. The Beatles - 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967)
The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was arguably one of their most popular cover arts of all time, and it was supposedly spearheaded by Paul McCartney. The cover features some of the most iconic characters of all time, and set the stage for an equally impressive project.
11. The Velvet Underground - 'The Velvet Underground & Nico'
Anything that Andy Warhol touches turns to gold, and no exception is made for the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico, which originally had an actual peel off which revealed a flesh-colored banana underneath. Peculiar, yet somehow entertaining, just like much of Warhol's other work.
10. Fleetwood Mac - 'Rumours' (1977)
Rumours is arguably Fleetwood Mac's most popular album, and the cover art has gone on to be remembered as a classic through the ages. Featuring Stevie Nicks and the band's drummer Mick Fleetwood, the album gives an interesting energy - not to mention the balls hanging from Mick's waist, which was supposedly not a joke at all.
9. Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' (2010)
What's more iconic than making people guess the image behind a blurred pane? Well, I think it's safe to say that everyone got the picture for Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to say the least. The album went on to be one of his best, as well. It continued not only a musical hot streak, but a cover art hot streak as well.
8. Miles Davis - 'Bitches Brew' (1969)
Miles Davis was ahead of his time in many capacities, but the cover art for his Bitches Brew album made it abundantly clear. This 1969 project still looks like something from the future, despite being over 50 years old.
7. Blink 182 - 'Enema of the State' (1999)
When you think Blink-182, it's safe to assume this album cover comes to mind. It was the quintessential angsty album of the era, in the cover and music within, they absolutely nailed it.
6. The Clash - 'London Calling' (1979)
London Calling is the best album from The Clash - there, we said it. Though many are familiar with the music within, did you know that the album cover is based on Elvis Presley's self-titled album? Only difference is, it gives an accurate statement of the evolution of rock that had taken place in the time since Elvis' reign as the king.
5. Kendrick Lamar - 'To Pimp A Butterfly' (2015)
Aftermath / Interscope / TDE
To Pimp A Butterfly was a bold statement from Kendrick Lamar, both musically and visually. He took his Compton roots and put it on full display with the cover art, placing an obnoxiously loud image of a group boasting money and alcohol in front of the White House, which definitely symbolized somewhat of a takeover at the time. Lo and behold, takeover he did.
4. Nirvana - 'Nevermind' (1991)
Nevermind is an absolutely unforgettable cover art, and largely thanks to the bare-naked baby that graces the cover, chasing a dollar. The image not only is blatantly explicit, but sends somewhat of a symbolic message that we're chasing a dollar from birth. Needless to say, the music that came with this iconic album was absolutely unforgettable. Talk about hits: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Come As You Are," "Lithium," "In Bloom," and "Something In The Way," just to name a few.
3. Pink Floyd - 'The Dark Side of the Moon' (1973)
Pink Floyd has made an incredible impact on rock and roll and music in general. Their album, The Dark Side of the Moon, was arguably their most impactful both visually and sonically. The album cover featured an image which has sparked countless symbolic theories. One thing is for sure, it's simple yet complex at the same time - and the music hits. Of all the artwork on our list of all time best album covers, this one has a particular character that has earned its place in the top three.
2. Led Zeppelin - 'Led Zeppelin' (1969)
Led Zeppelin's debut album boasted a cover that was a clear representation of chaos and the second half of their name. The music within backed the bold imagery, and set the tone for the rest of their impactful albums to come. Not only did it represent a checkpoint in the band's history, it represented the same for rock and roll history as well. While all of their albums featured memorable covers, this one was a carefully selected piece that was so indicative of the group at the wildly disorderly rock and roll that they would prove to release through the years. From their first to their last album, this cover sums it all up seamlessly.
1. The Beatles - 'Abbey Road' (1969)
Abbey Road is easily the most recognizable album cover of all time. Anybody that is old enough to read and write can likely identify the album as a Beatles project, that is if they can't name it specifically. Simple, yet effective seems to be the trend here across our list, and Abbey Road is the quintessential example of this theme. That is exactly why the album art has landed at the number one spot on our list of all time best album covers. The Beatles dropped many albums, yet this one is a clear standout for many reasons.