Album Cover Credits Information for the Top-Selling Albums of All Time
By Mike Goldstein, Editor, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
According to the two largest organizations that track the certified sales of recorded music – the RIAA in the U.S. and the IFPI in the U.K./Europe – since the 1960s, there have been 21 record albums that have sold 20 million copies or more world-wide, with 26 albums selling 15 million or more copies in the U.S. alone (not including three double albums by The Beatles – the Beatles ’62-’66 and ’67-’70 hits packages and 1968’s The Beatles AKA “The White Album” and Garth Brooks’ smash 1998 package Double Live – as double discs count each disc in the package as a “copy”*). To date, the best-selling record world-wide – Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit-generator Thriller – has sold over 33 million copies in the U.S. alone and over 47 million copies world-wide. Thriller had been the best-seller in the U.S. for many years since its release, but the mega-selling EAGLES: THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975 vaulted in to the top spot in 2018 and stands alone having sold over 38 million copies in the States alone (over 41 million world-wide).
Besides enjoying the music featured in these record packages, fans have been taking in the accompanying record/CD imagery at the same time, which caused me to think about the number of times the work of the people who created these covers has been viewed and how those numbers might compare to the number of times other works of art have been viewed (in books, museums, posters, etc.) during that same time period. As I’m not able to access the resources of the world’s great research facilities, the answer to that specific question won’t be answered today, but I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb by saying that the total views for each album image must be in the hundreds of millions, which then leads me to conclude that the artists that produced your favorite record covers must be among the most-popular in modern history.
With that being said, wouldn’t it make sense that the designers, illustrators, photographers and art directors that worked on the images that have been purchased and seen hundreds of millions of times by music fans all over the world would themselves be world-famous? We all know the names of the artists that have given the world its most-famous paintings (DaVinci, Renoir, Warhol, etc.), photos (Ansel Adams, Man Ray, Francesco Scavullo), sculptures (Michelangelo, Rodin, Jeff Koons) and other works of art, but how many of you know the names of the people who did the covers for Eagles, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin (i.e., the musical acts that released the top five most-popular albums of all time)?
While some of the artists responsible for these covers are well-known and respected to a certain degree in the fine art world (in fact, Warhol and Koons have both done well-known album covers), most were known only by die-hard music or music art fans or by others in the album cover production business, which is something I’m hoping to clear up a bit here with the information provided in this article. You’ll find the complete biographies of many of the people mentioned in the “Artist Biographies” section of the Album Cover Hall of Fame web site – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/achof-featured-artists-main-page/ and I’ve added an anecdote or two about “the making of” each of these hit records – something you might not known of previously (or, at least, something that I hadn’t known prior to doing the research for this article!).
For each record, I’ve included the names of the Designers (D), Illustrators (I), Photographers (P) and Art Directors (AD) credited for each cover. In some cases, those with “Illustrator” credits were responsible for the unique lettering or logos used on the cover. The sales figures shown are those published by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the industry groups responsible for tracking retail sales in the U.S. and U.K./Europe, respectfully. You can read more about them and the best-selling records on their site at http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinum.php?content_selector=top-100-albums and https://www.ifpi.org/bestsellers-and-global-artist.php
PLEASE NOTE (January, 2021 update) – Following this initial listing (please scroll down), I’ve added a list showing the Best Selling Albums World-Wide for each year since 1968, along with the country the record was originally released in and name(s) of the people credited for the cover art (Art Directors, Photographers, etc.).
Best Selling U.S. Albums of All Time (RIAA and IFPI as of 1/2021) – Ranked by U.S. sales of 15 Million or More – Album Cover Credits
Record Title – Musical Act – Record Label – Sales Volume (in Millions of Units Sold), followed by Album Cover Credits and anecdotes
EAGLES: THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975 – EAGLES – ELEKTRA – 38 (41.2)
Glen Christensen (D, AD), Henry Diltz (I), Boyd Elder (D, AD)
Boyd Elder was part of a group of people that took part in regular poker games at Glen Frey’s house (AKA the “Kirkwood Casino and Health Club”) in the Laurel Canyon area in Los Angeles. His “American Fetish” artwork would later serve as the basis of a number of Eagles album covers, including this one.
