he forced retirement of the vinyl LP in the mid-Eighties brought an end to a dynamic era in rock art in which the marketing needs of the record industry and the renegade aesthetics of rock & roll came together in a remarkable, often spectacular visual marriage. Cover design was already an art, especially in the jazz field, long before the explosion of rock in the Sixties, but with the meteoric success of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came a power shift from the record companies to the musicians themselves, who assumed greater control over the visual presentation of their work. Some of these vinyl album covers can still be found in garage sales and old self storage units, but unfortunately the era of rock art is long over.
Beginning in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, rock album covers ran the gamut of themes, styles and portraiture, from the sublime sky blue cover of Plastic Ono Band's Live Peace in Toronto 1969 to Robert Mapplethorpe's enduring photograph of Patti Smith for Horses to the anti-art of Never Mind The Bollocks... Here's The Sex Pistols.
In November 1991, Rolling Stone magazine surveyed a panel of distinguished art directors, designers, photographers and editors for an admittedly highly subjective list of the 100 greatest album covers of all time. Below are their 54 selections from the 1970s, with commentary by the albums' designers on the first 28.
The twelve-inch album cover that graced so much of our favorite music in the Seventies may be all but history, but its artistic legacy endures to this day -- even in miniature on compact disc.
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