A whistlestop tour through rock and pop history through the artwork of our Top 10 London album covers. Agree with our selection? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.
1. The Beatles, Abbey Road: Abbey Road, NW8
Let’s be honest, as soon as you saw this article you thought of this album. It was nearly left off the list for fear of it being too obvious, but that would have been silly so let’s get it out the way first.
Anyone who loves music and lives in London has made / has plans to make / has been too-cool-for-school-and-deliberately-avoided-making a pilgrimage to the most famous road crossing in the world. Go there on any day of the week and you'll see the traffic being held up as Beatles fans from around the world recreate the cover.
At the time of recording The Beatles were on the verge of splitting up, triggering their downward spiral toward law suits and slanging matches in the press. They got together for what was pretty much acknowledged beforehand by all as their last album. They put aside their differences and pulled a blinder with the album which contains not one single bad tune (we’ll settle with fisticuffs anyone who says that the macabre ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is a dud, even if Lennon referred to it as ‘More of Paul’s granny music’!)
Photographer Ian Macmillan was given ten minutes to climb a stepladder while a policeman stopped traffic and at approximately 11.30 am on 8 August 1969 music history was made.
Conspiracy theories that stated Paul McCartney was dead and replaced in the band by a look-a-like went into overdrive after the release as the number plate on the Volkswagen Beetle behind the band read LMW 28IF - 28 being McCartney’s age, had he still been alive.
Pub quiz fact: The sleeve was designed by Apple Records’ creative director Kosh and is the only original UK Beatles album sleeve to include neither their name or the album title.
2. David Bowie, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars: 23 Heddon Street, W1
This was the album that catapulted Bowie onto the bedroom walls of a million teenagers. It’s based loosely around a story involving an alien that, when explained, sounds a bit rubbish… so don’t pay any mind to the concept, just listen to how good the record still sounds nearly 40 years after its release.
Older readers will know the classic Top Of The Pops performance of ‘Starman’. Yes, Bowie may be wearing a onesie made from your Grandma’s duvet cover and sporting teeth sharp enough to bite through guitar strings, but give that performance a watch and you’ll see exactly why he was ‘the nazz with God given ass’ back in 1973. Others will know the song ‘Suffragette City’ from playing Rock Band. Film buffs will probably know this version of ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide’.
The cover was shot outside the K West on Heddon Street (just off Regent Street). The back cover was shot inside a telephone box on the same street.
Pub quiz fact: In 2002 Pulp released the single ‘Bad Cover Version’ featuring their guitarist Mark Webber as a child recreating the Ziggy Stardust cover shot.
3. The Clash, The Clash: ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’ Camden Market
In 1977 London was held together by a safety pin. The Frankenstein’s monster of punk had been jolted awake by the electricity coming off the albums of The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, MC5, Suicide, New York Dolls and The Ramones, who had released their debut album in 1976 and played a legendary show at The Roundhouse in July of the same year.
Suddenly bands such as Pink Floyd and Yes seemed completely out of date as kids realised they could get by with just three chords and attitude.
One of London’s most famous and influential bands of the time was The Clash whose debut album featured the band mimicking The Ramones’ debut album cover posing on the trolley ramp outside Rehearsal Rehearsals in Camden Market. The building is now home to the wonderful Proud Gallery and the trolley ramp (now steps) are still there for fans to re-create the cover.
Pub quiz fact: The back cover of the album features a photo of the 1976 riot in Notting Hill Carnival which inspired the track ‘White Riot’ on the album.
4. Pink Floyd, Animals: Battersea Power Station
Battersea Power Station has to be one of the most iconic buildings in London. Everyone could sketch it within seconds; a rectangle with four tall white chimneys at each corner.
One of the main reasons people around the world know the Power Station is because of the Pink Floyd album cover for ‘Animals’. The album was loosely based on Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ so they chose to suspend a pig from one of the southern chimneys for the album artwork.
Pub quiz fact: Amusingly the pig broke free of its moorings and ended up floating into Heathrow Airport’s flightpath before eventually landing in Kent.
5. The Rolling Stones, Between The Buttons: Primrose Hill
It was here that The Rolling Stones shot the cover for their 1967 album ‘Between The Buttons’. The photo’s blurred edges mirrored the band’s move from their rhythm and blues beginnings into a more arty direction, influenced by the insane amount of great albums released in 1966; ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles, Bob Dylan’s’ Blonde On Blonde’, Frank Zappa’s ‘Freak Out!’ with his Mothers of Invention, Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’, ‘The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators’ and The Beach Boy’s ‘Pet Sounds’ — music was growing up and growing its hair.
‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, with ‘Ruby Tuesday’ on the b-side, was released as a single at the same time as the album, both of which became standards of their live sets.
The band dabbled even further into psychedelia that year with the release of ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ after which followed their amazing run of ‘Beggars Banquet’, ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile On Main Street’.
Pub quiz fact: At the time of release singles weren’t generally included on an album. The version of ‘Between The Buttons’ that you find in the shops now includes the single ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and has a slightly different tracklisting and running order to the original version.
6. Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs: Wetherby Mansions, Earls Court Square
'I know a mouse, and he hasn't got a house, I don't know why I call him Gerald.' So goes one of the lyrics to the Pink Floyd track ‘Bike’ from their debut album 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’. Anyone who listens to that album knows that Syd Barrett had his radio tuned with a different aerial to the rest of us. But then he goes on to sing the sweetest refrain, ‘You’re the kind of girl who fits in with my world, I’ll give you anything, everything if you want things’.
Sadly his aerial got bent and twisted out of shape thanks to a vast quantity of psychedelic drugs. His mind went haywire and he left / got kicked out of Pink Floyd.
Barrett went onto record two solo albums, ‘The Madcap Laughs’ and ‘Barrett’. Both are extremely brutal recordings; the sound of a man wrestling with a very fragile and delicate state of mind. But they’re also honest and beautiful. Both albums were released in 1970 after which he became a recluse. His short recording career — spanning just three years — gave us songs that influenced people such as David Bowie, REM and Graham Coxon not to mention a style and look that has been copied ever since by musicians such as Serge from Kasabian and Robert Smith from The Cure.
Pub quiz fact: The iconic photo on the cover of ‘The Madcap Returns’ was taken by Mick Rock who also gave us the covers to Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’, The Stooges’ ‘Raw power’ and Queen’s ‘Queen II’ and ‘Sheer Heart Attack’.
7. Blur, Parklife: Walthamstow dog track
The mid-90s. Brit-pop. Cool Britannia. Everyone was either a geezer or a ladette or putting on a mock-northern accent. And Labour hadn’t got round to letting us down.
All a bit embarrassing in hindsight but there was plenty of great music produced during the period. Blur stepped up their game with the dark, but melodic ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish' with its Kinks’ inspired tales, but it was ‘Parklife' that sealed the deal by capturing the mood of the nation.
‘Girls & Boys’ and the Phil Daniels' voiced 'Parklife’ were everywhere. It’s still impossible to read the words, ‘You should cut down on your pork life, mate, get some exercise’ without putting on his accent.
The artwork for the album was taken at Walthamstow dog track. Sadly the track closed down in 2008, and has now been converted into a housing estate.
‘Going to the dogs’ was once a popular past time in London and at one point there were 33 different tracks to choose from. In recent years the hare chasing has slowed right down with only three remaining in Romford, Wimbledon and Crayford.
Pub quiz fact: East 17 filmed the music video for their single ‘House Of Love’ outside the stadium in 1992.
8. Oasis ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’: Berwick Street
Oasis were, of course, the other giant of the Brit Pop years. Their first album became the fastest selling British debut of all time, keeping the record until Arctic Monkeys came along in 2006.
To follow up their debut Oasis decamped to Rockfield Studios in Wales without the band having even heard the songs they were to record.
Everyone knows what happened next…
The cover for the album was taken down Berwick Street, then filled pretty much solely with music shops. The great and greatly missed Selectadisc can be seen on the left hand side of the sleeve.
Music shops may not be quite so predominant down Berwick Street today but it’s still a very good starting place if you want to look for some killer independent stores, including Sister Ray occupying the hallowed ground Selectadisc used to call its own.
Pub quiz facts: The Sister Ray shop is named after the 17 minute epic by The Velvet Underground. ‘Guilty Pleasures’ DJ Sean Rowley features on the cover of ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’.
9. Ian Dury & The Blockheads: New Boots and Panties!!: Axford lingerie shop on Vauxhall Bridge Road
After Kilburn and the High Roads split in 1975 Dury put together The Blockheads and released ‘New Boots and Panties!!’. The title allegedly refers to Drury — a fan of second hand clothing — insisting on only ever buying these two items new.
At first no one seemed interested in releasing the album, despite it being recorded at the height of punk. In the end, Dury’s management company licensed it to the infamous Stiff Records whose offices were underneath theirs.
The album went on to become a classic fondly remembered thanks to songs such as ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’.
While we’re here, Stiff Records are definitely worth going into in a little more detail. The label was started with a loan of £400 and went on to release, along with Ian Dury, acts such as Elvis Costello, The Damned and Madness. They had a knack for coming up with great slogans including ‘We came. We Saw. We left’ and the classic, ‘If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck’.
The cover for ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ was taken on Vauxhall Bridge Road outside the Axford lingerie shop opposite Woolworths (whose reflection can be seen in the window).
Pub quiz Fact: The six year old child on the cover of the album is Drury’s son Baxter.
10. Morrissey - Under The Influence: The Grave Maurice pub, Whitechapel
Not technically a Morrissey studio album, but a compilation of tracks that inspired him, ‘Under The Influence’ features a photo of Steven Patrick Morrissey posing outside The Grave Maurice pub in Whitechapel. The pub is famous as being a haunt of the Kray Brothers, and the site where Ronnie Kray used a red hot poker to hit a man round the face.
Sadly the pub has now closed to be replaced by a betting shop, although the words ‘Grave Maurice Rebuilt 1874’ are still engraved on the first floor wall. The pub opened in 1723 as a Truman’s Brewery House.
Pub quiz fact: Morrissey has more than just a passing interest in the Kray Twins having written ‘The Last Of The International Playboys’ about them and which includes the line, ‘Reggie Kray do you know my name’.
By Max Moritz