ACHOF presents the Art on My Sleeves series – Episode 1 – All Nerve: Album Cover Graphic Design

All Nerve Record Cover Collage by Jules Seamer

Posted January 14th, 2022, with an update posted January 18th, 2022

Highlights from the original exhibition curated by Jules Seamer, with text edited/updated by the Album Cover Hall of Fame’s Mike Goldstein

#1 in the Art on My Sleeves series – All Nerve: Album Cover Graphic Design – In addition to the musical and business aspirations that have inspired individuals and record labels to produce packaged music products for sale to fans worldwide, the album cover art projects associated with these records have benefitted over the years from the talents of the people who’ve worked on them, the tools they had available to create “just the right” cover image and the dynamics of what constituted “Popular Culture” at the time they were created.

The use of Graphic Design – or “Commercial Art”, as it was once called – on album covers was brought about due to the successful efforts of several early pioneers, the most notable being commercial artists including Alex Steinweiss who, in 1938, became the first art director for Columbia Records and, in 1940, Introduced first individually-designed record cover (Smash Song Hits by Rodgers & Hart) and went on to pioneer cardboard sleeve-based packaging for 33-1/3 RPM LPs in 1948. He was joined at Columbia by Jim Flora and Robert M. “Bob” Jones in the mid-1940s (followed by Saul Bass, S. Neil Fujita and Bob Cato) while, over at the jazz labels Verve, Blue Note and others, talented artists including David Stone Martin, Reid Miles and Andy Warhol produced covers that brought them fame thanks to their iconic design work. Whether helping to shape the vision of a label, as Barney Bubbles did at Stiff, Vaughan Oliver did at 4AD or Peter Saville crafted for Factory or establishing a style that became synonymous with the bands they had as clients (like Hipgnosis for Pink Floyd or Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols), album cover graphic designers were deservedly hailed for creating mini-masterpieces that made an art form out of the album cover.

All Nerve Record Covers on display

The scope of the visual artist’s role has also changed dramatically over the years as the music industry’s methods of producing and delivering retail music products has morphed from delivering analog music on 12” vinyl discs packaged inside cardboard sleeves, cassettes and 8-tracks to digital music delivered on shiny metal discs and, ultimately, via the Internet (and, to a degree, back again to vinyl!). Therefore, these individuals have had to update their skills in order to participate in the huge variety of related production projects that ultimately produce what’s needed to help their clients deliver the myriad of products (records, merchandise, stage shows, fan sites, etc.) that are needed now to earn a living as a working musician. Many established producers of album art have devoted the time and resources to stay current with the latest advances in technology and production techniques, while others have “stayed pure” to their original skill sets, hoping that either their clients will still want “old style” values applied to their projects or that there will be others who can assist them in adapting their art for use in new ways. And, of course, as older talent retires, there’s always new talent who will bring new skills, experiences, and an eye towards the future to the demands of today’s music industry clientele, with many of these people able to take on several roles traditionally found working in/for record labels.

Throughout the years, a project team could choose to either follow the “state of the art” at the times these projects were undertaken or, for a variety of reasons, choose to try something new and exciting with the hopes that their clients, the censors and -most-importantly – the fans would support their work. Some artists working in certain genres would often follow accepted “templates” of album packaging style (e.g., picture of band, title, subtitle/list of hit music included), while others would look to test the application of new technologies (e.g., fish-eye lenses, die-cutting, computer-aided design and drawing, etc.) to produce something “different”.

More of the All Nerve Record Collection on display

However, as album cover art grew in its importance as a method by which record labels could both promote and differentiate their latest releases, the talents of many people were brought to the table so that these products could be produced with a degree of quality, reliability and cost-effectiveness that would keep “the bean counters upstairs” happy (and willing to fund the next “crazy” request). Working with the crews at the various cover printing companies, a label’s design team would experiment with different materials (both sides of the cardboard flat, printing inks, lacquers, etc.), embossing, layering, various cuts and folds, two and three-record sets (gatefolds and tri-folds), records packaged in aluminum reel cans, etc., leading up to today’s box sets and specially-produced, limited-edition packages presented to consumers in a variety of ways. In recent years, this has included custom-make suitcases, hand-carved wooden boxes and, in one case, a refrigerator!

Now, about those designers…what exactly do they do? An album cover designer is quite simply a graphic designer who happens to focus on music related projects. Often, designers who work on cover art and liner notes also dabble in designing posters, t-shirts and other merch for the artists with whom they work (although not all do). The extent of a designer’s input into the finished album artwork and liner notes can vary greatly from job to job, depending on what the musicians and/or label wants.  The person hiring the designer (usually, the art director) determines the extent of the work that needs to be done on each individual project. Sometimes, a label or the musicians will have a very specific idea of what they want on their album cover – they may have a photo or design in mind, and they may have predetermined everything from font to color. In this case, the designer oversees the translation of the band/label’s vision into a physical product and then putting it into the proper format to be delivered for manufacturing.

