Since the 1980s, the CD has become the most common form of physically distributed music products. Packaging formats vary, including the very common plastic jewel case, and the popular cardboard & plastic combination commonly known as a Digipak. Typically the album cover component of these packages is approximately 4.75 inches square.
The cover became an important part of the culture of music at the time. As a marketing tool and an expression of artistic intent, gatefold covers, (a folded double cover), and inserts, often with lyric sheets, made the album cover a desirable artifact in its own right. Notable examples are The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which had cut-out inserts, lyrics, a gatefold sleeve though a single album; and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon which had gatefold, lyrics, no title on the sleeve and poster inserts.
The importance of cover design was such that some artists specialised or gained fame through their work, notably the design team Hipgnosis (through their work on Pink Floyd albums amongst others) and Roger Dean famous for his Yes and Greenslade covers, Cal Schenkel for Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Frank Zappa’s We’re only in it for the Money.
The talents of many photographers and illustrators from both inside and outside of the music industry have been used to produce a vast array of memorable LP/CD covers. In addition to the examples mentioned previously, a number of world-renowned graphic artists and illustrators such as Andy Warhol (The Velvet Underground & The Rolling Stones), Mati Klarwein (Santana & Miles Davis), H.R. Giger (ELP & Debbie Harry), Frank Frazetta (Molly Hatchet), Drew Struzan (Iron Maiden), Jamie Reid (The Sex Pistols), Howard Finster (R.E.M. & The Talking Heads), Al Hirschfeld (Aerosmith), Gottfried Helnwein (Marilyn Manson), Rex Ray (David Bowie), Robert Crumb (Big Brother & The Holding Co.), John Van Hamersveld (Rolling Stones) and Shepard Fairey (Johnny Cash) have all applied their talents to memorable music packages.
A number of record covers have also used images licensed (or borrowed from the public domain) from artists of bygone eras. Well-known examples of this include the cover of Derek and the Dominoes Layla (from the painting “La Fille au Bouquet” by French painter and sculptor Emile Théodore Frandsen de Schomberg), the cover of Kansas’s debut album, adapted from a mural by painter John Steuart Curry and, more recently, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, which features Eugène Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People (a favorite in The Louvre) with the words “VIVA LA VIDA” brushed on top in white paint.
Legends from photography and video/film who have also produced record cover images include Annie Leibovitz (John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen & Patti Smith), Richard Avedon (Whitney Houston & Teddy Pendergrass), David LaChappelle (No Doubt & Elton John), Anton Corbijn (U2, The Killers & Depeche Mode), Karl Ferris (Jimi Hendrix, Donovan & The Hollies), Robert Mapplethorpe (Patti Smith) and Francesco Scavullo (Diana Ross & Edgar Winter), among others.
As one would expect, a number of artists and bands feature members who are, in their own right, accomplished illustrators, designers and photographers and whose talents are exhibited in the artwork they produced for their own recordings. Examples include Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin IV), Chris Mars (Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me & others), Marilyn Manson (Lest We Forget…), Michael Stipe (REM’s Accelerator), Thom Yorke (credited as “Tchocky” on misc. Radiohead records), Michael Brecker (Ringorama), Freddie Mercury (Queen I), John Entwistle (Who By Numbers), Mike Shinoda (various Linkin Park albums), and M.I.A. (credited variously on Elastica’s The Menace, her records).