Doug Thompson headshotI love album covers!  Not the shrunken down versions they use on CDs, I mean those gloriously creative (mostly) 12” vinyl record album covers.  I was looking through my vinyl record collection the other day and marvelled at some of the amazing designs of some of the covers.  Now, before we start delving into some classic album covers as well as a few personal favourites, a little history is in order, but don’t panic – there will not be a quiz later.

Alex SteinweissAlex Steinweiss was the first Art Director for Columbia Records and generally regarded as the inventor of the album cover.  The term ‘album’ originally meant a collection of 78 rpm records individually housed together in paper sleeves with a hard front and back cover.  Steinweiss designed covers for numerous 78rpm ‘album’ releases, then began designing for Columbia Records brand new 10” and 12” LPs.  His album covers usually incorporated original drawings and ranged from classical to jazz and orchestral releases.  In 2008, fifty original Steinweiss album cover artwork went on display at a Santa Monica, California art gallery.  If you’re interested in looking at the origins of the album cover and some of Alex’s work, check out  There’s also a coffee table book, originally published in 2011 but still available in many bookstores, titled “Alex Steinweiss:  The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover”.


Robert FreemanJust like their music, each Beatles album cover was so different!  So unique!  From the stark black and white reality of “With The Beatles”, their second British album cover in 1963, which featured the four half shadowy Beatles photographed by Robert Freeman to the psychedelic style photo, (also shot by Freeman), of the Fab Four on the “Rubber Soul” cover.  This was the first Beatles album that did not have their name on the cover, highly unusual for 1965.  In “The Beatles Anthology”, Paul McCartney recalled how the “Rubber Soul” cover came to be “Bob Freeman had taken some pictures ‘round at John’s house in Weybridge.  Back in London, he was showing us the photos [from his] carousel of slides and he had a piece of cardboard stuck up on a little chair that was album cover size and he was projecting the photographs on to it, ‘cause you could imagine exactly how’d it’d look then as an album cover, which is a good way to do it.  We all liked ourselves in one particular shot, and he was just winding up when the cardboard  fell backwards a little bit and it elongated the photo, stretching it…and we went, ‘Oh, can we have that? Can you do it like that?’  And he said, ‘Well, yah I can print it like that’.  And we said, ‘Yah, that’s it.  Rubber Soul, man’.” 

Bob WhitakerThen there’s 1966’s controversial album cover for “Yesterday and Today”, aka the ‘Butcher’ cover.  Bob Whitaker’s infamous photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo in white butchersmocks, adorned with slabs of raw meat and parts of baby dolls so offended the head of EMI in England, Sir Joseph Lockwood, that he demanded that it be withdrawn within days of its release in North America, thus making it an instant (and extremely expensive) collector’s item.  A sealed ‘first state’ (as originally released by Capitol Records U.S.) butcher cover sells for upwards of $20,000+ today.  Instead of destroying them all, Capitol simply glued many of the covers over with the replacement photo of ‘The Boys’ sitting around with luggage trunks.  That’s known as ‘second state’ butcher cover.

Peter Blake1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a cover that was voted # 1 in a 2008 Rolling Stone Magazine readers Poll.  It’s definitely iconic, art designed and created by Peter Blake and his wife and partner Jann Haworth.  The late Michael Cooper took the actual photo (Cooper also shot The Rolling Stones parody cover for “Their Satanic Majesties Request”).  So much has been written about the “Sgt Pepper” cover, that there’s not much else to say.  Probably the most famous parody (besides The Rolling Stone) was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s “We’re Only In It For The Money”.

Iain MacmillanNext, we come to the famous “Abbey Road” cover.  It was just before noon on August 8th, 1969 when freelance photographer Iain Macmillan, a friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s, climbed up on the step ladder he’d placed in the middle of Abbey Road in St. John’s Wood area of London, just outside the EMI recording studios.  A London ‘Bobby’ held up the traffic flow while John Lennon led the procession across the road in his white suit, followed by Ringo Starr, dressed all in black,  then Paul McCartney in bare feet and George Harrison in blue jeans brought up the rear.  Several shots were taken of The Beatles crossing back and forth across the road and that was that…another album cover shoot done.  Except that when the ‘Paul Is Dead’ rumour began in 1969.  McCartney had supposedly been killed in a car crash in 1967 and replaced in The Beatles by look-a-like William Campbell aka Billy Shears).  The rumour spread internationally, thanks to WKNR Detroit DJ Russ Gibb.  Beatles fans found all kinds of symbolism in the cover – John’s white suit implied that he was the minister officiating at Paul’s funeral, Ringo was the undertaker, George the grave digger and of course, Paul was the corpse.  He had to be dead, because on the cover, Paul is barefoot and out of step with the other three, plus he was holding his cigarette in his right hand (Paul is famously left handed).  Oh dear, oh dear.  Another silly rumour, but it did help sell millions more albums for The Beatles and EMI.

