The importance of cover art: how it can make or break a record

Cover art is the first look you get at a body of work — might as well make it count with something eye-grabbing.

Choosing cover art to associate with a piece of music will always be a big decision for artists, as the art introduces the music. Before listening to a single second, your experience with a body of work starts with the art that accompanies it. Since it is the listener’s first contact with the music, the cover has to be intriguing enough for the listener to decide to dive into the record.

In some instances, cover art can be so eye-catching that it transcends a record’s popularity and gets even more appreciated than the album itself, becoming its own thing. Album covers such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, with the famous triangle prism and the beam of light passing through, or The Beatles’ Abbey Road which sees the band members wearing suits and crossing the street, are prime examples of this.

Don’t get me wrong — these albums are considered some of the best of all time, but having such iconic covers definitely helped them gain the status and universal praise they still get to this day. These covers became so popular over time that you can now see them on clothes, posters, mugs, and tapestries, to a point where they’re almost symbolic.

With the streaming era, where everything is compiled on your phone, album art might not feel as important as 30 years ago when people would go to their nearest record store to skim through different album covers and buy whichever one caught their attention. Regardless of the period we are in, album covers still abide by the same set of rules as before for picking good cover art.

The most important rule is that the cover art has to be representative of the music. The genre that does it best is metal music, where the violence showcased on the album art is an excellent indicator of how brutal the music is going to sound. Death metal outfit Cannibal Corpse have some of the most gruesome album covers out there in metal, often picturing truly disgusting and unimaginable things done to people (look it up at your own risk) — and their very gross and murderous sound matches the vibe they portray on their front cover. 

R&B also does it well, as it’s a more sexy and intimate genre, where artists don’t shy away from sensually posing on their album arts. You can take Doja Cat’s 2019 single “Juicy” as an example, a song talking about “juicy booties,” where Doja Cat herself is showcasing her butt on the cover art.

The importance of cover art should never be neglected — while at its core, music is a form of sound art, an album or song also needs visual art to represent it. Who knows, maybe that split second of looking at and judging a cool album cover might make you discover your next favourite artist.

Some of my favourite album covers includes:

Killers – Iron Maiden

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

The House Is Burning – Isaiah Rashad

Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

Twin Fantasy – Car Seat Headrest

Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest

Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers

And Justice For All – Metallica

Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus

Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder

Graphic by James Fay


“Youth and optimism”: The first time I heard the Beatles

The Fab Four’s pride and joy, Abbey Road, celebrates 50 years and remains iconic in the music industry.

I can’t remember consciously falling in love with music until my first year of high school.

Sure, music has always been around in my life. I remember my kindergarten gym teacher handing me a plastic guitar to sing in front of the class when he saw me mouthing the words to “Highway to Hell” at the age of five. I remember my older brother showing me the cover art to Sam’s Town the day it was released in 2006, and enjoying it just as much as The Killer’s first album, Hot Fuss. I remember my dad buying the Guns N’ Roses Greatest Hits and my sister’s love of Bon Jovi in highschool. My mom’s teen crush on Donny Osmond and my grandfather’s man crush on Dean Martin. Music has certainly always been around me, but I didn’t necessarily always care for it.

If I could look back and pinpoint one moment in time when this all changed, it would have to be the first time I listened to The Beatles. Sometime in late 2007, my brother’s friend brought all 12 studio album CDs of the greatest band of all time, along with a few B-sides, to our house to burn onto our computer. After a few long hours of transferring, nearly every song The Beatles had ever released was available on our iTunes library.

Having always had faith in my brother’s taste in music, I took my third generation iPod Nano and plugged it into the computer. “Sync music.” I vividly remember running upstairs to my bedroom, plugging in my earphones, lying on my bed, and pressing play.

Paul McCartney’s “One, two, three, four!” countdown at the beginning of “I Saw Her Standing There” was a metaphorical countdown to my fall into a rabbit hole of rock n’ roll that I would never find my way out of. This song is the first song on the Beatles’ debut studio album, Please Please Me, listed at No. 39 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.

Front to back, the Fab Four’s back-and-forth transition of John Lennon to McCartney on lead vocals, and from upbeat rock to soothing love ballads was like nothing my 12-year-old self had ever heard before.

“Twist and Shout,” the outro song of the album, made it an absolute no-brainer that I would be spending the rest of my night enthralled in the evolution of The Beatles.

With The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night delivered just as much as their predecessor. “All My Loving” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” went on to become fan favourites. Through the lyrics and their tone of voice, you could hear the youth and optimism that resided in the band members in their early days. Youth and optimism that had not yet been crushed by the pitfalls of the music industry; riddled with drugs, money, fame and empty promises. Youth and optimism that had not yet felt heartache, heartbreak, divorce, and regret. Youth and optimism that made all their love songs to date ones of glee and hope, as if they truly believed being in love was always a pleasurable experience.

