The perfect album cover doesn’t happen overnight.

Blood, sweat, tears, cash, and sleepless nights went into making every album cover on this list.

We’re here to help you understand what makes a great album cover and give you tips on how to make one using Linearity Curve.

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What should be on an album cover?

Shelf with vinyl albums
Image Source: Clay Banks

It’s all about the artwork for album cover designs. Alluring cover art can be one of the most significant factors determining how well an album is received.

Whether you go with pure graphic design, photography, illustration, or a mix of these disciplines, you must ensure it fits the band and the album’s content.

Your font choice and title placement can make your album design stand out. Skipping a title on the cover altogether can also be iconic. Whatever you decide to do, it must fit well with your cover art’s theme and color scheme.

Another vital consideration is whether or not to feature and photograph the band for the cover or to use artwork and graphic design instead.

Some bands even decide to feature just one or two members of their entire band on the cover. And hey, if you want to start a fight that could break up the band you’re designing for, by all means, go right ahead.

A good marketing and creative team will work together to find solutions that fit the band’s image and the creative meaning behind the album.

Now, let’s talk about why cover art matters.

Why are album covers important?

Iconic album covers can propel an album to the top of the charts, but it’s not an exact science. Cultural relevancy and shock factor can significantly affect how an album cover is received.

Sometimes, these covers are created before the band knows how much they will matter. Bands like Nirvana (among many others) created their album art without knowing the impending fame they would experience once it was released.

Some bands, models, and designers of these albums later said they regretted their creation choices. Nonetheless, these covers have gone down in history as iconic designs.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they were perfect or without flaws. Some were controversial enough to pique people’s interest and garner attention for the album.

Now, this list isn’t necessarily in order of importance (please don’t send us hate mail). It’s meant to demonstrate how album covers can make history and leave a lasting impact on pop culture.

So, here’s our list of the best album covers of all time.

1. The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969)

The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969)
Image Source: MoMA

The number one album cover on our list shouldn’t surprise you. It’s a classic for a reason. Not only is it one of the most classic albums musically, but the artwork itself is also a classic.

Photographer Iain Macmillan captured this image of the Beatles casually walking across London’s Abbey Road, which has since gone down in history.

The Beatles are widely regarded as the biggest band in history; they truly started the craze around boy bands. Bands like One Direction and the Backstreet Boys have them to thank for the notoriety that boy bands have today.

You have to read this kooky theory about the meaning behind the album that claims Paul McCartney died before the album was released.

2. The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

Andy Warhol Yellow Warhol
Image Source: Amazon

This classic design by Andy Warhol is one of the most unforgettable covers on this list. Warhol, a famous artist and film director, designed the album cover artwork and was the band’s manager.

Some might say this album cover has become more famous than the album itself. When released, the album didn’t exactly fly up the charts. It largely flopped, leading to the band breaking up and firing Warhol as their manager.

Today, it’s one of the most well-known albums (and covers) of all time.

An early vinyl record edition had a cheeky “peel slowly and see” written in the top right corner (pictured above).

When the banana was peeled back, a flesh-colored banana was pictured underneath—phallic, unique, quite Velvet Underground.

3. Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon
Image Source: MoMA

This is another iconic album with an iconic title. This cover features a stark contrast between the dark-as-night background and the white light passing through a prism, which creates the bright colors reflected on the other side.

The creative team behind the cover, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell—who also created Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy (1973) artwork—came up with the concept, and George Hardie carried out their vision.

This cover was the brainchild of one of their many brainstorming sessions that often stretched into the early mornings.

The prism visual has become an icon of Pink Floyd and is often seen on T-shirts and posters. Despite the mysterious band’s purposeful lack of promotional work, the album was an overwhelming success.

4. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin (1969)

Led Zeppelin airship
Image Source: Amazon

Led Zeppelin's debut album cover was nothing short of shocking when it came out.

The ink drawing created by George Hardie of the Hindenburg airship (adapted from a photo taken by Sam Shere in 1937) with Led Zeppelin in bold red letters launched this now-famous band into popularity.

The fact that the airship was a zeppelin certainly wasn’t an accident.

Featuring an image from the Hindenburg disaster was a bold move. But we have to wonder, would something this controversial be received well today? It’s hard to say for sure. 

George Hardie (who was paid $76 to create this now-famous drawing) has since said he wished he’d put more thought into using an image of this tragic event.

5. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Image Source: The Beatles

Another famous The Beatles album cover, Lonely Hearts Club Band features bright, psychedelic colors and prominent figures—58 celebrities, to be exact. How many do you recognize?

This chaotic collage image includes figures like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, and Albert Einstein.

