as a gen xer, one of the things that i worry most about “kids these days” is that they will miss out on albums entirely. much as i appreciate the convenience of digital music, it often feels hollow to me. a record, in its entirety, is an experience, not unlike a novel. a chapter plucked from a book might be wonderful on its own, but in the context of the full narrative it is something so much more. in the world of streaming play counts the art of making albums feels like a dying one. the album cover seems to be dying as well, replaced by a new sort of music video, by a barrage of filtered & photoshopped snapchats and instagrams that don’t leave much room for the imagination.
as a little girl there was nothing as magical to me as my mother’s record collection. in our living room were rows of shelves containing records that my mother had collected throughout her life, and my brother and i would spend hours pulling them out and looking at the album art. i remember the raised foil and hazy filigree of her psychedelic records, the pop out faces of her rolling stones records, the feeling of the braille on her stevie wonder records, and how impactful and strange and iconic portrait cover images of bob dylan, stevie nicks and madonna were. an album cover can say so much. portraits can be an introduction or an reinvention, a statement about an artist’s style, their swagger or vulnerability, their identity or persona. imagery, or lack of imagery (for records like the beatles’ white album, metallica’s black album, talking heads’ 77 and many more) can be provocative, humorous or political. these images once provided a jumping off point for the imagination, a visual starting point for where the music would take you. pictured above are just some of my personal favorite album covers, ones that have stuck with me over the years.