Details of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ theory as it relates to the “Abbey Road” cover can be found at:  “Abbey Road’ knock off covers include George Benson’s 1970 album “The Other Side of Abbey Road”; Booker T and the MG’s “McLemore Avenue”, also 1970.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers 1988 release, “The Abbey Road EP”, had the four members of the band crossing the same Abbey Road zebra crossing as The Beatles, only they’re stark naked, except for socks on their c***s.

If you can’t sleep some night and want to see what’s going on at that famous Abbey Road crossing (during daylight hours, fans can often be seen emulating The Beatles cover shot walk while trying to avoid the busy traffic), there’s an Earthcam operated 24 hours a day at


R. CrumbComic book creator R. Crumb has created many delightfully colourful covers utilising his distinctive art style. That includes any album by Eden and John’s East River String Band, to 1968’s “Cheap Thrills” from Big Brother and The Holding Company (Janis Joplin’s first successful group).

We definitely can’t forget Hipgnosis, the graphics group that created a dozen iconic album covers for Pink Floyd, including “A Saucerful of Secrets” (1968), “Dark Side of The Moon” (1973), “Wish You Were Here” (1975), “Animals” (1977), “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” (1987), “”Delicate Sound of Thunder” (1988), “The Division Bell” (1994), “Pulse” (1995) and others.  HipgnosisStorm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell and later partner Peter Chrisopherson also created award winning, legendary album covers for other groups, including 5 covers for Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, 10cc, AC/DC, Scorpions, Genesis, Def Leppard, Yes, Al Stewart, The Alan Parsons Project and Paul McCartney & Wings.  Several books featuring their album graphics have been published, including 2008’s “For The Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis)” and 2013’s “The Gathering Storm: The Album Art of Storm Thorgerson”.  Anyone interested in checking out more info, go to:

Roger DeanRoger Dean is a British artist and designer who’s imaginative art you’ve seen on “One Fine Morning”, the 1970 album cover for Canadian jazz/rockers Lighthouse, eight Asia album covers, several for Uriah Heap, plus two dozen Yes album covers, beginning with 1971’s “Fragile” up to and including 2011’s “In The Present – Live From Lyon”.  More at

Here in Canada, we have world calibre photographers and album cover designers from Dimo Safari, the German born world class photo journalist (and personal friend to many of the rock Hugh Symestars he shoots), whose photos adorn album/CD covers for Kim Mitchell, Larry Gowan, Rough Trade, Styx, Alice Cooper, Supertramp, Celine Dion and many others –  to JUNO award winning Canadian designer and musician Hugh Syme.  His unique paintings and designs have graced many a Rush album cover as well as covers for the band Toronto, Queensryche, Def Leppard, Klaatu, The Jeff Healey Band and many more.  Check out some of Hugh’s original art at:

Then there’s ‘Pop Art guru’ Andy Warhol.  His unique album covers include several for The Rolling Stones (“Love You live” and “Sticky Fingers”, which featured a working zipper on the original vinyl album cover).  Warhol also designed covers for The Velvet Underground, Aretha Franklin, Paul Anka, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry and John Lennon (“Menlove Avenue”).

Dean TorranceHere’s a name you’ve probably didn’t associate with LP cover design – Dean Torrance.  Yep, the co-founder of ‘60’s singing duo Jan & Dean had a very lucrative business called Kitty Hawk Graphics designing covers for Harry Nilsson including “Nilsson Schmilsson”, plus a ton of Beach Boys album covers that includes “15 Big Ones”,

Torrance graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Fine Arts, majoring in Advertising Design and launched Kittyhawk Graphics in 1967.  The company lasted 13 years and boasts covers for Captain & Tennille, The Turtles, Diana Ross & The Supremes as well as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among many others.  Some of Dean’s album cover designs are found at:

There are so damn many incredibly iconic albums covers and everyone has their own personal favourites.  Here are a few of mine:

Elvis PresleyThe graphic style of Elvis Presley’s 1956 self titled debut RCA Victor LP, has been ‘borrowed’ for covers by dozens of groups/solo performers, including The Clash (1979’s “London Calling”), Tom Waits (1985’s “Rain Dogs”), Big Audio Dynamite (1995’s “F-Punk”), k.d. lang (2006’s “Reintarnation”) and Monkeys of Syion (2009’s “Superficial Lover”).  An interesting side note – on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Album Covers’ list, “London Calling” is at # 39 and “Elvis Presley” is # 40.  The copy outshone the original (at least on this list).

1959’s “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong”.  Officially, a ‘greatest hits’ package, it was Presley’s 9th RCA release.  The image of 14 photos of Elvis in a gold lame suit in various sizes has been paid homage by album covers from Phil Ochs, Rod Stewart, The Fall, Bon Jovi and Blues Travelers.