THRILLER – MICHAEL JACKSON – EPIC/LEGACY – 33/47.3
Dick Zimmerman (P), Mac James (I), Valade’/Design Pool (D)
On the day of the shoot, MJ came alone, without an entourage. While Zimmerman had racks of wardrobe to choose from, Michael didn’t really care for anything. He said, “I’d like to be wearing something like what you have on.” Zimmerman was wearing a white suit that day and, as they were about the same height, MJ was photographed wearing the photographer’s suit (later auctioned off for $27K). DZ also shot the official wedding portrait at MJ & Lisa Marie Presley’s wedding.
In an additional display of his artistic talents, Michael Jackson created the drawings featured on the inner record sleeve, most notably the one he did to illustrate the song “The Girl Is Mine” showing MJ and Paul McCartney in a tug of war over a girl (with the girl being pulled in both directions).
HOTEL CALIFORNIA – EAGLES – ASYLUM – 26/31.5
(John) Kosh (D, AD), David Alexander (P), Bob Hickson (I)
Designer Kosh and his team braved the California winds – and being perched in a 60-foot-tall cherry-picker rig to shoot a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel over Sunset Boulevard during rush hour – in a death-defying effort that produced an iconic cover image.
BACK IN BLACK -AC/DC – EPIC – 25/29.4
Bob Defrin (AD), Bob Ellis (P), Gerard Huerta (I)
This was the band’s first record with new singer Brian Johnson. Its success inspired others to adopt a black on black style guide for their own records, including Spinal Tap’s Smell The Glove and Metallica’s 1991 self-titled offering.
GREATEST HITS VOLUME I & VOLUME II – BILLY JOEL – COLUMBIA – 23
Patrick Demarchelier (P), Mark Larson (AD)
Photographer Demarchelier had a home near Billy Joel on Long Island, NY and was an invited guest – along with Donald Trump, Steve Martin, Martin Short and Alec Baldwin – to Joel’s 2004 wedding to Katie Lee (they divorced in 2009). He also shot the cover for Mr. Joel’s River of Dreams album.
LED ZEPPELIN IV – LED ZEPPELIN – ATLANTIC – 23/29.0
Jimmy Page (AD), Barrington Colby MOM (Inside Illustration)
While former art school student Page served as the de-facto art director for the package, the inside illustration was from a painting called “The Hobbit”, whereas the framed oil painting on the cover was an actual painting that Robert Plant had purchased from an antique shop in Reading, UK and then affixed to the still-wallpapered wall of a partially-demo’d home. The font used for the lyrics to “Stairway To Heaven” was originally found by Page in an old arts publication titled Studio Magazine, who then had an artist adapt it for use on this record.
THE WALL – PINK FLOYD – COLUMBIA – 23
Gerald Scarfe (D, I), TBD (AD)
An integral member of Pink Floyd’s team, Scarfe was involved in all of the visual aspects of The Wall, including the record packaging, the elaborate stage productions and Alan Parker’s cult-classic film. He’s published a book called The Making Of Pink Floyd: The Wall with many behind-the-scenes details provided and, in 2019, staged a hugely-successful sale of many of the production elements he created for the album.
DOUBLE LIVE – GARTH BROOKS – CAPITOL NASHVILLE – 21
Henry Diltz (P), Beverly Parker (P), Mark Soebbing (P), Virginia Team (AD)
Released in 1998 with a commemorative cover; this was followed by the releases of 6 alternate covers w/pix from live shows
CRACKED REAR VIEW – HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH – ATLANTIC – 21
Jean Cronin (AD), Mike McLaughlin (P)
Dominating the album charts in 1995, this record sold nearly 11 million copies its first year on the shelves and was in the top three on the album charts for 28 weeks, the top ten for 55 weeks and spent a total of 129 weeks on the charts.
