70s Album Covers That Are Pop Culture Phenoms

Let's go back to a time when record sales meant something and album art mattered. Here's our roundup of the greatest 70s cover art of all time.

Published February 25, 2024
Old vinyl record on the wooden table

Music videos in the 1980s were to music what the album cover art of the 1970s was to musicians. You bought hook, line, and sinker into these albums based on their cover art, not the snippets you might steal from tinny headphones at the record store. When your money was tied up in record sales, you made sure your album art was incredible. And these 70s album covers have art that’s transcended the decade.

12 Iconic 70s Album Covers More Memorable Than the Music 

These 70s albums are the ones we could ask you to draw blindfolded, and you’d be able to confidently scrawl some chicken-scratch version of the concept. The cover art from these albums has transcended the music itself and become a piece of pop culture history on its own. This is the stuff that thousands of t-shirts are made of.  

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)

Nothing screams 1970s more than the voyeuristic tight shot on The Rolling Stones' 1971 album, Sticky Fingers. With carefully placed cascading text to force you into being a voyeur, this cheeky cover makes for great art on its own.

It’s dirty in the way that only the 70s could flaunt with wild abandon, and it’s this sticking it to the man energy that meant it had to make our list.

Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (1971)

Funkadelic might not be a band that many people remember, but one look at the cover art for their album Maggot Brain, and it’s not something you’ll forget anytime soon. This album looks like it was snipped from an edgy 70s horror movie reel and not from a stand-alone photoshoot.

It’s visceral, bordering on surreal, and utilizes chiaroscuro in an incredibly elegant way. While you might not already know this album, you should.

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

Led Zeppelin's fourth album deviates significantly from their more surreal, piecemeal album covers thus far. This one, with its peeling paint background framing a painting of a laboring man carrying sticks on his back, communicates the band’s shift to a different tone.

With folk-inspired hits like “Going to California” and massive rock anthems like “Black Dog,” Led Zeppelin thread a nearly impossibly small needle to marry the old with the new. And it’s one of the greatest covers to come out of the 1970s.

Carole King, Tapestry (1971)

Carole King was an extremely successful songwriter long before she took to the stage herself. Perhaps unintentionally, she waited to strike until the iron was hot and created one of the most successful albums of the 1970s — Tapestry.

Related: 11 Awesome 80s Album Covers That Still Make an Impact

This album’s cover art features a snapshot of a relaxed, unpretentious, casual King bathed in natural light. This cover gave the blueprint for so many albums that followed it, and that makes it one hell of a successful 70s album.

Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon isn’t just one of the most iconic albums from the 1970s, it’s one of the most recognizable albums of all time. Even if you’ve never heard a Pink Floyd song before, you’d be able to draw their iconic light prism on a black background.

When an album’s cover transcends the band itself into a piece of pop culture ephemera on its own, you know you’ve got a winning design on your hands.

Related: 6 Most Valuable & Rare Records From the 70s

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton John’s album covers are decidedly less adventurous than his stage costumes. You don’t often see glitter, bedazzles, and sky-high pumps on them. But Goodbye Yellow Brick Road breaks free from this more somber, self-serious cover art style to one that meshes perfectly with his performing style.

This 1973 album art is playful, colorful, and parodied time and time again. After all, there’s a reason Elton John named his final tour the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.

David Bowie, Aladdin Sane (1973)

Aladdin Sane is one of the most recognizable David Bowie motifs in his entire musical canon. The painted lightning stripe across the face, glittery pink and white cast skin, and bright red mullet have become synonymous with his early career. Often mistaken for Ziggy Stardust, this album’s art has become synonymous with Bowie, and that makes it a true 70s icon.

Boston, Boston (1976)

Boston’s debut self-titled album reflects this growing flat and glowing cover art trend in the 1970s. From Boston with their spaceship glowing halogen red and liquid turquoise amid the darkness of space to ELO’s own primary-colored spaceship cover for Out of the Blue, these bright spacey scenes were all the rage.

If we had one nickel for every time we came across a 70s album with colorful spaceship imagery, we’d have way more nickels than you’d expect.

Grateful Dead, Steal Your Face (1976)

Deadheads are on another level of devotion when it comes to their musical overlords. But, if you’re only a casual Grateful Dead fan then it might surprise you that it took until 1976 for their red, white, and blue lighting bolt skull logo to hit the stands.

See that logo today and you know exactly what it represents, which makes it one of the most effective album arts of the 1970s.

Marvin Gaye, I Want You (1976)

Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You takes a distinct departure from the matte painting style that gripped album art in the mid-70s. Instead, he used Ernie Barnes’s painting The Sugar Shack as the cover art.

This art-forward sensibility trickled down into other more illustrative and experimental album covers in the latter half of the decade. This album represents more than a moment, but a movement, in 70s cover art.

Fleetwood Mac, Rumors (1977)

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors continues the visual theme from their 1975 album, with a dynamic scene featuring Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood. As if the composition wasn’t interesting enough, the push-and-pull energy between the two belies the album’s whole conceit — love and the death of it.

Rumors is the biggest breakup album of all time and one of the most popular from the entire decade. If you had to pick a Fleetwood Mac album out in a lineup, it’d probably be this one.

Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Hipsters everywhere just gave a sigh of relief. Yes, we couldn’t make a list of iconic 70s albums without including Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. It’s one of those rare albums with cover art that gives nothing about the album or band away.

A simple dark background with inverted soundwaves stacked to look like a mountainscape shouldn’t be as arresting as it is. But the hundreds of thousands of tapestries, t-shirts, and bags emblazoned with this artwork prove that there’s something unspeakably special about it.

These Pictures Are Worth Thousands of Words

In the land of video content, it might surprise you how impactful still images can be. But in the 1970s, album cover art conquered this visual language with evocative illustrations, paintings, and polaroids. These weren’t churned out by some studio intern on Adobe, these were art for art’s sake.

70s Album Covers That Are Pop Culture Phenoms