10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Ross Clugston

Words by Ross Clugston
Date 2023-01-27

While I could have chosen 10 album covers from Raymond Pettibon alone – he is all at once incredible, awe-inspiring and thought-provoking, both as a creative and an artist – I resisted the urge, instead hoping to take Muse by Clio readers on a visual tour through the creases of my mind. From Jeff Jank to H.R. Giger to Peter Corriston, you can glimpse the illustrations, sketches, collages and artwork which have brought me as much creative joy as they have inspiration, through the years.

Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters (1973) Cover by Victor Moscoso

Why I love this album has nothing to do with the music. The vibrant, vibrating colors set you in a blues and jazzy mood... while the montage of individuals in the foreground and background and the track watermelon man guide you on an intrinsically mellow musical journey. As I recall, my first intro to Herbie Hancock came during the release of a Spoke Jonze skate film "Mouse". A combination of Guy Mariano's "couldn't care less" era paired with such an unusual track/earworm was something that came to define the way I think about editing and finding pairings that at first glance don't pair well and would seem like a toxic mix, only to end up as something potentially timeless and era-defining.

Madvillain, Doom and Madlib (2002) Cover by Jeff Jank

Using a grayscale photo of Doom in his metal mask, Stone Throw's art director Jeff Jank created this cover art to give Madvillain a face, something he pointed out in an interview with Ego Trip as Doom didn't have an identity at the time. But to be fair, the mystery behind Doom was so enigmatic, that even then, anything that trickled out was eagerly consumed. Every collaboration was unexpected; for instance, accordion was an odd combination of using an actual accordion while freestyling. Back then and even now, artists didn't use an instrument like this one unless it was autotuned and synthesized to sound like a completely different animal. This pushed me to think about smashing things together that don't traditionally fit and embracing obscurity in the seemingly mundane. But also, the mask is so fucking iconic, and I love the way it balances Madvillain between benevolence and malevolence.

Danzig III: How the Gods Kill (1992) Cover by H. R. Giger

Giger's Meister und Margarita painting from 1976 is featured on 1992's "How the Gods Kill," with the Danzig skull logo added by the artist. While the music isn't his best, this cover was my first introduction to his dark world. The idea that you could be that horrifying and sexual at the same time opened my mind to the concept that art didn't have to be a pretty picture thing you hang on the wall. And also it's fucking Danzig, and the music itself—along with this cover art—transports you to another dimension.

Beastie Boys, License to Ill (1986) Cover by Rick Rubin

It's the Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin, and it's a jet as a joint… This cover overall is a deceptively complex piece of work. The Beastie Boys were deliberately loud, crude and in your face, and this cover art reflects such. But also, it's the first time the Beastie Boys apologized for something. Doesn't sound like a huge deal perhaps, but it definitely made me reflect on the things I say on any given day and the weight that all our words carry.

Sonic Youth, Goo (1990) Cover by Raymond Pettibon

Yes, Kim Gordon is the coolest. But this was really my first introduction to Raymond Pettibon. Sonic Youth chose a Pettibon illustration of a photo featuring Maureen Hindley and David Smith (witnesses in the Moors murders trial), instead of the original thought of a Joan Crawford sketch. I could do this entire list and just use Pettinbon's covers. He is that good. Black Flag, OFF!, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Cerebral Ballzy. The simple line work, done with India Ink on paper. His art is iconic, constantly parodied, and something I will forever aspire to imitate.

The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978) Cover by Peter Corriston

I inherited this album from my childhood mate's dad at the dewy age of 17. The die-cut faces, the collage and the color made this a tactile object which evoked the desire to hold the album in your very own hands. This is a reminder of how even today's artists don't really need a computer, just some old ads from magazines left by your parents on the coffee table, an old pair of Wiss tailor scissors and some simple glue. Makes me think of the joy I experience these days when I see work done by Greg Lamarche and Morning Breath.

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (2003) Cover by Stanley Donwood

I love hearing about others' creative processes as each creative has their very own method toward developing a masterpiece. And Mr. Donwood certainly has some great ways of getting to an idea. This one was based on lawn signs which people might view from the passenger seat of a car, and surprisingly, show that street signs only come in five colors… (weird, I know, and something I hadn't recognized previously). But we've all been there. You see a sign, read a book, hear a soundtrack or even view a piece of content and just think to yourself, “Man, that’s clever. Hearing how artists approach a challenge and unlock an idea is incredibly satisfying to me and I could listen to process stories all day.

Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, WAP (2020) Cover by Marcelo Cantu

Cardi B's single "WAP," featuring Meghan Thee Stallion became quite the cultural and global phenomenon, let alone becoming one of the top record-breaking TikTok trends. This masterpiece, illustrated by Marcelo Cantu, became iconic and controversial, and although this song is thought of as something taboo due to its sexual nature, it's as Trevor Noah said—"It's actually a song about giving a cat a bath." Cantu is upending the tropes of the fashion industry. His work is frightening, surreal and also pretty timeless. It's as if Cantu creates an artistic Eden, a perfect balance between good and evil and the beautiful and the unsatisfying, that always keeps you on edge by questioning the status quo.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats (1981)

Throughout my childhood, this album was played over and over again as I was raised by a mother who adored Andrew Lloyd Webber. As for Cats, she loved it. Simple and iconic is the perfect word to describe the cover. The human touch and personality come through in creative work, and that definitely inspired me to move away from computerized brutalist work.

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (1970) Cover by Mati Klarwein

As a departure from the overused blue note design style that had become the boring standard for jazz, Bitches Brew accurately translates what's going on musically and represents Miles Davis' vision. Entering the world of cover art is like entering a world accompanied by Miles Davis' music. There is a universe of emotions embodied within it.

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Muse by Clio