A lot of people buy records by bands they like. I also do that but usually I'll buy something just because of the cover. If it looks interesting and is cheap, I'll usually get it. I also buy records to find samples I can use in my own music, so I like records that I've never heard of. I'm not concerned with the quality of the songwriting as much as I am with finding cool isolated noises and loops I can use.
At thrift shops and garage sales, you can't always listen to a record before you buy it. So I like talking to beat makers and learning what they look for when deciding to buy an unknown record. Some people look for certain design styles, or specific producer or studio credits on the back. I was once told that you should always buy a reggae album when the band photo has one white guy in it, but if there are two, leave it! I haven't come up with rules that specific but I think its fascinating the way people decide whether or not to buy a mystery album.
I went through my record collection and pulled out a few that I think are really visually interesting. Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite album covers are.
Fairyland by Larry Coryell
I had no idea who Larry Coryell was when I picked this up. I still don't really but this record is excellent. Like most records I buy, I chose this because it was cheap and the cover was interesting and I didn't know what it was. I guess it's "jazz fusion" or something like that? I just know it's got some killer guitar licks and some interesting type.
This one has some cool type. The large narrow white letters on the orange are pretty killer. So is the Sterophonic type across the top. The Spin-O-Rama logo is neat too. Music is not too interesting. This is one of those records I pick up just for sampling purposes, it has some cool open percussion sounds on it.
Merry Christmas Carols With Organ And Chimes
This is pretty boring to me musically. I bought it solely because of that typeface. That fat geometric didonic(is that a word?) typeface! And the color is really nice too. Even the Million Seller mark at the top left is cool.
Concerto for Organ and Chamber Orchestra by Hindemith Rheinberger
The music is not too bad if you're into this sort of thing but the type and colors are awesome. This seems like the designer was just having fun and nerding out. The way the color highlights the negative space between the letters is really neat and looks like something from a typography textbook.
This cover rules. Josef Albers designed covers for the Persuasive Percussion and Provocative Percussion series for Command Records. I wish I owned all of them. Beautiful, abstract and modern. Great records for sampling too!
Echoes of Paris and More Echoes of Paris
I really like the colors and type, especially on the first one. I like how the letters are very clean and geometric except for the ends. Musically kind of a snooze fest for me but not bad as background music. Definitely bought these for the covers.
Grazing Dreams by Collin Walcott
All the covers on ECM Records releases are pretty great. Ultra clean layouts with images that really seem to match the music. Label founder Manfrid Eichner has been in charge of the label's art direction since 1969 and has kept it on point! Music wise this is sitar based jazz, which holds my attention for a few minutes but then drifts into the background as I scroll though instagram.
Music Of Jerome Kern by Andre Kostelanetz And His Orchestra
Graphic designers love this one. Maybe because kern is also a word in our secret typography language that we think we're sooooo cool for knowing. It's also just a great looking cover. The colors and the big 3D slab serif letters are gorgeous. And the way the blue behind the E overlays the yellow and makes green is cool . The colors are printed off a tiny bit which is something I like a lot even though its not a design choice but just a result of the printing process.
It was designed by Alex Steinweiss, the guy who invented the LP album cover! However, he lost rights to the patent due to his contract with Columbia Records. History!
Space Odyssey by Leonard Nimoy
Awww snap! I love this album, visually and musically. It's so fun and cheesy. Its such a mix of cornball silliness and touching hippie optimism. It also has one of the most ridiculous songs ever recorded, The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins.
Exotic Percussion by Milt Raskin
Seems like they were kind of going for the same thing as the Persuasive Percussion albums but it came out less classy. I still dig it a lot. The music is pretty good too. The are some great samples on here.
Great Moments In Sports
This is a weird record. It's a collection of radio broadcasts of sports moments and was a promotion for some upcoming radio special. It such a product of its time. The big red letters look nice. I really like the Grand Awards type on the back and the Autolite logo.
How To Buy Meat
Weird PSA from the Department of Agriculture. Cool meat illustration! It has a track thats just background music so radio stations could record their own versions.
"We feel the spots are very timely, and of special interest to your listeners who enjoy good meat and good radio."
Bongo/Flutes/Guitars by Los Admiradores
I love this cover. Command Records had some great art direction during this time. The type, the white space and the abstract shapes make a really slick composition. The cover was designed by Brownjohn, chermayeff & Geismar.
Solo Percussion by Tatsuya Nakatani
This is the only contemporary record on this list. I was going to stick to just old records but this one is so beautiful. All the text is letter pressed and the image is silver foil stamped by Studio on Fire in Minneapolis. Very interesting experimental percussion.
An Audio Obstacle Course
This cover is real trippy. The record is meant to test a stereo cartridge so it's pretty boring to listen to. I love the cover though.