Can you guess the iconic album from the cover art?
Can you guess the iconic album from the cover art?
Long before Napster and LimeWire, before YouTube and Spotify, music was only available to purchase in physical form. Generations of teens spent their weekends perusing aisle after aisle of music, picking up any and every cover that caught their eye. You could hear the gentle whoosh of air as their fingers flipped from one record to another, searching for the right artists to knock their socks off or the right album that would change their lives. The record store is where many listeners found their favorites. It was the place to discover, in part, themselves through the music they resonated with and through the lyrics that stuck to their bones.
In a world of stream counts, followers, and algorithms, the album cover can now feel like a lost art. The fall of the traditional music industry model has changed how music lovers consume music—and, therefore, the art attached to it. Today, there exists a space where music can be mass-produced as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, and one-minute content reels are the way into the social media feeds of the masses.
The artists' music on this list reminds you why album art can be so important. How just a simple image can tell a story, spark controversy, or mark the end of a veritable era—all in one single frame captured for the cover. It reminds you decades and decades later that these album covers are still something to remember.
With that feeling of wistful nostalgia in mind and using various online music industry sources, Stacker compiled a list of 25 albums, in no particular order, from a range of musical artists and genres to see if you can guess the album from just a portion of its cover art.
From the music to the art, this album is a reminder that you definitely are not in Kansas anymore.
'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' by Elton John (1973)
The track list for Elton John's album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" reads more like a greatest hits collection than it does a seventh album in a catalog spanning a lifetime. But with "Bennie and the Jets," the record's title track, and "Candle in the Wind," originally dedicated to Marilyn Monroe but later rewritten in dedication to Princess Diana after her sudden death in 1997, this album had numerous hits.
The title of this iconic hip-hop album was eerily prescient considering when it was released.
'Life After Death' by The Notorious B.I.G. (1997)
Few hip-hop artists in the '90s made a bigger impact on the culture than The Notorious B.I.G., and considering he only released two albums before his murder in 1997, that is no small feat. The iconic "Life After Death" was released as a double album only 16 days after he was gunned down in Los Angeles.
This cover would definitely be considered NSFW and might even be considered a violation of child pornography laws.
'Nevermind' by Nirvana (1991)
With the chart-busting lead single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" basically launching the grunge wave of the early '90s, it's no wonder "Nevermind" is on the list. It also happens to be one of the most recognizable covers of all time. On it is a baby boy, barely above the age of cognizance, captured in a still photograph, suspended in the midst of a crystalline blue pool, eyes bright and in his birthday suit. Years later, the "Nevermind" baby tried, and failed, to sue Nirvana for the cover, accusing the band of using sexually exploitative imagery for profit.
Why don't you take a Polaroid picture—it will last longer.
'1989' by Taylor Swift (2014)
Okay, admittedly that wasn't the easiest clue to get if you're not a Swifty, but any Taylor Swift diehard named the album faster than it takes for a Polaroid picture to develop. The pop star's fifth studio album included some of her most memorable hits, including "Shake It Off" and "Bad Blood," the latter of which featured a remix with Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. "1989" also garnered Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the Grammys in 2016.
If you listen closely while staring at this album cover, you can hear what it sounds like when doves cry.
'Purple Rain' by Prince and the Revolution (1984)
Whether you know him as Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, he will forever be known as one of the greatest musicians, songwriters, and artists of a generation. That title comes, in part, because of "Purple Rain." The album was so iconic it inspired a movie by the same title. The LP was deemed a masterpiece by media critics, with Prince completely redefining the concept of what pop music sounded like. Name one song on the album that isn't a classic—you can't.
The singer's iconic bouffant, face-framing jewels, and wardrobe on this album cover are as grand as her talent.
'Lady Soul' by Aretha Franklin (1968)
Much like Prince's "Purple Rain" and Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," Aretha Franklin's "Lady Soul" is an album that feels more like it should be considered a greatest hits compilation. Franklin's 12th studio album is jam-packed with music, from hits like "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" to "Chain of Fools," this gem solidified her crown and her title as the Queen of Soul.
It's close to midnight, and someone's lurking on this album cover rocking a legendary black-and-white suit.
'Thriller' by Michael Jackson (1982)
If that first line of "Thriller" is now stuck in your head after the hint slide, apologies, but it's worth it because there's no way you couldn't have guessed Michael Jackson's chart-busting 1982 album of the same name. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022, it is the top-selling album of all time. The big breakthrough album of Jackson's solo career, it became more than just an album with top hits, including "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," the title track of the record premiered on MTV in December 1983, and the music video spawned a dance that is still instantly recognizable to this day.
If you were in your teens or tweens when this album came out, you probably listened, baby, at least one more time.