Pop artists Peter Black and Jan Haworth (who were married then) staged this image, which is said to have been thought of by Paul McCartney himself.

The album cover cost around $3,000 to make. That amount might not sound like much, but that would be about $50,000 today. At that time, no album artwork had ever cost that much.

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6. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready To Die (1994)

The Notorious B.I.G.
Image Source: XXLmag

This album cover for Christopher Wallace (best known as The Notorious B.I.G.) started a remarkable career for the then-22-year-old.

His lyrical prowess is evident in this album, which has had a strong cultural impact. With this album, Biggie is said to have revitalized the East Coast hip-hop scene.

The stark blank canvas with a small child wearing only a diaper on the cover made a statement about innocence, new life, and vulnerability.

It all leads back to the concept behind the album: the life cycle of an artist.

7. Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)

Nirvana, Nevermind
Image Source: Amazon

Nevermind is one of Nirvana’s most popular titles, and the cover is unforgettable.

Much like The Notorious B.I.G. album, the baby on the cover featured on the cover represents innocence.

The fact that he is reaching for money represents the superficial values we pass on to children in our society, just the kind of statement Nirvana makes with their music.

Kurt Cobain, the band’s frontman, came up with the concept, which he allegedly thought of while watching a program about water births.

The child in question, Spencer Elden, has mixed feelings about having appeared naked on such a momentous album cover.

Nevermind wasn’t expected to be the major hit that it was. But in the end, this album cover fit Nirvana's energy perfectly.

8. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors (1977)

Fleetwood Mac, Rumors
Image Source: Amazon

Fleetwood Mac’s best-selling album has a cover with only 2 band members. It seems strange, we know.

Fleetwood Mac is infamous for its group dynamic. The band dated, fought and broke up, and Rumors is known to be based on much of that drama.

This cover prominently features Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, while the rest of the band is left out. Nicks is dancing and holding a crystal ball, while Fleetwood stands stoic with a pair of balls hanging between his legs.

Almost every band member was going through a tumultuous breakup or divorce at the time (some with each other), and that drama and intrigue play out throughout the album and cover art.
Blink 182
Image Source: Wikipedia

Evocative and instantly iconic, this image personifies the 90s pop-punk scene. The provocative cover photo of a nurse snapping her rubber gloves into place is hard to forget.

Enema of the State (a play on "enemy of the state") was a major success for the band and helped change the future of their genre.

Fun fact: the album was almost called “Turn Your Head and Cough,” hence the nurse costume.

David Goldman took this image, and the scantily clad nurse in the picture is adult film actress Janine Lindermulde. Lindermulde was also featured in the “Man Overboard” music video and “What’s My Age Again.”

10. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley (1956)

 Elvis Presley
Image Source: Genius

This album introduced Elvis to the world. As the oldest album on this list, this one has some serious prestige. Elvis has been a household name for generations.

This image was snapped in 1955 while Elvis performed at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Florida. The black-and-white action shot mixed with the colorful pop of large text is eye-catching and original.

The pink and green letters and unusual font were interesting choices by this album cover's creative team, and they seem to have paid off.

The Clash later copied this style for their album London Calling, further cementing the memorable style.

This is one of those classic albums that will go down in history because of its content and cover.

11. The Clash, London Calling (1979)

The Clash
Image Source: Discogs

The Clash created this album as a direct imitation of Elvis Presley’s debut album cover art, with a similar black and white action shot of them playing, coupled with identical font color and style.

The band’s bassist, Paul Simonon, is featured on the front smashing his guitar. This image is now displayed in the Cleveland Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.

The rebellious nature of this image and the guitar smashing on the cover embody rock and roll and perfectly represent the British punk rock scene of the late 70s and early 80s.

12. David Bowie, Aladdin Sane (1973)

David Bowie
Image Source: Udiscovermusic

Bowie’s 6th studio album was the first he released after gaining major notoriety in the mainstream media.

Bowie falls under the glam rock niche category and is known for his outlandish fashion style and stage presence. With red hair and a lightning bolt drawn on his face, this look leaves a distinctive impression.

This photo was the most expensive cover album shot by Brian Duffy at the time. To gain notoriety, a genuine effort was made to make the cost of the album record-breaking.

Fun fact: though Bowie is known for the lightning bolt, this was the only time he was pictured with it drawn on his face.

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13. Prince, Purple Rain (1984)

Purple Rain
Image Source: Udiscovermusic

Another outstanding cover cemented in pop culture. Who could forget this image of Prince in a purple suit, posed on a motorcycle?

In the summer of 1984, Prince flew to the top of the charts with his album Purple Rain. The album, cover art cover, and music video were an instant hit.