In other cases, the designer may be asked to come up with a design from scratch and then will work with the band/label to settle on a final version of the layout and graphics. Once settled, the designer will create comps for review and work with the other design team members to determine the best way(s) to craft the final product. Designers will use a variety of techniques (drawing, painting, typography, etc.) and tools (both traditional and computer-aided) to create the designs called for in the brief.

Imagine what the creative briefs and job assignments must have been for some of your best-loved album covers… Well, I have asked that of the many creative leads and production specialists I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the past 10 years and, as you’d imagine, the answers make for some very interesting storytelling. The engineers, designers and other specialists working on these projects bring different backgrounds and expertise to the table. Using their knowledge of the latest tools, materials and production techniques – and when the chemistry is good between the design and production teams – wonderful things can happen and, as you’ll see in the following examples selected and detailed by Jules, quite often do…

David Bowie – Tonight (1984). Sleeve design: Mick Haggerty 

The cover artwork for Tonight was designed by Mick Haggerty, who also designed the artwork for Bowie’s previous album (1983’s Let’s Dance) and would go on to do the same for the next, 1987’s Never Let Me Down. It features a blue-painted Bowie, with his hair dyed dark brown, against a backdrop of oil-paint “daubs” and flowers. For the design, Bowie asked Haggerty to create “something heroic”, pointing to a 1952 Vladimir Tretchikoff painting of a blue-skinned Chinese woman (titled Chinese Girl*) for reference. Although the online music/art magazine Consequence of Sound considers the artwork one of Bowie’s “most genuinely beautiful” covers, rock music journalist and author Paul Du Noyer has said: “If you look at the album covers and the way he’s dressed, it looks like a man who has let himself be designed by others rather than reinventing himself, which is what he has proverbially always done.” It has been compared to the works of Gilbert & George**, the famed design duo who also featured prominently in Bowie’s own collection of fine art.

* Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff
** Design by Gilbert & George

Ryuichi Sakamoto – B-2 Unit (1980). Sleeve illustration: Tsuguya Inoue

Born in 1947, Inoue founded his own design office, Beans, in 1978.  Per his site bio, “his work for industries ranging from advertising to music, publishing and television has cut across genre boundaries with the innovative use of photography and typography”.  

This sleeve design for former EDM music pioneer Sakamoto (keyboardist and vocalist of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame) shows elements of both Russian Constructivism and Dada.Inoue’s other album art credits include packages for jazz guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, several others for Sakamoto and three mid-1980s designs for Yellow Magic Orchestra.                                                                                                                        

Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977). Sleeve design: Jamie Reid                                

An Album Cover Hall of Fame inductee in 2013 in the “Album Cover Illustrator/Typographer” category, artist Jamie Reid is “an artist with a capital ‘A’” whose Never Mind The Bollocks…Here’s The Sex Pistols record sleeve was once voted the “second best ever” by Rolling Stone magazine and an artist who you cannot get through art school without studying. His father, the City Editor on London’s Daily Sketch, and his mother, (who, according to Reid, was “a firm believer in fairies”), were steeped in spiritual socialism. Their philosophical legacy inspired Jamie to dive into the protest movement at the first opportunity, which just happened to be the student movement of ’68, organizing an occupation of Croydon Art College together with Malcolm McLaren.

The pair teamed-up later that year to make a film about the ‘History Of Oxford Street’, before going their separate ways – McLaren into the fashion business and Reid “into the rebellion business”, where he co-founded Suburban Press magazine in 1970. It was here that Jamie developed his unique style that was later used in Punk. Punk, inspired by Reid’s accessible, easy to copy graphics, started a do-it-yourself revolution which is still very much kicking, and ripping-up the rules the world over.

His work, featuring letters cut from newspaper headlines in the style of a ransom note, came close to defining the image of punk rock, particularly in the UK. His best known works include art for the aforementioned Sex Pistols album and the singles “Anarchy in the UK”, “God Save The Queen”* (based on a Cecil Beaton photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, with an added safety pin through her nose, once described by Sean O’Hagan of The Observer as “the single most iconic image of the punk era”), “Pretty Vacant” and “Holidays in the Sun”.

The album was originally going to be titled God Save Sex Pistols, and Reid’s cover concept refrained from including a picture of the group. Instead, the dramatic images were presented in Day-Glo yellow (for UK buyers) and red (in the US), with cut-out lettering and a finish resembling crude screen-prints. The album’s title changed in mid-1977, based on a phrase supplied by Steve Jones. Jones said he picked up the phrase “never mind the bollocks” from two fans who would always say it to one another. Johnny Rotten explained its meaning as a working-class expression to “stop talking rubbish”.

