Play the Bracket Challenge
Welcome to round three of the 2014 Mensa Bracket Challenge. This year, we're turning the amps up to 11 while these 64 works of album art duke it out until only one remains.
The bracket is constructed like the NCAA basketball tournament’s — at least before they junked it up with all those play-in games — with four regions (Minimalized, Lens Flair, Artist's Rendering and Textual), each seeded 1 through 16. The entries are paired with one another and based on your voting will either be eliminated or proceed to the next round until we have a winner. First-round voting begins Oct. 13, and we’ll advance one round each week.
If you believe in an infinite multiverse, then somewhere, sometime, everyone gets their own perfect collection of album covers. In this particular dimension’s version, however, we’re liable to have some disagreements. Glaring omissions, inexplicable inclusions, poor classifications — there will be no shortage of legitimate objections. Let us know what’s missing and what doesn’t belong by emailing us.
Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973
The prism-refracting-light image was created by a childhood friend of Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour. Now deceased graphic designer Storm Thorgerson would later design multi-platinum-selling album covers for Led Zeppelin, Muse and Peter Gabriel. In one of his last interviews, with the U.K.’s The Independent, he called the Dark Side cover “not a favorite.”
Graceland, Paul Simon, 1986
A Christian St. George is depicted in this 15th century Ethiopian icon, a nod to Simon’s 1986 sojourn to South Africa to record the album with black musicians. Simon violated a U.N.-supported boycott in traveling there and was poorly received by anti-apartheid protesters despite his advocacy for racial harmony.
At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash, 1968
It’s the album that rejuvenated The Man in Black’s career. The cover was shot by then Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn, who had to lobby the paper to let him cover the show. Dubbed by Annie Leibovitz as “the rock ‘n roll photographer,” Hilburn’s shots adorn more than 500 albums.
The Beatles (AKA The White Album), The Beatles, 1968
A stark departure from the band’s previous record cover, the icon-laden Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a white canvas is adorned with only the embossed text “The Beatles.” The first two million copies of the band’s 9th studio album, a 30-song double LP, also included a small serial number. Pop artist Richard Hamilton provided the minimalist design, seemingly one of the few creative decisions agreed upon by the group’s then-diverging four members.
Abbey Road, The Beatles, 1969
Like the very best of the Beatles’ work, Abbey Road’s cover borrows from both John’s and Paul’s creativity. Paul envisioned the image and sketched multiple angles of the shoot. John provided the photographer, a friend of his and Yoko’s. Iain Macmillan shot the iconic image with a Hasselblad camera with a 50 mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.
Nevermind, Nirvana, 1991
Frontman Kurt Cobain’s original concept for the cover was a mother giving birth under water. The compromise – snapping a baby swimming underwater – led photographer Kirk Weddle to the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, Calif., where a friend’s four-month-old son was chosen among a dozen or so infants briefly dunked in the water and photographed. Several parent-of-the-year candidates, as well as a certified diver, were present.
Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968
It wasn’t the cover Hendrix had in mind. He had expressly told his label, Reprise Records, he wanted to use a color photo by Linda Eastman (later, Linda McCartney) that showed his band sitting with kids around an Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park. Wisely, they instead opted for this grainy, light-bathed photo taken by Karl Ferris.
Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen, 1984
A strong voice for the American working man since the ’70s, The Boss personifies him on the cover of an album that, much to President Reagan’s chagrin, is less a paean to the American dream as it is an indictment of a dream deferred. Even in photographer Annie Leibovitz’s distinguished collection of credits, this one stands out.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles, 1967
Sure, that’s a photograph on the cover, but the collection of cardboard cutouts accompanying the band – each of them people the Fab Four admired – make this practically a temporary installation piece. The concept was Paul’s idea. Some of John’s cover character choices were nixed, including Jesus, Hilter and Gandhi. George chose Indian gurus. And Ringo, true to form, was content with whomever everyone else selected.
In the Wee Small Hours, Frank sinatra 1955
The loneliness, introspection, depression, regret and late-night contemplation reflected on the cover of Sinatra’s ninth studio album – designed by the veritable father of album covers, Alex Steinweiss – perfectly renders the personal demons with which the singer was then wrestling, in particular a series of bad romantic relationships.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John, 1973
Artist Ian Beck was only 26 at the time he illustrated the cover, along with some direction from cover artist guru John Kosh, and it would be his last. Beck instead turned his attention to magazines, greeting cards, commercial packaging and children’s books.
The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground, 1967
The release of this, The Velvet Underground’s debut album, was delayed due to complications in manufacturing the cover. The banana print was the work of an already famous Andy Warhol, who was serving as the band’s manager and benefactor. On the original cover, the fruit’s skin could be peeled like a sticker and revealed a flesh-colored banana. Later versions ditched the effect.
Back In Black, AC/DC, 1980
After lead singer Bon Scott’s death from alcohol poisoning in February 1980, the group considered disbanding. Instead, the Australian rockers pressed on with their seventh record, and five months after Scott’s death released what would become the fourth-best-selling album (now sixth) in the U.S. Considered a tribute to Scott, the dark, mourning cover almost resembles a tombstone.
Chicago XIV, Chicago, 1980
Say what you will about the long-running soft rock group and this, one of their least commercially successful albums. Chicago is a master of brand continuity. Only two of the band’s 7,000 albums (rough approximation) go without their ubiquitous logo, which was inspired by Coca-Cola’s.
The Doors, The Doors, 1967
Creative Allies, an online community for developing band, film and event art, sums up the band’s logo aptly on its blog (articles.creativeallies.com): “The simple, bold geometric shapes; the reflective double-O’s; the tiny but essential psychedelic ‘THE.’ That simple one-color logo is by now one of the most recognizable images in rock history.”
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols, 1977
The newspaper clippings and ransom note style of the punk band’s first singles and only studio album were the design of English anarchist, artist and sometime editor Jamie Reid, who said about the Bollocks cover: “It wasn’t the pop phenomenon that interested me. I saw punk as part of an art movement that’s gone over the last hundred years, with roots in Russian agitprop, surrealism, dada and situationism.”
All images are copyrighted to their respective artists and labels.