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Music

10 album covers inspired by other cover art

Since the beginning of recorded sound, when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, music has diversified in a snowball manner. Designs evolved over the early 20th century from original cylindrical recordings to the eventual arrival of disc-shaped LPs in the early 1930s. As technological advancements in recording and playback burgeoned over the middle of the 1900s, so too did the development and diversification of musical style. The arrival of rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1950s marked the beginning of recorded music as a commercially impactful product. Moving into the 1960s, marketing naturally became increasingly important for recordings made by musical artists as a means of promoting sales.

The cultural revolution experienced throughout the 1960s saw the growing importance of album artwork. As a familiar example, if you were to look at some of the early Beatles album covers, you will see relatively standard photographs of the fabulous four-piece; but by the late 1960s, album design was clearly more of a considered element of the product. Records like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Magical Mystery Tour introduced colour to attract the attention of buyers. Then in one of the cleverest marketing strategies in music history, they released their self-titled (or White Album) in 1968 with no colour at all. 

As the years pushed on, album covers continued to diversify and became so important that groups would set aside extraordinary budgets and go to extreme lengths to create an enticing aesthetic for their albums. Pink Floyd jump to mind when I think about effective album covers. The prog-rock masters even went to the trouble of inflating a 40ft long pig balloon to fly over Battersea Power Station and once set a man on fire for a few extra sales. 

With the focus moving toward streamed music over the past 20 years, it seems album artwork is no less important to music lovers and artists alike. Much of modern music contains samples and covers that pay tribute to the musical icons of yesteryear. It appears that groups often also opt to sample and pastiche the aesthetic ideas used by their forbears to pay homage and grab the listener’s attention. Today, we explore some of the most iconic and memorable album artwork inspired by previous designs.

10 album covers inspired by other cover art:

The Clash – London Calling & Elvis Presley – The Elvis Presley Album

Likely the most obvious album cover inspired by another is this direct style copy from one iconic album to another. The ballsy move The Clash made in copying The Elvis Presley Album showed that they were confident enough to once again revolutionise rock ‘n’ roll just like The King had done some 20 years before.

The image on the front shows bassist Paul Simonon smashing his guitar into the ground in true punk spirit, reflecting the identity The Clash brought to the musical arena of the late 1970s. Fortunately, London Calling lived up to its artwork and has gone down in history as one of the most iconic rock albums of all time. 

Childish Gambino – Awaken My Love & Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

When Childish Gambino released his 2016 third studio album, Awaken My Love, the rapper surprised his fans with a change in style from his usual, more conventional rap music to something a bit heavier with psychedelic funk elements reminiscent of the classic Funkadelic album Maggot Brain.

In a respectful fashion, he paid homage to his key influence for the album artwork by presenting a pastiche of the manic looking head displayed on the Maggot Brain cover. The updated parody features an elaborate white headdress in place of the afro hairstyle seen on the 1971 Funkadelic classic.

Nils Frahm – Solo & Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division’s seminal debut album Unknown Pleasures brandishes one of the most recognisable album covers in music history. It’s a regular feature of music lovers’ T-shirts and coffee mugs around the world. Less well known is the German pianist and producer Nils Frahm, who took inspiration from the Peter Saville design featured on Unknown Pleasures for his 2015 album Solo.

The colours are inverted so that Nils Frahm’s cover is mostly white, but the black graphic lines across the centre are an unmistakable connection. While Frahm’s ambient piano-based album is a far cry from the post-punk sound of Joy Division, a connection in the melancholy tone of both albums can be easily found.

Sean Price – Songs in the Key of Price & Stevie Wonder – Songs In the Key of Life 

The late Sean Price was one of New York’s finest rappers of the 1990s. His vocals were unique in the rap world, and one could tell from listening to his music that the aural quality of his rapping was important to him. It would therefore seem appropriate that his 2015 posthumous release, Songs In the Key of Price, should pay homage to one of his vocal icons, Stevie Wonder.

The album parodies not just the name, but also the design, which copies the circular layered feature framing a portrait of himself. The only difference between the two designs is the purple colour scheme Price used in place of the original orange used for Stevie Wonder’s 1976 masterpiece Songs In the Key of Life.

Gorillaz – Demon Days & The Beatles – Let It Be

Gorillaz released their masterpiece Demon Days in 2005, an album that showed the group master their unique brand of electro-infused rock music. The four-window portrait style set on a black background copies the layout and design of The Beatles’ final album Let It Be (1970) but with the Gorillaz cartoon character representations of the group’s four core members.

