R.I.P. Alex Steinweiss, inventor of the record cover: Our ten favorite designs

Categories: In Memoriam

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Chances are that unless you're a big record collector, you haven't heard the name Alex Steinweiss until now. Steinweiss died on July 18 in Sarasota, Florida at age 94. A designer for Columbia records, Steinweiss invented the creative album cover in the 1940s. Before then, albums were usually drab cardboard sleeves at their worst, or an image on the sleeve at their best. Steinweiss had his hand in around 2,500 record cover designs. We sifted through to find some of our favorites.

Most of Steinweiss' work was based in metaphor; he wasn't a fan of using literal images of artists or pianos. It's clear when looking through his abundance of work that he preferred this method through most of his life. It wasn't just the idea of putting artwork on albums to help sell them (which it did, Bruno Walter's recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" increased sales nine fold), it was also the redesign of the record sleeve itself. Steinweiss introduced the sleeve design most records still use today.

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10. Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso (1946)
Okay, this one's a little unintentionally creepy, but the way the hands stand out and wrap together with the words to form a box around his face is great.

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9. Eugene Ormandy - Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (1955)
Probably not exactly the most politically correct thing in the universe these days, but we're still big fans of what he was doing with this cover, especially in when you consider the album title.

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8. Ramon Littee and his Orquesta Tipica - Tango (1944)
It has a gigantic accordion on it and two small dancers with some awesome text work -- what more could you ask for in an album cover?

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7. Charles Magnante - Accordiana (1941)
Speaking of accordions, this one nails it perfectly. If you'd told us this album came out last week, we'd believe it based entirely on this beautiful cover.

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6. Puccini - La Boheme (1955)
This is such a crazy, weird image; you wouldn't normally associate it with Puccini. That might actually be the reason we like it so much.

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5. Levant Kostelanetz - "Concerto in F" (1946)
There is not a single part of this image we don't adore. The cityscape, the dotted skyline, the tiny cars, it's just brilliant.

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4. Flat Foor Four - Barber Shop Melodies (1940)
Under no circumstance would we ever consider purchasing a barber shop quartet's album, but after seeing this album cover, we want to buy every single thing these guys have ever recorded.

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3. Leopold Ludwig - Richard Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben" (1959)
This might be the cover of a Strauss performance, but if you told us this was some record from Relapse Records, we'd believe you. It looks more metal than most metal albums do.

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2. Rogers and Hart - Smash Song Hits (1940)
This is the one that started it all, and because of that, we had to include it on here. That's besides the fact, though -- because it's a fantastic album cover, even considering the fact it was pretty much the first one ever made. Mix some letters around, and you're looking at the next Animal Collective LP.

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1. Rudolf Serkin with Bruno Walter - Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 5" in E-Flat (1941)
It's a rainbow shooting out of a piano -- is there anything better in life?

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