'...Baby One More Time' by Britney Spears (1999)
You know her, you love her, and you're happy she's free—it's Britney—in the album that turned her into a household name. "...Baby One More Time" transitioned Britney Spears from the innocence of the Mickey Mouse Club of her youth to the pop superstardom of her not-quite-a-girl-but-not-yet-a-woman era. "...Baby One More Time" has sold more than 25 million copies and is Spears' most commercially successful album.
This iconic album cover fueled the fires of a raging conspiracy theory around these no-longer-mop-topped singers.
'Abbey Road' by The Beatles (1969)
The Beatles have no shortage of iconic albums; their entire career could be considered nothing short of quintessential. Yet "Abbey Road" is famous not only because of its musical content but for the alleged conspiracy behind the cover art. Not long before the album was released, a radio DJ from Detroit fueled a fan theory that Paul McCartney had died in 1966. The album cover, according to the conspiracists, backed up the theory because of clues supposedly depicted on it. McCartney being barefoot, out of step with the other three Beatles; his closed eyes; and his cigarette being in his unfavored hand were considered proof that the theory was true. It wasn't.
A diamond-bedazzled portrait of an artist who keeps a poker face steady even while da-da-da-dancing graces the cover of this iconic album.
'The Fame' by Lady Gaga (2008)
Lady Gaga burst into the mainstream music scene with a glittery bang, and she brought the nostalgia of disco back with her. Her debut album, "The Fame," featured the hit singles "Just Dance" and "Poker Face," which helped catapult her career into the stratosphere, selling more than 15 million copies of the album worldwide.
The portrait of this amazing artist is carved into the lexicon of hip-hop and on an elementary school desk featured on this album's cover.
'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' by Lauryn Hill (1998)
The "Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" was the singer's first and only solo album, yet it has remained one of the most beloved albums in hip-hop and R&B history. Bringing together reggae, doo-wop, neo-soul, and R&B, the album created a whole new sound that brought back a wave of nostalgia. The album sold 20 million copies, making it one of the bestselling albums of all time.
Isn't this legendary artist lovely? Isn't he wonderful? You can listen to his music on this iconic album that features a neon-hued rabbit hole on its cover.
'Songs in the Key of Life' by Stevie Wonder (1976)
Stevie Wonder has long been considered one of the most important artists of all time, but his 18th album, "Songs in the Key of Life," is the one that consistently ranks atop critics' and fans' lists alike. The sound created on the album is often credited for paving the way for such artists as Prince and Michael Jackson, both of whom make appearances on this list.
This revered guitar god released this kaleidoscopic album cover as he ushered in the Summer of Love.
'Are You Experienced' by Jimi Hendrix (1967)
The overly saturated orange and purple hues are like a screaming sunset on the cover of Jimi Hendrix's 1967 album "Are You Experienced." The debut studio album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience was instantly beloved by critics and listeners, and according to Rolling Stone, it's one of the greatest albums of all time, ranking #30 out of 500. The track "Foxy Lady" is one of the most well-known and received new life in the '90s during a particularly infamous scene in the movie "Wayne's World."
When life gave her lemons, this singer made an album out of them—all while donning a fur coat.
'Lemonade' by Beyonce (2016)
You guessed it, this is about Beyoncé's 2016 smash visual album "Lemonade." The cover features Beyoncé embodying a woman clearly fed up with something. As the album progresses, the reason is revealed: Jay-Z, her husband, was caught cheating before the album came out, inspiring Beyoncé to use the record as a cathartic response to his indiscretions while simultaneously putting the situation on blast. Each of the 12 songs on the LP charted on the Billboard Top 100 in 2016.
If this album cover gives you anxiety with its sharp peaks and strange imagery, that's good. That's its purpose.
'Kid A' by Radiohead (2000)
Radiohead's well-beloved album "Kid A" wasn't always so, well, beloved. The band's 2000 effort was a severely drastic departure from its previously released "OK Computer," the album that made them an overnight success in the eyes of the mainstream. Burnt out and seemingly over who they had become, the group released "Kid A" as a noisy, crunchy, distorted journey into the manic mind of someone who had become anxious at his very existence, a reflection of lead singer Thom Yorke's mental state at the time.
It would have been highly ironic if this album hadn't shown up on this list, don't you think?
'Jagged Little Pill' by Alanis Morissette (1995)
Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" was an angst-driven project that shattered all expectations possible for its album sales. The emotionally raw and vulnerable lyrics were well-matched by Morissette's audibly raw voice and seemed to strike a chord with millions of listeners worldwide. The album has sold more than 33 million copies and earned the Canadian singer six Grammy nominations in 1996. The lead single, "Ironic," has often been teased for being, ironically, completely nonironic in its lyrics.
Everyone's had bad breakups, but this British rock band had its entire breakup play out on record.
