From John Lennon to The Rolling Stones: Andy Warhol’s 20 greatest album covers
“The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will.” – Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol, the artist, film director, and producer who acted as a pioneering figure of the pop art movement, always knew that the act of creating was something he was born to do. His life’s mission, to birth differing forms of visual art, spilt onto canvas, film, sculpture, photography and, on many occasions the covers of music albums representing now-iconic artists.
In the late 1950s, as the record industry began to expand at an extraordinary rate, Warhol was hired by both Columbia and RCA Records on a freelance basis to create album covers and promotional content and, from there, carried the skill throughout his career.
When Warhol arrived in New York he met with his schoolmate George Klauber who was, at the time, working for a creative agency run by Will Burtin. Klauber did Warhol a favour and introduced him to Burtin and the opportunity to work with Columbia’s, and later RCA’s, art director Robert M. Jones.
Robert M. Jones remembered it fondly and suggested that the commissions may have been his first: “I gave him three little spots to do for the corners of the standard albums. He needed money. I never kept any records but I know that these little spots must have been amongst the first things he did, certainly in the first three to six months he was here. I gave him three different ones to do, at $50 apiece. And two days later he came back with a stack of drawings like that to satisfy the three drawings we needed.”
Here, we delve into some of Warhol’s most iconic album cover creations.
Andy Warhol’s 20 greatest album covers:
Carlos Chávez – A Program of Mexican Music – (1949)
Widely regarded as the first-ever album cover designed by Warhol who, at the time of creating it, was aged 21.
Carlos Chávez, the Mexican composer, conductor and music theorist required a record sleeve for A Program of Mexican Music and Warhol delivered a modest result with a brief glimpse into his illustration future.
Gioachino Rossini – William Tell Overture; Semiramide Overture – (1953)
A bold and striking design, this cover foreshadows the strong point of view Warhol would take up in the sixties.
Taking on Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”, he uses the symbol of the apple to tell the whole story.
Count Basie – Count Basie – (1955)
Next up was the self-titled record of jazz pianist Count Basie which featured a stunning portrait fo the man himself.
The musician’s face only enhanced by the block type, it’s a classic piece of Warhol arrangement that confirmed Basie’s position as a cultural icon — the very kind Warhol would make famous later in his career.
Thelonious Monk – Monk – (1956)
Warhol added what would become his signature flair to the legendary jazz pianist’s 1956 release Monk which comprised some of his most sensational recordings between 1953-1954 for the Prestige label.
Thelonious Monk has gone to become one of the most noted jazz players in history and it feels only right that his work be adorned with a similarly iconic artist in Andy Warhol.
Kenny Burrell – Blue Lights, Volume 1 – (1958)
Blue Lights is another album to be graced by Warhol’s work as the record from American jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell recorded in 1958 and released on the Blue Note label as two 12 inch LPs entitled Volume 1 and Volume 2.
The connection with jazz and art is a long and varied one and while Warhol wasn’t exactly picking and choosing his projects at this stage in his career, jazz offered the artist a form of expression that he could understand.
Tennessee Williams – Reading From the Glass Menagerie, The Yellow Book and Five Poems – (1960)
The next record Warhol took on was something a little different and a stretch from his previous work in jazz. This LP would be a spoken word piece from none other than the legendary writer, Tennessee Williams.
The artist would continue to pay homage to the writer throughout his career and make several references to his work. However, this is the clearest connection between Warhol and Williams.
John Wallowitch – This Is John Wallowitch – (1964)
Prolific American songwriter and cabaret performer John Wallowitch’s debut LP’s cover artwork was designed by Warhol. Unlike many of the choices so far, Warhol was deeply connected to this project.
The famed artist was a close associate of the obscure singer’s esteemed photographer brother Edward Wallowitch. Warhol was even romantically linked to Wallowitch for a brief period of time.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico – (1967)
If there’s one iconic album artwork that almost everyone will know is and Andy Warhol piece it’s this one. The 1967 self-titled album from Factory superstars, The Velvet Underground. The band were a plaything of sorts for Warhol who managed the group briefly. With Lou Reed and John Cale at his songwriting disposal, Warhol was entrusted with the album artwork.
Not only was the banana’s striking image a tongue in cheek one, it was also an interactive piece and featured a peelable skin to reveal a blushing pink fruit.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers – (1971)
Following on from his famous work with The Velvet Underground, Warhol took four years before creating another album cover it had to be something special to lure him back in and it doesn’t get more special than The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers LP.