* God Save The Queen variant by Jamie Reid

Eels – Beautiful Freak (1996). Sleeve design: Francesca Restrepo                                                          

The band’s principal member Mark Oliver Everett had suggested having a little girl with big eyes on the cover of their full-length debut album. The girl that came in to have her picture taken incidentally looked “like a miniature Susan” to Everett, a girlfriend of his a few years before and the subject of the song “Susan’s House”. Francesca Restrepo is a graphic artist whose L.A.-based Design Palace studio has produced dozens of album covers, including those on records from Spin Doctors, Roseanne Cash, Mick Ronson, Cowboy Junkies, Weezer and, in addition to Beautiful Freak, nearly a dozen more singles and albums for alt-rockers Eels.

The Clash – (1977). Sleeve design: Rosław Szaybo. Sleeve photography: Kate Simon Simon               

The album’s front cover photo, shot by Kate Simon, was taken in the alleyway directly opposite the front door of the band’s ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’ building in Camden Market. Drummer Terry Chimes, though a full member of the Clash at the time, did not appear in the picture as he had already decided to leave the group. Photographer Rocca Macauley provided the photo found on the album’s back panel.

The cover artwork was designed by Roslav Szaybo, CBS Records’ principal art director and the man responsible for overseeing the design of hundreds of records for label acts in the classical, jazz and pop/rock genres. He remained at the company until 1988, ultimately returning to his native Poland in 1993, where he continued to find success doing work for a variety of acts there. He also launched a photography workshop at his alma mater (the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw) and later accepted the role as the artistic director at Czytelnik, the country’s oldest post-WW2 publishing house.

Before he passed away in 2019 at the age of 85, in 2018, Szaybo was honored with the “Gold Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artisgranted” award by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

Interesting tidbit – in addition to designing Judas Priest’s iconic logo, it is Szaybo’s hand that’s seen holding the large steel razor blade seen on the cover of the band’s 1980 heavy metal masterpiece British Steel.

The cover artwork was designed by Roslav Szaybo, CBS Records’ principal art director and the man responsible for overseeing the design of hundreds of records for label acts in the classical, jazz and pop/rock genres. He remained at the company until 1988, ultimately returning to his native Poland in 1993, where he continued to find success doing work for a variety of acts there. He also launched a photography workshop at his alma mater (the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw) and later accepted the role as the artistic director at Czytelnik, the country’s oldest post-WW2 publishing house.Before he passed away in 2019 at the age of 85, in 2018, Szaybo was honored with the “Gold Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artisgranted” award by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.Interesting tidbit – in addition to designing Judas Priest’s iconic logo, it is Szaybo’s hand that’s seen holding the large steel razor blade seen on the cover of the band’s 1980 heavy metal masterpiece British Steel.

Catherine “Kate” Simon is an American portrait photographer and writer. After moving to London once she’d completed her college studies – which included coursework in photography at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. – she took on a job in the library of London’s Photographer’s Gallery, where she was able to watch commercial photographers at work, which inspired her to begin work as a shooter for the popular British music weekly Disc/Music Echo, and it was during this period that she began to build what would turn into long-time relationships with many of the acts she’d photograph, including Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, The Who and others who’d just began their ascent into the rock star stratosphere. As we’ve seen, Kate was also fortunate enough to be on hand to witness the emergence and preserve the visuals of the punk music scene in the U.K., with one of her best-known album cover images – that for the cover of the debut album by The Clash – taken at that time.

After working at gigs all over Europe, Kate returned to New York in 1977, where she began to expand her portfolio to include, in addition to concert/performance images, more formal portraiture of people working in all aspects of the entertainment world, including counter-culture icons such as William Burroughs, Madonna, Patti Smith and Andy Warhol. Since then, her works have been included in many museum and gallery exhibitions, books and other publications.

The Pixies – Head Carrier (2016). Sleeve design: Vaughan Oliver; Sleeve illustration: Ian Pollock and Joshua Price.     Released in September of 2016, Vaughan once again chose to work with Mr. Pollock, who he’d worked with on the band’s previous album Indie Cindy. His intern Joshua Price created and photographed wooden lettering for the front cover. The Pixies had originally signed with the popular British indie label 4AD and, since that time, Oliver has done the design work for all of the band’s studio albums and other releases.

The album’s title references a cephalophore (from the Greek for “head-carrier”), which, according to Wikipedia, “is a saint who is generally depicted carrying their own severed head. In Christian art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading”.

With a partner, photographer Nigel Grierson, Vaughan Oliver founded his own design firm called 23 Envelope and found a client in the 4AD label, which was a spin-off run by two Beggar’s Banquet employees named Peter Kent and Ivo Watts-Russell and was home to UK acts including Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Modern English along with American indie bands including The Breeders, Pixies and Throwing Muses. After Grierson left in 1988, Oliver re-named the company v23 and continued to produce memorable 4AD sleeve designs through the late 1990s, working with a small slate of talented photographers including Marc Atkins, Chris Bigg, Simon Larbalestier, Timothy O’Donnel and others.

