The simple image of (Minor Threat vocalist) Ian MacKaye's brother Alec sleeping on the steps of Dischord House (the place where many of the D.C. punks were living at the time, and where Dischord Records was founded) is fantastically powerful, and has gone on to be one of the most recognizable images in rock history. Alec's shaved head, the tattered clothes, the scuffed boots, the presence of refuse (located directly below the descending script of the band's name), and the contrast the bright color adds to the black and white image all work together in such a way to portray the no frills, all business attitude that Minor Threat brought to their music.

This cover art has gone on to be so much more than the cover for a 7". Minor Threat has used it themselves again on the compilation The First Two 7"s on a 12" and then again on their career retrospective Complete Discography. Other bands have paid tribute to it, most notably an album that made this list. Even corporate America couldn't resist attempting to snag the image.
joshthevegan: (Roland in Tull)
100 questions! )

Raymond Pettibon is possibly the most recognizable artist of the hardcore punk scene of the 1980's. His drawings were used as cover art and other promotional material for several artists, most notably his brother Greg Ginn's band, Black Flag.

It is because of this association with respected underground music that Sonic Youth reached out to Pettibon to design the artwork for their major label debut, Goo. In the early 1990's, a band that had established themselves in the underground music scene making the move to a major label was completely unthinkable. Corporate rock was seen as the antithesis of the artistic, integrity-laden music that bands like Sonic Youth were making, so by choosing Pettibon to design their cover, it is an unspoken way of assuring their fans that they were not eschewing their ideals by moving to a major, but rather seeking a wider audience for their particular brand of noisey art rock.
joshthevegan: (cully vale)

Following the success of his album Harvest, Neil Young's career took a decidedly unexpected turn for the obscure. A live album of unreleased songs that went unnoticed, followed by a recorded album that his label refused to release at the time because it was too raw and unrefined (Tonight's The Night), Young offered On The Beach as his first studio recording since his breakout record. If one were simply presented with the title, the immediate thought would likely be that this is a sunshiny, shallow record of pop songs. The cover art, thankfully, reveals that this record isn't a sunny day on the shore, but rather a gray, lonely day standing in a thin, misty rain, staring at something much bigger than you will ever be. This is an absolute case where the artwork is clearly needed to express the intent of the musician when naming the album.
joshthevegan: (Smalls)

At a time when bands were either embracing electronic sounds or trying to play as hard and fast as possible, Wisconsin's Violent Femmes strapped on acoustic guitars and, in the case of their drummer, a snare drum with brushes (and that's all) and cranked out some quirky, endearingly awkward songs influenced by folk and punk simultaneously, resulting in some of the best alternative music ever made.

The cover of their self-titled debut has gone on to be one of the most iconic covers not only in alternative rock history, but of any album released in the last 30 or so years. Personally I think it is the innocence implied by the young girl peering through the window that is tainted with just a little bit of dirt and grime and is slightly weathered by age that represents perfectly the musical and lyrical content of the album.

Following two outstanding (though largely monotone) records, Rancid's third offering is a smorgasbord of styles, tones, and moods. It is the first record that Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman had included ska styles on since their days in Operation Ivy, and it is also the first album where guitarist Lars Fredriksen seems to feel at home within the band. These are four guys that clearly love playing music with one another, and sincerely adore what they are doing. The sheer enthusiasm is infectious, and it makes this not only one of the best records of Rancid's career, but one of the best punk rock records of the 1990's.

The cover art is clearly paying homage to the legendary cover of the first Minor Threat E.P., on which Ian MacKaye's brother Alec is sitting on a set of concrete steps with his head down. In this case it is Fredriksen, and his mohawk and tattoos mark the difference between the scenes and generations in which both of these bands came from. This album cover became so instantly iconic, that many people might not have even known the fact that it was a tip of the hat to an older record cover.

For better or worse, Rage's self-titled debut is one of the most influential records of the last two decades. Although the rap/metal genre is largely saturated with music that is mildly annoying at best and unlistenable at worst, this early example of this blend of genres is incredibly successful and still sounds great today.

