IF IT WASN’T FOR ROCKIN’ VISUAL ARTISTS LIKE MARGO NAHAS, DAVID WILLARDSON & DEREK RIGGS, YOUR BAND T-SHIRT COLLECTION WOULD BE TOTALLY LAME
Rock and roll has always been all about breaking the rules, unpredictability and raw originality. It’s an ageless m.o. that has led to some of the greatest moments in music history, in regard to both music and art.
For instance, in the early Eighties, when Van Halen was searching for just the right visual accompaniment to showcase the amp-shaking original music on the Pasadena band’s hits-packed sixth album, 1984, they sought the artistic talents of Margo Nahas.
However, when the artist declined the offer to bring to life the band’s concept of sexy female robots for the album cover, destiny intervened.
Later, when the band came across one of Nahas’ original renderings of a rebellious young angel indulging in a cigarette, Van Halen knew they found an even better image that perfectly captures the youthful energy, rebellious spirit and wholly original scope of the classic album.
And when it comes to great album cover art, Van Halen’s 1984 keeps good company with a select few equally impressive and iconic album covers that share a heavy metal history that is just as brilliant and badass as the music that the artwork evokes.
In fact, Nahas’ awesome image tops Sunset and Clark’s list of The Greatest Hard Rock Album Cover Art of All Time.
VAN HALEN, 1984, art by Margo Nahas
It’s hard to believe but the famous lil’ angel puffing away on a cigarette on the cover of Van Halen‘s classic album 1984 turned 30 last year. And three decades later, artist Margo Nahas‘ awesome artwork still holds up as one of the most memorable and celebrated album covers of all time.
Although the painting was not commissioned for the album cover, the band-selected graphic perfectly captures the tone and style of VH and the 1984 album: polished, attention-grabbing and unique mixed with a streak of rock and roll rebellion and abandon.
The image is based on a photo shot by Nahas, who used a friend’s tot and a candy cigarette to create her now-iconic painting’s source material.
Van Halen is represented in high-style photo portraits featured on the back cover and shot by Raul Vega. Nahas’ husband, Jay Vigon, a professional graphic designer, added the futuristic text.
Although it seems tame by today’s standards (or lack of them), the album, which was released in 1984, did cause a stir in the U.K., where officials decided to plaster a sticker over the angel’s cancer stick.
Van Halen fans can pick up a print of the painting via the artist’s website.
IRON MAIDEN, The Number of the Beast, art by Derek Riggs
Sure, pretty much all of Iron Maiden‘s album covers are comprised of excellent commissioned artwork that is evilly evocative of each album’s brilliant and badass musical content. However, when it comes to Maiden’s número uno cover art masterpiece it’s the band’s defining 1982 album The Number of the Beast.
Created by the band’s longtime collaborator Derek Riggs, the graphic includes one of the best visual concepts of any Maiden cover: an image of the band’s walking dead mascot, Eddie, controlling a Satan puppet as the devil controls a smaller version of Eddie, also like a puppeteer.
Riggs has revealed that the devilish “Who’s manipulating who?” concept was inspired by a similar one that caught the British artist’s eye in a Doctor Strange comic book during his formative years.
The iconic image that continues to adorn t-shirts of metal fans around the world was initially erroneously printed with a blue-sky background instead of Riggs’ preferred and more ominous gray and black backdrop. The faux pas was fixed when the graphic was used on Maiden’s 1998 remastered release of the groundbreaking metal album that featured Bruce Dickinson making his debut as the band’s frontman.
KISS, Love Gun, art by Ken Kelly
Both album covers, which famously feature vibrant, superhero-like images of the group, were painted by prolific American artist Ken Kelly, who also created cover art for Rainbow‘s Rising and Manowar‘s Kings of Metal.
Love Gun‘s sexy fantasy image of KISS and its harem of beautiful groupies perfectly captures the success and excess of the world’s biggest rock band.
DIO, Holy Diver, art by Gene Hunter
For Dio‘s career-defining 1983 album Holy Diver, Ronnie James Dio‘s wife, Wendy Dio, came up with the moody and captivating good verses evil concept for the cover art, which showcases metal-loving demon Murray, the band’s mascot, stirring up trouble with a hapless holy man.
When it came time to develop the album cover concept, it was illustrator Randy Berrett and painter Gene Hunter that brought the idea to life with a now-iconic image that expertly evokes the eerie urgency, adrenaline rush and heavy metal moodiness of Dio’s awe-inspiring debut record. Simon Levy and Jeri McManus art directed the overall design.
MOTLEY CRUE, Theatre of Pain, art by David Willardson
When former longtime Disney artist David Willardson decided to moonlight for Motley Crue and Elektra Records no one could have imagined that his rockin’ interpretation of the iconic Commedia dell’arte masks for 1985’s Theatre of Pain would become almost as famous as Mickey.
Willardson, a Pasadena Art Center College of Design grad, is a prolific and prominent visual artist whose incredible array of iconic art extends even beyond his world-famous Crue cover. He is also the legendary artist behind the logo to Raiders of the Lost Ark and American Graffiti as well as the movie posters for the Disney classics The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
Check out more of Willardson’s incredible work on his official site.
METALLICA, Master of Puppets, art by Don Brautigam
From a shiny sword poking through a toilet and a full throttle electric chair lighting up the skyline to a crumbling Lady Justice, Metallica‘s awesome demo, singles and album cover art has always been intriguing, controversial and attention-grabbing. The iconic band’s piece de resistance, however, is the moody metal masterpiece Master of Puppets.
Frontman-songwriter James Hetfield and the band came up with the creepy concept of a mysterious, all-powerful marionette maintaining control of drug-addled puppets straight to the grave to evoke the stark, cautionary tone of the 1986 album’s title track.
Metallica’s manager Peter Mensch helped design the cover and turned the band onto legendary New Jersey-born artist Don Brautigam, who created the original cover art.
In addition to Master of Puppets, Brautigam, who passed away in 2008, created cover art for countless other multi-platinum-selling albums, including AC/DC‘s Razor’s Edge, Motley Crue’s Doctor Feelgood and Anthrax‘s Persistence of Time.