Storm Thorgerson’s Most Iconic Album Cover Designs


We were sad to hear of the death of British designer and artist Storm Thorgerson earlier this week. Thorgerson was a hugely influential and distinctive designer of album covers — he’s best known for his work with Pink Floyd, but he designed sleeves for all sorts of bands over the years. His style was instantly recognizable — heavily influenced by surrealism, and heavy on visual non-sequiturs that were both memorable and somehow disconcerting, presented with neither context nor explanation, apparently laden with meaning but defying simple interpretation. We’ve collected some of his most memorable designs here as a celebration of his life and work.

Pink Floyd — Wish You Were Here

You could choose plenty of Floyd’s sleeves here, but it’s hard to go past this one — two men, shaking hands on an empty street… and one of them is on fire. Unlike some of Thorgerson’s more inscrutable sleeves, the symbolism here is writ large — the album contained two tracks (“Have a Cigar” and “Welcome to the Machine”) cataloguing the band’s unease about the music industry, and the image has a definite implication of shaking hands with the devil.

Led Zeppelin — Presence

The curious object that adorned the cover photo and inside cover art of Presence has inspired much debate and speculation over the years (especially on 4/20, we don’t doubt.) Apparently it was meant to represent the “force and presence” of Led Zeppelin, which is all very well, but doesn’t explain why the respectable family in the above photo look like they’re about to have it for dinner. (Amusingly, Thorgerson was originally also hired to do the Houses of the Holy cover, but his original design, which featured a tennis racket, didn’t go down well with the band, who felt he was implying that their music was… yes, a racket.)

The Mars Volta — Frances the Mute

Thorgerson was responsible for the sleeves of The Mars Volta’s first two records — the strikingly weird De-Loused in the Comatorium is perhaps the more eye-catching at first glance, but there’s something enduringly fascinating about this enigmatic image. It seems to demand further analysis — why the hood? Why the old car? Does the fact that both drivers are wearing weird red hoods imply that everyone is? As a simple piece of design it’s pretty great, too — the symmetry, the colors, the use of the car roof to leave space for the album title.

Biffy Clyro — Puzzle

This is one of Thorgerson’s more literal sleeve designs, reflecting both the album title and its lyrical themes of life being a puzzle that you piece together as you go along. The somewhat morose air of the artwork — especially the pose struck by puzzle man — also echoes the album’s lyrical content, and specifically singer Simon Neil’s grief over the death of his mother.

Alan Parsons — Try Anything Once

We would also try pretty much anything once. But not this.

Muse — Black Holes and Revelations

Muse clearly love their Floyd, and this image is very Floyd-esque. As ever, exactly what’s going on in the image is very much open to debate — for a start, are the four bald gentlemen on Mars? There’s an argument to be made that there’s a whole lot of faux profundity going on here — an argument, it has to be said, that can also be leveled at the band’s music — but if nothing else, this is a pretty striking cover.

Villainy — Mode. Set. Clear.

Thorgerson’s willingness to work with less heralded bands was admirable, and he produced one of his most memorable sleeves for New Zealand rock band Villainy last year. What it all means is, again, open to debate.

The Offspring — Splinter

See also The Offspring, who weren’t exactly unknowns, but also not exactly the sort of band one might expect Pink Floyd’s illustrator-in-residence to be collaborating with. This design for the band’s 2003 album Splinter is certainly a memorable one — rumors that it’s an allusion to album track “The Worst Hangover Ever” remain unconfirmed.

Phish — Slip Stitch and Pass

Yes, it’s a man being chased by a giant ball of spring. Now, who’s got that vial of acid?

Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon

And finally, the classic. Given that most of Thorgerson’s designs are essentially anthropocentric, or at least figurative, The Dark Side of the Moon represented quite a departure from his norma style. The result, though, was one of the single most recognizable (and parodied) sleeves ever conceived.