Celebrating 40: Iconic Album Covers

MusicSoundtrack

A few weeks ago I was gathering songs for the “poolside” playlist on my 40th Birthday Celebration trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My friend Cary and I were messaging back and forth about songs. He sent me a list of every #1 song on my birthday over the past 39 years. There was only one song that I wrote back and said, “I can’t have “The Macarena” on my playlist.” He suggested I use the #2 song from my birthday in 1996, “You’re Makin’ Me High” by Toni Braxton. I said, “Oh, is that the ‘red’ album cover?”  “No, that was later in the 2000s.” At that moment, a new blog post started to be created.

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2000

I heard Dick Clark tell Oprah once, “Music is the soundtrack of our life.” For me and many of you, music is just that for you too. I’m a pretty nostalgic person. I get that from my dad. There are so many memories that I have that are related to music. “Drive” by the Cars takes me back to a moment when I was driving home for curfew back in high school. It was summer and my windows were down. I think it was probably 11:45p.m. I will always remember that drive down Westnedge Avenue past Portage Central High School, on my way home. Album cover art also can take us back to times in our lives in an instant. There are many album covers that are on lists of “the best ever”. Perhaps some of my “iconic” covers are the same, but probably not most. My iconic album covers take me back to childhood, the teen years, college, and even the more recent past. Join me down my memory lane.

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1980

 One of the first influential artists for me was Barbara Mandrell. I was four or five years old and used to dress up and perform alongside her and her sisters on Saturday nights during their show. A wooden spoon was my microphone, the fireplace hearth was my stage, and the light above was my spotlight. My grandparents took me to two county fairs to see her in concert. I had several of her albums. My favorite was the vinyl of her live concert which she ended with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But it was this album that always has stayed in my mind. I LOVED the hot pick and I LOOOOOVED her high heels on the back cover. She was fierce!

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1983

My mom had this cassette tape. I remember getting a new station wagon in 1984 with a tape player in it. It was so exciting to go for rides in that car and get to play this tape. It had so many hits, “Penny Lover”, “Running With the Night”, “All Night Long”, “Hello”, “Stuck On You,”and my absolute favorite, “The Only One.” So many hit songs. Albums don’t produce this many hits now. This is a classic album and I will always remember the white and blue.

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1982

Another early classic in my life, the cassette tape of Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. This WAS basically her 1983 HBO concert that I was obsessed with. Again, I used to find my mother’s clothes and dress up as close as I could to her four costume changes and I would perform over and over again as I watched this concert. “Make a Move On Me”, “Magic”, “Suddenly”, “Physical”, “A Little More Love”, “Heart Attack” and of course, “Xanadu”. You can’t even find this album on iTunes or Spotify.  It’s a real shame. I love this entire album! It is too bad that Olivia never had much after about 1984. Could that be because Madonna hit it big?

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1986

Speaking of Madonna, True Blue, is her most iconic album cover to me. The short blonde hair is everything and those thick eyebrows! “Open Your Heart”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Live To Tell”, and “Papa Don’t Preach” are such iconic songs to me. I remember when “Open Your Heart” came out I was 10 years old, roughly the same age as that boy in the video. He was so cute and I definitely noted that in my head.  Hmmmm…. I loved that he got to dance around with Madonna too. This was also the album that sparked conversations with my parents about what I was listening to. My parents never made much fuss over my music choices. I guess probably because I was listening to Lionel, Olivia, and Whitney. However, “Papa Don’t Preach” sparked conversations and a somewhat ban on me listening to that song. I don’t think the “ban” stuck very long, I guess a battle they didn’t want to fight. Mostly this album was about “Open Your Heart” for me. It really was my jam as a young gay boy!

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1982

RIO by Duran Duran was totally 80s pop art. This cover WAS 1982 at it’s best and is what I think about when I think about the early 80s.  One of my second cousins had this album. He was a bit older than me. His hair style and clothes matched that of the early 80’s Duran Duran. I was so jealous of his style. I love the 80s!

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1982

Another early 80s gem is Vacation by the Go-Go’s. This makes me remember spending long summer days over at the Anderson’s house. I would play dress up and pageants with Melanie and her cousin Pam. I would also get to play with Mel’s Barbie dolls. She was a bit older and so over playing with Barbie, but it was everything to me because I wanted a Barbie so badly. Haha. Anyway, listening to the Go-Go’s and Tears For Fears and watching General Hospital filled those summer days in 1984-85. What great memories!

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1984

1984 was all about Michael Jackson. I think my brother had this cassette tape. The thing I remember most was the baby tiger and Michael on the inside cover. While “Thriller” scared me(Vincent Price laughing), “Billie Jean”, Human Nature” and “PYT” were my favorites. I think Bad was more my time, but this album cover was Michael’s big push away as an iconic solo artist.

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1984

Also in 1984 my brother had this Van Halen album, 1984. I just remember thinking that baby was so naughty and I couldn’t believe my parents let my brother have this tape. However, I’m glad they did because….”Panama”, “Jump”, and “Hot For Teacher”.

