There was a time when album covers meant something. You brought the album home from Caldor or Montgomery Ward and got lost in the cover. Not like today, when you buy a new CD from Newbury Comics or BMG and spend precious minutes trying to separate the security cellophane from the plastic case. And if you're buying your music online, there's no connection at all.
It was the era of the album that captured our attention, its broad, cardboard palate giving artists plenty of room for creativity. It's difficult to appreciate the artwork on a smallish CD cover.
For their sheer brilliance and originality, these are the Top 10 album covers of all time:
1. Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers"
The marketing department had cash on its hands when it brought in Andy Warhol to design the cover with an actual brass zipper on the crotch of the jeans. Clearly a collector's item if you can find the original 1971 release.
2. The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
Incredible. Original. Hip, way ahead of its time. John, Ringo, Paul and George, in full pastel uniform holding brass instruments, surrounded by cutout photos of the famously living and famously dead. A young Marlon Brando, Edgar Allen Poe, Marilyn and Dylan. And dozens more.
3. Led Zeppelin "III"
The original release was a spinning circle disc underneath the cover that let you change pictures. The Jimmy Page idea was supposed to be based on crop rotation charts. It was a novel concept for the acoustic-spirited album, a marked contrast from "II." All of Zep's albums were unique, but this one stands out.
4. Yes "Tales From Topographic Oceans"
Tough to choose just one album cover from the band that raised the bar for album cover design. The band's 1974 release is a portrait of the ocean bottom, with the sun just over the horizon under a blue, starry sky. Surreal, like Yes' music.
5. The Who "The Who By Numbers"
Late Who bassist John Entwistle etched the cover, which is a "draw by numbers" picture of the band, with an unshaven Keith Moon standing inside a broken snare drum. Original concept.
6. KISS "Alive!"
America gets its first close look at the phenomenon that would be known as KISS. The greasepaint, the glam, Gene Simmons' wild hair and darting tongue -- it was all on this cover. The band had released three previous albums, but it was "Alive!" that propelled Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace to super-stardom.
7. Black Sabbath "Black Sabbath"
The 1970 debut is scary as, well, hell. A dead-looking woman with a green face is eerily standing at the edge of the woods in front of an English home. Its simplicity is haunting and still sends shivers when pulled from the album collection.
8. Hell Toupee "Hell Toupee"
Boston funk-rock band's full-length debut. The focus is a brain (borrowed from a local school lab) with a punk-red hairdo, wearing a headset and puffing on a butt. Wonderful concept that bridged '80s Kenmore Square with Allston back-beat funkadelics.
9. Frank Zappa "Weasels Ripped My Flesh"
One of the greatest musicians and composers of our lifetime, Frank Zappa's album covers were always weird and wacky. But it was this 1970 Mothers of Invention release that jumped off the record racks, a cartoon of a man shaving with a weasel. Only FZ could have come up with this concept.
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd "Street Survivors"
The seven-piece band, in its prime, is devastated by a plane crash that kills singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines. The photo on the cover shows the band in flames, with Gaines' head and shoulders most prominently burning. Eerie foreshadowing. The cover was redesigned sans the flames shortly thereafter.