In addition to offering the record protection from dirt, dust and physical abuse, record covers are also known for displaying artistic, promotional or various other creative themes or messages.
To start off, a quick inspection will show that the front of a typical record cover (a.k.a. outer sleeves, jackets) will contain the groups name, album title, notations and awards. On the back side, often found are song titles, song duration times, names of group members, guest appearances and credits for composition and technical assistance.
A glance at the spine or the skinny side will reveal the catalog number, record title,
artist name, record label and the occasional date. The "spine" is often useful in identifying records that are stored on shelves or housed within cabinets.
Depending upon sales figures, the record may also display the Recording Industry Association Of America's gold, platinum, multi-platinum or diamond seal. This indicates unit sales of half a million, a million, two million, and over 10 million records respectively.
With respect to the latter half of the twentieth century, both recording artists and record labels began producing records with covers, that contained photographs of the artist, title subject or other "eye catching" imagery. Many times, in an effort to make a creative or artistic statement, unusual or otherwise controversial images were employed.
Such is the case with the release in 1966 of the Beatles "Yesterday and Today" title (Capitol C1-90447). This cover originally appeared the with "Fab Four" dressed in lab coats and surrounded with plastic baby parts
and animal byproducts. After receiving a flood of negative feedback, the label
was forced to replace the front cover photograph (although initially, the new artwork was simply glued over top the original photo).
In another example of creativity, record covers would sometimes give the appearence of comic books or funny pages. In these cases, the artwork would attempt to project some type of theme or message that was indicative of the times (late 60's - early 70's). A prime example of the extensive use of comic book style illustrations was found in the 1972 release of the Mighty Groundhog's "Who Will Save the World?" (United Artists UAS-5570).
Illustrations adorn the front and back covers with additional drawings found throughout the gatefold sleeve and accompaning fold down flaps or pages.
Another method employed in this creative process was the use of the "die-cut" cover. A "die cut" is essentually the stamping of holes or patterns within the front or back of the record cover. Die cut covers were found on Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti", the Rolling Stone's "Some Girls" (Rolling Stones 39108) and the Door's "L.A.Woman" (Elektra EKS-75011) just to name a few.
On the "Some Girls" cover, twenty strategically placed die-cuts were placed inside the heads of famous performers. These "die-cuts" would expose the record sleeve within, and at the same time, reveal the faces that matched the outside heads.
As a result of multiple legal problems associated with copyright infringement and the unauthorized use of these famous faces, the star studded die-cut "Some Girls" cover, was replaced with a similar design.
In the construction of the Door's "L.A.Woman", a plastic window was affixed to the inside of a die-cut cover. This would highlight the group members, which were stencilled directly on the plastic window.
As was the case with many of the "out of the ordinary" or unusual covers, the die cut version of "L.A.Woman", was limited to the very early pressings and eventually replaced with a non-die-cut version.