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1984

Isn’t it funny and interesting what speaks to people? What stands out to one person is totally different than another person. When I’m asked the age old question, “When did you know you were gay?” I often think about 6th grade as that pivotal time of noticing boys and thinking they were cute. But then I think about this album cover for Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen. We didn’t have this album in our house but I remember seeing it and thinking, “his butt!” Obviously there is more to this album, “Born in the USA”, “Glory Days”, “I’m On Fire” and “Dancing in the Dark”, but really, it’s that butt!!

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1987

While most people think very fondly of this album, and I admit now, it’s a great album. “Where the Streets Have No Name, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” stand the test of time. I love those songs. Yet, on March 2, 1988 at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards, The Joshua Tree beat Whitney Houston’s Whitney album for Album of the Year and I was SO MAD!  Haha, oh to be an outraged 11 year old! Anyway, this is iconic for me because it beat Whitney.  How dare they!

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1987

That smile! That hair! This album was and will forever be everything to me! Many people think about Whitney’s debut album with her slicked back hair and that peach toga on, but I really think this fun, bright 80s album cover is an 80s classic. My cousin Tammy got this cassette tape for me for my birthday in 1987. Whitney was 23 years old when she recorded this hit making album. With the release of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody(Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” along with three hits from her debut album, Whitney hit a record which still stands today-Seven Consecutive Number One Hits. Mick Jagger was in a studio next to Whitney the day she recorded “So Emotional”.  On his way out of the studio he knocked on her door so he could meet the person behind that voice. Mick told Whitney she had an instant hit with “So Emotional” and he was right. It might be some of the non-released songs that are my favorite. The sultry, r&b burner “Just the Lonely Talking Again” and “Where You Are” probably my favorite Whitney song ever. It’s simple with classic 80s saxophone and just her pure 23 year old voice. This is Whitney’s pop sensation and the cover is pure pop perfection!

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1992

That dancing bee!

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1999

I don’t really know why this cover sticks out to me?  You? Haha! This IS the TRL Generation for sure. We had boy bands and Britney, but we also had Blink 182 and “What’s My Age Again”.

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1995

Tragic Kingdom and No Doubt was my freshman year at Michigan State. There were a ton of other albums that year too, but for some reason this one sticks in my mind. “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak”, but mostly “The Climb” played over and over again in A416 Bryan Hall. There is so much going on on this cover. The flies, the fruit that looks like chocolate chip cookies, but mostly Gwen!

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1994

“Waterfalls” was everything and this album was everything also my freshman year of college. CrazySexyCool spoke to each of their personas but it’s the red color, the eyes that stand out. “Creep”, “Diggin’ On You”, “Waterfalls” and “Red Light Special” were the hits, but “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes” was on repeat. CrazySexyCool propelled TLC into the r&b stratosphere!

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2013

I have a love/hate relationship with this album cover. It’s iconic because there are very few people who are known by just their first name. Beyoncé is one of those artists. This album was a surprise release and it is one of her best. Yet, is she a little lazy by just making it black and pink? Why so lazy Bey? Or did she do it simply because she can? Regardless, it stands out to me and I remember it because it came at a time in my life that was rocky. I remember going over to my friend Dennis’s apartment and drinking martinis and listening to this album over and over again one cold February night. It was one of those times that you just needed a friend and music.

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1993

May 1993, “That’s the Way Love Goes” was everything to me. I know I use the word “everything” a lot in this post because depending on the time in my life, these albums were everything to me. Janet. came at a time that I was really trying to figure things out about life and high school and all of that stuff. My brother was off to college and his high school relationship had ended. I remember thinking during “Again” that maybe they would get back together. They didn’t and as we know now, that is how life works, but I really thought and hoped they would get back together because of the words in “Again.” Haha, oh youth! This was the controversial album that had a man holding Janet’s breasts on the cover of Rolling Stone. Regardless of that, I absolutely LOVED her short ringlets.  I loved them.  I loved the sepia tone and the burnt siena “Janet.” This album exudes sex and sexiness – “Throb” and “Any Time Any Place” for a teenager just starting to take note of all of that stuff. And of course, there is the video that every girl and gay man still wants to recreate, “IF”. This album will go down in my history as one of the best.

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So there they are, the album covers that are iconic to me and some of the music that goes along with them. Is it just me or have album covers and album art become less relevant over the years? With iTunes and Apple Music and Spotify, are we really that concerned with the cover art? Do we look at it the same? Do we need it like we used to? Remember walking into the music store and going straight to the poster section? I would always go in and hope for a new Whitney Houston promotional poster. I missed out on her first posters for the Whitney Houston album, and finally this one came out and the Anderson’s got it for me for my birthday. I still have it!

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Yet I do wonder, do we view album art like we used to? I don’t think we do because everything is so quick on the internet. Rarely are we going to the music store to buy albums. We used to need to see that artwork and get excited over it. Now we just buy things on the internet in an instant and it’s done. I love that all of these album covers mean something to me and derive memories over time.

As I turn 40 and reflect back on music and the memories it produces I am able to see that for me music is really my spiritual connection with life. Listening to artists interpret songs is nothing short of transformative for me. Music does take me back to times in my life that I want to remember, whether happy or sad, simply because it helps me understand my life better and helps me see how far I have come in the last 40 years.

MusicMemories

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