The Best Album Covers in History (According to the Skillshare Community)

They say don’t judge books by their covers, not albums. For decades, album artwork has been considered an integral part of a musician’s work. It sets the tone for not just the album, but also the artist’s entire brand. Album covers have thrived as collectors’ items, posters in college dorm rooms, and well-worn t-shirts—well past when they were initially created to cover 78-rpm records.

Though most of us no longer buy records—or even CDs—the album cover lives on in the digital world. It accompanies artists’ compilations all over the internet, including SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Spotify. In 2017, we saw the simple yet bold album cover for Jay-Z’s 4:44 (an understated beige background with the title written in large, heavy font) and the arresting portrait of Lorde for her collection, Melodrama. Album artwork alone could arguably be enough to keep albums fresh and trendy, long past their debut. Many classic album covers have managed to stand the test of time. Tourists continue to recreate The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover when they visit London, and you’re just as likely to see a teenager wearing a Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt today as you were in 1973.

As with all art, appreciation is subjective. So we took to social media to find out which album covers our audiences considered to be the best to ever hit the record-store shelves.

Explore this list of Top Album Covers, then head over to our new class taught by acclaimed designer, Erik Marinovich, and recreate your favorite album cover in your own style. Trust us, you won’t be able to see this list without getting inspired.

   Awaken My Love  by Childish Gambino    Creative director:  Ibra Ake  You can’t help but stare into the blank eyes featured on Awaken my Love’s cover. It’s  the latest album from the iconic Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino. Is the expression on this face one of rapture, or should we fear it? It’s hard to say. Laura Wass of  WXYZ Jewelry  designed the headpiece encircling the face that’s inflected with blue and purple.  She also designed the crown that Beyoncé wore in her “7/11” video.

Awaken My Love by Childish Gambino

Creative director: Ibra Ake

You can’t help but stare into the blank eyes featured on Awaken my Love’s cover. It’s  the latest album from the iconic Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino. Is the expression on this face one of rapture, or should we fear it? It’s hard to say. Laura Wass of WXYZ Jewelry designed the headpiece encircling the face that’s inflected with blue and purple.  She also designed the crown that Beyoncé wore in her “7/11” video.

  Coexist by the xx    Designer:  Davy Evans  A single “X” is all the xx need to get their point across on the  Coexist  album cover. The stark, white background makes the X pop, while the otherwise ordinary image within—oil spilled on asphalt—brilliantly shines.

Coexist by the xx

Designer: Davy Evans

A single “X” is all the xx need to get their point across on the Coexist album cover. The stark, white background makes the X pop, while the otherwise ordinary image within—oil spilled on asphalt—brilliantly shines.

   The Division Bell  by Pink Floyd     Designer:  Storm Thorgerson  According to drummer Nick Mason, this cover is all about “making choices.”  The Division Bell  boasts a strong image that features two large, stone profiles (real statues Thorgerson erected in UK field), which almost create a single face.  It’s art with a message that’s conveyed throughout the album’s music.

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

Designer: Storm Thorgerson

According to drummer Nick Mason, this cover is all about “making choices.” The Division Bell boasts a strong image that features two large, stone profiles (real statues Thorgerson erected in UK field), which almost create a single face.  It’s art with a message that’s conveyed throughout the album’s music.

   Favorite Worst Nightmare  by the Arctic Monkeys     Design agency:  Juno  Released in 2007,  Favorite Worst Nightmare  is the Arctic Monkey’s second studio album. For this one, Juno artists painted the inside of this actual building while listening to the band’s tracks. It indeed looks like your favorite worst nightmare, with vibrant but unsettling designs lighting up an otherwise abandoned-looking structure.

Favorite Worst Nightmare by the Arctic Monkeys

Design agency: Juno

Released in 2007, Favorite Worst Nightmare is the Arctic Monkey’s second studio album. For this one, Juno artists painted the inside of this actual building while listening to the band’s tracks. It indeed looks like your favorite worst nightmare, with vibrant but unsettling designs lighting up an otherwise abandoned-looking structure.

   Melodrama  by Lorde    Designer:  Sam McKinnis  This Melodramatic cover features a portrait painted by Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinnis. He ended up working on the cover after Lorde sent him some fan mail. They became friends, which is probably why McKinnis so expertly captured the musician’s artistic vision with her likeness.

Melodrama by Lorde

Designer: Sam McKinnis

This Melodramatic cover features a portrait painted by Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinnis. He ended up working on the cover after Lorde sent him some fan mail. They became friends, which is probably why McKinnis so expertly captured the musician’s artistic vision with her likeness.