Illustrator Ian Pollock is a popular book, newspaper and magazine illustrator whose work has appeared in publications including the Creative Review, the Daily Telegraph, Design Week, Elle, Esquire, the Financial Times, GQ, The Guardian, The New York Times, the New Yorker, Playboy, Rolling Stone Magazine, Stern, the Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal and many others. In addition to work on two Pixies records, Pollock’s artwork has been seen on records for Black Uhuru and Magazine, among others. 

Eagles of Death Metal – Death by Sexy (2006). Sleeve design: Bau-da Design Lab.  

The album cover of course alludes heavily to the cover of The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers, designed by a team led by Craig Braun and featuring the artwork of Pop artist Andy Warhol. This was the band’s second release.

In addition to work for music clients (which, beyond packaging work, includes music videos for musical acts including Evanescence, Carrie Underwood, Stone Sour, Coheed & Cambria, Fifth Harmony, Green Day and others), the CA-based Bau-da Design Lab has a customer list that includes major brands such as Pepsi, Harley-Davidson, JC Penney, American Express, Captain Morgan and fashion companies including Gucci, Balenciaga and Bergdorf Goodman.


Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). Sleeve design:  Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson & Aubrey Powell); artwork by George Hardie                                                                                            

The album was originally released in a gatefold LP sleeve designed by Hipgnosis and George Hardie. Hipgnosis had designed several of the band’s previous albums, some with controversial results; the band’s label EMI had reacted with confusion when faced with the cover designs for Atom Heart Mother and Obscured by Clouds, as they had expected to see traditional designs which included lettering and words. Designers Thorgerson and Powell were able to ignore such criticism as they were employed directly by the band. For The Dark Side of the Moon, the band’s keyboardist Richard Wright instructed them to come up with something “smarter, neater – more classy”.

The design was inspired by a photograph of a prism with a color beam projected through it that Thorgerson had found in a photography book. The artwork was created by their associate, George Hardie. Hipgnosis offered the band a choice of seven designs, but all four members agreed that the prism was by far the best. The final design depicts a glass prism dispersing light into most of its basic color palette. The design represents three elements: the band’s stage lighting, the new album’s lyrics, and Wright’s aforementioned request for a “simple and bold” design.

The spectrum of light continues through to the gatefold – an idea that Roger Waters came up with. Added shortly afterwards, the gatefold design also includes a visual representation of the heartbeat sound used throughout the album, and the back of the album cover contains Thorgerson’s suggestion of another prism recombining the spectrum of light, facilitating interesting layouts of the sleeve in record shops. The light band emanating from the prism on the album cover has six colors, missing indigo compared to the traditional division of the spectrum into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Inside the sleeve were two posters and two pyramid-themed stickers. One poster bore pictures of the band in concert, overlaid with scattered letters to form PINK FLOYD, and the other an infrared photograph of the Great Pyramids of Giza, created by Powell and Thorgerson.

Artist and educator George Hardie has a long list of influential album package credits, including another for Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here), plus Led Zeppelin’s debut record (see below) and Presence, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway for Genesis, I, Robot for Alan Parsons and others for Black Sabbath, 10cc and the Climax Blues Band.

In 1968, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell joined forced to form Hipgnosis, a graphic design studio specializing in creative photography and working mainly in the music business designing album covers for many rock ‘n’ roll bands including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, 10cc, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath, Paul McCartney, Syd Barrett and Styx, among others. Thorgerson also started a series of books on album cover art with fellow creative force Roger Dean called the Album Cover Album.

Billy Bragg – The Internationale (1990). Sleeve design: Barney Bubbles                                             With a cover drawing references to the designs of Penguin paperback books, this record was another great example of the talents of the graphic artist known as Barney Bubbles (born Colin Fulcher; July 1942 – November 1983).

In 1977, Bubbles joined the staff at Stiff Records as their art director and the label’s reputation grew quickly for both the creativity of their acts and Bubbles’ record cover designs and promotional materials. Bands that received the Bubbles treatment during that time include Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and The Damned. When label founder Jake Riviera to start a new label, Bubbles joined him to add work for artists such as Carlene Carter and Nick Lowe.  Still working freelance, he also produced impressive designs for acts including Big Star, Generation X, the above-referenced Billy Bragg, Dr. Feelgood and The Psychedelic Furs.

Bubbles extended his talents to the music video field, directing videos for Elvis Costello, The Specials and Squeeze. In 1978, he was commissioned to bring a new look – from logo down – to weekly music news paper NME, with the early 1980s bringing him work in many aspects of the design spectrum (including some furniture designs), but at the same time, the personal and financial aspects of his life were in shambles. He was being chased by the local tax authorities for unpaid taxes and some of his design work was unappreciated by his clients, leading him to experience severe bouts of depression and talk of suicide. Unfortunately, he chose to commit suicide in London on November 14, 1983, bringing an end to his life but not the influence of his work on later generations of album cover designers.

