Top 10 Album Covers for Albums I've Never Heard Or Can't Stand
The Stones Throw creative director and sleeve designer Jeff Jank digs these records for the covers, not the music.
Everyone has their favorite album covers. Ask anyone, even if they've never owned an actual album, vinyl, or even a CD, they've got their favorite album covers. It's one of the ironies of our culture with music—while music product is now primarily digital, with digital images attached in the file's metadata—the format we call "record album covers" seem to be more popular than ever. Books about record covers seem to be released every month. Even the gentleman who invented the album cover in the 1930s is far from forgotten. When Alex Steinweiss died, he was celebrated in 2011 with obituaries in major newspapers and an expensive and oversized coffee table book of his '30s-'50s era covers for Columbia 78s published by Taschen.
And yet there's something I've always noticed—everyone's "favorite record cover" choices are almost always based on albums with MUSIC they like, regardless of the album cover. Love the music and they love the cover. Hate the music and the cover is irrelevant.
With this in mind, I started thinking of all the records in my collection that I bought for the cover and have never heard, or records I love for the cover but never want to hear again. Here's a few.
ED BANGER PROMO 12-INCH SLEEVE
I think I got this as a promo in the mail. It was my introduction to Ed Banger when they were a new label. I was an instant fan. The cover literally tells me everything I needed to know about the label. I heard plenty of their later records and loved the label-art director dynamic... But I have no clue what's on this actual record.
CRASS - THE FEEDING OF THE 5000 (1978)
STATIONS OF THE CRASS (1979)
PENIS ENVY (1981)
CHRIST: THE ALBUM (1982)
Crass is arguably the greatest record designer and band team of all time, and the only band I can think of that listed the graphic designer as a member of the group. But they were more than a band—they were a label, pretty much their own cultural, anarcho-punk movement. I have all these records. That said, I've heard probably only one of them. I know I could be lynched saying this in certain punk circles, but I wasn't really feeling the record I heard, and never played the others.
Full disclosure: I'm listening to side one of Stations of the Crass as I write this. Pretty good.
NINA HAGEN - NINA HAGEN BAND (1978)
IN EKSTASY (1985)
I love a record cover that tells you everything you need to know about the album with just a picture and colors, including the year and type of music. The cover of In Ekstasy says, "Hello, it is 1983 and I am the edgy, Euro-trash version of Cyndi Lauper." But it's actually 1985, so they were a little behind the times. I bought this album for two bucks from a garage sale and, realizing I knew the first track from bad memories of '80s radio, never played the rest.
THE MENTORS - YOU AXED FOR IT! (1985)
What can I say, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. This record was a really good birthday present one year. I'd like to imagine that the album is a musical equivalent of an early John Waters movie, but it ain't so. You'd never know it by the cover, but the singer El Duce had lyrics quoted in a United States Senate hearing, and had a brief 15 seconds of media fame in the mid '90s when the rumor went around that Coutney Love paid him a few hundred bucks to kill Kurt Cobain. I believe it. Why not?
KING CRIMSON - ISLANDS (1971)
This album and King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King (1969) were my dad's records, and I always had fascination with both covers ever since I was old enough to look through a stack of records—one was the minimal, pretty understated, and the other was over-the-top fright. Never heard either one of them until Madlib pointed out Court of the Crimson King, and said it was a really good album. He was right. It's great. Now it's one of my favorite records. As for Islands, the disc is missing. Maybe it's great, too.
BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY - CHEAP THRILLS (1968)
Big Brother is the band that famous hippy drug addict lady Janis Jopin sang with. Her picture seems to pop up in every instance of late '60s music nostalgia, but I've never met anyone who actually likes the records. The real star here is Robert Crumb, the illustrator. This is the only pop album he worked on. The story goes that he did this sleeve because he was pals with Janis, but turned down a million bucks to draw for the Rolling Stones because he hated their music. Speaking of the Stones...
ROLLING STONES - SOME GIRLS (1978)
These geezers have been putting out albums for 50-some years and who's got the time to hear them all? And if you've seen a couple Martin Scorcese movies you're probably sick of their music anyway. But back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they had a string of great album covers designed by Warhol, Robert Frank, and others—this one's my favorite and I have no clue what's on the record. [Some Girls was designed by Peter Corriston—Ed.]