Top 5 Album Covers of All Time (Plus 15 Bonus Tracks)

In 1938 Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss, who is credited with inventing the concept of album covers and cover art. Since then, album covers have been capturing our attention and helping to sell the music that’s contained inside.

Covers are a key variable in the music marketing equation—acting as a bridge between music maker and music buyer. They give a face to the music both before and after it has entered a listener’s ears, representing the concept or message of the album and the branding of the artist. When done effectively, an album cover amplifies the impact of the overall product.

Marketing Benefits of a Strong Album Cover

Here a few ways an effective cover can help drive interest in an album…
  • Entices the eyes – On a basic level, it makes people take notice of the album and want to check it out
  • Increases interest – In the same way strong packaging can make you want a product more, an album cover can make you want that album more. If you’re between two albums, the cover could be a (subconscious) deciding factor.
  • Creates conversation – Sometimes the cover of an album itself becomes a talking point. This has been the case for many albums—from The Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers to Nirvana’s Nevermind to Kayne West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A recent example is Pusha-T’s Daytona.

5 Exceptional Examples of Awesome Album Covers

On episode 101 of the Speaking Human podcast, we each shared our picks for our favorite album covers and what we liked about them. Here are the covers that cracked our lists…

1. (Tie) Back In Black / Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC

Without knowing it, on the podcast we both picked AC/DC album covers in our top 3—but different ones doing very different things. The Back In Black album cover is a study in minimalism, standing out with its stark black background and gray band name/album title. The cover resembles a tombstone, which was appropriate since this was AC/DC’s first album after the death of original lead singer Bon Scott.

ACDC Back in Black

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap plays expertly on the album’s great alliterative title with a cover that’s suggestive without actually really showing anything. By placing black bars over average people’s faces, the cover tells us there’s something we’re not seeing here—and that really gets the brain churning.

ACDC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

2. Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Red Hot Chili Peppers

With its strong white-grey-black-red color scheme, tattoo-like imaginary, and strange symmetry, the cover for Blood Sugar Sex Magik presents a band just about to hit it big. It’s both at once simple and complex to look at. There’s a funky style to this cover that stands out, fits with the music, seems ready to be printed on a t-shirt, and has somehow aged like a fine wine.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik

3. Animals – Pink Floyd

This album cover presents a large factory with big smokestacks in front of picturesque skies. Look closely and you’ll also see what appears to be a floating pig. It’s not super clear, nor does it call immediate attention to itself, but it’s there for observation. Mix that detail with the not-quite-real color and contrast, and you have an album cover that—like a lot of Pink Floyd’s music—gives you a lot to process.

Pink Floyd Animals

4. Room on Fire – The Strokes

This cover for the sophomore release from the New York art-garage-rock band is actually a piece of artwork created in the 1960s and commissioned for the album. Despite the fact this is a pre-existing work, it fits perfectly with The Strokes aesthetic—giving fans a colorful yet subdued and moody piece to ruminate on that’s as enjoyable and slippery as the band itself.

The Strokes Room on Fire

5. Master of Puppets – Metallica

This visually striking cover gives viewers a lot to chew on. The Metallica logo hovers above a cemetery field of white crosses with puppet strings connected to the crosses manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood-red sky. It speaks to the title, creates an ominous feeling that fits with the music, and provides imagery you think about as you listen to the album.

Metallica Master of Puppets

Bonus Tracks: 15 More Amazing Album Covers

These covers didn’t quite crack our final top 5 list, but we still love them enough that we felt compelled to include them as bonus tracks…

1. Nevermind – Nirvana

Nirvana Nevermind

2. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

3. Things Fall Apart – The Roots

The Roots Things Fall Apart

4. Evolve – Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons Evolve

5. London Calling – The Clash

The Clash London Calling

6. The Chronic – Dr. Dre

Dr Dre The Chronic

7. Cosmic Egg – Wolfmother

Wolfmother Cosmic Egg

8. Janet – Janet Jackson

Janet Album Cover Janet Jackson

9. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

10. The Resistance – Muse

Muse The Resistance

11. Aquemini – Outkast

Outkast Aquemini

12. Ten – Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam – Ten

13. Hands All Over – Maroon 5

Maroon 5 Hands All Over

14. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine Album Cover

15. The Ultimate Experience – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix Experience Ultimate Album Cover