Ever found yourself staring at a striking album cover during a deep listening session and thought ‘how the hell did they come up with that?’, well our browsers recently stumbled across a website with some insightful answers.
Art of Album Covers is a tumblr that’s compiled classic album artwork and paired them with the sources of inspiration that inspired them – whether it be classical art, advertisements, photography, landmarks, or even .gifs. You’ll find a whole archive that provides some captivating ‘well, I’ll be damned’ moments as it traces the origins behind some of music’s most instantly recognisable record sleeves.
We’ve gathered a few of our favourite selections (including, of course, some classic Aussie album artwork) and their origins over the next few pages as a taster. If you like what you see, be sure to check out the full, fascinating gallery here.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
A French brand of rolling papers serves as the inspiration for Dr. Dre’s 1992 debut album – one of hip hop’s most enduring masterpieces, right down to the lettering and composition.
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Visual artist, Leif Pohajsky, is credited with the creating the surreal kaleidoscope skyline of the Perth psych-rock majors’ 2010 album. The simple yet striking shot is actually a digitally altered version of a panoramic photo of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the US.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
One of 2013’s most striking album sleeves, the Brooklyn indie royalty’s sixth studio album is emblazoned with an eerily beautiful image. It’s actually a detail from Bohyun Yoon’s 2003 installation Fragmentation, which segregated the bodies of live models with a series of plexiglass mirrors.
Wolfmother – Wolfmother
Many records sleeves are simply details of classical works of art or popular cultural imagery. Case in point: the eponymous 2005 debut from Australia’s Wolfmother, which crops a sample of ‘The Sea Witch’ by popular fantasy painter, Frank Frazetta.
The Strokes – Room On Fire
A 1961 painting titled ‘War/Game’ by Peter Phillips serves as the basis for The Strokes’ sophomore effort. The original work depicts the opposing confederate and union forces of the American Civil War to convey themes of battle, politics, and psyche – much of which comes across in the lyrics of the New York City band’s tunes on their 2003 LP.
Sonic Youth – Goo
A dark backstory, this one. A Raymond Pettibon illustration provides the cover of the influential alt-rock heroes’ 1990 LP, which in turn is based on a paparazzi photo of Maureen Hindley and her first husband David Smith. The pair were snapped driving to a 1966 trial as witnesses for the famous ‘Moors Murders’ case, which involved Manchester serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Weezer – Pinkerton
An altered version of a classic Japanese ukiyo-e wood print called ‘Kambara yoru no yuki’ (‘Night snow at Kambara’) by 18th century master of the craft, Hiroshige. The Japanese connections are also strengthened by the title of Weezer’s second album, named after a character in Madame Butterfly, a three-act Italian opera set in Japan, composed by Puccini.
Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire
The agit-rap rockers’ second album provided a striking visual in the mid-90s (and a source for a butt-load of merch). It’s a slight alteration of a painting by pop artist Mel Ramos called ‘Crime Busters’ created in 1993, only three years prior to RATM’s studio album.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
The seemingly alien image emblazoned upon the UK band’s first full-length album is actually quite Earth-bound. It’s a multi-layered radar image – giving it its translucent colours and cracked appearance – of the Ganges river delta in Bangladesh.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You
The instantly recognisable artwork of the mash-up maestros’ first brilliant full-length record is an ultra-close crop from a vast painting titled, ‘The Sinking Of The USS President Lincoln’, by American artist Fred Dan Marsh.
Blur – Leisure
Blur’s 1991 debut set a visual tone for the Britpop era (perhaps unintentionally) with its striking retro image; a cropped and hyper-colourised detail from a 1930s photo-shoot promoting fashionable swimming caps.
The Mothers Of Invention – Weasels Ripped My Flesh
The 1970 LP from Frank Zappa’s talented experimental rock band was inspired by two sources. The first – pictured here – was a 1953 print advert for a Schick electric shaver. The second – from which the title is taken – is the cover of a September, 1956 issue of Man’s Life.
The Drones – I See Seaweed
It would have taken an eagle-eyed fan to spot this one. A photo of a Hawaiian ‘lava tube’ taken by ‘lava chaser’ CJ Hale is what can be viewed through the typography of the Drones’ critically acclaimed 2013 release.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
The influential 1998 album by Neutral Milk Hotel features a cropped and altered image taken from a vintage European postcard. Jeff Mangum, the band’s chef songwriter, collaborated on the cover with Chris Bilheimer – the staff designer for R.E.M. at the time.
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
Many rock trivia fans would already know that the stark image of Joy Division’s 1979 debut album was designed by Factory Records’ legendary visual artist, Peter Saville. What they might not know is that the image is taken from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy and is based on radio waves from pulsar CP 1919.