14 Album Covers That Shaped Pop Culture

Man looking at album cover, CD, Music Store

A stunning album cover helps sell the record and can make the release part of music history. One glance at the design, and we instantly know the title and the artist.

A popular online forum recently discussed the most iconic album covers of all time, and here are their findings.

1. The Beatles: Abbey Road

The Beatles, Abbey Road
Image Credit: Apple Records.

As forum members correctly pointed out, this album cover has become so iconic that the pedestrian crossing on the cover has become a tourist attraction. OK, the actual crossing has been moved from its original location, but we won't let that fact get in the way of its historical significance.

2. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Image Credit: Harvest/Capitol.

One look at the prism, refracting light, and you should instantly recognize the album and the band. Artists know they've made it when their covers make for popular T-shirt designs, and Dark Side of the Moon must be one of the best sellers in terms of merchandise.

3. The Clash: London Calling

London Calling - The Clash
Image Credit: CBS, Epic.

The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar in New York in 1979 became part of music history. The photograph, by Pennie Smith, made it onto the cover of this album, while the guitar is now in a museum. The forum loved it, although one poster felt that the cover gave a nod to Elvis Presley's debut album.

4. Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction

Appetite for Destruction (1987) by Guns N' Roses
Image Credit: Geffen Records.

One commenter couldn't believe they had to scroll down so far to find this suggestion. Appetite for Destruction features the classic G N'R lineup as skeletal forms of themselves, and the design is another T-shirt top seller.

5. The Beatles: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Image Credit: RSO Records.

It's rare for a band to earn two inclusions on this list, but how could we leave out Sgt Pepper? The forum agrees, with the album earning several mentions. The design was praised for its homages and spoofs of famous people.

6. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
Image Credit: Factory Records.

I have yet to judge an album by its subsequent merchandise sales, but many will wear this design without knowing its origins. The cover of Unknown Pleasures is taken from the tracking of radio emissions from a rotating neutron star. The band saw it and thought it was pretty cool.

7. Iron Maiden: Killers

Iron Maiden, Killers
Image Credit: EMI Records.

One individual considers British artist Derek Riggs a genius, and it's hard to disagree. His designs of early Iron Maiden albums and their iconic “Eddie” are crucial to the band's image. There are many to choose from, but Killers edges the vote.

8. Bad: Michael Jackson

Bad, Michael Jackson
Image Credit: Epic Records.

A photo of the artist at the peak of his powers. What could be more iconic than that? Replies on this discussion back up this suggestion, with one person claiming that you saw this image on posters everywhere from Bad's release in 1987.

9. Sticky Fingers: The Rolling Stones

Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones
Image Credit: Rolling Stones Records.

When Andy Warhol designs your album artwork, you know it will be unforgettable. Sticky Fingers needs no details of the band or artist on the cover. One look at the suggestive image of a pair of jeans is all you need.

10. Metallica: Metallica

Metallica (The Black Album), Metallica (1991)
Image Credit: Elektra Records.

One respondent suggested that this cover is so iconic that they, and many other fans, needed clarification about the record's title. They referred to it as “the black album.” It's not entirely black, with the snake design adding a subtle hint of menace.

11. Judas Priest: British Steel

Judas Priest, British Steel
Image Credit: Columbia Records.

Is it a coincidence that so many metal bands are on this list? Artists in this genre take cover design more seriously than others. I agree with the forum suggestion that British Steel shaped pop culture. It's a simple design with a hand holding a razor blade, but it encapsulates that period and the resurgence in this style of music.

12. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
Image Credit: DJM Records.

The artwork by Ian Beck perfectly sums up the message behind the title track of this song. Here we have the rock star, Elton John, heading back along the yellow brick road to the dreamy countryside and a simpler life. It's a brilliant design worthy of more mention on this thread.

13. Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive!

Peter Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive!
Image Credit: A&M Records.

Artist, instrument, album title: everyone should have followed Peter Frampton's lead if that's the formula for a game-changing album cover. The music is the bigger deal, but it turned the artwork into another iconic cover.

14. Taylor Swift: 1989

Taylor Swift - 1989 (2014)
Image Credit: Big Machine.

We'll finish with what may be seen as a debatable inclusion. Were forum members apprehensive about putting Taylor Swift forward? After it was suggested on the thread, one reply said they would have posted 1989 but were concerned about downvotes!

Source: (Reddit).

Author: Matt Harris

Title: Writer

Expertise: Sports, music, travel, food, trending topics


Matt is a journalist who began his career writing for print media in the 1990s. After filing cricket reports for local newspapers, he contributed to many periodicals in the spheres of sport, collecting, and food and drink. Having attended hundreds of concerts and sporting events, he now focuses on music as well as sport, and is happy to have lasted through to the digital age.