RUMOURS – FLEETWOOD MAC – WARNER BROS. – 20/27.9
Desmond Stobel (D, AD), Larry Vignon (I), Herbert Worthington (P),
Many have questioned the purpose of the strategically-hung pair of wooden balls dangling between Mr. Fleetwood’s legs, but Mick still carries them with him when he performs, so he’d attached to them in some way. The late Mr. Worthington continued to work with Ms. Nicks, photographing the covers of her first two albums – Bella Donna and The Wild Heart, while Vigon’s hand-crafted logo/record title set the standard for pre-computer-aided album typography.
COME ON OVER – SHANIA TWAIN – MERCURY NASHVILLE – 20/29.6
George Holz (P), Gus Phillipas (P), March Tenth, Inc. – Sandra & Henry Choron (AD)
Sandra Choron was Art Director for Bruce Springsteen from 1985 – 2003 and is also the editor of the monthly music & politics newsletter Rock & Rap Confidential. Henry Choron was a dentist for 25 years before joining his wife in her agency as a graphic designer in 1995.
APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION – GUNS N’ ROSES – GEFFEN – 18/21.9
Michael Hodgson (D, AD), Robert Williams (I) for original version, Billy White, Jr. (I) for revised version
The original artwork for the band’s 1987 debut was adapted from artist Robert Williams’ painting titled “Appetite For Destruction” and featured a graphic image of a robotic rapist just about to be attacked by a vengeful creature with huge metal teeth. After a number of record retailers refused to stock the album with that cover, the label had tattoo designer Billy White, Jr. revise the skull-and-cross tattoo he’d created for Axl Rose for use as the replacement cover image.
THE BODYGUARD (SOUNDTRACK) – WHITNEY HOUSTON – ARISTA – 18/28.4
Ben Glass (Cover P), Susan Mendola (D),
Featuring photo images from the movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, the record became an instant hit powered by Houston’s version of the Dolly Parton-penned song “I Will Always Love You”. An international hit, the record would also sell nearly 30 million copies outside the U.S. and remains the best-selling soundtrack album in history.
NO FENCES – GARTH BROOKS – CAPITOL – 18
Jerry Joyner (D), Beverly Parker (P), Virginia Team (AD)
Garth Brooks’ second studio album was released in 1990 and stayed on the Billboard Top 200 charts for 126 weeks. Designer Virginia Team worked on record cover designs for CBS, Columbia, MCA and Capitol Records for many years from the late 1960s through her retirement in the early 2000s. Beverly Parker has done covers for many of country music’s biggest recording acts, including Willie Nelson. Roseanne Cash and Ricky Skaggs.
BOSTON – BOSTON – EPIC – 17
Jeff Albertson (P), Kim Hart (D, I), Roger Huyssen (Cover Illustration), Paula Scher (AD,D), Ron Pownall (P)
The year following this release that featured Roger Huyssen’s memorable cover image, he was commissioned to do the the theatrical poster for Star Trek – The Motion Picture. He’s also created over 20 cover illustrations for TIME Magazine.
GREATEST HITS – ELTON JOHN – MCA – 17
David Larkham (AD, D, P), Terry O’Neill (P)
Larkham’s “David Larkham & Friends” design studio was the team responsible for Elton John’s art direction for over 40 years, beginning with 1970’s Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection, while also doing covers for Leo Sayer, Steely Dan, Neil Sedaka and many others. Famed celebrity photographer O’Neill’s clients have also included The Beatles, The Who, The Police and Midge Ure.
METALLICA – METALLICA – ATLANTIC/ELEKTRA – 16/25.2
Metallica (AD), Peter Mensch (D), Don Brautigan (I), Ross Halfin (P), Rick Likong (P), Rob Ellis (P)
The best-selling record of the Soundscan era (over 30 million sold world-wide), the black-on-black album cover features the band’s logo on an angle in the upper-left-hand corner and a depiction of the snake found on the Gadsden Flag – famous in flag circles for its famous “Don’t Tread On Me” motto – found at the bottom-right-hand corner. Even the photos and lyrics printed on the inside booklet were done in a shades of black and grey motif.
