The Good, The Bad, The 80’s: (Part two) Retro Metal Album Designs

I’ll admit it. I grew up in the 80’s. One of the many experiences I had from that great decade was that of transitioning from vinyl albums to compact discs. To be fair, the transition itself was not all that great. What once was a vibrant, dynamic design instrument was swiftly reduced (literally) to a quarter of its former self in favor of a ‘better audio’ experience. As vinyl continues making its ‘retro’ comeback, I am reminded of all those great album designs I grew up with – sensory overload for the eyes of a young designer-to-be. In this second of a series of posts on 80’s album design for Design Juices, I continue taking a look back at some of those designs that I remember so well. This time….80’s Metal. \m/

The Good, The Bad, The 80’s The Metal Covers!

1.  AC-DC – Back in Black – 1980

If there is one single color that represents metal – it has to be black. From hair, to leather, to death, black will forever be associated with heavy metal. Few album designs established and exploited this better than Back In Black. The stark contrast of that solid black background with the thin, white outline of the band logo commands attention and respect. Just like the music inside.

2.  Iron Maiden – Live After Death – 1985

When it comes to releasing iconic album covers, Iron Maiden is a cut above the rest. Built on the artwork of Derek Riggs and ‘Eddie’, Live After Death was (to me) the ultimate Iron Maiden album cover. The original LP came as a double gate fold, which made the dramatic cover illustration even larger and more visually appealing. Loaded with detail, the illustration of Eddie rising from the grave was the perfect visual for the live recording. Topped off by the in-your-face Maiden logo, and it was a must have release adorning the walls of record stores everywhere.

3.  Poison – Look What The Cat Dragged In – 1986

Having spent their entire budget on makeup, hairspray and photography, little was left to spend on the design of this classic glam metal cover. Oddly spaced, black, sans-serif type over a white background surrounding oddly-cropped photographs over oddly-colored circles of black, blue and purple leads me to believe it was a quick solution on a tight budget. Glam bands came and went in the 80’s, but this iconic cover cemented Poison as THE glam band to beat.

4.  ACDC – ’74  Jailbreak – 1984

This cover design is interesting because it represents an album released in the 80’s, with music recorded in the 70’s, and a cover design clearly attempting to blend both decades. Strong logo, black on white title text, and a somewhat blurry photo (usually of the band, but this time just of the lead guitarist). Among the Poison and hair band cover designs of the day, it was retro enough to stand out on its own. (Many 70’s album designs followed this same design pattern, but that’s another post for another time.)

5.  Black Sabbath – Born Again – 1983

Regardless how you feel about the imagery or its message, the simple fact is that this is one of THE worst album designs of the decade. The red hybrid devil-baby with horns and sharp nails combined with the blue/purple background was a visual nightmare. The only redeeming quality of this design is the typography treatment…which was classic Old English with a distorted twist – perfect for the band. The attempt was iconic dark and evil, but the result was cartoonish and laughable.

6.  Judas Priest  – Defenders of the Faith – 1984

And speaking of the worst album designs of the decade…what was metal god Rob Halford and Judas Priest thinking with this tank looking, ram-horned, tiger clawed mess? I shouldn’t tease….it’s obvious they felt so bad about it they would only include the band logo if it was really really small….

7.  RATT – Invasion of Your Privacy – 1985

When a tank looking, ram-horned, tiger clawed mess doesn’t help sales, what will? A Playboy Playmate, that’s what! This simple, striking image proved to be the discussion of many a teenage boys fantasies (trust me, I know). The bold band logo contrasting the soft album title typography balances the design while making sure you never loose sight of what matters most. Posters of this cover were in every record store and teenage boys room from 1985 to 1987, and with good reason. (trust me, I know).

8.  Exodus – Bonded by Blood – 1985

Good and evil…bonded at birth by poor illustration and logo design! Taking a turn away from the glam trend of the time, newer speed and thrash metal bands were looking for designs that provided more shock than hair. The rough, unpolished look of the logo and illustration played perfectly to the rough, unpolished sound of the band. This LP is now considered a classic, and although this cover design is lacking in technical quality, it holds its place in history as a defining moment to the genre.

9.  Motley Crue – Shout at the Devil – 1983

Piggy-backing off the Back in Black design while ramping up the satan factor, Shout at the Devil was dark, mysterious, and clearly something your parents didn’t want you to have -which of course meant you had to have it. The large upside down pentagram printed with a spot varnish barely contrasted against the gaunt, red type treatment. It was dark, mysterious, anti-glam and forged the pentagram symbolism into the commercial mainstream. In my opinion a perfect design, and it remains one of the best recordings in the genre.

