The best 80s album covers of all time
By Steve O'Brien | May 24, 2022
From Talking Heads to The Stone Roses to Duran Duran, here are the 20 best 80s album covers of all time…
20. The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Okay, so the choice of a pair of lips on an album titled Kiss Me, Kiss Me might seem obvious, but it’s the extreme close-up and the intense, dazzling red that dominates the sleeve that makes their seventh album sleeve so eye-catching.
19. XTC – Oranges & Lemons
The cover of the 11th studio album from Swindon’s finest was a loving pastiche of the work of Heinz Edelmann, the art director for The Beatles’ 1968 film Yellow Submarine. Reflecting the LP’s Carnaby Street influences, it’s bright, colourful and psychedelic. At a time when it wasn’t fashionable to chase 60s sounds and styles, Oranges & Lemons very much stood out from the crowd in 1989.
18 Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome
Paul Morley was behind the concept for the Picasso-influenced artwork on the sleeve of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s double-album debut. Featuring the five members topless, it represents both the band’s arty side as well as their sexually rebellious, boundary-pushing spirit.
17 The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
Stone Roses guitarist John Squire has a dual talent as an artist and his work adorns every single and album the band ever put out. His Jackson Pollock-inspired art was all over those early singles, and also present on this era-defining debut. The slices of lemon – in case you were wondering – are a reference to the student riots in Paris in 1968.
16 Prince – Sign O’ The Times
Prince himself had been the primary focus on the majority of his albums up until his ninth, from 1987. With only half his face visible, Sign O’ The Times instead concentrates on the room behind him. The backdrop, designer Laura LiPuma Nash later revealed, was borrowed from a stage production of Guys & Dolls.
15 Madonna – True Blue
This photo, shot by photographer Herb Ritts, remains one of the most famous of Madonna. It’s a powerful image, establishing a new sophisticated image for the singer.
14 Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
If you have an artist as sartorially unique as Cyndi Lauper on your books, you’re going to want to go with a picture of her for her debut album’s cover. On this 1983 release, Lauper was snapped on Henderson Way in Coney Island, New York by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. Eccentric, kooky and very NYC, it represents everything Cyndi Lauper is about.
13 U2 – War
Calling an album War, U2 could have gone down various routes – a battalion of soldiers, an atomic bomb, dead civilians laying in the street… But far more striking was the choice to go with the picture of a child, in order to convey the loss of innocence created by conflict. The boy in question is Peter Rowen, brother of the artist Guggi, a friend of Bono’s.
12 De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising
The songs of De La Soul’s debut long-player did exactly what was promised by the cover. You wanted bright, flower power-influenced hip-hop? You got it.
11 Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
So minimal it doesn’t even have the band’s name on the front, the Paul’s Boutique of the cover isn’t actually called that. The band themselves made their own sign and hung it outside Lee’s Sportswear on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
10 Talking Heads – Remain In Light
David Byrne and co. collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media lab to create this iconic record sleeve, one of the very first to be designed by a computer.
9 Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA
“We had the flag on the cover because the first song was called Born In The USA,” Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone about this famous photo by Annie Liebowitz, “and the theme of the record kind of follows from the themes I’ve been writing about for at least the last six or seven years. But the flag is a powerful image, and when you set that stuff loose, you don’t know what’s gonna be done with it.”
8 The Police – Ghost In The Machine
Though it’s not immediately obvious, the cover art for The Police’s fourth album actually features the heads of the three band members (from left to right, Andy Summers, Sting with spiky hair, and Stewart Copeland with a fringe). Created using a 16-segment display graphic (similar to that used on digital watches), it was designed by Mick Haggerty, who also worked on such sleeves as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, The Go-Go’s Vacation and OMD’s The Pacific Age.
7 The Human League – Dare
Phil Oakey worked on the Dare sleeve with designers Adrian Wright and Ken Ansell, intending it to resemble a Vogue cover, with the typography chosen carefully to echo the specific issue (April 1979) that inspired it.
6 Pet Shop Boys – Actually
How audacious were Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe for the cover of their second album? Like their debut Please, there’s a generous amount of white space on the cover of Actually, but it’s the photo that’s the big talking point, featuring a pissed-off looking Lowe and Tennant mid-yawn. For all their studied seriousness in publicity pics, this was a duo for whom humour and irreverence has always been integral.
5 The Clash – London Calling
Okay, so this was released just a couple of weeks before the 80s started, but we’re counting it, simply because it’s such a memorable and iconic cover. It’s actually bassist Paul Simonon pictured, with the lettering chosen as a homage to Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut, with pink letters down the left side and green text along the bottom.
4 New Order – Movement
Both of Joy Division’s albums had boasted arresting, enigmatic sleeves, but New Order would create a very different, even more cryptic aesthetic. Designed by regular cover artist Peter Saville, Movement’s cover is based on a poster by the Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero. The ‘50’ comes from the record’s original catalogue number.
3 The Smiths – Meat Is Murder
We could have chosen so many Smiths covers. Over the course of four studio albums and countless singles, the band created their own distinct lo-fi aesthetic, often using black and white photographs from the 1950s and 60s. Their second album depicted US Marine Corporal Michael Wynn, from director Emile De Antonio’s Vietnam War documentary, In The Year Of The Pig. The original photo had “Make Love Not War” scrawled on Wynn’s helmet, with Morrissey changing it to reflect the album’s pro-vegetarian message.
2 Grace Jones – Island Life
This compilation album, distilling the best from Grace Jones’ previous seven albums, arrived in December 1985 and remains one of the singer’s best selling works. The cover image was created by Jones’ then-partner, graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude, and is actually a montage of separate images in an arabesque pose.
1 Duran Duran – Rio
An album cover so 80s it hurts, Duran Duran’s Rio was painted by US artist Patrick Nagel who’d been recommended to the band after his work for Playboy. The group commissioned two portraits as possible covers, but it was a slam-dunk for the smiling girl as soon as the quintet saw it.