50 years of iconic albums

By no means an exhaustive list, we've compiled some of the most memorable albums of the past 50 years. From their iconic covers to their transformative music, these artists will always remain part of our history.

In 1957, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane released “Blue Train,” the album that he later declared to be his favorite. The cover’s deep blue color combined with Coltrane’s reflective pose evokes his lyrical music in what has become a classic record.

Model Dolores Erickson wears nothing but chiffon and shaving cream on the cover of “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” arguably Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass’ most popular album. The 1965 record features the songs “A Taste of Honey” and “Lollipops and Roses.”

A compilation that’s both electric and acoustic, Dylan’s 1965 album "Bringing It All Back Home" includes the songs "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Maggie’s Farm." The cover, photographed by Daniel Kramer, shows Dylan and the wife of Dylan’s manager (Sally Grossman) sitting in front of a fireplace, surrounded by what looks like a halo of smoke. Kramer’s work has appeared on two of Dylan’s other albums as well: Biograph and Highway 61 Revisited. “I photographed a lot of wonderful and tremendously exciting subjects in my career, but Dylan remains one of the few at very the top of my list,” Kramer told Time magazine in 2012. “I have always admired his courage as a performer who—as he wrote once in one of his books—steps out.”

The 1967 debut album from The Velvet Underground, newly released in 2012 for its 45th anniversary, featured an iconic banana cover created by Andy Warhol. Band members Lou Reed and John Cale have said the image became “the symbol of The Velvet Underground.” Although the group broke up in 1973, its music – and that banana – live on.

One of the most widely recognized Beatles’ albums, the psychedelic cover for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” features a medley of historical figures – everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Aldous Huxley. Described by Rolling Stone as “the most important rock & roll album ever made,” Ringo Starr called the 1967 album the Beatles’ “greatest endeavor.” The designer of the iconic cover, Peter Blake, use cardboard cutouts of people the Beatles admired. The band posed in front wearing brightly colored military uniforms. Next to them: the ‘old’ Beatles in matching suits, looking conformist and far more impressionable than their flamboyant real-life counterparts.

A burning Hindenburg , the German airship destroyed after catching fire, illustrates the first-ever Led Zeppelin album released in 1969. The cover, one of the band’s most memorable, was created by graphic designer George Hardie.

The release of “Abbey Road” in 1969 marked the first time that a Beatles cover did not include the group’s name or album title. Although it was the group’s last recorded album, “Let It Be” (recorded earlier) would become the band’s last release.

With its unmistakable rainbow prism set on a black background devoid of words, the 1973 Pink Floyd album “Dark Side of the Moon” is arguably one of the most distinctive rock albums of all time and propelled the band to fame. In 2011 the band’s graphic designer, Storm Thorgerson, explained to Rolling Stone how he designed the cover: “I think the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger’s lyrics. So the triangle was a very a useful – as we know, obviously – was a very useful icon to deploy and making it into the prism – you know, the prism belonged to the Floyd,” he said.

Released in 1975, Patti Smith’s debut punk rock album, ‘Horses,’ featured a stark photograph taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, a friend of hers.

The Eagles’ 1976 album features one of the greatest 70s rock songs of all time, “Hotel California.” Released during America’s bicentennial year, drummer, and singer/songwriter Don Henley said this was a “concept album” that used the state of California as a symbol for the rest of the country. The cover art features a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

When punk album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols’ came out in 1977, it was described as “just about the most exciting rock & roll record of the Seventies,” by Rolling Stone. With its Day-Glo yellow background and bright pink banner, the group opted against a group photo for the cover. Rhino Records released a vinyl replica of the U.S. edition of the album in 2008, which featured pink and green, different colors than the UK version.

Rock band Fleetwood Mac reportedly produced some of its best music when band members were under intense emotional strife. Released in 1977, their 11th album, “Rumours,” is the perfect example, winning the 1977 best album Grammy. While the drama of their personal lives was flaring, Fleetwood Mac produced the singles “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” and “You Make Loving Fun.”

