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Top 10 album cover art ever auctioned

TOP 10 ALBUM COVER ART AT AUCTION

You've got the LP, CD, T-shirt and more, but what about the original album art? 

Remember sitting in your bedroom gazing at the artful covers of your favourite LPs? Doesn't it feel like it was yesterday?

For many of us, it was. We’re still obsessed with beautiful album covers, which have thankfully seen something of a resurgence since LPs became trendy again.

We all know plenty of people with framed vinyl covers on their walls, but you could go one step further: owning the original artwork.

The works created on behalf of some of the world's biggest bands regularly come to auction, and see big bids due to their status as unique and iconic pieces of memorabilia.

Just imagine the look on your friends' faces if they saw one of these on your wall.

  1. Fatboy Slim Why Try Harder
    Jules-Anne Gilburt


Image: Christie's

$5,610
Christie's 2010

It's been over 16 years since this portly fellow first appeared on the cover of Fatboy Slim's groundbreaking You've Come Along Way Baby in 1998, spawning countless sales of imitation t-shirts.

The chubby chap has become something of an unofficial mascot for Norman Cook in the years since, so it was no surprise when he was invited back to appear on the cover of The Greatest Hits – Why Try Harder in 2006.

Given an angelic makeover by Julie-Annie Gilburt for the cover, several further paintings of our porcine pal in various poses, including a full frontal nude, appear in the album booklet.

The original canvas for the front cover, plus an alternative background, made £3,750 ($5,610) at Christie's in 2010.

9. Bob Marley Uprising
Neville Garrick**


Image: Christie's

$6,000
Christie's 2006

How many dreadlocked kids have you seen walking around with this logo on their t-shirt?

Owning the original artwork would surely afford you something of a folk hero status among them.

Neil Garrick's artwork is some of the most iconic Marley imagery ever produced, starring on the cover of 1980's Uprising, the final album released in Marley's lifetime and one of his finest.

The original ink and watercolour made $6,000 at Christie's New York in December 2006, one of the few important items of Marley's memorabilia ever to appear at auction.

  1. David Bowie Diamond Dogs
    Guy Peellaert

Warning, cannot be unseen


Image: Christie's

$8,125
Christie's 2009

There's something peculiarly grotesque about the cover of Diamond Dogs, showing the Thin White Duke as a half-man, half-hound hybrid.

The intended image for the cover was deemed just a little too much, and was soon banned for showing all of the mutant Bowie/dog, including its genitalia. Just a few copies made their way into circulation before the dog's proverbials were hastily edited out.

These original copies of Diamond Dogs are some of the most sought after records of all, but prints of the original art by Guy Peellaert are even more desirable, with one selling for $8,125 at Christie's in 2009.

  1. Beatles Rubber Soul
    Charles Front


Image: Bonhams

$15,039
Bonhams 2008

Illustrator Charles Front's playful lettering for 1965's Rubber Soul gave the Beatles' first foray into psychedelic music that distinctive Sixties look.

Having just started experimenting with drugs, the band instructed Front to create the letters using the “image of a globule of latex or other viscous substance being pulled downwards as if by the force of gravity", complementing the skewed distortion of Robert Freeman's photograph.

Front held on to those now-iconic letters throughout the years until 2008, when the original drawing sold for $15,039 at Bonhams.

  1. Rolling Stones Let It Bleed
    Robert Brownjohn


Image: Bonhams

$47,000-63,000
Bonhams 2011

Ronnie Wood is not the only aspiring artist in the Rolling Stones. Had history turned out differently, we might be discussing Keith Richards the artist, not Keith Richards the guitar god.

Richards left art school in 1962 in favour of a rock n' roll lifestyle, but took his portfolio to a number of top London designers before doing so. It was during this stint he met Robert Brownjohn, the artist behind the iconic cover to 1969's Let It Bleed.

The cover shows a surreal sculpture made by Brownjohn, in which the album is played on an automatic changer spindle supporting a film reel canister, clock face, pizza and bicycle tire, all topped with a gaudy cake (made by none other than then-unknown TV chef Delia Smith).

