The changing trends in music in the second part of the 60s encouraged new approaches to presenting records. To match the spirit of experimentation on the tracks, the covers had a tendency to lean towards the abstract and the surreal. While album artwork in popular music had traditionally featured straightforward portraits of the artists, designers like Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of the art group Hipgnosis challenged this convention. As a result, covers became works of art in their own right, complementing the music in interesting ways.
With psychedelia infiltrating both music and the visual arts, the boundaries between the different art forms became blurred, and they followed the same path for a short period in history. This phenomenon influenced even bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who are not usually associated with the psychedelic movement. Below are some of the finest examples of album cover design from the 60s.
Although officially released as ‘Yardbirds’ in the UK, the record’s more popular title ‘Roger the Engineer’ derives from the cover art: a drawing of the album’s audio engineer Roger Cameron by guitarist Chris Dreja.
One of the most famous on this list, the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ cover was designed by pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, based on an ink drawing by Paul McCartney. The collage of famous people surrounding the band includes 57 cardboard cut-outs and nine waxworks.
Photographed by Joel Brodsky, the cover of ‘Strange Days’ depicts Manhattan street performers and has a bizarre, Felliniesque feel.
Another piece of album artwork that will never be forgotten, Velvet Underground’s debut had Andy Warhol’s banana print as cover image. In early copies of the record, the banana skin could be peeled back to reveal a bright pink banana underneath.
The cover art of T. Rex’s debut album is just as complex as its title, consistent with the music itself. It’s a spectacular illustration of the magical themes present throughout the band’s work, designed by George Underwood.
A drawing by singer Phil May was used as the cover of one of the first concept albums. The artwork perfectly summarizes the essence of the story, which follows the protagonist from his birth through the miseries of life and into old age.
Graphic artist John Van Hamersveld designed the cover for Jefferson Airplane’s fourth LP, featuring duplicates of the band members trapped inside a mushroom cloud in a profound anti-war statement.
The second one on this list designed by George Underwood, the artwork for Procol Harum’s second album is a brilliantly disturbing, surreal and dystopian landscape.
‘The Book of Taliesyn’ was illustrator John Vernon Lord’s only album cover design, inspired by the 14th century Welsh manuscript “Book of Taliesin”. The artist is not to be confused with Deep Purple’s keyboardist John Douglas Lord.
This was the first album cover Phil Travers had created for the Moody Blues, who asked him to visually represent the concept of meditation. Travers did a magnificent job, and it’s no surprise that he’d gone on to work with the group for many years.
Designed by Armando Busich, the cover of ‘Heavy’ shows the band members performing next to a monument to the human ear.
Simple but striking, Tom Weller’s artwork depicts the rising Sun smile lovingly (or sinisterly?) at a group of people just starting another day in the Universe.
Another classic example of art meeting music, Led Zeppelin had chosen Sam Shere’s photograph of the Zeppelin company’s Hindenburg airship catching fire as the cover image for their debut album. The use of the picture and the name had caused Eva von Zeppelin, a relative of the aircraft’s creator, to issue a legal threat, and, as a result, the band performed as “The Nobs” in Copenhagen in 1970.
Inspired by Indian spiritual master Meher Baba’s teachings, International Times art director Mike McInnerney conceived an abstract plane illustrating the inner world of the deaf, dumb and blind protagonist, and the desire to break free from the confines of this world.
This was the third of the many album covers the London-based art design group Hipgnosis had created for Pink Floyd. The same picture is shown within itself repeatedly, except the band members switch positions each time.
Computer programmer Barry Godber painted the portrait of the opening track’s “schizoid man” to serve as the cover for King Crimson’s debut. Godber never created any other album artwork and died a few months after the record was released.
The surreal sculpture on the famous ‘Let It Bleed’ cover was designed by Robert Brownjohn, who was inspired by the album’s working title ‘Automatic Changer’. The fact that it has nothing to do with the final title only adds to the artwork’s avantgarde atmosphere.