A 2021 interview with Mr. Bragg with Americana U.K. magazine included a discussion about how Bubbles’ cover for The Sutherland Brothers LP (1970) had so impressed the young Billy Bragg that he “jumped at the chance to work with him”  (i.e., Bubbles) when it came time to package his own debut record, 1983’s Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy on Utility Records.

Joe Jackson – Big World (1986). Sleeve illustration: Serge Clerc

Recorded in front of live audiences in January, 1986 at New York City’s Roundabout Theatre, Big World is an album (2 LPs or one CD) of original songs by one of the UK’s most-popular singer/songwriters, captured live at the height of his world-wide popularity. Showing us the more-serious side of this performer, the songs featured cover topics including relationships (of all types) and Ronald Reagan-era global politics, something that French illustrator Serge Clerc chose to represent via his use of the phrase “big world” spelled out in Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, French, Gaelic (Irish), Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Polish, Russian and Thai (front cover), with the back cover continuing on in the same theme using Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, German (Swiss), Turkish, Vietnamese and Welsh. Carrying on in the international theme, the album also came with a booklet that included lyrics and production info in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish!

Comic book artist and illustrator Serge Clerc began his career in the arts by publishing his own fanzine (Absolutely Live) in the early 1970s, graduating in 1975 to be featured in the monthly magazine Métal Hurlant. In the early 1980s Clerc’s work was found regularly in the British music magazines  NME and Melody Maker, and his retro-themed artwork has been used on music albums by The Fleshtones (Speed Connection), Carmel (The Drum Is Everything) as well as on a number of other albums and singles.

Wire – 154 (1979). Sleeve typographic design: Brian Harris; Art Direction by Dave Dragon. 

This highly-rated album by the influential (but short-lived) post-punk U.K. band Wire is so named because the band had played 154 gigs in their career at the time of the album’s release.

David Dragon’s credits for art direction include records for The Cure, UB40 and XTC (among others), while illustrator/typographer Brian Harris’ work can be found on record packages for Brian Ferry, Steel Vengeance and Sweet.

Public Image Ltd – Album (1986). Sleeve design: Designland

While the list of Grade A talent featured in the making of this John Lydon-led, Bill Laswell-produced record was an impressive one (guitarist Stevie Vai, drummers Tony Williams and Ginger Baker, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Laswell on bass and other competent session musicians), the finished product received a luke-warm reception from critics and the record-buying public.

Looking a lot like the packaging typically found on grocery store “generics” that became popular in the 1980s, Album was the first in a series of similarly-designed follow-up products from the band, including “Single” (the single of the record’s song titled “Rise”) and a compilation of music videos of songs from the record was titled Videos. Carrying on with the theme a few years later, the 1990 boxed set of Public Image Limited albums was called Box, while the 2010 deluxe reissue of the album included an art print titled “Poster” and a making-of book titled – you guessed it – “Book”. Things got a bit sloppy a couple of years later when the 2012 CD remaster of the album was titled Album when, according to form, it should have been called Compact Disc*.

* PiL’s Compact Disc

Frank Black (1993). Sleeve design: Chris Bigg & Vaughan Oliver at v23, with artwork by Michael Halsband and photography by Simon Larbalestier

After his success as a founding member of influential alt-rockers The Pixies, frontman Black Francis rebranded himself as Frank Black and released his first solo record in 1993, with song subjects including science fiction, UFOs and other eclectic items. He turned to the team that had created the most-memorable of The Pixies’ album covers – Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg of the v23 design studio – to illustrate his debut record package. 

In a Summer, 2010 interview found in Eye Magazine, the late designer Vaughan Oliver waxed on the long-standing relationship he and his design crew had with Black Francis – ‘The dialogue I had with Charles [aka Black Francis, aka Frank Black] on the artwork was always very productive. Start with the lyrics, listen to the music, what’s this about, and then talking around the subject, what sort of films does he like (he’s a big David Lynch fan…).

Hollywood Vampires – Rise (2019). Sleeve design: Ross Halfin & Kazuyo Horie     

While originally started by shock-rocker Alice Cooper in the 1970s as a drinking club for Hollywood’s musical elite (or, as it’s described on the group’s web site, a “motley crew of American and ex-pat English rockers congregated nightly in an ever-rotating array of celebrity musical chairs”), it was inevitable that some of these talented individuals (inc. Mr. Cooper, Johnny Depp, Perry Farrell, Dave Grohl, Robby Krieger, Paul McCartney, Joe Perry, Slash, Joe Walsh and others) would join forces to create some new music and would then share it with us mere mortals.

