The Joy Of… Album Covers

In case anyone is wondering, this little sketch is a homage to Derek Riggs' excellent cover art for Iron Maiden's "The Number Of The Beast".

In case anyone is wondering, this little sketch is a homage to Derek Riggs’ excellent cover art for Iron Maiden’s “The Number Of The Beast” album.

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of the coolest and more under-appreciated types of art out there. I am, of course, talking about the album covers that you’ll find in your CD collection if you’re one of those old-fashioned people, like me, who still has a CD collection.

Although many bands use photos or photo-based images for their album covers these days, proper album art can still often be found on slightly older CDs in the heavy metal genre (and, to a lesser extent, the punk genre).

Even today, heavy metal albums will sometimes feature really epic horror/fantasy- themed paintings as their cover art. I mean, there’s a reason why heavy metal album covers are mentioned in this hilariously memorable line from “Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey”.

It’s probably no coincidence that my two favourite bands (Iron Maiden and The Offspring) both have a tradition of commissioning really cool cover art for their albums.

Most of Iron Maiden’s classic album covers from the 1980s feature really cool cartoonish horror-themed art (by Derek Riggs), that often uses bold colours and lots of contrast between light and dark areas. This artistic decision really makes their old albums stand out in a way that most other albums just don’t do – seriously, just take a look at the covers of their “Killers” album and their “Number Of The Beast” album.

I mean, I’d be extremely surprised if seeing all of this cool art when I was younger didn’t have at least some influence on how I handle colours in my own art.

Likewise, The Offspring often commission radically different album art for each of their album covers. For example, with their “Ixnay On The Hombre” album cover, they use a really cool orange, black, yellow, white, green and blue colour scheme and some really awesome Mexican calavera art.

But, for me at least, it was Frank Kozik’s brilliantly surreal cartoon artwork on the album and single covers for The Offspring’s “Americana” album (which is the very first Offspring album that I heard anything from when I was a kid in the 90s) that had the most impact on my imagination and my art. In fact, even earlier this year, the art on this album still actually had a surprising influence on my art style.

Although I’ve unfortunately never had the chance to make an album cover for anyone (and, to be honest, I’d probably be kind of nervous if someone asked me to), one exercise that I sometimes do when I want to get inspired is to tell myself to make a painting that could be used as an album cover. Although this tactic doesn’t always work, it can certainly be a good way to make yourself feel more motivated about making art.

Finally, another thing that makes album art such an amazing genre of art is that – if it’s good enough, it becomes inextricably associated with the music on the album. Since the best album art is usually inspired by the artist actually listening to the music and talking to the band, it compliments the music in a surprisingly effective way.

In fact, a good series of album covers can even become part of a band’s identity (like Iron Maiden and all of the art that is associated with them – I mean, their latest music video is actually based on their old album art).

So, yes, album art is one of those genres of art that really doesn’t get as much recognition as it should.

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

6 comments on “The Joy Of… Album Covers

  1. M.R. Bauer says:

    I miss the old days! Cover art just isn’t a thing anymore 😛 Makes me feel old…

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Yeah, it’s a real shame. I suppose it’s partially because most music is listened to digitally these days, so cover art isn’t the prominent thing it was 10-20 years ago. Not to mention that it’s easier/cheaper to hire a photographer/image editor than it is to hire an artist.

      Still, some current albums still have fairly decent cover/booklet art – Iron Maiden’s “The Book Of Souls” (2015) springs to mind for starters. Although, from some bizarre reason, they hid all of the best artwork in the cover booklet and only put a fairly minimalist picture on the cover.

      • M.R. Bauer says:

        I used to be an audio engineer and have decided that the quality of music has gone down the tube with the hyper-compression of MP3s. I miss concept albums. The number of those are dwindling. It made it feel like you were getting a whole experience. I also loved how lyrics used to be a trend in some albums too. It felt more immersive (not sure that’s a word). Anyway, I could talk about the glory days forever. Really, I know intellectually at least, things change. It’s good that you are still buying the whole package when it comes to artists 🙂

      • pekoeblaze says:

        [Edit: I’ve just realised that the first part of this reply probably sounds a bit abrasive, this wasn’t intentional and I apologise. I don’t know, this is probably because I’ve grown up listening to music on the radio and on cassettes, and later on CDs and in digital formats. So, quality has never really been a big thing for me]

        Ah, I’ve never really fully understood the whole “audio quality” thing. I mean, unless a song sounds like it was recorded with a potato, I personally wouldn’t notice too much of a difference between a high and low quality version of a song. I mean, I can’t really tell the difference between CD audio, cassette audio and MP3 audio. Surprisingly, I can just about tell the difference between Youtube audio and CD/tape/MP3 audio. I’ve never really listened to much vinyl though.

        I don’t know about concept albums though, I guess that it depends on the album. My favourite type of concept albums are probably the albums where every song is about the same themes, but each song is also self-contained too.

        [Edit: As for the lyrics thing, I’d totally agree. I mean, one of the great things about metal/punk music is that the lyrics are usually actually about something and often actually have some kind of meaning, or tell some kind of story]

        I don’t know, I’ve certainly got a fairly large CD collection that I’ve accumulated over the past decade and a half (and my musical tastes haven’t really changed that much over this time) – although, these days, I only usually tend to buy CD albums from bands that I really really like, mostly for financial/cost reasons. But if there are only one or two songs I like from a band, I’ll just listen to them on Youtube (since the ads are usually skippable after 5 seconds, and because the free version of Spotify was completely ruined in 2010/11 due to corporate greed).

      • M.R. Bauer says:

        I didn’t think you sounded abrasive, so no worries 🙂 I hope I didn’t sound abrasive! LOL
        The easiest way to tell audio quality for a laymen is the dynamics of the song. It’s the difference between feeling surrounded by music as opposed to feeling like your watching it from a distance.
        I understand what you mean. I don’t buy a ton of albums anymore, unless it’s something I’ve researched a lot and know what I’m getting beforehand.
        My problem with music recently (for the most part because there are exceptions) is the lack of depth. In the music itself and in the lyrical content. It’s one of the reasons I got out of music. I became severely disillusioned.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Thanks 🙂 Don’t worry, You didn’t sound abrasive – I think I was worried about sounding abrasive because I was in a slightly cynical mood at the time LOL!
        Ah, I’ve never really thought about sound quality in that way – but it makes a lot of sense. Then again, I usually tend to listen to music via headphones/earbuds these days and I’ve noticed that different types of headphones can have a noticeable effect on the quality of the sound. But, since I grew up listening to music in low-quality formats (eg: radio, cassettes etc..), I don’t usually really tend to care that much about audio quality.
        Sorry to hear about your experiences with music – I mean, I can’t really imagine anything putting me off of music as a whole. Although, yeah, with the exception of a few bands and/or entire genres of music, I can see why you might be cynical about modern music. Around Christmas, I happened to hear some modern pop music (I can’t remember the band) and the whole thing sounded like a generic, heavily auto-tuned mess that was almost painful to listen to.

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