JAGGED LITTLE PILL – ALANIS MORISSETTE – MAVERICK – 16/24.4
Tom Recchion (D, AD), John Patrick Salisbury (P),
A co-creator of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, Tom Recchion is a mulit-talented artist/designer/musician and has received 4 Grammy nominations for his record cover designs for artists including Prince, The Beach Boys and Ringo Starr. Painter and photographer Salisbury was living in LA when approached for this assignment in 1995 – he now lives in rural Louisiana.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (SOUNDTRACK) – BEE GEES – RSO – 16/21.6
Francesco Scavullo (P), Susan Herr and Tom Nickosey (D), Ed Caraeff (AD)
A number of different photographers contributed images of the various musical acts that provided music for this hugely-popular soundtrack album, with Scavullo’s photo of the smiling Bee Gees featured above an image of John Travolta on the dance floor taken from the film. The same photo would grace Rolling Stone Magazine’s July 14, 1977 cover, while Ed Caraeff’s photos from rehearsals for the motion picture would be used as inspiration by the production designers from the 2013 film “American Hustle“.
PHYSICAL GRAFFITI – LED ZEPPELIN – SWAN SONG – 16
Peter Corriston (D, AD), Mike Doud (D, AD), Elliott Erwitt (P), B.P. Fallon (P), Roy Harper (P), Dave Heffernan (I),
Featuring a photo of an apartment building in NYC’s East Village in which the building’s 4th floor was removed so the photo would fit properly on the record’s cover. There’s a tea shop there now called “Physical Graffitea”.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – PINK FLOYD – HARVEST – 15/24.2
George Hardie (D, I), Storm Thorgerson (P, AD), Tony May (P)
Bonus package inserts included a photo of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The rainbow continued on to the back cover where it turned back into a beam of white light.
SUPERNATURAL – SANTANA – ARISTA – 15/20.5
Michael Rios (I), Carlos Santana (AD), Su. Suttle (D)
Su. Suttle’s San Francisco-based Neko Studios is also credited for the artwork for Santana’s Milagro and Sacred Fire records, along with the covers for the Santana Brothers, Merl Saunders, Humans and LOL, among others. The artwork for Supernatural was adapted from Michael Rios’s painting titled “Mumbo Jumbo”.
BORN IN THE U.S.A. – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – COLUMBIA – 15
Andrea Klein (AD, D), Annie Leibovitz (P),
Inspired by the record’s titled track, photographer Leibovitz’s image of Springsteen’s backside against an American flag was chock full of blue collar, working class symbolism and resulted in one of the most-parodied album covers of all time.
GREATEST HITS – JOURNEY – COLUMBIA – 15
Alton Kelley (I), Jim Walsh (AD)
Journey featured scarab-based album artwork on many of their records throughout the years, including Arrival, Captured, Escape, Generations and Revelation. Artist Kelley, along with his partner Stanley Mouse, were also responsible for notable covers, posters and other designs for Steve Miller and the Grateful Dead, including their iconic “Skeleton & Roses” designs.
LEGEND – BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS – ISLAND – 15
Adrian Boot (P),
Crossing the 15 million threshold in 2017 is Marley’s 1984 compilation of his classic reggae music, released several years after the singer’s death. The record was a labor of love for Island Records owner Chris Blackwell and the label’s U.K. president Dave Robinson, who both felt that Marley’s fame outside of Jamaica was less than he deserved. Adrian Boot’s memorable photo was taken while he was the label’s go-to shooter and a long-time contributor to Island Records’ catalog , as well as music publications including Melody Maker, NME and The Face.
Two other albums – Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell and Adele’s 21 – have sold over 20 million copies world-wide (21.7 million for Bat Out of Hell and 25.3 million for 21), with both selling only 14 million copies thus far in the U.S..Fans have long appreciated
*The previously-mentioned double LPs are ranked as follows:
THE BEATLES (WHITE ALBUM) – THE BEATLES – APPLE – 24
Richard Hamilton (D), John Kelly (P), Gordon House (AD), Jeremy Banks (AD)
Paul McCartney brought on pop artist Hamilton to come up with a compelling design for this record. Hamilton wanted to do something that made each LP look as though it were a limited-edition collectible, so they numbered each copy in the lower right-hand corner. John Lennon received cover #1.