The title track, Purple Rain, is 8 minutes long (this was cut down from a whopping 11 minutes).

This cover image was photographed at the Warner Bros studio in California, and the background was purposefully made to look like a New York City tenement.

It’s a perfect sneak peek into what the now-famous music video would look like.

14. Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Joy Division
Image Source: Typeroom

Joy Division and the designer Peter Seville made an incredible choice in using iconic pulsar radio waves in this cover image.

This is an excellent example of how a minimalistic yet meaningful design can create an enormous impact.

Iconic album covers don’t always need to be bold, half-nude photos to capture attention. This album has left a lasting impression on the world of music.

Disney even created a parody of this album artwork featuring none other than Mickey Mouse.

Image Source: Pitchfork

15. Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A. (1984)

Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A.
Image Source: Amazon

This all-American cover image was the perfect aesthetic choice for Springsteen. The image perfectly represented him and his music and made him a cultural icon.

A ballcap tucked into his jeans, a giant American flag in the background, and the simplicity of blue jeans and a white shirt were the perfect representations of country music at the time.

The album title says it all: Springsteen is the quintessential American boy.

Springsteen had been well-known for almost a decade when this album was released. Still, this provocative and simple image created an awareness of his music that far exceeded his popularity.

16. The Smiths, Meat Is Murder (1985)

The Smiths, Meat Is Murder
Image Source: Discogs

This iconic cover art is another meant to provoke and create controversy, something the Smiths were familiar with.

This being only their second studio album, The Smiths made a big splash when it was released.

The band's lead singer, Morrissey, said the album cover’s design was intended to encourage activists to take a militant approach to their protests. Specifically, the animal rights movement.

A few band members were vegetarians, and Morrissey has always advocated reducing meat consumption.

Surprisingly, this was The Smiths’s only album to reach the elusive number-one spot on the UK’s top billboard charts.

17. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)

Neutral Milk Hotel
Image Source: The Spin

Neutral Milk Hotel might be one of the less well-known bands on this list of mega-stars, but they’re an indie favorite.

Chris Bilheimer created the cover for this album, which features an illustration of two people wading in the water, one with a drum over their face.

Jeff Mangum, the bandleader, wanted the album artwork to resemble 20th-century penny arcade artwork, so he asked Bilheimer to create something unique.

This indie rock/psychedelic folk band is known for having intentionally poor sound quality and surrealist lyrics.

The Aeroplane Over the Sea was their second and most well-known album, and it gained them a cult following that eventually led to lead singer Jeff Mangum purposefully fading out of the public eye.

18. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
Image source: MoMA

This brilliant cover perfectly expressed the Rolling Stones' music and persona. It was the first album released on their record label, Rolling Stones Records.

Andy Warhol (who also created the Velvet Underground album cover that captured the #2 spot on this list) considered the artwork for this album. 

Billy Name photographed it, and Craig Braun created the design.

The original cover design for this album included a working zipper that opened to reveal a pair of white boxer briefs. This feature is reminiscent of the Velvet Underground album that Warhol designed.

Notably, this was the first album to feature the iconic tongue-and-lips logo, which later became the band's central icon.

19. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)

Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
Image Source: Festivalpeak

Pink Floyd is known for its album art. It worked with the design studio Hipgnosis to create both album covers that made our top 20 list.

Aubrey “Po” Powell photographed the image, and the handshake featured on the cover was meant to symbolize empty gestures.

In the photograph, one man is on fire, while the other, dressed in a business suit, casually shakes his hand.

There are many interpretations, but many think it symbolizes that this gesture is typically made half-hearted and empty and that people tend to hide their real emotions from others.

20. Rage Against The Machine, Rage Against The Machine (1992)

Rage Against The Machine
Image Source: Amazon

This debut album by the soon-to-be controversial Rage Against the Machine evokes an emotional response immediately, even if you don’t recognize the famous image it features.

The 1963 image of the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức, who set himself on fire in protest of the oppression of Buddhists in Vietnam, is a historically famous image that holds significant meaning. Associated Press correspondent Malcolm Browne took the image.

The photo taken of this activist gained considerable attention and persuaded then-president John F. Kennedy to withdraw support from Vietnam.

Use Linearity Curve for your album cover designs

If you’re feeling inspired by all these great covers and want to make your own, we’re here to help. Linearity Curve offers all the tools and design templates you need to create album cover artwork that will blow everyone’s minds.

You can use Linearity Curve’s vector editing tools to create shapes, text, or draw objects. The powerful Pen Tool enables you to create Bézier curves (or paths) to draw unique shapes and complex image masks.

You can start for free below or check out our affordable upgrade options.

Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve

Take your designs to the next level.