Album Cover Art
by John Grady

Album cover art has expressed and served a symbol for the music it represents over the years. It creates a persona for the albums and tracks on it, and gives them a recognizable face for music fans. Over the years it has transformed and changed along with the music industry. The covers can be considered some of the most iconic artworks of all time, exemplifying generations of music. As a genre, it contains a wide variety art. Sometimes certain types of music may share similar album art, but they also could be completely different.

Kicking off the first "real" album art would be Alex Steinweiss. He began his career as a poster designer, but in 1938 he came the first art director at Columbia Records. Prior to this, albums were sold in plain packaging, with just the name of the artist and record. Steinweiss originally said he thought they were drab and unattractive, and he thought that he could do much better. He created the basic album cover art that eventually mean decades of vivid and influential imagery.

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Though his work may not look groundbreaking and unconventional, Steinweiss actually was a huge improvement. His innovations, though somewhat simple in design, were a big step in the art world. The new covers were much more eye-catching and noticeable then the original cardboard slips. They turned out to be much more profitable and preferred by consumers.

By the 1940's, all the major album producing companies were using album art. Every album being pumped out had it's own art, but still similar to the Steinweiss covers made in the late 30's. Photography started being incorporated as well, and there were pictures of the artists on the covers too. With more companies producing album art, there were more artists. They included Jim Flora, Jim Amos, and Rudolph de Harek.

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During the mid-40's and World War II, there was change in music. War impacted peoples lives, and it changed their tastes. Music was a little more somber, but one could argue that there was more meaning. There were anthems written about how you should support country and the war effort, as well as love songs about soldiers overseas. This didn't effect the covers much, but it was noticeable on some.

The 1950's came with new artists and a new style. The music again had changed, with guys like Elvis Presley stepping out onto the scene. He was a big name, and his music was a whole new thing. At this point, you can start to see some artistic spin being put on the covers, and a deviation from the original Steinweiss method.

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Pretty much the most popular and most groundbreaking era of album cover, this is when the art gets crazy. The 1960's are when the Steinweiss method is completely discarded, and you see totally unique and psychedelic covers. Not only are the designs new, so is the music. This takes place during a musical explosion, with the british invasion happening and first generation of rock in its prime. The covers perfectly fit the mood of the era, and its explosion of innovation. Boundaries are being broken, and the art is nothing like anyone has seen before. Many of the albums make use of the whole color wheel, often having rainbow decor. Cartoons are used too, but the photography quality has increased improving the album look. Compared to their predecessors, these albums are very abstract.

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The 70's and 80's introduce punk to music world. This time period starts to drift away from the colorful look that the 1960's were so focused on. Again boundaries are pushed, this time the music along with the covers. There was more of a dark tone being given off. The kind of music being produced was still rock, but a little more harder and heavier.

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Physically, album covers are made out of cardboard. They serve as both a protective cover and artistic representation of the band and it's music. The cover art is printed onto the surface of the cardboard, then often coated with polyurethane. The coating maintains the quality of the cover, and also gives it a bit of a leathery texture. Designing the art is a bit more complicated, there often can be several collaborators. There is almost always photography involved, which surprisingly is frequently done by band members. Most of the actual putting together of the album is done with digital imaging. Photoshop has completely changed the way they're made, now incorporating all kinds of new digital art. Standard
images are often warped and changed, and can be fitted for the format too.


Schoenherr, Steve. "Album Cover." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, July-Aug. 2005. Web. 1 June 2016

"A History of Graphic Design: Chapter 72: A History of Record Covers." A History of Graphic Design: Chapter 72: A History of Record Covers. Blogspot, Sept. 2013. Web. 2 June 2016.

"Top 50 Most Iconic Album Covers - IGN." IGN. IGN, 7 May 2011. Web. 10 June 2016.