20 of the Most Iconic Album Covers of All Time - Next Luxury (2023)

We all know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but when it comes to music albums, the cover can often be just as memorable as the music itself. From Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, iconic album covers have become an integral part of music culture.

In this article, we will take a look at 20 of the most iconic album covers of all time, exploring the stories behind their creation and the impact they had on the music industry. Whether you’re a music lover, an art enthusiast, or simply curious about pop culture history, these album covers are sure to inspire and captivate you. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of music and art as we explore the top 20 most iconic album covers of all time.

20 of the Most Iconic Album Covers of All Time

1. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

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Sex Pistols Official/YouTube

The Sex Pistols’ one and only album isn’t much to look at but quickly became one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Artist Jamie Reid decided against using a picture of the group and instead went for a yellow cover with screen-printed words spelling out the title and the band.

Simple in design and execution, the cover had conservatives up in arms for the use of “bollocks,” with retailers threatened with large fines and even jail time if they stocked the album upon its release in 1977. This only fueled the public’s desire for the album, helpingNever Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols top the U.K. charts and establishing the Sex Pistols as a band not to be trifled with. The album helped establish the punk movement in England and remains a seminal release in the history of the genre.

2. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

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CD Galore/YouTube

The self-titled debut album from Elvis Presley features a black and white image of the singer strumming his guitar in a live setting with his name written in pink and green. The photo was snapped by William V. “Red” Robertson at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 1955.

It’s an iconic image that has been voted one of the greatest album covers of all time, with the Clash taking inspiration for the cover of their hit 1979 album London Calling.

3. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

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Whenever people dress up as David Bowie, more often than not they model their costumes on the cover of Aladdin Sane. The image of a shirtless Bowie with a bolt of blue and red lightning down one side of his face was taken by photographer Brian Duffy. It’s been said that the bolt represents a split in Bowie’s personality, with one half being the character of Aladdin Sane and the other being the real Bowie. It’s also been suggested the flash of lightning reflects Bowie’s new-found stardom at that time and his feelings surrounding that.

Duffy added a teardrop to Bowie’s chest that adds another element of mystery to the album cover, with Bowie saying Duffy “just popped it in there. I thought it was rather sweet.” Like much of Bowie’s work, the cover art for Aladdin Sane caused controversy but is now widely regarded as one of the great album covers.

4. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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The Beatles/YouTube

The Beatles have several album covers that could make this list (Abbey Road and the White Album are two that stand out), but it’s hard to go past the colorful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in 1967, the album was another chart-topping success for the U.K. band, with the concept behind the cover being an image of the Beatles posing with fans after a performance.

Peter Blake and Jann Haworth designed the cover with input from John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and London art dealer Robert Fraser. The cover comprises 57 famous individuals from all walks of life, including Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Sonny Lister, Carl Jung, and the Rolling Stones.

Fun fact: Three people were rejected by the record label from appearing on the cover – Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ, both chosen by Lennon, and Mahatma Gandhi, picked by Harrison.

5. Young Thug – Jeffery

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Young Thug/YouTube

Currently, behind bars facing RICO charges, Young Thug has always been creative when it comes to the covers of his albums. One that caused much commentary was his Jeffery album from 2016.

The cover features Thug wearing an androgynous dress by Italian designer Alessandro Trincone. This was a big moment in hip-hop history, a genre known for its homophobia, with everyone from fans to music critics having their say on the cover.

Shot by Garfield Lamond, it took Thug an hour and a half to get into the dress but the results speak for themselves. Jeffery is one of the most iconic album covers of the modern day.

6. The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico

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Jon Warhol/YouTube

Andy Warhol took charge of creating the classic album cover for the Velvet Underground’s debut album. The single image of a banana has become famous around the world and is one of Warhol’s most iconic creations.

The original version of the record features a “Peel Slowly And See” banana peel cover, allowing fans to peel back the cover to reveal the inside of the banana. These days original copies of the album that haven’t been tampered with sell for a fortune.