Oh, how quickly things would change.

The Beatles’ fourth and fifth album, Beatles for Sale and Help!, toned down the cheery love songs and added more depth and transparency to their work. Songs like “I’m a Loser” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” address fallen love and hardships that the Beatles had experienced with a few more years of musical fame under their belt, as well as being the stars of two movies. Lennon claimed that these songs were written during his “Dylan period,” a time when the band found major influence from American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who changed the focus of their songs to a more mature subject matter.

Not enough can be said about Rubber Soul and Revolver, argued by some as two of the strongest albums in the Beatles’ repertoire. Then came Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, proclaimed by Rolling Stone to be the best rock album of all time, calling it “an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time.

By this time, the Beatles had had their fair share of fun; dabbling into hallucinogens. Their mind-altering state was beginning to rub off on their music – evidently for the better. Masterpiece singles like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “With a Little Help From My Friends” remain timeless classics that will be sung along to just as loud another half-century from now. Magical Mystery Tour feels like a continuation of the same acid trip.

The Beatles ninth studio album, a self-titled double album often referred to as The White Album, did not halt their momentum. After writing the songs while on a religious retreat away from stardom, the Fab Four returned and released a 30-song album just over a year later. Their transitions between soft melodies and hard rock, all while offering each of the band members a turn at lead vocals, puts every listener on a musical roller coaster.

Abbey Road and Let It Be often get confused as the last albums that the Beatles recorded, although the real timeline doesn’t matter. The two albums were said to be recorded during the band’s “low of all-time” by lead guitarist George Harrison; and were the band’s final hurrah to the world. Both albums are riddled with tear-jerkers and songs of beauty, perhaps some of their most beautiful work ever; “Let It Be,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “The Long and Winding Road.” The lyrics to their songs preach that there is hope for a better world, regardless of the band’s fate.

Despite the cause of Lennon’s death 10 years later, one could still assume that he would continue to stand by his mantra: give peace a chance.

Thank you to The Beatles: for their countless classics, their diverse catalogue, and their lifelong words of wisdom that we could all use every once in a while.

Happy Anniversary, Abbey Road.


Collage by Alex Hutchins


The cuisine of music

Sometimes albums remind us of food

People who have chromesthesia see music in colour. I, instead, have foodsthesia. I see music in terms of food I’m familiar with.

Food and music are both cultural objects, imbued with a sense of identity and belonging. Not only that, both can be appropriated and sold to make tons of money, so they’re even more palatable for the mainstream. Both are celebrations of who we are as people.

Food is actually very evocative; it conveys culture, conceptions of class and even time, as certain food in different cultures is tied to a celebration or holiday. Almost every culture loves to share music and food. They bring people and communities closer together, bridging the gap between different cultures, even if for only a short amount of time.

So much description and identity can be gleaned from food, so this exercise in comparing it to albums can create a new layer for musical criticism. Or maybe this will be just fun.

Fish and Chips

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles

I chose fish and chips, partly because The Beatles are British, but also because Sgt. Pepper is a good album full of classic hits just like the dish. As with fish and chips, I won’t seek out this album, but once or twice a year, I have the urge to go back to Sgt. Pepper. I’ll have a good listen, and I’ll forget about it for another year.

Beef Tartare

The Money Store (2012) by Death Grips

Death Grips are generally aggressive-sounding, but they have a lot of depth to their music. I am immediately reminded of beef tartare by the band’s overall sound, because both are an acquired taste. I totally understand why people enjoy this album, but like beef tartare, sometimes its rawness is too much for me to handle. Maybe one day I’ll truly appreciate this album.

Deconstructed Cheesecake

Homogenic (1997) by Björk

Homogenic goes for a pop-experimental sound, yet what’s there is so sweet. Like the album, deconstructed cheesecake intentionally lacks the structure and shape of regular cheesecake, looking fancy and strange, but the sweet flavours still shine through.

Steak and Fries

channel ORANGE (2012) by Frank Ocean

This album is meaty and filled with so many great tracks, my favourite being “Pyramids.” Ocean’s melodies are sensual and emotional. The substantial tracks, like “Sierra Leone,” are the steak, because they are flavourful, fusing amazing instrumentals, lyrics and Ocean’s vocal range. Meanwhile, interlude tracks like the delightful “Fertilizer,” are the fries you eat in between the steak. The track proves that side dishes are just as important as the main course. And I’m always in the mood for steak and fries.