“Whipped Cream and Other Delights”Herb Alpert and the Tijuana BrassWhipped Cream and Other Delights” (1965).  Delores Erickson was the model on the cover and in interviews celebrating various anniversaries of the album, she’s stated that she was in fact, wearing a bikini and was wrapped in a cloth covered by shaving cream.  The dollop on her head WAS actual whipped cream though.  This cover has been parodied by Soul Asylum ”Clam Dip and Other Delights”, comedian Pat Cooper’s “Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights”  and Sweet Cream’s 1978 disco album “Sweet Cream and Other Delights”

Henry Diltz, an LA based musician (The Modern Folk Quartet) was constantly taking pictures of his friends, most of whom were CS&Nfamous musicians.  Henry took the now iconic photo on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut album in 1969.  The cover photo shows (left to right) Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and David Crosby sitting on a worn out coach on the front porch of a small white bungalow.  After Diltz developed the photo, he realized Crosby, Stills and Nash were sitting in the wrong order, so instead of simply reversing the image, he grabbed the three musicians and headed back to the same porch.  Unfortunately, in the short time span of one day, the house had been demolished, so no re-shoot was possible.

“Morrison HotelDiltz also took the cover photo for The Doors Morrison Hotel”.  The album, released on February 1st, 1970, had a cover shot of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Kreiger and John Densmore looking out the window of the Morrison Hotel lobby.  The photo had been shot in December 1969 at the transient hotel at 1246 South Hope Street in Los Angeles (located a few blocks from the Staples Centre).  Originally refused permission by the on duty desk clerk, Diltz and the band waited for him to leave his post for a few minutes.  When he did, The Doors rushed in, took their positions at the window…and Diltz shot one roll of film from various angles.  The shoot took no more than 5 minutes with the desk clerk none the wiser.

Blind FaithBlind Faith’s 1969 self-titled debut album, like The Beatles “Rubber Soul”, does not have the name of the group on the cover.  In fact, there’s no graphics on it at all, just a shot of a pre-pubescent girl naked from the waist up, holding onto a silver model airplane.  Phallic symbol or what?  Bob Seidemann is credited as photographer and cover designer.  It’s ranked # 7 on Rolling Stone’s ‘Greatest Album Covers’ list.  The ‘naked young girl’ theme was expanded uponfor the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 “Houses of the Holy” album with design by Hipgnosis (we discussed that company’s contribution to album art earlier in the column).

NevermindNirvana’s second album, “Nevermind” is legendary for its iconic image of the naked baby boy swimming after a dollar bill attached to a fishing hook.  Spencer Eldon, who’s now in his early 20’s, is that baby.  Photographer Kirk Weddle had a contract to shoot a baby underwater for an album cover project and friend Rick Eldon volunteered his son Spencer.  Rick blew in the baby’s face (which apparently causes them to hold their breath) and dropped him in the swimming pool.  Weddle was shooting 18 frames a second, so baby Spencer was only in the water for a few seconds at a time.  Eldon‘s parents received $200 for the shoot.  Spencer is still introduced as the ‘Nirvana baby’ some 23 years after “Nevermind” was released.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.”.  Photographer Annie Leibovitz’s iconic photo of Springsteen’s back side with a red rag hanging out of his right rear pocket against the backdrop of the American flag is an instantly recognizable classic.

Jack DavisAs much as I revere many of these covers (and their creators), I have to say that my all time favourite album cover artist is Jack Davis.

Who the hell, you might ask, is Jack Davis?

Well, anybody who grew up in the 1960’s reading MAD magazine, Cracked, Sick or Tales From The Crypt (and they were usually teenage boys) knows exactly who Jack Davis is.  Large hand drawn cartoonish crowd scenes are his specialty.  What looks like utter chaos on an album or magazine cover is actually inspired genius.  Although Davis has drawn album covers for comedy recording acts such as Spike Jones, Homer & Jethro (over half a dozen RCA covers), Ben Colder (aka Sheb ‘Purple People Eater’ Wooley), Don Imus and David Frye (“Radio Free Nixon”), he’s also created memorable covers for Johnny Otis, The Dells, Jerry Reed, The Phantom Surfers, Sailcat, The Smithereens, and The Guess Who.

The Guess Who

Jack Davis drawn madness has also been featured on weekly magazine covers for TV Guide and Time.  A Jack Davis original watercolor painting featuring the cast of 1999’s space comedy “Galaxy Quest” starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub and Alan Rickman was recently offered on ebay with the ‘Buy It Now’ price of $11,995.00.

Books include 2011’s “Jack Davis:  Drawing American Pop Culture: A Career retrospective ($24.80 on  There’s also a paperback published last year – “Jack Davis:  Some of My Good Stuff” ($14.03 on

Loads more Jack Davis creations can be found at:


A new interesting twist to album cover art – fans are looking up their favourite album cover locations on Google Street View.  The story at:

Now, don’t get me started on my favourite album liner note writers.


A history of 1960’s album art – UNDER THE COVERS – Part 1 with Henry Diltz and Gary Burden.

This is Part 1 of 10, the rest of which can be accessed through the links at the end of this clip. A fascinating and informative trip through the album cover process in the ’60s, full of great stories you have never heard.

You can also find ALL 10 parts of this documentary by clicking on this video to the full playlist.


Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at:

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

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