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At the very outset of their colossal and very cool new book, Rock Covers (TASCHEN), authors Robbie Busch and Jonathan Kirby acknowledge that there might well be “better or differently focused collections” of rock covers out there in the world. Theirs, after all, is just one of myriad ways to celebrate the singular experience of encountering — for the first time, or the thousandth — a memorable album cover.
“Is it the book on rock covers?” they ask in the introduction, and then answer their own question with another: “Could there ever be such a volume?”
The obvious answer? Of course there couldn’t. But in this 550-page opus, the reader is treated to more than 750 covers that, taken together, comprise as inclusive a selection of great, influential, bizarre, unsettling and, quite often, downright eye-popping rock and roll album covers that any fan is ever likely to find in one place.
“We knew we would never satisfy everybody,” Busch (who owns around 50,000 albums and more than 10,000 45s) told LIFE.com, when discussing the process for choosing covers for the book. “So we didn’t try to satisfy everybody.”
Instead, he and Kirby and the book’s editor, Julius Wiedemann, tried to convey, in a single volume, the enormous energy and variety that bands, photographers, artists and designers have brought to the rock cover through the years.
Here, then, is the cartoon-like exuberance of KISS’ Destroyer. The cool romance of Robert Mapplethorpe’s cover photo for Patti Smith’s Horses. The power and anger of London Calling and Bad Brains. The monkey-centric weirdness of Doolittle. The hint (or promise) of debauchery on the cover of Pearl. Zeppelin’s unforgettable first album cover, and the clever, semi-surreal echo of that classic in David Juniper’s design for Led Zeppelin II. The black-and-white artistry of Revolver and, less than a year later, the hypnotic, color-saturated chutzpah of Sgt. Pepper’s.
Here’s Elvis Presley’s sex appeal. Gene Vincent’s anarchic rockabilly. The proto-punk attitude of 19-year-old Van Morrison and his mates in Them.
And let’s not forget New Hampshire’s immortal Wiggin sisters, who performed as the Shaggs, released one album — modestly titled Philosophy of the World — and to this day are celebrated and derided in equal measure by musicians and music fans, alike. Their album cover is included here not because the Shaggs are in the same league as the Stones, T. Rex, Ike & Tina or the Replacements, but because the cover and the Shaggs’ music is so decidedly, defiantly amateurish. (Robbie Busch characterizes that cover as “a perfect naive artifact.”)
In the end, here’s the thing about the Shaggs — and about all the other acts and all the other covers represented in this gallery: it’s only rock and roll, but we like it.
Buy here: Rock Covers (authors Robbie Busch and Jonathan Kirby; editor Julius Wiedemann), hardcover, 11.5 x 11.5 in., 552 pp.