   Ruang Tunggu  by Payung Teduh    Ruang Tunggu  means “waiting room,” and the painted album cover looks like something you might see through the window of one. The cover represents a real marriage of visual art and the album’s content, both suggesting a place and a mood that viewers and listeners can easily find themselves lost in.

Ruang Tunggu by Payung Teduh

Ruang Tunggu means “waiting room,” and the painted album cover looks like something you might see through the window of one. The cover represents a real marriage of visual art and the album’s content, both suggesting a place and a mood that viewers and listeners can easily find themselves lost in.

   Oh By the Way  (box set) by Pink Floyd     Designer:  Storm Thorgerson  Like Pink Floyd’s  Ummagumma  album cover, this image depicts the same scene twice: a pink room reflected in a mirror within an almost identical pink room. In  addition to its expert composition (and pleasing shade of millennial pink), the cover also plays into the lyric that inspired the album’s name: “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” This question is asked in the song “Have a Cigar,” and also a frequent question from fans who thought that one of the band members was actually named “Pink Floyd.”

Oh By the Way (box set) by Pink Floyd

Designer: Storm Thorgerson

Like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma album cover, this image depicts the same scene twice: a pink room reflected in a mirror within an almost identical pink room. In  addition to its expert composition (and pleasing shade of millennial pink), the cover also plays into the lyric that inspired the album’s name: “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” This question is asked in the song “Have a Cigar,” and also a frequent question from fans who thought that one of the band members was actually named “Pink Floyd.”

   Riot  by Paramore     Designer:  Mark Obriski, in collaboration with Paramore  A loud example of text as art, Paramore’s Riot! masters the concept of sparingly using color. Positioned as they are, all the different, crudely drawn versions of the word “riot” look like a crowd rioting! They also presents a sort of “ Where’s Waldo ?" aesthetic: See if you can spot the band’s name…

Riot by Paramore

Designer: Mark Obriski, in collaboration with Paramore

A loud example of text as art, Paramore’s Riot! masters the concept of sparingly using color. Positioned as they are, all the different, crudely drawn versions of the word “riot” look like a crowd rioting! They also presents a sort of “Where’s Waldo?" aesthetic: See if you can spot the band’s name…

   Dangerous  by Michael Jackson     Designer:  Mark Ryden  Pop surrealist Mark Ryden designed this busy Michael Jackson album cover. The imagery exemplifies royalty and excess, but also the fanfare of a circus. It points to the idea of a sparkly veneer as a performance. Jackson’s music is poppy and danceable, but there’s always a dark layer underneath the joy, and this cover depicts the character of his music.

Dangerous by Michael Jackson

Designer: Mark Ryden

Pop surrealist Mark Ryden designed this busy Michael Jackson album cover. The imagery exemplifies royalty and excess, but also the fanfare of a circus. It points to the idea of a sparkly veneer as a performance. Jackson’s music is poppy and danceable, but there’s always a dark layer underneath the joy, and this cover depicts the character of his music.

   Melophobia  by Cage the Elephant    Designer:  R Clint Colburn  This cover is just plain cool. Artist R Clint Colburn created the three-dimensional sculpture, then photographed it on a background with black-and-white stripes. Therefore, he created a disorienting visual effect that’s almost hypnotic, and certainly captivating.

Melophobia by Cage the Elephant

Designer: R Clint Colburn

This cover is just plain cool. Artist R Clint Colburn created the three-dimensional sculpture, then photographed it on a background with black-and-white stripes. Therefore, he created a disorienting visual effect that’s almost hypnotic, and certainly captivating.

   Underground  by Thelonious Monk    Designers:  John Berg and Richard Mantel   Photograph studio:  Steve Horn and Norman Griner  In an image that unexpectedly harkens to the French Resistance during World War II, Thelonious Monk poses at a piano, smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, a Nazi (who nearly blends into the rest of the scenery) sits tied up in the corner. The album came out in 1968 (well after WWII, but during the Vietnam War), presenting a political message: Certain historical motifs remain relevant well beyond their time.

Underground by Thelonious Monk

Designers: John Berg and Richard Mantel

Photograph studio: Steve Horn and Norman Griner

In an image that unexpectedly harkens to the French Resistance during World War II, Thelonious Monk poses at a piano, smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, a Nazi (who nearly blends into the rest of the scenery) sits tied up in the corner. The album came out in 1968 (well after WWII, but during the Vietnam War), presenting a political message: Certain historical motifs remain relevant well beyond their time.

Erik Marinovich’s reimagined album covers!

Now that you’ve explored the Skillshare community’s favorite album covers, it’s time to think about creating your own. Get started with some ideas from designer Erik Marinovich:

Pop in your favorite album and learn how to design your own cover in Erik Marinovich’s new class, “Expressive Lettering: Experimenting with Image and Type”.