Run For Cover


This week, The Guardian asked its readers to nominate their worst album sleeves and you can see the ones that made the final list here. Surprisingly, the one above didn’t make the final cut, but some truly awful covers did. I agreed with most of the choices, though I was surprised to see The White Album by The Beatles on the list. It’s certainly as simple a cover as you can get, but I think it’s become one of the most iconic sleeves in rock music. In fact, it made it to number three on a list of BEST album covers published by Rolling Stone magazine in 1991. The top five of that list also contains my two favourite albums by The Rolling Stones and my third favourite album by that band begins a list of six of my own least favourite album covers



None of the covers that adorn the Stones’ albums from the sixties are anything to write home about, though Between the Buttons isn’t too bad and I quite like the original artwork for Beggars Banquet. Their first two albums of the seventies, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, are far more impressive, but I’ve never liked the cover of their final album of the sixties. Let It Bleed’s working title was Automatic Changer and the album cover features a record changer that contains a piece of vinyl by the band on the bottom part and an unorthodox piece of cake on the top part. The contents of the cake include a master of Let It Bleed, a clock face and a bike tyre that are topped by a cake featuring miniature band members that was put together by future TV chef, Delia Smith. I must admit I was almost in tiers when I discovered that this image was one of ten LPs chosen by the Royal Mail in 2010 for a series of Classic Album Cover postage stamps. The folks at the Royal Mail must’ve been pretty baked when they came up with that list because it also includes titles by Coldplay and Mike Oldfield

 


I’m sure it’s always been the case that a nice portion of an album’s cost goes into its design and marketing. One of the best things about the arrival of punk in the seventies was the back to basics approach to the music, as well as the DIY feel of the artwork that housed this music. Nowhere was this ethos more exemplified than in the debut album by the Ramones from New York. The rudimentary nature of the music was mirrored by the simplicity of the front cover that showed the four band members standing in front of a wall and staring unsmilingly at the camera. The songs on the second album continued where the first one left off, but I really don’t like the cover of Leave Home (1977). Yet again, the four lads are dressed in jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets. Yet again, they’re staring blankly at the camera. However, this time the shot is in colour and tilted to the side for some unknown reason. The lads seems to be on the top of a building with what looks like a steel girder above them. Fortunately, the third album was almost a carbon copy of the first, before the band’s next step on the road to ruin

 


The only surviving member of the Ramones, drummer Tommy Erdelyi, also produced the band’s first three albums. He was also the producer on the major label debut by another great rock & roll band, The Replacements from Minneapolis. 1985’s Tim isn’t terribly well produced, it doesn’t have a great title and its cover is awful, but it’s got a wonderful collection of songs on it. Bastards of Young, Kiss Me on the Bus and Left of the Dial really rock, while Swingin’ Party truly does swing. The album closes on yet another sadly beautiful song by Paul Westerberg and one of the best songs ever written about drink and drinkers, Here Comes a Regular. It’s pretty much a perfect album, but what the hell is going on with that cover? Have a look at it above and see what you can make of it

 


Another band that didn’t put too much thought into the packaging of their well-crafted tunes was a bunch of cheeky cockneys who went by the name of Squeeze. The cover of their debut long-player is truly appalling. It’s generally agreed that the follow-up was cool for cats, but things began to unravel after that. Elvis Costello co-produced 1981’s East Side Story and it’s easily the band’s best work. Except for its artwork, of course. The photo of the band members slightly goofing around looks like it could have come from an outtake for the cover of a pop music magazine. I like the lettering, though

 


Elvis Costello and Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are all highly regarded for their songwriting skills, as is Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout. The band’s second album, Steve McQueen, is one of my favourite albums and one I’ve listened to quite a bit over the years. I even like its slighlty incongruous cover. I also like the band’s previous album, 1984’s Swoon. I first owned all the band’s album’s on cassette, which is not the best way to appreciate an album’s artwork. Even so, I never liked the image on the front of Swoon and that’s still the case now that I own it on LP. The album was designed by a crowd called East Orange, who can’t be all bad because they were also responsible for Steve McQueen’s artwork

 


London-based Australians, The Go-Betweens, released six great albums between 1982 and 1988 before taking a break for the rest of the millennium. All these albums had three things in common: each contained at least two instances of the twelfth letter of the alphabet in their title; each contained a collection of literate and melodic songs; and each LP contained a cover that failed to match the music within. 16 Lovers Lane (1988) features separate monochrome images of three band members, the name of the band and the title of the album against a white background. Drummer Lindy Morrison appears on the right of the frame, while Grant McLennan is wearing dark glasses and has his head bowed on the bottom left. You’d think that McLennan’s songwriting partner Robert Forster would be the guy who’s reclined on the top left of the cover. In fact, he’s actually the band’s new bassist who was appearing on his first Go-Between’s record. His name is John Willsteed and his elevated position on the cover may be due to the fact that he also designed it. At least he was a good musician

The six album covers above mightn’t be up to much, but here are half a dozen covers of songs from each of those albums. You Can’t Always Get What You Want closes Let It Bleed by The Stones and was also the b-side of the number one single in the UK charts the week I was born. Here’s a version by a band from Jamaica called The Jolly Boys. The band has been going even longer than the Stones and it can be found on their Great Expectation album from 2010. The whole of the Leave Home album by the Ramones was covered in its entirety in 1998 by a band called The Vindictives, but I’ve gone for a version of Suzy is a Headbanger by the all-female grunge band, L7. It appears on a tribute to the Ramones called Gabba Gabba Hey that was released in 1989. Here Comes a Regular is the brilliant song that closes Tim and the version by Bill Janovitz really does it justice. Bill was leader of another alternative rock band called Buffalo Tom and this is one of many songs that you can check out on his blog

The artwork for Kevin Rowland‘s My Beauty deservedly made it onto The Guardian’s list of worst album sleeves, though the 1999 album of cover songs from the leader of the Dexys is quite good. He changed the original lyrics of many of the songs on the album, including his version of Labelled with Love from Squeeze’s East Side Story. The co-producer of Squeeze’s album is up next with a live version of Prefab Sprout’s Cruel, the only cover I’ve found from their debut album. In contrast, many artists have paid tribute to The Go-Betweens over the years and Glenn Thompson’s verion of the closing track off 16 Lovers Lane is taken from a 2007 tribute to the band called Write Your Adventures Down. I hope you prefer these covers of the songs to the original covers of the albums above. Please let me know if you disagree with any of my choices above and don’t be afraid to tell me about your least favourite album covers


You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones cover) – The Jolly Boys

Suzy Is a Headbanger (Ramones cover) – L7

Here Comes a Regular (Replacements cover) – Bill Janovitz

Labelled With Love (Squeeze cover) – Kevin Rowland

Cruel (Prefab Sprout cover) – Elvis Costello

Dive For Your Memory (Go-Betweens cover) – Glenn Thompson