Throughout photographer Ross Halfin’s career, his talents have been called upon by a number of big-name musical acts – AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, former Beatles George Harrison and Paul McCartney, Metallica, Motley Crue, Rush, UFO, The Who and others – to document their tours, producing photos for their tour guides and publicity efforts and, later on, a number of photo books. Halfin remains a regular contributor to publications including Classic Rock, Guitar Aficionado, Lid Magazine, Mojo, Q and Rolling Stone, working all over the world on assignments for clients both inside and outside the entertainment world. 

Based in the U.K., independent photographer Kazuyo Horie’s work has graced the record packages of musical acts including Mick Fleetwood, Tesla, Jeff Back, Def Leppard and Man Doki.

Alabama 3 – Exile on Coldharbour Lane (1997). Sleeve design: Scott Cooper, with photography by Andy O’Connell                                                                                                                              The record’s name and cover imagery include references to Exile on Main St. by the Rolling Stones and to Coldharbour Lane, a notorious street in Brixton, South London, the area where the U.K. band (originally calling themselves “The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine, UK”) formed in the mid-1990s. This record is known to TV drama fans world-wide as it contains the song “Woke Up This Morning”, a re-mix of which was used as the opening theme for the hit TV series “The Sopranos”.

Graphic designer Scott Cooper also worked on the cover of the band’s 2002 record Power In The Blood, while photographer Andy O’Connell’s work has been seen in publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, The London Evening Standard and The Times and, in addition to his work for Alabama 3, he’s contributed to packages for Bjork and U.C.L.

Updated 1/18/22 – I was able to track down Andy O’Connell at his studio in the U.K., and he was kind enough to share some additional info about his work on this project – “Dear Mike G – it was a wonderful pleasure to be involved in that album cover. I was given carte blanche to go out and photograph whatever I saw on the streets of Brixton in the mid 90’s. We had in mind the great photos taken by Robert Frank for the original Exile cover and our take was, in some ways, supposed to be a UK-based refection on that. As I was a black and white street photographer, I loved the randomness, craziness and unpredictability you find there, especially in an edgy place like Brixton was back then – you never knew what was about to happen!

The photograph in the center of the gatefold is of a policeman vaulting a traffic barrier. He was arresting someone and suddenly got another call. The backstage photos of the band were easy, Jake (D Wayne) and Rob (Larry Love) were always doing visual things and playing around. I think Exile on Coldharbour Lane was one of the most enjoyable projects I ever worked on, and I loved the way Scott Cooper used the images I took. There were also covers made from the same photo series for the singles “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and “Woke Up This Morning”, which you know was the theme song for The Sopranos. Hope this helps, Andy O’Connell.”

Roy Harper – Whatever Happened to Jugula? (1985). Sleeve design: Koala Bear, with photography by Michael Scott.                                                                                                            

Folk rock artist Roy Harper had collaborated with famed guitarist Jimmy Page several times prior to their work on this album, but this was the first time they’d completed a full album together.

In a quote from Mick Wall’s 2018 book on Mr. Page and Co. (When Giants Walked the Earth: 50 Years of Led Zeppelin), Roy Harper shared this information – “The title for ‘Jugula’ came from playing Trivial Pursuit, in order to explain to everyone how they should go about answering the questions as straight and honestly as possible I’d say, “Go for the jugular”. It was going to be ‘Harper & Page’ for a while, but that’s like selling Jimmy’s name, then it went to ‘1214’ which is the year that the Magna Carta was signed… but that was a bit esoteric. So one day we were talking and “jugula” came up, so I phoned the artist and they’d designed up to the ‘Whatever Happened To…’ bit so I said leave it there and put ‘Jugula’ at the end.

The album’s cover art is based on an unraveled orange Rizla cigarette paper packet (with that brand’s logo featuring a large “+” sign after it’s name).

The Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk (1981). Sleeve design: Julian Balme & Richard Butler. Sleeve photography: Andrew Douglas          

This Steve Lilywhite-produced early-80s classic included the smash hit single “Pretty In Pink”, which went on to inspire film director John Hughes to produce a rather-famous film by the same name several years later. On the album’s sleeve notes, design is credited to ‘Jules & Richard (after Andy Warhol)’.

In addition to his work on this P-Furs record (sharing design credits with the band’s Richard Butler), some of designer Julian Balme’s notable album cover credits (as past designer for Stiff Records and current partner at Vegas Design Associates) include those for The Clash – London Calling, Combat Rock, Sandanista!, The Singles (Box Set), Sound System and Live At Shea; Big Country – The Crossing; The Teardrop Explodes –The Greatest Hit; Pete Townshend – Scoop 3 (Box Set); Adam & The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier; Love Tattoo for Imelda May and many others for artists such as Tears For Fears, INXS, Madness and Paul Young.