10.  Wendy O. Williams – W.O.W. – 1984

With all of the black, glam and satanic references in 80’s metal cover design, you would think they almost forgot that sex sells…almost. Take a hot pic and a well designed logo and you got yourself a sale. This one had it all….nudity, sexuality, leather, tattoos and fire! You go Wendy (R.I.P)

11.  King Kobra – King Kobra III – 1988

Sex sells take 2

12. Bitch – Be My Slave – 1983

Sex sells take 3

13. Lita Ford – Out for Blood – 1983

Sex sells take 4 (you get the idea)

14. Dangerous Toys – self titled – 1989

A personal favourite, the cover art for the debut LP by Dangerous Toys featured a well executed illustration of a ‘dangerous’ jack in the box with a mighty evil-looking clown as its focus. Wild and unusual just like the music inside, it’s an excellent example of the decline of the ‘glam’ look that occurred in the late 80’s (in addition to being one of the few good uses of that Carnival font) This cover rocked and the music inside did as well.

15. Guns N Roses – Appetite for Destruction – 1987

I know I know….this same tired cover again makes another list? In my defense, I’ve included this cover here for two specific reasons. First, this cover (either the original or the one we all know and love) became the poster child for the genre. If the media mentions 80’s metal, it’s nearly always accompanied by this design. It crossed cultural lines and has reached iconic status. Second, that iconic status would have never came to be without the success of the music inside. The popularity of the music demanded awareness of the design, and locked its place in history. Sweet child indeed. There you have it…are some of the 80’s metal album designs that inspired me yesterday and today. What are yours? Feel free to post and share! Up next in Part 3 – 80’s Soundtracks!

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  • @_JJunior

    The best!

  • Mia

    Holy Retro-Vinyl-Flashback Batman ! OMG , this article just transported me back some 20+ yrs into the past Craig ! First off : what a great compilation – Im glad you managed to include Wendy O. Williams within this list ( she was INCENDIARY ! ) & before I move on – I'd like to introduce you to her ( what I would like to call ) “Successor ” :OTEP , whom I am certain you will appreciate . However, I will agree w/ you regarding THE BEST ALBUM COVER spanning an Epoch , and that would be the AC/DC Back in Black album . Not only did I buy this album four [4 ] times over – ( since I played it to DEATH 24/7 – until my mom finally told me to ” take your damn devil music & get out of this house ! ” ; which I ultimately did , and me & Angus lived happily ever after together as he hung over my bed in a giant 6foot poster ! ) ; and even now 20+ yrs later , I am still in love w Angus , and AC/DC ( I dont care HOW old they get ! they will always Shake Me All Night Long ! ) .
    And as far as Guns & Roses are concerned – in my humble opinion : it was one of the best designed albums ever ! ( of course AC/DC always being the forerunner ) – however , the G&R album is by far one of the best album designs of that era ( and maybe even till today ? ) . My daughter was 3 at the time ( when G&R made their debut ) – I recall taking her to NY's East Village ( I used to work @ CBGB's at the time ) and she demanded that I buy her the G&R album, calendar & 6ft giant Poster ! ( which still hangs over her bed till today , as well as the 1980 release of the Judas Priest British Steel Album ! (both of which she still owns till this day – 23 yrs later ! ouch ! ) . Yes, I did manage to pass on my Rock N Roll tastes down to my child – 😀 The family that Rocks together – Rolls together 😛
    Great roundup of the Good the Bad , the 80's Craig – now make sure you pass on the legacy down to your child as well 😀 ( she will thank you for it 20+yrs later when all music will simply SUCK ! )

    Thanks for the memories – it was groovy baby 😀

  • Tom Gatenby

    Some cracking ones there, even the bad ones are that bad their almost good. Not quite sure why but 6. Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith is my favourite (not sure if I should be embarrassed by that or not)

  • clippingimages

    Creative idea of poster.

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  • designthatrocks

    lol….no need to be embarrased! Many would consider the entire list embarassing – but not me :) That Priest album actually had some great tunes on it…much better than Turbo that came out after it. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • designthatrocks

    British Steel was actually on my short list (as a good design). I opted for Defenders of the Faith as a less effective design. I was always intrigued by the image of the hand around the razor blade…effective and a classic. Thanks for the comment!

  • designthatrocks

    So glad you enjoyed the post Mia! I always thought Wendy O was so underrated. Before metal there was the Plasmatics….now that was some hard core stuff! When Gene and Paul from KISS hooked up with her, that W.O.W. lp became a fav of mine and a classic! Love all your comments and thoughts…and I am doing my best to pass it all down to my daughter. Her second KISS show is coming up in September 😉 Rock on!

  • designthatrocks

    Thanks….glad you enjoyed!

  • Mia

    What ? Another concert in September ??? Oh man ! Listen Craig – I dont know
    if I mentioned this to you at any point , but : I am up for adoption 😀 (
    and I come with my own make-up & hair products – you wont have to buy me a
    damn thing ! ) LOL !
    You are one great Rockin Dad Craig , Im glad to see that in a world full of
    war & hatred & human suffering , there are a few good things left to pass on
    to our children : Music ( which will hopefully one day be the Uniting Global
    factor ) and Art – which allows us to find beauty in everything . Youre
    doing a splendid job – am very proud for you & knowing there are fathers out
    there who are Real Men . You Rock as hard as AC/DC dude ! Will expect
    to see more pics of the Munchkin in full KISS make-up again ! ( and a
    slew of boys forming a line behind her somewhere 😀 ) …again ! heheeee

    All the best across the miles C-

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