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8 Iconic Album Covers and the Stories Behind Them

The experience of listening to and collecting music has changed over the years, with streaming having long since surpassed physical media, commercially speaking — a development that has in turn led to a resurgence of vinyl (and, to a lesser extent, even cassettes) among purists. One major reason the 12-inch LP will never die? The primacy of eye-catching cover art. Here are eight iconic album covers and the stories behind them. www s

Elvis Presley: "Elvis Presley" (1956)

They didn’t call him Elvis the Pelvis for nothing. Featuring a black-and-white image of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll in the heat of performance, Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut also showcases his first and last name in bold pink and green lettering. The photo itself was snapped during a performance at Tampa, Florida’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on July 31, 1955, by William V. “Red” Robertson (not, as was thought for years, famed music photographer William "Popsie" Randolph, who took the photos that appear on the album’s back). Incidentally, Elvis wasn’t even the headliner at the performance in Tampa that night; that honor belonged to Andy Griffith, who sang and did comedy routines. The actual album was short and sweet — its 12 tracks run just 28 minutes — while its legacy was anything but, as another entry on this list will make clear.

The Velvet Underground & Nico: "The Velvet Underground & Nico" (1967)

Peel slowly and see. Not many album covers feature text unrelated to the music contained therein, but not a lot of album covers were designed by Andy Warhol either. Not unlike his “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” the cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico is as simple as it is recognizable: an unpeeled banana with a few brown spots here and there. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Warhol also managed the band and was credited as producer on the album, though their professional relationship didn’t end well — the band fired Warhol after the album failed to gain traction. (At least initially; to say esteem for The Velvet Underground & Nico has grown in the years since its release would be putting it mildly). The album’s commercial failure also spawned a famous quip by Brian Eno, who saidthat while the album only sold some 30,000 copies in its first five years, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

As for the banana itself, you really could peel it (it was a sticker); doing so revealed a pink version of the fruit whose symbolism spoke for itself. Peeling the sticker also drastically reduced the album’s resale value, however, as unaltered copies are now highly valuablecollector’s item

The Beatles: "Abbey Road" (1969)

Arguably the most famous album cover of all time, one that has been endlessly imitated and inspired countless tributes, Abbey Road is also quite simple. It consists of nothing more than all four Beatles walking across the eponymous street in front of the since-renamed EMI Recording Studios, where they recorded their last album together. Seven or eight different versions of the iconic photo were taken by Iain Macmillan on August 8, 1969, and he only had about 15 minutes to do so — that's how long a police officer was willing to hold up traffic while Macmillan stood on a stepladder.

For all that, Abbey Road wasn’t the album’s original title. Everest was floated as a possibility, after the brand of cigarette that engineer Geoff Emerick smoked while it was being recorded, but the band balked when it was suggested that they travel to the Himalayas for the photo shoot. It’s also the first and only Beatles album not to feature their name (or that of the album) on the cover. John Kosh, who designed it, “insisted we didn't need to write the band's name on the cover” for the simple reason that “they were the most famous band in the world.” Well, he wasn't wrong.

Pink Floyd: "The Dark Side of the Moon" (1973)

Elsewhere in artwork that doesn’t feature the name of either the band or the album, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon may be the only album cover whose legacy gives Abbey Road a run for its money. Designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, a design group that was also commissioned by everyone from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to T. Rex and AC/DC, it depicts light being reflected into color by a glass prism. Six of the seven colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet) are featured, with only indigo missing, but the more important number may be three. The prism, light beam, and color spectrum were apropos of the band’s iconic light shows as well as keyboardist Richard Wright’s suggestion to “do something clean, elegant and graphic.” Mission accomplished.

The Clash: "London Calling" (1979)


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