Digging in the Crates for the Best “Art Record Covers” Ever Made

Artwork: Spread from the book featuring (on right) art: Keith Haring / music: Emanon / record: The Baby Beat Box / year: 1986 / label: Pow Wow Records / format: Album 12 ̋ / artwork: Painting

Once upon a time, just a couple of decades ago, new albums used to be released on vinyl, which was carefully stored inside 12 x 12 inch record sleeves. In the days before video killed the radio star, all you’d have available was what you held in your hands. You’d pop the record on the turntable, drop the needle and then sit back, gazing upon the album cover searching for some sort of understanding.

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There was something profound about the simplicity of it all, the single image becoming an icon all its own. Sight and sound complemented each other, like yin and yang, striking the perfect balance of substance and style. Then, everything began to change. The record gave way to the CD and the image scaled down tremendously. But that was nothing compared to the current lay of the land, where the album cover appears as a thumbnail image in the upper half of our smart phone.

If you missed it, c’est la vie. Times change, invariably. But if you miss it, and you want that good thing back, Taschen has just released Art Record Covers, a 448-page compendium of the finest collaborations between musicians and artists. Edited by Francesco Spampinato and Julius Wiedemann, the book is perfectly sized at 12 x 12 inches, capturing and recreating the visual impact each image once possessed.

Back when the music industry was a powerhouse, they had clout, they had budgets, and they had the wherewithal to turn a record release into a culture event. They brought great talents together and created the perfect combinations that, to this day, have a potent effect. The Andy Warhol cover for the Rolling StonesSticky Fingers is just as hot as it was back in 1971, proving the old adage that suggestion is far more compelling than anything else. It’s quite a pleasure to see these works of art, just like the music, hold up to the test of time.

art: Takashi Murakami / music: Kanye West / record: Graduation / year: 2007 / label: Roc-A-Fella Records / format: Album 2×12 ̋, CD / artwork: Digital compositing

Art Record Covers features a dizzying array of collaborations organized alphabetically, taking us on a wondrous tramp through the annals of pop culture and its aesthetic majesties. There is so much here it’s hard to know where to begin. Consider Jean-Michel Basquiat for Rammellzee’s Beat Bop, made in 1984, one of the best underground Hip Hop records ever released. Contrast it with Takashi Murakami for Kanye West’s Graduation from 2007 to consider just how far we’ve come over the course of three decades, with the underground going overground and taking over the globe.

Sit back and reflect on Peter Blake and Jamm Haworth, whose image for The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band has been recreated ad infinitum. What is more famous—the art or the songs?

Remember when Patti Smith hit the scene in 1975 with her elegant black and white portrait on the cover of Horses, launching both herself and Robert Mapplethorpe to the world? Or how about all those Raymond Pettibon covers for Black Flag, creating a fresh look for the newly emerging West Coast punk scene?

Page after page Art Record Covers deliver the goods, with style after style on some 500 works spanning a period of six decades. It surprises and delights, with unexpected collaborations like Andres Serrano and Metallica, Victor Vasarely and David Bowie, and Kara Walker and Arturo Lindsay—recalling the endless pleasure of gazing upon a single image for hours on end.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.