It's one of the greatest album covers of all time, so when Brownjohn's collection of drawings came up for auction at Bonhams, along with a pressing of the album and the British stamps it later featured on, the $47,000-63,000 estimate was no surprise.

  1. The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
    Sir Peter Blake


Image: Sotheby's

$86,556
Sotheby's 2012

Ok, this isn't the original cover art, which would undoubtedly set a record should it ever appear for sale – Sgt Pepper's is probably THE most famous album cover ever made.

However, this piece is still a hugely important piece of album art, showing Sgt Pepper himself.

Created as a collage in 1967 by Sir Peter Blake, it featured on one of the first gatefold sleeves ever produced, with collectors able to cut out items like Sgt Pepper's moustache and chevrons, as well as a freestanding image of the band.

Apparently, the Beatles wanted to include real versions of the cutout items with the album, but even the world's biggest band couldn't afford that expense.

Having been exhibited around the world by the Royal Academy artist, Blake took his collage to a Sotheby's auction in 2012, where it sold for $86,556.

4. Blur Think Tank
Banksy**


Image: Bonhams

$97,758
Bonhams 2007

Blur aren't the most collectible band and normally wouldn't get close to a list like this, but when Banksy designs your album cover, collectors start paying attention.

In fact, bidders paid 10 times the estimate for the cover art for 2003's Think Tank, an instantly recognisable piece from the almost mythical graffiti artist. It set the record for his work at $97,758 at Bonhams in 2007.

Defending his decision to work on a commercial piece, Banksy later commented: “I've done a few things to pay the bills, and I did the Blur album. It was a good record and [the commission was] quite a lot of money."

  1. Bach The Goldberg Variations
    Gerhard Richter



    Image: Christie's

$74,500
Christie's 2013

This one is a wild card.

As well as the most pretentious item on the list, it is also the most spurious. Bach didn't exactly have album covers in the 1700s, so Gerhard Richter took it upon himself to add one of his own abstract pieces to the composer's work.

As the one-time most valuable living artist (now ousted by Jeff Koons), Richter created 100 limited edition copies of Bach's most celebrated work, each of them unique and a must-have for the collector with discerning tastes.

One of these 1984 records, splattered with paint and completely unplayable, made $74,500 at Christie's in 2013.

2. The Velvet Underground & Nico
Andy Warhol **


Image: Christie's

$92,500
Christie's 2012

Perhaps the most famous collaboration between a fine artist and musicians in history, the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico (the Lou Reed-led band's seminal debut) was created by Andy Warhol.

Warhol's iconic print of a banana originally invited buyers to "peel back slowly and see", with the banana revealing its flesh-coloured fruit beneath a sticky label.

It required a special machine to print the covers, but MGM footed the bill, figuring that any association with Warhol would boost album sales.

The artful album still sold barely any copies, making those peelable albums highly sought after by collectors today.

However, a genuine Warhol banana print is worth much more, with one selling at Christie's in 2012 for $92,500.  

  1. The Clash London Calling
    Ray Lowry

Image: Bonhams

$112,798

Bonhams 2011

A blurry image of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his instrument: doesn't sound like one of the greatest album covers ever made, does it?

Even Pennie Smith, who took the photo, didn't want it to be used as the cover for the Clash's 1979 masterpiece. But Joe Strummer and graphic designed Ray Lowry had other ideas.

In a tribute to Elvis Presley's debut, Lowry added the pink and green lettering in a simple, yet inspired move.

The cover has since been named the ninth best album cover of all time by Q magazine, who also named Smith's photo the best rock n roll photograph of all time.

"It captures the ultimate rock'n'roll moment – total loss of control," wrote the magazine.

Bonhams sold Lowry's original sketches for the design and promotional materials in 2009 for an impressive $112,798, making the punk upstarts the surprising No. 1 on our list of the top 10 album artworks ever sold at auction.

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