Music generally reflects the period it’s composed in. Something new comes from something old. And the roots and inspiration behind the most iconic album covers are apparent within the sound and imagery of each record.
Some bands did nothing more than plaster a photo of themselves on their hit album cover. In these cases, the novelty and new sound of the music sold itself.
However, visual artwork and music have always gone hand in hand, and some of the best albums to grace the charts owe part of their sales to the imagery adorning their vinyl iconic album covers and disc cases.
Let’s explore a few of the most iconic albums and how their album artwork became integral to each band’s public image and overall branding.
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
From a marketing perspective, the branding of Rubber Soul matched the times as much if not more than The White Album. Sgt. Pepper’s and The White Album are across almost all sources the premiere Beatles albums that helped form the musical and cultural landscape of the ‘60s. It wasn’t just the sitar and piano-electronica that pushed the band further away from teen-girl-bop and carved Rubber Soul into a more mature hippie niche.
While The White Album utilized negative space and minimalism to accentuate the title and depart from previous extravagant releases, the artwork on Rubber Soul was the Beatles delving not-so-subtly knee-deep into the counterculture.
We may remember the flamboyantly colorful collage of Sgt. Pepper’s and the frontal nudity of John and Yoko’s Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins.
The wavy and enlarging balloon typography resembled the pot and acid-induced characterization of the late sixties. To the uninitiated, this may appear at first blush as a simple and cartoony commercial attempt at pigeon-holing hippies.
However, it’s quite accurate – LSD hallucinations warp vision, and everything seems in constant flux and motion, as the cosmic explorer is “tripping.” Many people could relate to breathing walls and spirals of colors akin to a children’s kaleidoscope toy.
A generation was ingesting this specific drug during those years. They could all relate to the tie-dye enterprise that developed for all things hippie.
This album cover reflects the way the youth of the time were perceiving the world. They were the perceptions that blew minds open to new possibilities.
If your target customer is the young and hip, as most music caters toward, then the Beatles hit the psychedelic nail on every hippie’s head.
Talking Heads – Fear of Music
David Byrne pushed the boundaries of musical taste during the new wave of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The music is a captivating uproar of progressive Afro-rhythmic beats from a smooth operating band mixed with the elastic-genre-bending vocals of a tenaciously tepid, yet at times exuberant Byrne.
The diamond plate steel pattern adorning the album’s cover resonates an urban and industrial sentiment.
The band resided and recorded in New York City, and the imagery of this album cover speaks to city dwellers and modernizing society.
Is it a sewer cover or a steel door? The ambiguous close-up strikes a dark and somewhat melancholy chord, much like the overarching sound of the tracks within.
The green digitized font layers a futuristic and even sci-fi undertone to the mechanical image, bringing the foreboding Fear of Music album full-circle. It matched its sounds with the visual expression.
The texture of the artwork reflects the post-hippie modernization of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As society continued to be rocked by new music, this album layered every genre that had come before it.
The album avoided labeling or identification, as the Talking Heads so aptly did.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Most critics agree that Sticky Fingers was the Stones’ best album. It also had the most striking album cover that perfectly manifests the awkward adolescent title.
It’s hard to ignore the bulging male crotch shot (designed by Andy Warhol). Once opened, the album reveals another image within the man’s tightie-whities. Again, on the back cover is his bum.
The branding of this album will make sense to every man who has gone through puberty and each boy caught in the grips of the constant arousal of teenage years.
If your target audience is pubescent teens and college kids, obviously sex sells. The original album cover was released with a real physical zipper that could be pulled down to reveal the underwear within. Now that is good marketing.
The Doors – The Doors
The album that started it all, from The Doors’ musical legacy to arguably pushing the hippies into a confident counter-cultural movement.
Jim Morrison is a legend of epic proportions, living a life of myth and mystery. Morrison’s legacy continues to be the obsession of every teenager discovering the world of good music.
The branding behind the album’s cover art speaks volumes for The Doors persona. The band’s namesake hails from Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception.” The blending of band members into a surreal and mystical-nearly-prophet photograph of Jim Morrison captures the encompassing mental and spiritual exploratory attitude that is The Doors’ signature and brand.
Drummer John Densmore sits precariously inside Jim’s left eye. His position further emphasizing the theme of “perception.” The other founding members expand from Jim’s face in a circular arrangement.
As a high school or college-aged young adult, nothing is more intriguing than the experimental drug-laced image of Jim. He is beyond reality, nearly a figment of historical imagination. Yet, he is so real and human.
Beyond the photography is the band’s logo, which is composed of geometric typography. The cover resembles doorways and the psychedelia movement.
We can learn a lot about branding from band logos and iconic album covers, such as The Doors. The band has managed to capture their own identity within letters.
If your target audience is young, you can bank on experimental and open-minded ideas. On the flip side, if your brand’s audience is a more parental crowd, sticking to something a bit more conservative that exudes some maturity will be more effective.
Ramones – Ramones
Another self-titled classic that changed music forever. The days of on the brink music at CBGB’s are highlighted by the Ramones.
Finding their fandom niche at the club, the Ramones are cemented in the punk rock scene forever. Following the Ramones’ debut at CBGB were other big hitters. The likes of the Talking Heads, Blondie, and Patti Smith were also present.
The image on their self-titled debut album, released in 1976, captured the essence of the earliest punk rock generation in America. A simple photograph of the band leaning against a wall somewhere nearby CBGB’s is the backdrop.
The cover depicts the band wearing torn blue jeans and the iconic black leather jackets. Within this one image, the Ramones unwittingly encapsulated the punk rock movement of New York and immortalized themselves as it’s leaders.
A good black and white photo with an alternative dress code is a way of branding exclusivity. If you can look as cool as these guys, you’re in the club. The image has been merchandised beyond compare and spurred the trendy band t-shirt phenomenon that now decks shopping mall shelves.
The album cover is proof of how cutting-edge and trend-blazing sells. Marketing “cool” works and this rang true time and again for these bands that rose from gutters to the mainstream, take the Misfits never-ending merchandising goldmine as another example of how edgy sells.
Selling Iconic Album Covers
The artwork of these iconic music albums not only helped sell the records but they represented what each band stood for. Some of these albums shaped an entire generation and era.
Branding can influence people in surprising ways, whether it’s an original piece of art by a renowned artist or a black and white photograph, a good album cover or logo can eternally burn your brand’s identity into consumer’s minds.