A near-impossible task: narrowing down the list of ‘album covers that changed my life’ to only eleven. I love covers, especially covers of vinyl albums. To choose eleven, I had to omit thousands, among them the homoerotic Teutonic covers of Accept and Rammstein, the loincloth-and-oil spectacle of Manowar, the nonchalant symbolism of Scorpions, the eerie imagery of Venom, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond and Blue Öyster Cult, the relentless metallic robot iconography of Judas Priest, the masking-tape-tittied, cameltoe-pantied, oiled-up, chainsaw-wielding anarchifeminism of Wendy O. Williams, the two-steps-from-transexuality preening poseurishness of LA glam metallists, the otherworldly wonder of early Magnum covers…you get the idea. These eleven are not necessarily my favourite album covers, but they are the ones that, for various reasons (which will be explained), had a huge impact on me.
1. AC/DC – If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)
My equal-favourite album of all time (the other being Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction’s Tattooed Beat Messiah), this features a cover that hit the 10-year-old me in a visceral way. I picked up the LP on a winter’s day in an East Kilbride record shop. After a few minutes of staring at both sides, I walked to the counter shaking with excitement, plucked a pile of saved-up pocket money from my jeans, and bought this chunk of high-voltage riffage. Walking the mile and a half home through the snow, I held the album in my hands, gazing at it in amazement: the front with Angus impaled by his own guitar while Bon looks over his shoulder like a demon; the back with Angus lying face down and dead, Gibson SG headstock jutting from a bloody exit wound, Bon nowhere to be seen (gut-wrenchingly prophetic, as Bon was to check out of this world soon afterwards). And the sound? Immaculate! From the roar of Glasgow Apollo’s crowd (the greatest gig venue I’ve ever set foot in) to Bon’s banshee-pitched screams on High Voltage to the never-bettered guitar tone of Angus and Malcolm Young, the energy levels on this album are higher than any ever captured on record before or since.
2. Motörhead – Ace of Spades
This one shouldn’t need explanation. The band image – equal parts biker, bandito and shoot-you-in-the-back baddie – was perfect. This cover didn’t just make me want the album: it made me run out to buy a bullet belt, too. Little Filthy Phil Taylor was the scuzziest-looking thing I’d ever seen, so naturally I loved him!
3. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
This cover scared the bejeesus out of the childhood me. I was afraid of only one thing back then: witches. I’d fight any boy, man or beast. I’d boot a vampire in the balls if he crossed my path. I’d set a werewolf on fire. Witches, though…they were a different story. They terrified me. And the spectral female figure on the front cover of this album looked like a definite witch, the scariest I’d ever seen, a pant-browningly terrifying wyrd woman who would – if I dared to play the album – haunt my dreams and try to rip out my soul. So I played the album over and over, understanding that facing my fears was the only way to deal with them. If you want to visit the building on this cover, you can. It’s Mapledurham Watermill and I’m happy to report that it hasn’t changed much. With a bit of jiggery-pokery, some slap and tickle, and a shamanic forest dance (or, alternatively, a short walk from the car park), you can look upon the watermill from the same angle as the photographer of this cover did back in 1970. And if you’re lucky, a pale figure in black might appear on the water’s edge…
4. Rush – Permanent Waves
Symbolism run amok. Multiple waves: an approaching tidal wave, a human hand waving, one fabric-flapping wave and a woman with demi-wave hair. And a glimpse of white cotton panties. Genius.
5. Candlemass – Nightfall
The most numinous of these eleven, Nightfall‘s cover features the Thomas Cole painting Old Age. If you fancy a look at the original, pop over to the Smithsonian Institute and have your knackers blown off by this spectacular piece of art. Metaphorically, that is. And if you have knackers. For me, it provokes memories of early childhood filled with Sunday School, biblical parables and figuring out the existential mysteries of the Universe.
6. Deep Purple – Deep Purple in Rock
This cover features the big legendary heid of Ian Gillan…carved into rock! And Ritchie Blackmore’s there too! And the others in the classic Mark II lineup of Deep Purple. Based on Mount Rushmore (where the heads of American presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt are hewn into the rock), this cover goes one louder in proper metal style by having five heids. When, as a child, I picked up this vinyl album in a Menorcan record shop during a summer holiday, I nearly shat my pants in excitement. Inspired.
7. Diamond Head – Living on…Borrowed Time
Like AC/DC’s If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It), this cover uses back and front to deliver its message. To receive the full effect, take the gatefold vinyl album, open it up and – Alakazoomer! – you have the whole widescreen image including glorious burnt-amber sky. The amazing artwork is by Rodney Matthews, whose scenes grace album covers by luminaries such as Magnum. Of all Rodney’s work, this is the one that captivated me.
8. Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
Derek Riggs created Eddie ‘the Head’, Iron Maiden’s mascot and album-cover star. Derek’s body of work is now legendary, his main character Eddie the universally recognised figurehead of the Iron Maiden juggernaut. I love all the Maiden album covers. Each has breathtaking attention to detail, little flashes of self-referencing humour, and a unique mood. The cover of this, the first Iron Maiden album, has a hypnotic quality, the scene communicating an eerie and palpable sense of nocturnal danger. I can’t get enough of it.
9. Testament – Souls of Black
Take the cover of this vinyl album and look at it. See it. There are over 20 tortured faces in the clouds and sea. Every time you look, you’ll see more. I still find new ones and I’ve had the album since its release in 1990. Perfect logo in blood-red font, hooded dark wraiths, stolen heart wrapped in black thorns: a beautiful inversion of Christian iconography.
10. Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène
It’s difficult to look at this cover without contemplating the destruction mankind has wreaked on Mother Earth. Job done, Monsieur Jarre.
11. Pink Floyd – The Division Bell
One of my favourite albums and a cover to match, courtesy of longtime Floyd collaborator Storm Thorgerson (RIP, you transcendent genius). Division and union in one scene: an eternal paradox. A metaphor for the whole Universe. The building in the background is Ely Cathedral, the lights car headlights. If you fancy seeing the giant heads, you can…at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Find them above the entrance to the museum’s third floor.