Enter the Cover Art Archive: A Massive Collection of 800,000 Album Covers from the 1950s through 2018

When I get to muttering in my beard about kids today, the subject oft turns to digital music and how everything sounds the same and looks the same and “what ever happened to album covers, man….” I mean I know they still exist, but they’re terrible, right? Shiny thumbnail-sized afterthoughts with no more purpose than candy in a shop window display? I will admit it, and not without some chagrin, I’ve always thought that whoever designed Taylor Swift’s 1989 had a canny sense of the derivative as a quality one should wear proudly on one’s sleeve—it’s evocative!, in a fun way, not in the way of her most recent, severely Teutonic cover incarnation.

So, it’s not all bad, because there’s one good Taylor Swift album cover. But then album art has never been all good. Far from it. I remember album covers like this and this and these being the norm. And then there’s … well you’ve probably seen these jaw-dropping monstrosities from the distant past….

Maybe the truly awful album cover is as rare a treasure as the truly great one. Maybe the album cover is as it always was, despite so rarely appearing in a physical form: sometimes an inspired work of art, sometimes a half-assed, tossed-off marketing job, sometimes a half-baked, so-bad-its-good (or not) concept, completely unrelated to the music.

It can sometimes seem like all we have left is nostalgia, but nostalgia can be done well, as in 1989 (even if that record’s cover does evoke, in part, an image from Joni Mitchell’s weird stint in blackface). Or it can be done badly, as in Justin Timberlake’s widely disliked 2018 Man of the Woods, which makes a lame artsy attempt to dress up the fact that it’s kinda ripping off 1989 four years later. I do not know how to evaluate Miley Cyrus’ various Miami Vice-themed covers for her album Bangerz, which came out in the same year as 1989, except to say, good for her for going all the way with this, like, why hold back?

Other recent album covers mime the style of decades past with real swagger, like Swedish folk sister duo First Aid Kit’s Heart-inspired Ruins cover, at the top, featuring one of many retro 70s fonts that have returned of late, as easy to read in thumbnail images as they were on 8-track tapes. The cover of London artist Arlo’s 2017 single “Safe” has its obvious 80s Duran Duran pastel and marble swirl deco trends down, tastefully and knowingly applied.

You can do your own cultural anthropology of the album cover, from 2018’s era of eye candy glamor, and the recent creative—and not-so-creative—repurposing of the past, to the genuine articles from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s at the Cover Art Archive, a joint project of the Internet Archive and MusicBrainz, an “open music encyclopedia that collects music metadata and makes it available to the public.

The collection now numbers in the several  hundred thousands—upwards of 800,000, according to its results counter—but some of the uploads are not yet complete with images. You are invited to contribute and help make this amazing resource even more comprehensive. “To get started,” the MusicBrainz blog writes, “log in with your MusicBrainz account (or create a new onefind your favorite release and then click on the cover art tab to view the existing pieces of art and/or upload new ones.”

You may find, as you browse and compare genres and eras, that perhaps the album cover is in decline, or you may find that it is alive and well, still an innovative form despite the massive shift in modes of production. At least aged British metal band Saxon, a true original, still keeps it real, further up, with the cover of their 22nd album, 2018’s Thunderbolt. Many of Saxon’s progeny have continued in the tradition of high fantasy metal cover art.

Some things will never return. There’ll never be another Diary of a Madman, that’s for sure, or another Ozzy. But the in-your-face soft-focus garishness of the 80s, and the styles of nearly every other decade, live on, to take a phrase from Childish Gambino’s 2013 outing, Because the Internet.

Enter the Cover Art archive and start searching by year, artist, and other parameters here.

Related Content:

Filmmaker Michel Gondry Brings Classic Album Covers to Life in a Visually-Packed Commercial: Purple Rain, Beggars Banquet, Nevermind & More

Ralph Steadman’s Evolving Album Cover Designs: From Miles Davis & The Who, to Frank Zappa & Slash (1956-2010)

How The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Changed Album Cover Design Forever

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (44)
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  • Rob Luna Music says:

    There are some cool cover concepts at RobLunaMusic.com where they use similar styles as shown here

  • Milam Milhouse says:

    Do you guys have an API? Looking to pull some of this data for an independent research project.

