Art on the sleeve

Inspired by Alan Aldridge’s illustration and cover art exhibition at the Design Museum, we asked four designers to nominate their favourite album covers.
What they chose says much about how illustration and typography have evolved, and also about how goo


1. Doremi Fasol Latido, by Hawkwind (1972)
Designed by Barney Bubbles
BARNEY BUBBLES’work for Hawkwind was always an inspiration. This sleeve for their third album is printed in black on silver metallic foil. It’s simple and iconographic, yet delightfully sophisticated in its execution. It’s a stark counterpoint to some of the more space-psychedelic designs he did for the band’s other albums and their stage equipment.

2. The Second Annual Report, by Throbbing Gristle (1978)
Designed by Peter Christopherson, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis Breyer, P-Orridge and Chris Carter
This is the ‘ground zero’ of contemporary record sleeve design. In the wake of the excesses of the 1970s post-prog gatefold extravaganza, this design is beyond minimal. Economics may have dictated restraint, but to merely place a small black-and-white sticker (in ‘boring’ Helvetica) at top right on the standard blank sleeve as supplied by the pressing plant verges on genius.

3. Simulationszeitalter, by Anthony Rother (2000)
Designed by GAS Frankfurt
I never bought into the notion that CD packages couldn’t be as inventive or dramatic as 12-inch sleeves. This is an immaculately understated trompe-l’oeil photograph of an unadorned plastic CD jewel case with a plain CD inside. What is ordinarily transparent becomes opaque, and fools you even when you know what you are looking at. In this way it is quite the opposite of the sleeve for German avant-garde band Faust’s album Clear (1971), which is a transparent version of what would normally be opaque.


4. Always Now, by Section 25 (1981)
Design by Peter Saville and Grafica Industria
This cover changed my life. As an untrained designer I’d uncritically bought into the notion that graphic design had to be underpinned by a ‘message’, and that the designer always suppressed self-expression. This cover taught me differently. The designer could have a voice, and didn’t have to bother with a message.

5. TNT, by Tortoise (1998)
Designed by Tortoise
When this record came out I was designing album covers for a living. It was the beginning of ‘branding’ in music. Labels were treating music like shower gel and wanted everything packaged fmcg style. This sleeve thumbed its nose at all that, as did many others, but rarely with Tortoise’s cool knowingness.

6. Myths of the Near Future, by The Klaxons (2007)
Designed by Simon Taylor and Jamie Reynolds
Proof that great sleeves still appear – this is what a pop sleeve should be. Messy, chaotic and forbidding to all except the initiated. Like the Tortoise sleeve, it’s anti-design and both sleeves are designed by band members. It used to be the kiss of death for covers, but not any more.


7. Bitches Brew, by Miles Davis (1970)
Designed by Mati Klarwein
It’s almost impossible for me to talk about album cover art without talking about the music. I am still listening to Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, and acutely remember shelling out for the vinyl in southern France as a teenager and being transfixed by Mati Klarwein’s gatefold sleeve. The downsizing of the 12-inch gatefold, first to CD-size and now to a 40-pixels square on the iTunes home page, now renders this kind of image almost obsolete.

8. Hub-Tones, by Freddie Hubbard (1962)
Designed by Reid Miles and Francis Wolff
Reid Miles and his regular collaborator Francis Wolff changed album sleeves forever in the decade they worked together for Blue Note records. There are dozens, but Hub-Tones by Freddie Hubbard, with its one pictorial ‘black note’, takes the prize for me. There’s a kind of musical in-joke here, in that the blue notes of the most common key in jazz, B=flat, can be picked out on the black keys of a piano.

9. Go2, by XTC (1978)
Designed by Hipgnosis
A great sleeve, decades ahead of its time, made more poignant by the fact that it was designed by Hipgnosis, itself responsible for the great artwork excess of the decade that preceded it. I’ve always loved the way it describes the entire record buying – and sleeve designing – process, and eschews the traditional approach, while admitting all the time that it is, in its own way, a kind of double bind. I’d argue that we’ve all forgotten (or never heard) the music itself. But the music’s become irrelevant now the sleeve itself has a design life of its own.


10. The Count Basie Band
Designed by John Murello
This is one of a series of covers using this simple typographical flag effect. It is a technique made popular in the 1960s and 1970s by printing type on to thin photographic paper to undulate and re-shoot in line – a favoured device of the great Italian graphic designer Franco Grignani who, for a time, made distorted type his own. I love the boldness of this simple effect.

11. Unity, by Larry Young (1965)
Designed by Reid Miles
Ultimate simplicity from designer Reid Miles, master of 1950s and 1960s album covers for the jazz label Blue Note Records. Throughout his time with the company, Miles pushed every single typographical configuration, giving the label an instantly recognisable personality. Put in an album rack today it would still raise an eyebrow as it looks remarkably fresh.

12. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, by Spiritualized (1997)
Designed by Mark Farrow
In my view, Mark Farrow is a designer who stands out head and shoulders above the rest. His sheer inventiveness and ability to get the seemingly impossible through is a triumph. This cover is a tour de force in subverting what an album cover should be. The pharmaceutical-style package uses an actual blister pack containing a 3-inch CD in each blister – and it is just one of a many highly original covers that Farrow has created over the past 20 years.

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