Shrimp Pizza

Uyai (2017) by Ibibio Sound Machine

Uyai is the shrimp pizza of albums. Both just hit the right notes for me. It’s the bonding of different elements that I love about this album; the electronic beats, acoustic instruments and the rhythmic singing mesh so well together. Shrimp pizza is analogous, because pizza is a melding of different elements. The crust, the sauce, the cheese and the special toppings fit together harmoniously.

All-you-can-eat buffet

MM… FOOD (2004) by MF DOOM

This album’s theme is literally food; go listen to it.

Whitewashed hummus

Reputation (2017) by Taylor Swift

Hummus has a long history in the Middle East. It’s flavoursome, dense and richly textured. But white people appropriated hummus, stripped it of flavour and history, and made it super bland. Reputation is Swift’s lacklustre hummus. She changed her sound from country music to R&B-inspired beats and melodies, meanwhile bringing up old grudges that few people care about. Swift’s album is uninspiring and tasteless, despite the fact that her other albums were pop hits and in her own style.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


60s rock songs that changed it all

An introduction to rock and roll’s most remarkable hits

The late 60s to early 70s marked the best and most formative years of rock and roll. Some rock groups created their own unique sound that would influence new styles of rock music, including progressive rock, psychedelic rock, punk rock and heavy rock. Here are some of the songs that, not only changed the very face of rock, but inspired a whole new generation of music.

The Kinks: “You Really Got Me” (1964)

This song showed The Kinks’ ability to create a unique sound that was way ahead of their time. The guitar solo was a precursor for heavy metal. The use of power chords heavily influenced future rock players in the realms of heavy metal and punk rock. The popular American rock band Van Halen even covered this song in 1978. Brothers Ray Davies and Dave Davies were the very heart and soul of The Kinks, and the combination of their talents made the band a huge success for many decades following this release. The younger brother, Dave, was an extraordinary guitar player, and Ray, on the other hand, was one of the greatest songwriters in rock and roll, with hundreds of songs under his belt, such as “Come Dancing,” “Lola” and ‘Waterloo Sunset.” “You Really Got Me” was the British rock band’s breakthrough hit, establishing them as one of the top British Invasion acts in the United States. It was also a number one hit on the UK’s singles chart when it was released in 1964. After decades of success, the band was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.


The Rolling Stones: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)

This song not only launched the Stones’ career, but it hit a raw musical nerve. The song’s lyrics clearly express the annoyance of constant advertisements and incessant consumerism. The song also talks about their frustration with the female sex and a woman’s inability to be satisfied sexually, which was controversial at the time. While they definitely had bold, in-your-face lyrics, The Stones’ music told powerful stories. The very first note of the song is the devil’s interval, otherwise known as the augmented fourth, which quickly gives a distinct sense of tension and anger. The distorted guitar sounds, done through a Gibson fuzzbox, only furthers this feeling of dissatisfaction and aggravation with the world. The title, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” rebels in its rejection of proper grammar. Needless to say, the song opened up a whole new world of rock music, paving the way for musicians to be more colourful and expressive in both their lyrics and their instrumentals. Rolling Stone Magazine placed this song second on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. This song, however, only marked the beginning of what was to come for the band, as they went on to be one of the greatest rock and roll groups of all time.

Procol Harum: “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967)

This deep and powerful song was not only a precursor to many styles of rock music, but it had an enormous impact on many rock musicians. The sound of the organ takes you on a journey through time, in a majestic and other-worldly way. The song incorporates classical music and rock, making it a precursor to symphonic rock and, by extension, progressive rock. People who have analyzed the song over many years notice the band took many of their influences from the classical pianist Johann Sebastian Bach, according to Billboard magazine. This track also has psychedelic rock elements—music that mimics the mind-altering experiences of being on psychedelic drugs. The descending bassline sounds both classical and ceremonial, while also giving the impression of timelessness. There are other psychedelic aspects that are layered throughout the song, such as the distorted, almost backwards-sounding guitar. The song has garnered an enormous amount of success, in fact, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, the song has sold 10 million copies worldwide. This song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

The Beatles: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)

The Beatles must be included in the list of most influential rock songs of all time. Around 1967, the band decided to take a break from touring and playing their music live. Paul McCartney came up with the idea of creating an entire album that sounds as though they are  playing in front of a live audience, and it opened up a whole new door for the band. By moving away from the constraints of their well-known and established band, this also gave The Beatles all the creative freedom in the world to explore their musical identity and their sound. This kind of creative spunk is what is most inspiring about both the song and the album. The album won four Grammys in 1968 and Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this award.

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