The cover art features a picture of Thich Quang Duc's legendary protest in a busy intersection in Saigon. His protest against the Roman Catholic oppression of Buddhists in South Vietnam consisted of dousing himself in gasoline and setting himself ablaze, during which he remained completely motionless. Photographs of this act (especially Malcom Brown's, the one included on the cover of this album and for which he won a Pulitzer Prize) circulated around the world, raising awareness of the struggles of Buddhists in that region of the world, and ultimately led to the assassination of the head of government in South Vietnam. This powerful image immediately portrays to the potential listener what they can expect from this record.
joshthevegan: (woody)

Around the time Pearl Jam was recording the follow up to their hugely successful debut, Ten, the members were involved in a number of struggles with the powers that be, most famously singer Eddie Vedder taking on Ticketmaster. In addition to these real conflicts, the media was painting a contest between Pearl Jam and fellow Seattle-ites Nirvana, which Pearl Jam has vocally said was a complete fabrication. It is for these reasons that they titled their sophomore effort Vs. (initially Five Against One for similar reasons).

The cover art, a black and white photograph of a sheep taken by bassist Jeff Ament, is representative of the way the band felt at the time. While they were grappling against things they found unjust with all their might, they still often felt like they were trapped in a cage.

On a personal level, I was 12 when Vs. came out, and the older guys that I hung around with at the time were all huge Pearl Jam fans, and they were among the 1.3 million people that purchased copies the first week the record was out. Seeing copies of this CD going around, I couldn't help but be drawn to this powerful image. It also didn't hurt that some of the best music ever recorded also happened to be included on the bright orange disc.

As I've mentioned in the past, my feelings about Nirvana are atypical, to say the least. Knowing that I would more likely cue up In Utero than Nevermind, it should come as no surprise that my personal favorite of Nirvana's covers is the one for Bleach. Sure, it's not as iconic as the baby swimming after the dollar (which, to be honest, is pretty damn great), nor is it as intangibly disturbing as the cover of Incesticide. But there is something about the negative of the shot of the band all rocking to the point their mop-tops happen to be flopping in their face at the same moment speaks to me about what I like about the early grunge scene, and Nirvana's first record specifically.
joshthevegan: (Roland in Tull)

Betty came on the heels of two fantastic albums and an appearance on a high-profile movie soundtrack (The Crow), successfully putting Helmet into the major leagues. It is their most experimental album, as it blends their crunchy, start-stop post-hardcore sound with elements of jazz, blues, and funk. These seemingly conflicting influences make Betty one of their most exciting listens, and sets it amongst the best post-hardcore records of its time.

The cover art seems immediately to be at odds with the grindy power-rock contained within the album, effectively expressing the unexpected nature of the record.
joshthevegan: (woody)

Bob Dylan's sophomore release, aside from being one of his most important and enduring works, features a cover image of Dylan and his then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo walking down the snow-covered streets of Greenwich Village where they were living.

The casual, "candid" photo was so different from the incredibly staged photos of artists that appeared on records of that time, that it practically screamed out loud. This iconic image went on to re-define what a cover of an album could be, and opened up the door for the possibility of every other entry on this list.
joshthevegan: (Roland in Tull)

Easily one of the most provocative album covers in the last decade-or-so, the photograph of Justin Sane's niece dressed in U.S. military garb was so controversial at the time of it's release, that some stores simply refused to carry the record with that cover, and a censored edition was created (with a now-dead URL listed to explain the censorship). The image becomes even more powerful when the artwork found on the inside and back of the packaging is seen.

This particular choice in my list is one that is here not because of the cultural impact it had, nor because of the impressive artwork, this one is here simply because of how it affected me in my adolescence. I clearly remember walking into record stores and seeing posters for this album hanging about and just thinking that the Beastie Boys looked so damned cool. I can't explain exactly what it was about the image that grabbed me so hard, but it did. Turns out there is some pretty damn good music on the record too (it's my favorite of theirs, as it is the middle ground between their punky roots, their funky instrumentals, their old school rap style, and the rapping style they developed in the 1990's).

