Despite the girth of digital media, streaming service and the huge range of musical formats out there, it’s nothing new for bands and musicians to take a more abstract approach to the artwork and packaging that contains their music. Whether it’s fake newspaper record sleeves, fur covered cases or even tapes housed in ceramic jars; acts seem to be continuing the trend of coming up with eccentric ways of encasing their work. We take a look at some of the more memorable.
Beck’s tenth studio album was issued with a blank cover alongside a number of assorted stickers for fans to create their own album artwork. The musical chameleon was quoted as saying he was hopeful that no two covers would be the same, intending his fans to be interactive with their listening. Doing a quick google image search of the album demonstrates that maybe his concept wasn’t quite followed through.
Possibly the most bizarre album packaging to make the list, the 1985 discography features two cassette tapes housed within a ceramic pot; patterned with ferns and boot prints. Within the pot, alongside the cassettes are two feathers apparently taken from the radioactive Seascale Beach, a printed American flag parody featuring the Soviet hammer and sickle, and a list of instructions on what to do with the collection of items, including “remove feathers by melting wax seal. Discard burnt cassettes. Retain box.”
For the release of Tool’s phenomenal album 10,000 Days, the band opted to package the record in a sleeve that featured the same cover art as mainstream releases, but with a special added element. Where the eyes normally appeared on the macabre face depicted on the front of the record were replaced by a pair of see through glasses, that fans could fold open and look through to help see the world through the eyes of Tool – namely, some spacey 3D visuals dubbed ‘Stereoscopic Vision’.
For the release of the third Spirtualized studio album, the band released a number of special edition albums packaged to appear like a box of prescription medication. The pharmaceutical packaging housed foil wrapped CDs and even dosage information, with a number of very limited number of those released containing a blister pack featuring 12 individual “doses” of music individually wrapped on three inch CD format.
The album was originally released on vinyl in 1968 in a circular metal tin, designed to replica a large tobacco tin and included five connected paper circle posters featuring each member of the band. Following the initial release it proved too expensive to continue producing the original packaging, and thus the record sleeve was changed to a cardboard replica of the original.
Early releases of the English band’s 1995 double disc live album featured a small blinking LED light on the spine of the case, designed to ‘pulse’ away on the CD shelf. The small light was circuit powered by a single AA battery cell and was said to last for over 6 months. Later versions of the record did not feature the light, and the difficulty of replacing the battery on the original has meant they didn’t quite keep their collector’s edition status.
With the emergence of digital music, many acts took to keeping distribution to a physical format in the form of USB. UK label Parlophone re-issued the Beatles and Radiohead discography on a shiny green apple shaped drive and bear logo USB respectively to celebrate their anniversaries. While hip hop superstar MIA took the concept to a whole new level, releasing her remix of ‘Bad Girls’ on a gold-plated BMW-style car key necklace with concealed USB drive. That’s pretty bling!
Although it is a box set discography, it was too hard to ignore The Pixies’ enormous Minotaur release, featuring a collection of the band’s entire recorded catalogue. The mammoth deluxe edition box features 24k gold-plated CDs, as well as vinyl, DVDs, Blu Ray discs, a 54 page booklet and a 72 page hard cover book that is embossed with fake fur. It’s kind of like a guide to everything related to the band, aimed at 70’s porn stars.
Johnny Rotten’s emergence from the Sex Pistols saw him form Public Image Ltd in 1978. Their most notable release was Metal Box in 1979, which – taking its title to heart - featured three untitled pieces of vinyl housed within a large metallic box made to resemble an old nitrate film canister and embossed with the band’s logo upon the side. Simple but effective.
Radiohead are no strangers to the abstract album cover approach, having released deluxe editions of their albums since 2000’s Kid A that have ranged from library books (Amnesiac), maps (Hail to the Thief) and sticker books (In Rainbows). But their latest release, 2011’s The King Of Limbs takes the cake. The deluxe edition is housed within a tabloid style newspaper, featuring artwork by long-time collaborator Stanley Donwood, lyrics as news columns and a set of papered stamps.
A limited release of The Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request, featured a lenticular version of the original album cover. Additionally the original release of Sticky Fingers, featured a working zipper on the fly of the famed photograph. The idea eventually had to be scrapped as a number of records were cracked and shattered during transport as a result of the metallic zipper breaking against the delicate wax format.
The Texan electronic artist decided to take a rather abstract approach for the release of his 2010 record Black City. Teaming up with award winning design firm Boym, Dear released a number of black totem-like objects, each inscribed with a unique code that could be entered online to receive a downloadable version of the record. The totem is said to represent an ominous cityscape, akin to the dark and expansive imagery within Dear’s music.
Led Zeppelin were more progressive than their peers when it came to how their music was packaged. Making full use of the gatefold design of their sleeves to include a rotating disc (Led Zeppelin III) and interchangeable artwork (Physical Graffiti). For what would be their final record, Zeppelin opted to release In Through The Out Door in brown paper bags, hiding the underlying album art.
The cover artwork itself – designed by the legendary Storm Thorgerson and his Hipgnosis design team – featured a figure in a seedy bar as seen from the perspective of six different characters within that setting.
Although making wacky and weird album covers is becoming more common, some artists had to get the ball rolling. For Jethro Tull’s 1972 album Thick As A Brick, the ever-eccentric Ian Anderson opted to simply wrap the record, fish and chip style, in a newspaper. The newspaper was made especially and featured comical examples of small shire English journalism common in many small town newspapers.
Alongside it’s rather bizarre title, Isaac Hayes’ 1971 record featured a fold out album sleeve that opened into the shape of a crucifix, featuring Hayes posed in a Christ-like position. Hayes said the image meant that: “black men could finally stand up and be men because here's Black Moses; he's the epitome of black masculinity.” Mr. T may have something to say about that…
Alt J’s debut album An Awesome Wave features a pretty nifty album sleeve folded origami style so when you open it up you are presented with the cd, propped up through some cleverly folded paper. Not outrageous or extravagant, but a neat and novel idea to your typical, run-of-the-mill digipak.
The original album cover for Alice Cooper’s School’s Out featured a sleeve that opened in the manner of an old school desk, with the vinyl record contained within being wrapped in a pair of girls’ panties. An idea that later had to be axed, not for any moral reasons, but because the panties were deemed to be flammable and thus, a danger to consumers.
It’s never too surprising to see Wayne Coyne and Co. doing something pretty strange and unusual (they did a song with Ke$ha for crying out loud!) So for The Flaming Lips release of Embryonic, Coyne said that wrapping the record in synthetic fur seemed like the most appropriate course of action. It also fit perfectly with the collection of songs on the album: soft and fluffy. Thankfully, no animals were harmed in the making of this packaging.