7. Janet Jackson – Janet

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Janet Jackson/YouTube

A close-up of Janet Jackson’s face might not seem that exciting, but when you take into account the uncropped photo it gives a more rounded picture of the theme running through Janet – sex. The full image that was meant to be used for the cover shows Jackson standing with her hands over her head wearing nothing but a pair of jeans. Her breasts are being cupped by her then-husband René Elizondo, Jr.

Shot by French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier, the iconic image leaves nothing to the imagination and showed audiences a different side to Jackson, who embraced her sexuality on the chart-topping album.

8. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

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Prog Nation/YouTube

Pink Floyd had come under fire from their record label for their previous choices of album covers, but nobody could deny the greatness of The Dark Side of the Moon. London-based design group Hipgnosis, who had procured several of the band’s older covers, was once again charged with coming up with the concept, with designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell providing several selections for the band to choose from.

They all agreed upon the image of a prism refracting light into six of the seven colors of the spectrum, which was crafted by George Hardie. It is meant to stand for the three main elements that make up Pink Floyd – the lighting of their shows, Roger Waters’ lyrics, and keyboardist Richard Wright’s request the cover design be “simple and bold.”

9. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

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Funkadelic – Topic/YouTube

This confronting album cover features the head of the modelBarbara Cheeseborough screaming as it emerges from the ground. Photographed byJoel Brodsky, the back of the album has an image of a skull coming out of the ground, adding to the weirdness of this psychedelic funk offering from Funkadelic, the sister band of Parliment.

10. Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

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The band’s most successful album only features two members of Fleetwood Mac on the cover: Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood. Shot by Herbert W. Worthington, the cover depicts Nicks mid-twirl and she clasps Fleetwood’s hand, who is sporting a pair of balls he took from a toilet dangling between his legs.

It’s quite a simple design that fails to hint at the music on the confessional record where the band lays bare everything they have been through, including break-ups within the band and heavy drug use.

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11. Joni Mitchell – Blue

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Joni Mitchell /YouTube

The fourth album from singer Joni Mitchell is also her best. Blue is a deep dive into relationships, with Mitchell writing the album after breaking up with Graham Nash and starting a passionate relationship with James Taylor.

The iconic cover of a close-up of Mitchell singing into a microphone captures a personal moment, with the color blue a fitting hue representing her emotions.

12. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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Absolutely Darren Lock/YouTube

Following in the footsteps of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin employed Hipgnosis to come up with the artwork for their fifth album Houses of the Holy. Taking inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke’s novelChildhood’s End, the cover shows several children crawling over theGiant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland.

Shot over 10 days, there were actually only two children used for the shoot, Stefan and Samantha Gates. Designer Aubrey Powell wanted to capture the light reflecting off the surfaces as the children crawled across the rocks, but bad weather meant he never achieved the results he wanted. Despite his misgivings, the cover turned out well, and was nominated for aGrammy Awardin the category ofBest Album Package.

13. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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A Bucket of Jake/YouTube

This is Kanye West at the peak of his powers. A near-flawless hip-hop album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the albums of the 00s. It also features iconic cover art created by designer George Condo with input from West.

Condo painted six different covers, with each one included with the album packaging. The standouts include a naked West being straddled by a female demon while holding a beer, a ballerina in a black tutu holding a glass of red wine, and West’s decapitated head being impaled by a sword.

The high-concept artwork matches West’s lyrical contributions to the album and is a reflection of the rapper’s mindset at the time. The cover of West and the demon did cause some concern, with certain retailers only stocking a pixilated version of the cover or using the ballerina painting as the cover.

14. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

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Miles Davis/YouTube

Even if you aren’t that familiar with Miles Davis as an artist, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the cover for his 1970 album Bitches Brew. Regarded as one of the great jazz albums, the cover is also iconic. German painter Mati Klarwein came up with the cover design that features contrasting imagery which highlights Davis’ changing philosophies and acts as an extension of the album itself. It depicts the relationship between humans and nature, good and bad, night and day.