In addition to his work on this P-Furs record (sharing design credits with the band’s Richard Butler), some of designer Julian Balme’s notable album cover credits (as past designer for Stiff Records and current partner at Vegas Design Associates) include those for The Clash – London Calling, Combat Rock, Sandanista!, The Singles (Box Set), Sound System and Live At Shea; Big Country – The Crossing; The Teardrop Explodes –The Greatest Hit; Pete Townshend – Scoop 3 (Box Set); Adam & The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier; Love Tattoo for Imelda May and many others for artists such as Tears For Fears, INXS, Madness and Paul Young.

Andrew Douglas began his career as a photographer with clients in the music and editorial/publishing world, joining with his brother Stuart to form The Douglas Brothers agency and extended their talents into video and film projects, producing award-winning work for clients including Adidas, Apple, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike, Toyota, Volvo and many others.

Dusty Springfield – Dusty – The Silver Collection (1988). Sleeve design: Jean-Luke Epstein (AKA Graphyk)                                                                                                 

Another example of Warhol’s influence on sleeve design can be found on this collection of 24 of the singer’s best-known songs – including all ten of her “Top 10” hits – recorded between 1963 and 1970. Designer Epstein (who died in 2017) and his Graphyk design team were also responsible for album covers for The Stranglers, The Tubes and Miles Davis.

Both of the above-referenced albums exemplify the influence noted pop artist Andy Warhol had on album art and artists. While of course best-known for his works that would ultimately establish him as the art world’s “King of Pop”, Warhol earned his initial credits as a commercial illustrator. After earning his BFA in Pictoral Design in 1949 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, young Mr. Warhol moved to New York City with hopes of finding work as a commercial illustrator and, soon after his arrival, finding success when the first of his works appeared in Glamour magazine in late 1949. His unique illustration stylings caught the attention of many clients and his career in the field grew quickly throughout the 1950s.

In 2008, author Paul Marechal published a compendium featuring the artwork and stories behind the 50 album covers – for early jazz clients, rock bands and solo performers from many genres of music – that Warhol produced during his career in a book titled Andy Warhol: The Album Covers 1949 – 1987.

Tone Loc – Lōc-ed After Dark (1989). Sleeve design: Michael Nash Associates Associates

The original cover* for this rapper’s debut album was based on designer/photographer Reid Miles’ work on Donald Byrd’s 1964 album on Blue Note Records titled A New Perspective. The strength of three of the record’s singles – “Wild Thing”, “Funky Cold Medina” and “I Got It Goin’ On” pushed the disc to the top of the Billboard 200 chart and helped sell over two million copies to happy fans.

London-based Michael Nash Associates has been designing for music industry clients since the early 1980s, with partner Stephanie Nash being the designer who created the iconic logo for another important hip-hop act – Run-DMC.

* Original design for Tone Loc cover


Them Crooked Vultures (2009). Sleeve design and graphics: Liam Lynch                                           

This was the debut album from a “supergroup” consisting of Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. A single from the record, titled “New Fang”, would go on to win a Grammy Award in the “Best Hard Rock Performance” category at the awards presentations in 2011.   

A graduate of Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, American William Patrick Niederst – a musician, puppeteer, graphic designer and film-maker best- known as Liam Lynch – made his first mark in the music industry as the co-producer/director (along with childhood friend Matt Crocco) of the late 1990s MTV (U.K. and U.S.) comedy series The Sifl and Oily Show

Led Zeppelin (1969). Sleeve design and artwork: George Hardie (based on a photo by Sam Shere); back cover photo by Chris Dreja.                 

The debut album from the late-1960s rock group formed by ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page, session bassist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham (a former bandmate of Plant’s) featured a front cover illustration crafted by artist/designer George Hardie done while he was still attending the Royal College of Art. While attending the RCA, he was asked by a friend in the music business help with a couple of projects – first, to create some lettering for a Jeff Beck album and then to design and illustrate album cover artwork for the debut recording by Led Zeppelin (for which he was paid £60).    

Led Zeppelin‘s front cover image theme was selected by the group’s Mr. Page and came about as the result of an early discussion (according to a quote from a 2006 article on the topic in Rolling Stone Magazine by Mikal Gilmore) between Page, guitarist jeff Beck and two members of The Who – John Entwistle and Keith Moon, who were thinking about banding together to form a group. Moon joked, “It would probably go over like a lead balloon”, and Entwistle reportedly replied, “a lead zeppelin!” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hardie created the front cover illustration based on the famous photo image of the May 6, 1937, Hindenburg airship disaster photographed by Sam Shere, rendering the original black-and-white photograph in ink using a Rapidograph technical pen and a mezzotint printing technique. 

