Touring London’s Most Iconic Album CoversJune 27, 2017
The British Invasion represents one of the most significant times in music history. Iconic bands have emerged over the decades to draw in fans from around the world. In addition to the impact these artists have made on the music industry, they have also secured their top status with albums that are instantly recognizable and just as important to pop culture as the music.
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars
If the album title wasn’t telling enough, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars” was David Bowie’s most theatrical album that took his audience on an unexpected journey, challenging conventions and questioning sexuality.
The cover for this album was shot on 23 Heddon Street, W1 in London just off Regent Street and has a picture of Bowie underneath a “K West” sign. There are several conspiracies floating around from cult fans on whether this was a code of some sort. The back cover of the album was taken inside a telephone booth on the same road. For this album, Bowie performed as Ziggy Stardust, his red-haired bisexual rock star alien alter ego from another planet. His band represented the “Spiders from Mars.” While this album and its characters may have caused a lot of controversy, it marked him with one of the most iconic albums of all time.
The Beatles, Abbey Road
The Beatles are known for many iconic London album covers, but this one might be their most famous. Whether or not you are part of Beatlemania, you have seen this picture and most likely have, or know someone who has, attempted to recreate it. Any day of the week you are bound to see people lining up at Abbey Road, NW8 in London to try and capture this classic cover art.
It only makes sense that their last album is their most renowned. Iain Macmillan, photographer of “Abbey Road” cover art told the Guardian the idea came from lead singer Paul McCartney. “A few days before the shoot, he drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which he executed almost exactly that day,” Macmillan said. They waited for traffic to pass and took a couple of shots of the Beatles walking each way. They eventually settled in on one that had their legs perfectly in sync.
The Rolling Stones, Between the Buttons
This photo was taken at 5:30 AM at London’s Primrose Hill in August 1966. Primrose is a grassy hill that gives breathtaking views of London. Their album, not released until the following year, was full of songs that can be mirrored by the blurry edges of the photo to represent the band’s move in a more artistic direction.
It also perfectly captured band member Brian’s penchant for mixing alcohol and drugs that would lead him to an early death in 1969. “Between the Buttons” is most famous for its songs “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the melodic “Ruby Tuesday” on the American album that led to them receiving a double-sided number one.
The Clash, The Clash
The Clash’s debut album “The Clash” was taken on a trolley ramp outside of Rehearsals Rehearsals in Camden Market, London that was said to mimic The Ramones’ debut album “10 Things You Didn’t Know.” The album was released April 8, 1977, but the photo was taken after original drummer Terry Chimes had already left the band.
The cover features remaining members Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon standing in the alleyway directly opposite the band’s rehearsal studio. This building is now the Proud Gallery, which is home to several exhibits and photos of rock legends over the decades. And, the trolley ramp (now made into steps) is still there for fans to try and recreate the cover.
Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs
This photo was taken in the Wetherby Mansions in Earl’s Court Square in London. This room was apparently Syd Barrett’s apartment and wasn’t quite done yet with paint still drying on the walls. This album was especially interesting because it was recorded after Barrett left the band Pink Floyd in 1968.
While some argue that he got kicked out, Barrett went on to record two of his albums, one being “The Madcap Laugh.” Syd’s career did not last long due to his drug addiction and mental state, but this album was symbolic of his growing loneliness and alienation after he left the band. Many artists express their pain through music and Barrett did this through many of his songs that create a lasting afterthought of melancholy.
Pink Floyd, Animals
Pink Floyd’s 10th album was released on January 23, 1977. On the cover is one of the most iconic buildings in London, Battersea Power Station. This cover may be hard to re-create, but you can definitely take a picture from afar. The album was loosely based on Orwell’s book “Animal Farm,” and if you look closely enough at the cover, you can see a pig suspended between two chimneys on the south side.
For the picture, an inflatable pig was used and apparently broke free one day and flew into the flight path of the London Heathrow Airport. There are still speculations on whether this was an accident or a publicity stunt. Either way, Pink Floyd’s album cover is one of the main reasons people from around the world know what the Battersea Power Station is.
Blur’s Britpop album cover, “Parklife” has a picture of two dogs racing on a dirt track. This photo was taken at Walthamstow Stadium, a greyhound racing venue in London. Going to the dog races was once a very popular pastime in London, and the Walthamstow site was home to about 33 different tracks. Today, the race track has been transformed into a housing estate. Apparently, the band had originally planned to name the band Soft Porn, but chose against it. The album cover referenced lead keyboard player Damon’s love for the races.
Oasis, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’
Another giant Brit Pop band of the 90s was Oasis. Their album cover for “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” was taken at Berwick Street, in London’s Soho. Back then, Berwick Street was filled with independent record stores and labels. Because this is usually one of the busiest streets in Soho, the band had to wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to get a photo of the empty street.
Brian Cannon, photographer and designer of several record labels, helped create this iconic picture that became the cover of Oasis’s most successful album. “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” was one of the top 50 best-selling albums of all time producing over 22 million in sales. According to Cannon, the two, blurry strangers passing each other on the street were supposed to be Liam and Noel Gallagher, but they had not recovered from the night before and ended up missing the shoot. The two mysterious men ended up being Cannon himself on the right in the beige jacket and London’s DJ Sean Rowley on the left.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads, New Boots and Panties!!
After Kilburn and the High Roads split, Ian Dury, who had formed the band, put together a new band called The Blockheads. The first album they released was called “New Boots and Panties!!” and features Dury and his six-year-old son on the front cover. The title of the album supposedly alludes to Dury’s exhausted habit of buying all his clothes from second-hand stores. Boots and panties refer to the only items of clothing that he would buy new, hence the name. Dury and his son are posted outside one of his favorite second-hand shops, the Axford lingerie shop on Vauxhall Bridge Road that is still there today.
Rock ‘n’ roll legends past and present are known for their creativity, artistry, and sometimes, their straight up kookiness which comes through their music, lifestyles, and in this case, their album covers.