It also seems noteworthy that across the two album covers, the musicians are facing away from their cartoon counterparts – Ringo and Russell, both drummers, are on opposite squares, as are guitarists George and noodle, singers John and 2D, and bassists Paul and Murdoc. It is unclear what the message is here, but Gorillaz seem to have been marking the time to show just how far music had come over the previous 35 years.

Kruder and Dorfmeister – G-Stoned & Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

When trip-hop duo Kruder and Dorfmeister released their debut EP in 1993, few music fans would fail to see what classic album they had been inspired by for their cover. The duo had been inspired by the release of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines in 1991 and decided to create music with a similar electronic style. The resulting EP is almost as far as you can get from the sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 fourth studio album Bookends. In the early 1990s, Peter Kruder remembered how he came about the idea for the artwork: “I saw a photo of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, and I remember being extremely surprised to see that Richard [Dorfmeister] looked so much like Art Garfunkel. I made a copy of the cover, sent it to London, and wrote: ‘We need to record an album with a cover like this because you’re the one on the right.’” 

The two spent nearly a whole day creating the cover art for G-Stoned, ensuring they made all the shades and angles as close to the shot of the American folk duo as possible. “I love this album,” Dorfmeister once said. “This is my favourite record by Simon and Garfunkel. Every time I go to the US, I bring myself one more copy; it’s very easy to find it there. But the interesting thing is that they are always really different: sometimes the colour differs a bit, sometimes the paper”.

Atmosphere – Overcast! & Andrew Hill – Judgement!

Blue Note Records have long been the masters of the edgy sleeve design. Their back catalogue is no stranger to parody, thanks to their bold use of colour on some of their most iconic albums. When Atmosphere released their 1997 debut hip-hop album Overcast!, they decided to pay an aesthetic homage to Andrew Hill’s classic 1964 jazz album Judgement!, an album from which they also seem to have taken musical inspiration. 

Tech N9ne – Killer & Michael Jackson – Thriller

Michael Jackson released one of the most commercially successful albums of all time with Thriller in 1982. The groundbreaking pop album was polished off with a horror-inspired music video which revolutionised video production for music releases. On a very different musical wavelength, hardcore rap icon Tech N9ne decided to create a comical parody of Jackson’s classic album cover.

Where Jackson lay down looking suave and sexy in a white suit, Tech N9ne now lay in a similar position wearing a straight jacket. He also opted to elevate the shock factor by using a blood-red font for the album title. While the music within couldn’t be more different, the albums share their bold statement and a link to horror.

Kanye West – Life of Pablo & Madonna – Nothing Fails

Kanye West has never been one to hide it when he takes inspiration from others. His music is mostly formed from the building blocks of samples, and the album art for his 2016 album The Life of Pablo is no deviation from this trend. The cover art for the controversial artist’s seventh studio album was inspired by the artwork used for Madonna’s single ‘Nothing Fails’.

It is unclear whether West is showing respect for Madonna or if it’s a cheeky warning to let her know he’s hot on her historic heels as one of the biggest names in popular music. The similarities are obvious with the layered text and overlapping photos. Another slight parallel could be also drawn between the cover of Life of Pablo and the artwork on Radiohead’s In Rainbows with its text separated with a slash repeated down the cover.

The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request & The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

When The Rolling Stones released their eighth studio album Their Satanic Majesties Request in December 1967, it was no secret that the group had been closely following the path of their rivals, the Beatles. The change in direction the Stones took with Their Satanic Majesties Request was one toward psychedelic rock in a bid to generate the same interest the Beatles had garnered with their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band earlier in the year. 

The music was an uncalculated deviation from the blues-based rock the Stones were mastering at the time and so the album was a commercial failure. For this record, The Rolling Stones also tried to mimic the Beatles’ aesthetic used for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The brilliantly colourful cover made for the Beatles’ eighth studio album features cutouts of a selection of famous faces in the background, from Bob Dylan to Oscar Wilde. The Beatles album artwork even features the Rolling Stones’ name on a doll’s sweater to the right of the shot, a nod that the Stones would return on their equally colourful and psychedelic album cover for Their Satanic Majesties Request, where they featured the faces of the Fab Four dotted around the obscure window of the 3D lenticular graphic.