'Rumours' by Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Fleetwood Mac is a British band that made a big splash across the pond in America during the late '60s and early '70s. "Rumours" was the group's 11th studio album and one rife with heartbreak, scandal, and sadness. Not only was the band itself breaking up while recording the album, but due to a multitude of affairs between the various members of the group, romantic relationships, and dissolving marriages as well. The cover caused a bit of a scandal, as it featured a witchy Stevie Nicks and a dapperly dressed Mick Fleetwood with a suggestive pair of wooden balls hanging between his legs.
The controversial cover of this Grammy-nominated album features an homage to young Black men in front of a famous house.
'To Pimp a Butterfly' by Kendrick Lamar (2015)
While the third album by Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar isn't the one that earned him the infamous bronze medal, "To Pimp a Butterfly" is widely considered one of his most important albums for both its lyrical content, musicality, and the photograph chosen for the album itself. The black-and-white cover practically felt alive, capturing a group of Black men standing over what appears to be a corpse of a man, who Lamar describes as a judge, with x's over his eyes, holding a gavel in front of the White House.
This groundbreaking album featured five variation covers, all by George Condo.
'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' by Kanye West (2010)
The album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" is the main reason people miss the old Kanye. The music featured is a widely regarded masterpiece, and the album cover caused quite a stir with streaming services. The original cover was a painting of a winged woman, naked and entwined around Kanye. The cover was considered lewd, and the final image became a pixelated version of the painting. Featuring the smash hits "Monster," "All of the Lights," and "Runaway," among others, the album has surpassed 1 billion streams on Spotify alone.
This dreamy pop group looked like a bright blue crystalline dream on the cover of this wildly popular album.
'Voulez-Vous' by ABBA (1979)
The Swedish quartet known as ABBA was considered the main harbinger of all things dreamy disco pop during the '70s and the classic album "Voulez-Vous" is considered one of its best. The album spent most of 1979 atop of the charts in the United Kingdom and in the United States, with most of its singles also making their way to the top of the charts. The band reached a new level of popularity when the music from "Voulez-Vous" was used as the basis for the hit Broadway musical "Mamma Mia!," which was then adapted into a hit motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, and Pierce Brosnan, among others.
This infamous album cover has the ability to insult you in less than a few words.
'American Idiot' by Green Day (2004)
"American Idiot" was the seventh studio album by the pop-punk trio Green Day. Rife with political undertones and overtones, it is considered the group's anthemic protest album. It includes lead singles "American Idiot," "Holiday," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and the somewhat more melancholy "Wake Me Up When September Ends." While "American Idiot" is not the group's bestselling album, it did become its most critically acclaimed, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005.
This band's album welcomed us all to the jungle of long hair, big hats, and high-pitched screams—or at least their skulls did.
'Appetite for Destruction' by Guns N' Roses (1987)
You can't escape it, no matter how long it's been, and in truth, you probably don't want to. That's the sort of good and evil dichotomy found in Guns N' Roses' 1987 debut album, "Appetite for Destruction." Despite the popularity of the band—and the present-day fame of its album—it actually took the record more than a year to hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The success only came after the gradual release of the hit singles "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Paradise City," and of course, the often played, still in rotation, perfect-for-movie soundtrack single "Welcome to the Jungle." The album has gone on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.
This absolutely angelic crooner sits alone, looking forlorn, in a black-and-white portrait on the cover of her album, wondering if she'll ever find someone like you.
'21' by Adele (2011)
The second studio album from this absolute icon of pop music is the record that marked Adele's transition from the promising ingénue in her debut album, "18," into the sleek and sophisticated transformation as heard on "21." The seven-time Grammy-winning album featured singles like "Rumour Has It," "Someone Like You," and the somewhat anthemic dedication to empowerment and the burning of that which doesn't serve you, "Set Fire to the Rain."
This iconic album's cover inadvertently makes you want to stop, drop, and roll as soon as you see it.
'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd (1975)
Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" features an image almost too odd to be real, despite coming out long before Photoshop. On the mostly white album cover is a photograph: two well-dressed men standing in the middle of an empty street. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong—one of them is on fire. While the cover was already fairly shocking, the album itself created more controversy for its take on a man's descent into madness after selling his soul—as represented by the man on fire on the album's cover. The meaning was an allusion to former Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett, and the album acted as a proverbial ode to him and the struggles he went through due to the band's success.
This album cover oozes power and sexuality as the singer looks up in ecstasy to a clear blue background.
'True Blue' by Madonna (1986)
Madonna's 1986 album "True Blue" features a photograph by the famed artist Herb Ritts and is widely considered one of the most well-known photographs of the Material Girl. The LP, a dedication to her then-husband Sean Penn, featured the groundbreaking single "Papa Don't Preach," a catchy, danceable song that openly discusses teen pregnancy, which wasn't exactly kitchen table talk in the '80s, especially in pop music.