DOUBLE LIVE – GARTH BROOKS – CAPITOL – 21
Henry Diltz (P), Beverly Parker (P), Mike Soebbing (P), Virginia Team (AD), Chris Ferrara (D)
This 1998 live recording package came with a commemorative cover on its release, with a new version of the cover released each week during the first six weeks the album was on sale. A 2014 25th anniversary edition sported another new cover.
THE BEATLES 1967 – 1970 – THE BEATLES – EMI – 17
Angus McBean (P), Tom Wilkes (AD)
Photo session done in 1969 to recreate McBean’s 1963 cover shot for the Please Please Me LP showing band members looking down the stairwell inside the EMI House building.
THE BEATLES 1962 – 1966 – THE BEATLES – APPLE – 15
Angus McBean (P), Tom Wilkes (AD)
Featured here is an alternative cover photo shot from session done in 1963 for cover shot for the Please Please Me LP showing band members looking down the stairwell inside the EMI House building.
Best Selling US Albums – By Year –
Album Cover Credits
Compiled using results from RIAA and IFPI yearly tallies. Since 2002, these totals include both physical and digital sales.
1968 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – UK – Are You Experienced? – Chris Stamp (AD – UK Version); Bruce Flemming (P – UK Version); Karl Ferris (P – US Version)
1969 – Iron Butterfly – United States – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida – Loring Eutemey (D), Stephen Paley (P), Michael Ochs (P)
1970 – Simon and Garfunkel – United States – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Tony Lane (D), Peter Powell (P)
1971 – Various artists – UK – Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack – Bill Levy (AD – US Version), Ernie Cefalu (D – US Version)
1972 – Neil Young – Canada – Harvest – Joel Bernstein (P), Tom Wilkes (D)
1973 – War – United States – The World Is a Ghetto – Bob Gordon (P), Howard Miller (D), Illustration?
1974 – Elton John – UK – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – David Larkham (AD), Michael Ross (D), Ian Beck (I)
1975 – Elton John – UK – Elton John’s Greatest Hits – David Larkham (AD), Terry O’Neill (P)
1976 – Peter Frampton – UK – Frampton Comes Alive – Stan Evenson (D), Richard E. Aaron (P)
1977 – Fleetwood Mac – UK – Rumours – Herb Worthington (P), Desmond Stroebel (D), Larry Vigon (I)
1978 – Various artists – United States – Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack) – Francesco Scavullo (P), Susan Herr and Tom Nickosey (D), Ed Caraeff (AD)
1979 – Billy Joel – United States – 52nd Street – John Berg (AD), Jim Houghton (P)
1980 – Pink Floyd – UK – The Wall – Gerald Scarfe (I), Roger Waters (AD)
1981 – REO Speedwagon – United States – Hi Infidelity – John Kosh (D), Aaron Rapoport (P)
1982 – Asia – UK – Asia – Roger Dean (AD, I), Brian Griffin (P)
1983 – Michael Jackson – United States – Thriller – Dick Zimmerman (P), Mac James (I), Valade’/Design Pool (D)
1984 – Michael Jackson – United States – Thriller – Dick Zimmerman (P), Mac James (I), Valade’/Design Pool (D)
1985 – Bruce Springsteen – United States – Born in the U.S.A.– Andrea Klein (AD, D), Annie Leibovitz (P)
1986 – Whitney Houston – United States – Whitney Houston – Donn Davenport (AD), Herb Ritts (P)
1987 – Bon Jovi – United States – Slippery When Wet – Bill Levy (AD), George Corsillo (D), Mark Weiss (P)
1988 – George Michael – UK – Faith – Stylorouge (AD, D), Russell Young (P), Brian Aris (P)
1989 – Bobby Brown – United States – Don’t Be Cruel – Ja (AD), Julie Moss (D), Todd Gray (P)