The 1979 album “Unknown Pleasures” was created by graphic designer Peter Saville, who described the origin of the design in a video for Visualized, saying there is a “global cult” around the image. It was the band’s first release. They gave Saville a page from the Cambridge John Encyclopedia of Astronomy showing a signal readout that eventually led to the early understanding of pulsars. The image has since been replicated on tattoos, mosaics and in fashion collections. “It’s the endless possible interpretations of this diagram that make it so powerful and in a way useful for something like an album cover,” Saville said.

The photo of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar on the cover of The Clash’s 1979 album, “London Calling,” is forever associated with rock ‘n’ roll. “London Calling” features the song “Train in Vain,” one of the band’s first big hits in the United States.

Pink Floyd took a minimalist approach in creating their 1979 theatrical album “The Wall.” The band’s name, scrawled on a white brick wall, eventually made for an elaborate stage show when an actual wall was built during the band’s performances.

A solo picture of a young Michael Jackson adorns the cover of "Thriller," the best-selling record in music history to date. Released in 1982, 24-year-old Jackson and producer Quincy Jones collaborated on the nine-track album. Seven singles were released to great critical acclaim. Although Jackson and Jones disagreed over the single “Beat It,” Jackson chose to keep the song on Thriller’s final release because he said the song made him want to dance.

Who among us can’t identify the owner of the jeans, white T-shirt and red baseball cap gracing the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album “Born in the USA”? Springsteen’s ever-popular seventh studio album gave him seven Top 10 singles and established him as a global superstar.

The Beastie Boys’ 1986 bestselling debut flew to the top of the charts, and is considered one of the best albums of the 80s. On the album cover, they emblazoned their name on the tail of a jet, and it’s only when you flip the album over that you can see the plane has crashed.

The cover of the fifth studio album by U2 was designed by Steve Averill and released in 1987. In December 1986, the band traveled through the deserts of California to capture a sense of rustic imagery to complement the album’s sound. Driving through the plains, the cover photographer told the band the biblical story of the Joshua Trees surrounding them. The tree appears on the back of the album while a photo of the band appears on the front. Ironically, the photographer, Anton Corbijn, had never used a panoramic camera before, hence the out-of-focus photo of U2.

“Hysteria” is English rock band Def Leppard’s bestselling album. Featuring hit singles such as “Animal,” “Women,” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” it took three long years to complete before finally being released in 1987. Upon its release, “Hysteria” topped the Billboard 200 and UK Albums Chart. To date, 20 million copies have been sold.

A sculpture of conjoined twins with their heads on fire is displayed on the shocking cover of the 1988 Jane’s Addiction album “Nothing’s Shocking,” and was created by band frontman Perry Farrell. The album was banished from some record stores due to its cover art. At the time, the band’s PR firm described the band as “doing what it does best – making great music and creating controversy.” The album's best-known song is “Jane Says.”

Photographer Kirk Weddle, whose shot of a naked baby swimming toward a dollar bill has become the most readily identifiable image associated with Nirvana, spoke to Rock Paper Photo about the shoot that resulted group’s 1991 album cover for “Nevermind.” Weddle said the child’s mom was a friend of his who allowed her four-month-old son to be dunked in the water. "The mom was on my left, and blew a puff of air into the child's face," Kirk recalled. "Then we dunked him in and, bang bang, pulled him out. We did it twice and that was it." According to Weddle, the fish hook and dollar bill were added to the photo later on. ESPN recently recreated the look by posing Olympian Ryan Lochte in a pool. "If you look at the baby, he's definitely happy in the water,” Lochte said. “And that's what I am."

The 1994 album “Dookie” thrust American punk rock band “Green Day” into mainstream popularity. And in 1995, “Dookie” won a Grammy for “Best Alternative Music Album.” The band’s name is displayed above a bomb explosion. Lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong told VH1 he wanted the album cover to depict the San Francisco Bay Area, where the band is from.

In a homage to a geisha, Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork sports two gigantic buns, neck rings and cherry lips in a hard-to-forget cover for her fourth studio album, Homogenic, released in 1997. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1998, she told the paper that she approached Alexander McQueen, asking him to design a look that reflected someone in an impossible situation, “so impossible that she had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love.” At the time, Bjork wrote of the album: “The music of homogenic is very close to the music i heard as a child. it's a very icelandic record, especially as far as rhythm is concerned. but it's not a record that wasn't there yesterday; it's always been there, but just had to materialize.”