The suggestive image was conceived by Warhol with the photography and upon hearing the artist’s direction for the cover Jagger apparently instantly became enthused with the zipper idea that the pioneering artist concocted.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar / Bitch / Let It Rock’ – (1971)
Warhol was also behind the artwork for the lead EP from The Stones’ Sticky Fingers record which continued with the sexually evocative theme from the album cover that he created. It was enough to keep the rock fans that had now superseded his own art clique to fall in love with his work.
Though not an album cover, Warhol’s expert eye can be felt across all his work, no matter the format. It would seem that singles were just as easy for him.
John Cale – The Academy in Peril – (1972)
Warhol’s next venture would see him reunite with The Velvet Underground’s John Cale on his 1972 masterpiece The Academy in Peril.
The record was the second solo album by the Camarthen native with Warhol reverting to a more signature aesthetic than with his work with The Rolling Stones. Perhaps that’s because of their past relationship or just returning to the glory days of old, but Warhol is clearly making sure his trademark was left behind.
Paul Anka – The Painter – (1976)
The New Yorker then took four years off working on record covers before producing this portrait of Paul Anka for the Canadian singer-songwriter’s 1976 effort The Painter.
Paul Anka doesn’t quite hit the same levels of rock appreciation as say the Velvet Underground or the Rolling Stones. But he’s an icon nevertheless and the lounge singer gets his reward with this classic Warhol cover.
The Rolling Stones – Love You Live – (1977)
Continuing his relationship with The Rolling Stones, Warhol returned to working with the group and designed the artwork for their 1977 live double album Love You Live.
However, much to the artist’s dismay, Jagger had taken the decision to add hand-written titles to the cover art, which angered Warhol and signalled the end of their working relationship. To put it simply, you do not mess around with an artist like Warhol’s vision without telling them.
Liza Minnelli – At Carnegie Hall – (1981)
The list of icons that have been under Warhol’s eye increases with the unstoppable figure of Liza Minnelli.
Long-time close friend Liza Minnelli was his next project when he produced the artwork for her live album at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The entertainer is reported to have 22 pieces of art depicting her that she cherishes — all of which Warhol created for her. The collection is worth a staggering $40million.
Billy Squier – Emotions in Motion – (1982)
Billy Squier can count himself among the plethora of stars to have been given his very own Warhol portrait. The album was a second consecutive top 5 entry into the charts and featured the hit song ‘Everybody Wants You’.
Though not on the same level of fame as the rest of the entries on our list, there’s something about Squier that drew Andy Warhol to him.
Diana Ross – Silk Electric – (1982)
Ms Ross makes up one of the more iconic images from this collection as Warhol perfectly cpatures Ross’ iconography within the album cover and only adds to the electricity that surrounded her albums and on-stage performances.
The album contains the standout single ‘Muscles’ and was a moderate success across the globe. It may not be Diana Ross’ crowning glory, she’s likely got a few, but we’d imagine an image of the album cover hangs somewhere near her mantle.
Peer Raben – Querelle – Ein Pakt Mit Dem Teufel – (1982)
The soundtrack to the 1982 film Querelle which sees a young sailor meet a murdered (and his supposed brother) in a French bordello, works as another advertisement for Andy Warhol’s keen eye. We’re sure the great novelist Jean Genet would approve.
By this stage in Warhol’s career he had begun to choose more obscure avenues for his work. Most of the 20th century’s walking icons had already been featured by Warhol so now he cast his net further afield.
Rats & Star – Soul Vacation – (1983)
A funk and soul record ready to be rediscovered by the masses, Rats & Star are the kinf of obscure artist who Warhol would have loved. As well as having an eye-pleasing name, the group also provided all kinds of nonsense on Soul Vacation.
The album cover is another shining example of an artist who knows their style inside and out. By this time, Warhol had become an elder figure in the art world but that didn’t stop him enacting his singular vision whenever he was called upon.
John Lennon – Menlove Ave – (1986)
The second posthumous release of Lennon’s music, Menlove Ave is adorned with a poignant portrait of the Beatle provided by the pop art king Andy Warhol.
Warhol and Lennon enjoyed an exploratory friendship and creative working relationship. They found solace and inspiration in one another, and this artwork remains a clear depiction of Lennon’s otherworldly abilities. It feels fitting that this would be one of the artist’s final album covers — it may well be his best.
Aretha Franklin – Aretha – (1986)
Having already produced a whopping thirty studio albums by the time she releases 1986’s Aretha, this album cover had to be really special. It had to not only stand out from her back catalogue, but it had to shine bright with timeless class.
Luckily, Warhol was on hand with his trademark style. It wasn’t only Franklin’s thirty-first studio LP but was also her third with the title Aretha. The cover sees Aretha take the spotlight and effuse subtle energy and pulsating talent.