Columbia Records' Peter Goldmark invented the LP in 1948, and until the late '80s, when CDs surpassed them in sales, it was the primary medium for recorded music. Here is a sampling -- by no means exhaustive -- of some distinctive album covers.
"Straight Outta Compton," N.W.A.: This photograph is considered one of the most provocative to ever grace an album cover: six guys staring toward the ground, one pointing a handgun. As the cover art for "Straight Outta Compton," the pioneering debut album by N.W.A., it's the image of the record that revolutionized gangsta rap and redefined hip-hop.
"Bringing It All Back Home," Bob Dylan: Dylan's album covers have ranged from great ("Freewheelin'," "Nashville Skyline") to abysmal ("Empire Burlesque"). But perhaps the most Dylan-esque is this 1965 entry, photographed by Daniel Kramer. A fallout shelter sign? A woman in red (manager Albert Grossman's wife, Sally)? That gray cat? Whatever Dylan's trying to say, this cover encapsulates it ... somehow.
"What's Going On," Marvin Gaye: Like most Motown artists, Marvin Gaye stayed with the label's don't-rock-the-boat program in the 1960s. But his landmark 1971 album, inspired in part by his brother's return from Vietnam, took on the woes of America and the black experience. The cover photo, of a brooding Gaye in the rain, captures the tone perfectly.
"Wish You Were Here," Pink Floyd: No gallery of album covers would be complete without at least one representative from the design team of Hipgnosis, known for its surreal photographic imagery. Hipgnosis' works include Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy," 10cc's "Deceptive Bends" and Peter Gabriel's first three solo albums. "Here," Pink Floyd's 1975 record, is particularly arresting: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire, with the flames licking the frame of the photograph.
"The World Is a Ghetto," War: The loose and socially conscious California funk of War made for a terrific sketch of urban life, and the cover of the band's 1972 album -- Howard Miller's drawing of a luxury car with a flat tire amid the clotheslines and apartments of an inner-city streetscape -- was a nice representation.
"Live and More," Donna Summer: The Queen of Disco seldom looked more alluring than she did on the cover of her 1978 album. From the eyeshadow to the backlit hair, the picture was as exciting as Summer's songs.
"Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet": Esmond Edwards' minimalist illustration of a reclining woman is all angles and as sharp as the band itself on Davis' 1956 album. The band included John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.
"Ramones": The cover of the band's 1975 debut, with a black and white photograph of the band by Roberta Bayley and "RAMONES" in Franklin Gothic font, offered some inkling to the blunt music within: direct, aggressive and no-holds-barred.
"Between the Buttons," the Rolling Stones: The Stones' bad-boy image was often just that -- an image -- but you'd never know from looking at the cover of their 1967 album. Gered Mankowitz's photograph shows a group looking positively sinister, with Charlie Watts, of all people, the obvious mastermind.
"More Songs about Buildings and Food," Talking Heads: This most artistic of bands -- in fact, they were once called "the Artistics" -- liked artsy album covers. 1978's "Buildings and Food" cover consisted of a band portrait constructed with Polaroids. Jimmy De Sana did the work.
"Season of Glass," Yoko Ono: Six months after her husband, John Lennon, was shot to death in front of their apartment building, Ono put out 1981's "Season of Glass." The cover couldn't have been a more stark image of grief and perseverance: Lennon's blood-stained glasses and a half-full glass of water.
"Disraeli Gears," Cream: You can practically taste the sugar cube of psychedelia coming off Cream's 1967 album: lightning bolts, wings, trees and bubbles, all in Day-Glo colors. The band stares at you from the top. Design by Martin Sharp.
"Hotel California," Eagles: The Southern California band's 1976 magnum opus was a world-weary look at El Lay culture, starting with the cover: a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander, with tweaks by design great John Kosh (ELO's "A New World Record," REO Speedwagon's "Hi Infidelity"). You can almost smell the colitas.
"ABC," Jackson 5: During its '60s heyday, Motown was not known for its album cover art, but sometimes an idea is so simple, it's brilliant -- hence having the Jackson 5 pose among three giant letters of the alphabet for the 1970 album "ABC." It's colorful, it's energetic, and it's a nice companion to the exciting songs on the LP, including "ABC" and "The Love You Save."
"Live at the Apollo, 1962," James Brown: James Brown in the studio was thrilling, but James Brown on stage was electrifying. The impressionistic cover of his 1963 album, with vibrant audience members milling outside a marquee, was done by Dan Quest.
"Spirit," Earth, Wind & Fire: Funk could go to otherworldly places, and Earth, Wind & Fire's covers regularly showed off a love of pyramids and Egyptian imagery. "Spirit," a 1976 release, was one of the band's more minimalist efforts; check out "All 'n' All" and "I Am" for more dramatic illustrations.
"The Joshua Tree," U2: A band known for big statements went truly expansive for its 1987 album, posing in California's Death Valley in a panoramic shot by Anton Corbijn. The photos were taken in December, so if you think U2 looks serious because they're cold, you're right.
"Radio," LL Cool J: Few items were as indicative of early rap than the boombox, and for his 1985 album, LL Cool J went with a big closeup of the necessary item. "I can't live without my radio," he raps -- but fans picked up the LP.