After graduation from the RCA, Hardie joined the staff at Nicholas Thirkell Associates (later to become NTA Studios) and began a collaborative effort with another studio – Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell’s Hipgnosis – to create a series of album cover designs, including two for Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon (1973) and Wish You Were Here (1975) – and works for Black Sabbath, 10cc, Alan Parsons and another for Led Zeppelin (Presence, in 1976). 

Photographer Chris Dreja was an original member of The Yardbirds and is the artist who created the drawing found on that group’s eponymous 1966 debut UK album. Trading in his guitar for a camera (and opting not to join bandmate Page in his new venture, Led Zeppelin), Dreja would ultimately return to join newer formations of the Yardbirds in the 1990s-2000s.                                     

Other works you’d have found on display in this exhibition include:

The La’s (1990). Sleeve design: Ryan Art

Based in London, the Ryan Art studio has created album art for musical acts including The Pogues, The Art of Noise, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Midge Ure/Ultravox and many others.

Neil Young (Feat. Pearl Jam) – Mirror Ball (1995). Sleeve design: Gary Burden

While working on a design for singer Mama Cass Elliot’s house, an appreciative Cass suggested that the gifted designer and architect Mr. Burden (who died in 2018) put his talents into album cover artwork and, soon after entering the field, Burden had a long list of clients for his works – The Mamas & The Papas, Joni Mitchell, Three Dog Night, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Doors, Steppenwolf and The Eagles (who he’d ultimately do four covers for).  Early on, he began a lifelong collaboration with photographer Henry Diltz and the two worked together on many of the era’s best-known cover designs.

Sham 69 – That’s Life (1978). Sleeve design: Alwyn Clayden

With scores of album cover art direction/design credits going back to the mid-late 1970s, designer/art director Alwyn Clayden’s work can be found on notable covers for artists including Barclay James Harvest, Slade, Vangelis, Visage, Wishbone Ash and dozens of others.

The Breeders – All Nerve (2018). Sleeve design: Chris Bigg

A calligrapher, photographer, designer and art director, Chris Bigg established his reputation as an album cover artist as part of the much-heralded v23 design firm. He’s also a member of Graphic Design Staff (teaching graphic design and illustration) at the University of Brighton, UK and teacher/lecturer at Southampton School of Art, part of Solent University.

Calexico – The Black Light (1998). Sleeve design: Victor Gastelum     

Native Californian Victor Gastelum’s spray paint/stencil techniques have been put to great use as book and magazine illustrations and, according to his site bio, has “collaborated with his long-time friends, Tucson-based band Calexico, creating art for many of their albums. In addition, Victor has collaborated with other artists such as Chaz Bojorquez, Raymond Pettibon and Rolo”.                                                                                                                

New York Dolls (1977). Sleeve design: Geoff Halpin

Returning to London in 1971 after managing a graphic design studio in Zambia, Geoff Halpin found work in the music business there, creating album cover designs, logos and lettering for a number of musical acts (Paul McCartney, Elton John and The New York Dolls, to name a few) and soon expanded his client base to include many leading advertising agencies and creating corporate ID packages for brands including Universal Studios, McDonald’s and Johnnie Walker.

Captain Beefheart (1976). Sleeve design & photography: Seabrook/Graves/Aslett Associates

The U.K.-based design agency known as Seabrook/Graves/Aslett Associates has an album art portfolio going back to 1970, with credits for work on albums for artists such as Peter Paul & Mary, The Everly Brothers, The Dooleys and the Electric Light Orchestra.

Eddie and the Hot Rods – Teenage Depression (1976). Sleeve design: Michael Beal

In addition to providing the designs for the first three records by the R&B group Eddie & The Hot Rods, punk-era designer/photographer/art director Michael Beal designed the sleeves for The Count Bishops’ Speedball EP, the second album by the Only Ones, John Cale’s Guts and other alt/indie records.

Inspiral Carpets – Life (1990). Sleeve design: Designland

Coming out of the “Madchester” scene in the late 1980s, Life was the debut record by the Inspiral Carpets, who was formed in 1983 by school chums Graham Lambert and Stephen Holt.

That’s all for now. Depending on where my research and writing takes me, the next installment will either focus on illustrated covers (“Funland”) or the always-popular album images built around photo portraits – specifically, head-shots (“Various Positions”). In either case, I’m sure you’ll find a lot to like. Back to you soon – Mike G

End of Part 1

This article text – Copyright 2022 by Mike Goldstein and – All Rights Reserved. Album art shown for illustrative purposes only and are the property of their respective owners. All photographs are by Jules Seamer and are used with his permission.

2 responses to “ACHOF presents the Art on My Sleeves series – Episode 1 – All Nerve: Album Cover Graphic Design

  1. Pingback: Album Cover Hall of Fame News Update and Link Summary for February, 2022 | Album Cover Hall of

  2. Pingback: Album Cover Hall of Fame Breaking News for January 14th, 2022 | Album Cover Hall of