In an interview, Klarwein had this to say about his artwork: “While it’s easy to see how the cover might represent dichotomies, it is really more about tandems and shared experiences, coupled with the acknowledgment that individual perspectives can create an otherworldly experience.”

15. Grace Jones – Island Life

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Angel Ciccone/YouTube

The cover of this compilation album shows Grace Jones almost nude standing in an interesting pose. Created by her then-partner Jean-Paul Goude, who is the man responsible for trying to break the internet with that image of Kim Kardashian on The Paper cover, the album artwork consists of several different photos cut and pasted together to form the image.

The cover has been described as “one of pop culture’s most famous photographs” and was originally in New York magazine in 1978 before Jones decided to use it for the cover of Island Life, released in 1985.

16. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.

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Although over ten years into his career with several high-charting singles to his name, Born in the U.S.A. is the album that solidified Bruce Springsteen as one of the great singer-songwriters. Writing songs about the average American doing their best to get by in an ever-changing world, the stories he tells on the album are reflected by the cover artwork.

The image of the Boss, decked out in a white t-shirt and denim jeans with a cap stuffed in his pockets, shot from behind and in front of an American flag, shows his working-class reliability. Here is a man just like us who understands how harsh life can be.

17. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

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The album that brought gangster rap to the masses also has one of the most iconic covers in music history. Straight Outta Compton is a foul-mouthed look at life in the projects where every breath on the street could be your last. Hip-hop group N.W.A. showed what life was really like for those in poor black neighborhoods where violence, drugs, and police abuse were the norm.

The cover image, taken by photographer Eric Poppleton, is a point-of-view shot of someone lying on the ground looking up at the members of N.W.A., with Eazy E holding a pistol pointed at them. “You’re taking the perspective of someone who is about to be killed… We don’t even print that stuff in newspapers,” Poppleton said of the impact the image had on people.

18. Black Sabbath – Vol. 4

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Elon Live Speech/YouTube

You know an album cover has reached legendary status when it appears on t-shirts. That’s the case with the cover for Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4. Released in 1974, the band’s fourth long player is inspired by their heavy cocaine use, resulting in a much heavier sound, although songs like “Changes” show Sabbath’s evolving musical palette.

Ozzy Osborne is on the cover giving the peace sign. The monochrome photo was taken by Keith Macmillan at a concert taking place at Birmingham Town Hall in January 1972. Although simple in design, it’s the band’s most notable cover and one that has crossed over into the world of pop culture.

19. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

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Andre Scicluna/YouTube

Peter Saville is the man responsible for the cover of Joy Divisions’ incredible debut album Unknown Pleasures. The black and white record features an image of radio waves taken from a pulsar CP 1919. Saville found the photo in The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy and flipped it from a white background with a black image to a black background with a white image.

The end result is one of the most recognized images not only in music history but pop culture. The radio waves signify the power of the music and as BBC journalist Susie Goldring said, “If the cover doesn’t draw you in, the music will.”

20. Nirvana – Nevermind

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There are several interpretations surrounding the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Many saw the image of a baby reaching for a U.S. dollar bill as a sign of the band selling out for big bucks, but art director Robert Fisher – the man responsible for the photo – claims it was to do with Kurt Cobain’s fascination with a documentary on water births.

After failing to find a stock image of a child swimming underwater that wouldn’t cost them an arm and a leg, Fisher organized for photographer Kirk Weddle to take photos of a baby swimming in the water. That baby turned out to be four-month-old Spencer Elden, the son of Weddle’s friend.

When the record label pressured the band to remove the penis from the cover for fear of backlash, Cobain told them he would only do so if they placed a sticker over the offending organ that said, “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” Sure enough, the label gave in and the album was released with the penis visible.

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