  • Scott Robb says:

    Your proposing that this archive can be utilized for finding album art at any decent resolution or quality is absurd. Plenty of actual album art sites out there with better quality and quantity and particularly, ease of use. This project is a losing proposition and far too cumbersome.

  • Has the name alexcia in it says:

    This is a rock band, it’s a purple album cover with a black mans shadow, the dummers name is alexcia

  • Katlyn says:

    This is a rnb album and rap the guy has a whjte background with his hands covering his face with tattoos and a beard on his face i dont remember the name but the song has alot of base

  • Ellis says:

    Hello!! Looking for a country album, on front cover is a picture of a boot laying in the desert sand with a snake close by or coming out of the boot. Has a fantastic long guitar solo I’m looking for but can’t remember the artist. I only had the cassette. Hope someone can tell me the artist so I can buy the CD or maybe it was never made onto a CD. Seems like late ‘80’s maybe but not sure – it could have just been an old cassette someone gave me.

  • Sandra Orozco says:

    Album cover that was brown/ tan with a tree in the middle.I remember listening to it in Highschool 2003/2004

  • Ed says:

    Elvis second to none

  • James says:

    These aren’t high resolution in the slightest. Total waste of everyone’s time.

  • Jill Manha says:

    Looking for the album or song that goes with an album cover with artwork in the garden of Eden and the devil in love with the naked woman. Would be Alternative from 2018 or 2019. (Renaissance look)

  • catherine says:

    i’m looking for this album cover of this band w a female lead singer that includes an orange stick figure cat head & and white stick figure dog head & the background is a solid bright color i think. i’m not sure i just know the cat and dog are side by side and the genre is i believe alternative or rock. i’m not entirely sure

  • Eva says:

    I’ve been searching all over the name of this hippie/psychedelic band. They had kind of a softer sound.

    The cover had 5-6 men sitting outdoors, (maybe in front of a fire). They looked like they were in their 40s, and wearing hippie garb. The color in the album was kind of muted so I think it was from the 70s.


  • Spring Parker says:

    looking for an Epitaph album it was black and red it was from warped tour 2005 I belive. a girlfriend bought it for me and it is lost but I’m trying to find the songs on it. I’ve remembered a few of the song on the CD but I’d like to find the whole album

  • Onthatile says:

    Hey, I’m looking for an album where in the cover the artist-who is a female in neutral color clothes is kind of hanging in a tree, like playing around, not dead- the green of the trees is the main color of the album and if I’m pushing it, I think the name of the artist might be Madeline *something * or something along those lines. The songs on there are alternative, slow indie kind of songs. I hope y’all can help,Thank you!

  • Francesca Garcia says:

    It’s a rock bad, they weren’t that huge like Kiss or anything but it had woman riding a pistol . One of the songs had the name Jane in it.

  • F says:

    the album is:
    Band Name: L.A. GUNS
    Album Title: COCKED & LOADED

  • Caylen says:

    Long shot here cause I can’t remember the song names or artist all I can remember is is a late 90s early 2000s alternative band. One hit maybe two hit wonders. The cd was yellow with a possible purple brain in the middle or purple something with tentacles? It’s driving me crazy does anyone have any idea? Male singer band. The purple brain or what ever it was also had other stuff around it was a very busy cool cd cover.

  • geovana says:

    hii, the album I’m looking for is by a band (I believe it’s rock) and the background was a dark green or black tone (and in the middle there were two people, an adult and a child holding hands) and in the official clip of the song, the thumbnail was of a girl on a subway (it had a blue tone in the background) please help me find it

  • Joe says:

    A black guy with a pipe/flute in his mouth say on a rock I think it’s an old song I’m pretty sure and it’s like soul ish music

  • Ryker says:

    Maybe someone can help me, I’m trying to find a single from an artist that I do not remember. All I remember was the album cover, and that it’s on the lines of alternative rock with a male singer. The album cover shows a back road with electrical poles, if I remember correctly the sun is setting. I know it’s a long shot but I would love to hear the song again.

  • DeMarcus cousins says:

    I’m trying to find the album cover of a band of a small child in grass with a monster mask or helmet on

  • Oliver says:

    I’m looking for an album cover that is a golden outline of a man on one knee in sandles and a kilt with long hair and a beard. He is holding up a globe of the world above his head. I can’t remember the name of the artist but the song was a love song for a girl and I think it was about going in a hot air balloon with her.

