When Columbia Records introduced the first LPs in 1948, they didn’t just change how we listen to music. They also changed how we see it by popularizing illustrated album covers. (Before WWII, most records typically came in generic sleeves.)
In “Art Record Covers,” a new book from Taschen, art historian Francesco Spampinato shows just how far the practice has developed, highlighting 500 album covers designed by renowned visual artists, from Peter Blake’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” cover in 1967 to Jeff Koons’ bold collage for Lady Gaga’s 2013 album, “Art Pop.”
“Contemporary art is usually surrounded by an aura of sacredness, as if it is elevated from the mundane realm of daily life,” writes Spampinato. “In contrast, artists themselves have been increasingly exploring new avenues with which to communicate more directly, notably through the development of participatory practices and the collateral venturing into pop cultural realm such as television, advertising design, and music.”
The album cover specifically offers artists a mode to communicate directly with a wide audience, sidestepping gatekeepers like critics, museums and curators, and removing the barriers of price and access. (“Many of these records can be bought cheaply at flea markets, local record stores, or online,” he notes.)
Spampinato focuses on the works of some 270 artists across various disciplines, including contemporary heavyweights like Damien Hirst and Ai Weiwei, and groundbreaking figures like Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The diversity extends to the musicians featured too, with a mix of mainstream and underground musicians across genres.
Check out the gallery above for the stories behind 10 of the most recognizable album covers.
“Art Record Covers” by Francesco Spampinato, published by Taschen, is out now.