Long live the album cover

We love cover art design — it floats our limited edition 180g purple vinyl triple gate-fold sleeves. We are all heading over to the ‘Cover Stories’ event at The Merchant City Festival tonight to join in the discussion. The idea behind the panel has focussed our attention on some on-going, underlying chat here at the Stand studio. Like most creative types, music is really important to us. It plays a major cultural role in our lives, and we’ve recognised for a long time that the cover of an album is almost as important as the actual musical content. Sometimes even becoming more well known and memorable than the work that they packaged.

Historically, album cover designers became ‘rock stars’ in their own right. There’s a long list; Reid Miles, Peter Blake, Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell), Roger Dean, Barney Bubbles, Jamie Reid, Pennie Smith, Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Stylo Rouge, V23/Vaughn Oliver, 8VO, Mark Farrow, Intro (Adrian Talbot, Julian Gibbs, Julian House), Designers Republic (Ian Anderson, Nick Philips), Central Station Design, Tomato, Tom Hingston, Kim Hiorthøy, and countless others, too many to name. These people have been role models, sometimes gods for a lot of us (what used to be called) graphic designers. These were the people we aspired to be.

There has been a lot of chat about where the art of album design is going. Is it still relevant at all in a digital world? What is the cover actually for, beyond a basic reference point for a piece of music or a collection of tracks?

Obviously, the re-emergence of vinyl has breathed new life into large format music packaging — cover art is back from the dead — reborn, alive and kicking. Buying and listening to music, new or old, on vinyl takes music listening to a whole other level. The experience of listening to the music starts at the point where you select it, unwrap it, put the vinyl on the deck, put the needle on the record, get that initial burst of crackle, turn the record over halfway through. It’s a wholly different and much more engaged way of listening to music.

In reality, cover design is just a piece of brand/product positioning at it’s core. But somehow it’s a hell of a lot more than that. It’s all about creating icons — pieces of art in their own right. It’s an area where the edges between design and art are sometimes completely blurred. How many other pieces of product packaging can you think of that end up framed on your living room wall? None that immediately spring to mind.

It remains to be seen what kind of longevity the current swell of interest in vinyl will have. But Record Store Day, indie store exclusives, deluxe releases, beautiful iconic (or sometimes willfully ugly) design keeps stirring the pot.

These are our top 100 album covers (so far) in 2016 — let us know what you think.