Oklahoma's acid-drenched neo-psychedelic Flaming Lips have released an impressive catalog of fantastic music since their formation in 1983. Each and every one of their albums is worth exploring, but the ones that have been offered since the late 1990's are particularly excellent. 2002's Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is possibly their creative pinnacle, as they found the perfect balance between surrealist psychedelia and superb musicianship.

Yoshimi plays like a concept album (even though singer Wayne Coyne has stated emphatically that this was not the intention of the group), and the cover art of our titular heroine taking on one of the pink antagonists is a fantastic interpretation of that idea.

Descendents' first long player is credited with being one of the first (if not the first) melodic hardcore records. The blending of catchy melodies with speedy tempos topped with goofball lyrics about girls and conformity was a new formula in the early 1980's southern California hardcore scene, but it has gone on to become one of the most copied formulas in the genre.

The cover art was inspired by drawings that were made of (lead singer) Milo Aukerman in his childhood. A classmate would draw pictures of him depicting him as the class nerd, exaggerating his big, thick glasses and goofy hair cut. This caricature of Aukerman would be used as a template for many of the Descendents' subsequent releases, and has become one of the most immediately recognizable images in rock music.

I was first introduced to Tool's debut full-length album when I was in junior high. A friend of mine brought a copy of the album in to school to lend to me, and at the time I was not familiar with Tool's music at all, let alone this particular release. Even before I took the CD home and was wowed by the dark, grimy metal, I was totally affected by the artwork.

Nearly every aspect of the art from Undertow is unsettling. From the pictures of the band members with pins stuck into their heads, to the naked people embracing inside the booklet, to the "secret" picture found under the CD tray, the artistic theme of the album is incredibly dark, with most of the pictures washed in a deep sepia tone. The obvious centerpiece visually for this album is the bright red, stylized ribcage found on the cover. While looking at the booklet, one's eye is constantly drawn back to the cover because the red is the brightest color in the entire pallet, and the ribs seem (to me, at least) to be groping to embrace you, and there is something imperceptibly unnerving about that.

Social Distortion's 1983 debut blasted onto the hardcore punk scene, and stood high amongst the strongest releases in the genre at the time. Frontman Mike Ness' songwriting was incredibly powerful even at this young age. He was constructing songs of life on the road, alienation, and longing that wouldn't sound out of place amongst folk and country music greats of the earlier part of that century.

Social D was playing music that was more mature than their years with lyrical content a shade deeper than most of their peers, and the cover art for Mommy's Little Monster is also a bit more sophisticated than many of the images found on other hardcore albums from the early 1980's. There is no question that the cover of Bad Religion's How Could Hell Be Any Worse? is iconic (for example), but the apocalyptic imagery found on the sleeve of Ness and Company's debut is a fantastic achievement nearly as important as the music found inside.

Screeching Weasel's fourth album is one of their weaker albums, especially when compared to the fantastic releases that flank it. While the music that is found on Wiggle is not their best, few albums have artwork that is as instantly recognizable. The liner notes have this to say: "Front cover: Careful! This could be you someday!"

While the fourth and final studio album from the Kennedys is musically their weakest, the album art is far and away their best. The intricate, super-busy art looks like something out of the sketch book of an incredibly talented, albeit a bit disgruntled and hyperactive artist. Which is pretty fitting for the Dead Kennedys.

The artwork is even better once it is fully folded out:

joshthevegan: (woody)

Fugazi's fourth full-length marked the beginning of their journey into more avant garde music. They began experimenting with styles that they hadn't tried before, and in order to ensure the ambient sounds and textures would shine through, they took on the production responsibilities themselves. The result is an exciting, unique record that re-defined what it meant to be a "punk" band in the mid 1990's. The enigmatic cover art fits perfectly with this offbeat achievement.

September 2014



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