1990 – Janet Jackson – United States – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 – Richard Frankel (AD, D), Guzman (Constance Hansen & Russell Peacock) (P)
1991 – Garth Brooks – United States – Ropin’ The Wind – Jerry Joyner (D), Virginia Team (AD), Beverly Parker (P)
1992 – Billy Ray Cyrus – United States – Some Gave All – Jerry Joyner (D), Kim Markovchick (CD), Peter Nash (P), Virginia Team (AD)
1993 – Various artists – United States – The Bodyguard (Soundtrack) – Susan Mendola (D), Ben Glass (P)
1994 – Hans Zimmer/Various artists – United States – The Lion King (Soundtrack) – Andy Gaskill (AD)
1995 – Hootie and the Blowfish – United States – Cracked Rear View – Jean Cronin (AD), Mike McLaughlin (P)
1996 – Alanis Morissette – Canada – Jagged Little Pill – Tom Recchion (D, AD), John Patrick Salisbury (P)
1997 – Spice Girls – UK – Spice – Kuniahro Takuma (P)
1998 – James Horner/Various artists – United States – Titanic (Soundtrack) – Frank Harkins (AD, D)
1999 – Backstreet Boys – United States – Millennium – Nick Gamma (AD, D), Jackie Murphy (AD, D), Chris Reisig and Leeza Taylor (P)
2000 – *NSYNC – United States – No Strings Attached – Jackie Murphy (AD), Nick Gamma (AD, D), Mark Seliger (P)
2001 – Linkin Park – United States – Hybrid Theory – James Minchin (P), Mike Shinoda (I)
2002 – Eminem – United States – The Eminem Show – Kevin Dresser (D), Jonathan Mannion (P), Jason Noto (AD, D)
2003 – Norah Jones – United States – Come Away With Me – Gordon H. Jee (CD), Jessica Novod (AD, D), Joanne Savio (P)
2004 – Usher – United States – Confessions – Anthony Mandler (P), D.L. Warfield (D)
2005 – Coldplay – UK – X&Y – Tappin Gofton (AD, D), Tom Sheehan (P), Kevin Westenberg (P)
2006 – Various artists – United States – High School Musical (Soundtrack) – Steve Gerdes (AD), Steve Sterling (D)
2007 – Various artists – United States – High School Musical II (Soundtrack) – Steve Gerdes (AD), Steve Sterling (D)
2008 – Coldplay – UK – Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends – Tappin Gofton (AD), Eugene Delacroix (I), Dan Green (P)
2009 – Taylor Swift – United States – Fearless – Amy Joseph Baker (P), Justin McIntosh (D)
2010 – Eminem – United States – Recovery – Julian Alexander (AD, D), Nigel Parry (P), Ianthe Zevos (CD)
2011 – Adele – UK – 21 – Lance Dukoff (P), Phil Lee (D)
2012 – Adele – UK – 21 – Lance Dukoff (P), Phil Lee (D)
2013 – One Direction – UK/Ireland – Midnight Memories – R.J. Shaughnessy (P), Calvin Aurand (P), Fluidesign (D)
2014 – Various Artists – United States – Frozen (Soundtrack) – Michael Giaimo (AD)
2015 – Adele – UK – 25 – Alasdair McLellan (P), Adele Adkins (AD), Phil Lee (D)
2016 – Beyonce – United States – Lemonade – Robin Harper (P)
2017 – Ed Sheeran – UK – ÷ (AKA “Divide”) – Charlotte Audery & Jonny Costello (D & AD), Kasiq Jungwoo (I), David Rowan (P)
2018 – Various Artists – United States – The Greatest Showman (Soundtrack) – Mark Obriski (AD for Atlantic Records)
2019 – Billie Eilish – United States – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – Kenneth Cappello (P)
2020 – Taylor Swift – United States – Folklore – Beth Garrabant (P, AD), Taylor Swift (AD) – due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift worked only with Beth to maintain proper social distancing protocols.
Originally published in May, 2016 with updates in May, 2018, January, 2020 and February, 2021