The 100 Best Album Covers of All Time

Music isn’t just about the music. Yes, the sounds are certainly the most essential element, but a lot of other things go into making an album a classic. Almost since the full-length album format began, cover art has been a key piece of the puzzle, adding visual interest (and occasionally a physically interactive component) to a work of art.

From the fold-out gatefolds of the vinyl era to pull-out liner notes in CD jewel cases to the small icon on a digital player, cover art has changed over the years, but it still helps define how we look at a particular album. Some go for the less-is-more approach, while others are stuffed with a kaleidoscope of imagery for fans to pore over and decipher. You might see photographic portraits, paintings, sketches, collages or nearly nothing at all. The artist might appear front and center, or perhaps they take a backseat entirely, letting evocative imagery pull the listener into their world. Some album covers are arguably better known than the music inside, having been parodied in pop culture, lauded with awards, used in advertisements or hung up in art museums. It all began in 1939 when Alex Steinweiss, a graphic designer who worked at Columbia Records, realized that the label could sell more copies of an album if the cover caught the consumer’s attention. It worked, and soon became an indispensable part of the creative process when crafting (and marketing) an album.

We’ve rounded up a list of the 100 greatest album covers of all time, reaching as far back as the 1930s and running through the birth of rock n’ roll, the start of hip-hop and beyond, right up to present day.