Are these the best album covers of all time?

Seven decades of record sleeve design are on display as part of a London exhibition marking the UK’s first National Album Day

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3, 2017. Art direction and photography: Timothy Saccenti

The Album Artwork Through The Ages exhibition is a snapshot of the changing styles of each decade, as chosen by a panel of judges from the music and design industry – including CR editor Patrick Burgoyne. One album cover has been selected from each year, dating back to 1949, which is represented by Alex Steinweiss’s design for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 – created as an alternative to the plain sleeves records were usually issued in.

The show, which is on display at London’s Waterloo Station, includes the brightly coloured jazz records of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, as well as some pyschedelic classics from the 60s including, of course, the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.

13th Floor Elevators, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, 1966. Design: John Cleveland
Kraftwerk, Autobahn, 1974. Design: unknown

The exhibition also features designers’ more minimal moments, with The White Album by Richard Hamilton also on display, as well as Kraftwerk’s Autobahn (described by Peter Saville as his inspiration for pursuing a career in graphic design). As you’d expect there’s plenty more crowd-pleasers, including Saville’s own cover for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, as well as Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, shot by Jean-Paul Goude.

“There was a real craft to them, hand-drawn type, vibrant colours, collage (which would all have been hand done) and really out there photography,” says Alison Fielding, Head of Creative at Beggars Group, and part of the panel that selected the artwork. “You can’t even begin to imagine how long these sleeves took to do.”

Klaxons, Surfing the Void, 2010. Design: Richard Robinson; photography: Mads Perch
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes, 2008. Artwork: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Strokes, Is This It, 2001. Photography: Colin Lane

As well as showcasing the artwork, the exhibition, which is organised by Art Vinyl, promises to tell the story of the design behind each cover – something that’s often sadly lacking in liner notes, and still absent in many discussions about record sleeves.

Visitors to the show will be asked to vote for three pieces of artwork from the 70, which will then be unveiled at the end of November as the UK’s favourite album covers – although we imagine decisions might be fuelled more by the music than the design. The exhibition coincides with the UK’s first ever National Album Day on 13 October when, at 3.33pm, the public will be encouraged to play an entire album of their choice from start to finish. Presumably skipping isn’t allowed.

The exhibition will be on at London Waterloo Station until 21 October, before it moves to Manchester Piccadilly Station until 5 November, and finally Glasgow Central Station until 19 November.