  • Lucien says:

    the album im looking for has a pink background. in the center there is a sculpture/statue of a naked woman. not too graphic tho i believe it has a more modern style of sculpture. the singer is male and has a guitar. the album has a song called “You” on it.

  • anna adams says:

    Im looking for an album cover that has a woman running on top of buildings with high heels. The cover is illustrated and colorful. The buildings have spikey rooftops. I saw it for sale in a group of other albumsfrom the 70s 0r 80s.

  • Sarah Moreno says:

    The album cover I am looking for is a black background with white bulb lights at the top and bottom of the picture, I cannot remember the whole text but in big bold silver is the number 80, it has songs by Baby Bash and Black eyed peas on it.

  • Leon says:

    Hey, I’m looking for an album of classic rock. The songs i remember it having are, Dust in the Wind by Kansas, Show Me What Love is by Foreigner, Sister Christian by Night Rangers, and Rosanna by, i think, Toto(?). The cover color was mostly blue and black. Has a Powerfist and holding on a human heart. And i think it had at least another 21 songs of various artists

  • Matt Boevers says:

    I’m trying to find the album art of a Christian album from like 2004 from Mardel’s that had a green cover with a sort of rectangle line on it with more kinda stringy lines filling that up.

  • Matthew Boevers says:

    I’m also trying to find a the cd, as with the other one just mentioned, from the same year (2004), that was like all yellow. It also was a Christian C.D. and in the same area in the store

  • Lisa Thompson says:

    I ‘m looking for the name of a band with a tv on the CD cover
    They are punk rock. Thanks.

  • nena says:

    I’m looking for an album with a Woman on it, the album is entirely white and so is the Woman. I think she had something like a Ted hairnet that covered a part of her face.

  • Vic says:

    Sepia cover with dark skinned men half naked holding dollar bills with a white man clothed lying dead

  • Nation Eilaun says:

    It’s a white man I think and he wears a beanie and he is holding a green leaf kinda in prayer hands I think.

  • Paul Johnson says:

    Aesthetic group of nude female backside

  • chloe jarvis says:

    Hi i’m looking for a song w a black background and a big white cheeta face on it w blue eyes. it’s a pop song very much like you and me by flume and never be like u by flume. I’ve been searching for days i’m going crazy any 2000 kids that like pop please let me know !!!!

  • chloe says:

    found it !!! it’s Runaway by Galantis

  • jayden says:

    i know it’s like an alternative style song but it has a black background and a single blue eye on the cover i saw it on insta one day and the lyrics i remember are jumbled up

  • Lizeth Isaza says:

    I’m looking for a rock/ pop punk/ emo song.
    It was red and black with black silhouettes
    Of people. Please help me I want to listen to it.

  • Evelyn J Seabrook says:

    The background color of the album cover is dark green. The model is a light-brown skinned girl named Mary Lassiter. The album was made in the late 1960’s or in the 1970’s. I believe the music genre is jazz, but could be Latin or R&B.

  • ruby says:

    hi im looking for a cd from 1999 with regal recordings, it has a river going through the middle of a yellow-y village with snowy mountains in the back and at the start of the river there’s boats and grey and white checkered floor thing to the right of the river

  • spencer says:

    prolly circles

  • Andrew says:

    It’s a 90s -2000s alt rock album and there’s four or five people on the album cover , ones a girl , all in black turtle necks , they are facing the camera and there’s grass in the background , the band name starts off with THE

  • Mandy says:

    I’m looking for the album cover of a female latin artist. The cover had a black background with the face of a woman with black hair in the middle. There was some sort of filter on it which made it look like she had either 4 or 6 eyes. The artist’s name could’ve been sofia but im not sure. This was around 2014 I think? But the album might’ve been released earlier.
    Any clues would be appreciated!

  • Karyme Cano says:

    the album cover is in like a studio apartment with stuff and i specifically remember a ladder too and plant and bunch of other stuff in front of this window. the artist is a dude i’m pretty sure.

  • paul summers says:

    trying to find early 1970s record album.only know the cover. it was a red album cover with big white numbers 666 the band sounded like they are from India. one of the songs was about the four horse man of the apocalips. can you please help .

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