Opinion - Top Ten Album Covers

Marc Nash wears his art on his record sleeve as he picks his Top Ten Album Covers...

Okay pop pickers, first some rules:

1) No skulls or Grim Reapers

2) No scantily clad women (even if they are the artists, with apologies to The Slits for their fine cover for the “Cut” album)

3) No rap artists wearing ermine or brandishing high end product placement (or guns)

10) So coming in at a creditable number 10, The Pogues with their cover for their second album “Rum, Sodomy and The Lash”. It references a famous nineteenth century painting by Géricault “The Raft Of The Medusa” of the survivors of a shipwreck, only the band members have replaced the front-facing crew members. What was seen as a heroic and epic image in the original painting, here takes on something more prosaic, as with the band’s reputation, it is not water they thirst for but ale and whiskey.

9) The Clash - “London Calling”. This cover is so iconic, it is THE punk rock image, even though Pete Townsend had been smashing his guitar in similar fashion for years by the time Clash bassist Paul Simenon was captured here by “New Musical Express” photographer Pennie Smith. But it was the spindly, splay leggedness that represented punk, the music of the drainpipe trouser don’t forget and distinguished it from its flared and glam predecessors. Ironically the pink and green lettering was directly referencing Elvis Presley’s “Rock and Roll” album, but that was the point of it, this album was iconoclastic, attempting a break with all that had gone before. Full disclosure, I was part of an anthology of music fiction which used this image replacing the bass guitar with a typewriter after the lovely Ms Smith had given us permission to use the image.

8) Pink Floyd - “Wish You Were Here”. And while we’re talking of iconic, the artwork here tends to get eclipsed by that for “Dark Side Of The Moon”, which is criminal really, because both front and back covers here are extraordinary. The man in flames calmly shaking hands on the front, the faceless (and fleshless) suited businessman who runs the music industry on the back are typical of Roger Waters’ gripes with the music biz that permeates every part of his oeuvre. I once bought a book on how they set up these images. Back then we didn’t realise it was what we now call merchandising. Clever sods these music business types.

7) The Fall - “Dragnet”. The Fall have released N to the power of n+1 albums, but this is a stand out one from the rest as it isn’t a hand-drawn, graffitioed mess as most of the subsequent ones were. Strong, simple clear lines and the reverse negative halves of black and white are very pleasing to my mind. The spider and the butterfly, prey and predator are a powerful, resonant image, although my one criticism would be the type chosen for the album’s name “Dragnet” with it’s ridiculously capitalised letter ‘D’ in the middle of the word.

6) Public Image Limited - “Metalbox”. Johnny Rotten always was a perverse one wasn’t he? I don’t know if the album design was his idea or not, but it was wonderfully self-abnegating. Why did round vinyl discs come out of rectangular record sleeves? Not for PIL, they put their second album in a film reel can, a more logical geometric fit. Sadly the vinyl always warped inside its metal sepulchre and was unplayable, so much so the album was re-released with a conventional sleeve which bore no resemblance to the rather elegant simple design of the logo and nothing else of the original.

5) Geto Boys - “We Can’t Be Stopped”. Having said most rap albums disqualify themselves out by falling foul of all three of my eligibility rules, this cover manages to be even more disconcerting than any of them. It’s a real life picture of when band member Bushwick Bill was wheeled into hospital having persuaded his then girlfriend to shoot him in the face (an explanation behind this strange event can be found on Howard Stern’s radio show with Bushwick here). Bill lost an eye, yet here is still on a phone (note ye olde brick mobile), while less than amused fellow band members Scarface and Willie D wheel him on a gurney. The band were for me the hardest hitting rap group of any and this image is exactly what they would have put out there for a statement, but it is morally dubious; a band being their own ambulance chasers.

4) Killing Joke - “Killing Joke”. I like this because it is so fitting. A debut album so we don’t quite know what we’re going to get musically. On the cover, four shadowy figures have scaled a wall on which the band’s name has been spray painted and seem to be preparing for arson, a detonation or some such terroristic/revolutionary disruption. As the music inside also went on to suggest.

3) Lil Wayne - “Tha Carter III”. U2’s cover art for their debut album “Boy” may have been justified because the album was called, well “Boy”, but it verged on pedophiliac heaven. No such charge could be levied on this alienating and uncomfortable image of Wayne as a young child, worked up with facial and knuckle tattoos and a signet ring on his pinkie finger, gangster style. Kind of leaves you speechless, but it is genius.

2) Funkadelic - “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow”. Yeah I know, it could be argued that I am breaking my own rule here. The front cover is an African American woman striving with her arms upwards to suggest she is freeing herself, and the gatefold sleeve opens up to show her ass following. Funkadelic for all their batshit craziness were also about Black empowerment and the ensemble here is a rather beautiful and yes powerful image.

1) The Cure - “Three Imaginary Boys”. For their debut album, the three-piece Cure represented themselves by ordinary household objects of hoover, standard lamp and fridge. And it’s rather charming and unassuming and gives a hint to the low-fi nature of the music. This was before Robert Smith got all bloated with the Goth drunken make-up thing. The objects are both somehow solid and upright, yet also suggest a fragility because of their clunky design; none would be found in the home of anyone under the age of 40 these days. I love the clean simplicity of it, it’s not trying to do anything pretentious and the pink background was well before pink became a new metrosexual fashion.

Honourable mentions:

Led Zeppelin - “Physical Graffiti” (Rock’s advent calendar, went through many iterations)

X-Ray Spex - “The Day The World Turned Dayglo” (Does what it says on the tin, er cover)

Be-bop Deluxe - “Axe Victim” (Electric guitar as fetish object)

Dead Kennedys - “Frankenchrist” (No band name or album title, the image represents what the music will be against)

Ruts - “The Crack” (Punk’s “Sgt. Pepper” with spot the punk celebrity)

Marc Nash is on Twitter as @21stCscribe.

His books are available from Amazon here.

Images - Amazon

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