The aesthetic behind David Bowie’s work has always been a vital ingredient, and his album artwork has always played a pivotal part in this. Here are the stories behind his iconic sleeves, from his self-titled debut all the way to 2013’s ‘The Next Day’.
‘David Bowie’ (1967)
Bowie’s self-titled debut LP – released in 1967 when he was aged 20 – showed a fresh-faced young whippersnapper who looked like he was posing for his school yearbook photo. The shot was taken by Gerald Fearnley, brother of Bowie’s musical collaborator Derek ‘Dek’ Fearnley.
‘Space Oddity’ (1969)
The sleeve for 1969 album ‘Space Oddity’ placed a permed Bowie against a blue and green artwork by Victor Varasely. Varasely was a Hungarian-French pioneer of the Op Art movement.
The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
The androgynous icon is here seen reclining in a dress designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish. His tumbling blonde locks, meanwhile, were said to be inspired by a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
‘Hunky Dory’ (1971)
The ‘Hunky Dory’ cover art was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie took with him to the shoot. The artwork was designed by George Underwood – the same friend who punched Bowie in the eye at school, causing the pigmentation to alter leaving one blue and one green iris.
‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars’ (1972)
Influenced by the atmosphere of William Burroughs’ book Wild Boys, the shot was taken on Heddon Street in London. “People read so much into [the K West sign]. They thought ‘K. West’ must be some sort of code for ‘quest.’ It took on all these sort of mystical overtones,” said Bowie.
‘Aladdin Sane’ (1973)
Marking the transfer from his Ziggy persona to the schizophrenic Aladdin Sane, the artwork to this 1973 classic (complete with iconic lightning bolt) was a collaboration with photographer Brian Duffy and make-up artist Pierre Laroche. Duffy has previously claimed that the lightning flash was inspired by a symbol on his electric cooker.
The first cover to feature someone appearing alongside Bowie, the sleeve for ‘Pin-Ups’ featured 1960s supermodel Twiggy in a photograph taken by her then-manager Justin de Villeneuve. It was taken in Paris for Vogue magazine, but at Bowie’s request, used for the album instead.
‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974)
Showing Bowie as Halloween Jack, leader of the Diamond Dogs gang, the cover painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert caused a huge amount of controversy due to it clearly showing the genitals of the half man/half dog creatures. Very few copies of the original were circulated, and a tamer version was used for the full release.
‘Young Americans’ (1975)
Reflecting Bowie’s newfound obsession with Philadelphia soul and the resulting smoother sounding music, the artwork for ‘Young Americans’ was similarly slick. Out were the controversy-courting images; in was Bowie as a coiffed, cigarette-smoking king of the club.
‘Station To Station’ (1976)
Inspired by choreographer Lindsay Kemp (whose film The Man Who Fell To Earth starred Bowie), and taken at a time when he was living on a diet of “red peppers, cocaine and milk”, Bowie’s Thin White Duke was his last great character. ‘Station To Station’ saw his debut, with the stark atmosphere of 1920s Berlin as its aesthetic.
The album’s cover, like ‘Station to Station’, is a still from The Man Who Fell To Earth’, while the photographic image under the album’s title formed a deliberate pun on the phrase ‘low profile’.
The cover photo by Masayoshi Sukita was inspired by the painting Roquairol by German artist Erich Heckel, in which the subject strikes a similar pose. As was that of ‘The Idiot’ – one of Bowie’s collaborations with Iggy Pop that was released the same year.
Bowie collaborated with British pop artist Derek Boshier on the cover design for this 1979 LP. The original gatefold album sleeve featured a full-length shot of Bowie by photographer Brian Duffy as an accident victim, heavily made up with an apparently broken nose. The shot is intended as a homage to Roman Pollanski’s psychological thriller The Tenant.
‘Scary Monsters And Super Creeps’ (1980)
The cover artwork of ‘Scary Monsters…’ features Bowie in the Pierrot costume worn in the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ music video, rendered in a combination of Brian Duffy’s photographs and a painting by Edward Bell. The rear sleeve, meanwhile, pays reference to Bowie’s previous three LPs and 1973’s ‘Aladdin Sane’.
‘Let’s Dance’ (1983)
Playing on his androgynous appeal by donning boxing gloves and sending up a historically masculine image, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ cover also boasted graphic typography typical of the era. Bowie actually took boxing lessons for a brief period in the ’70s.
Taking the aesthetic style associated with British artists Gilbert & George, ‘Tonight”s artwork is striking even if it was widely regarded as a stopover album for Bowie.
‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987)
“It’s a pompous little title, isn’t it? Seen out of context it’s quite abrasive, but in the context of the song and songs on the album I think it’s rather tongue-in-cheek to use it as the title. Also there’s a vaudevillian thing about the cover. The two combined are kind of comical,” quoth our man Dave about the album and its sleeve.
‘Tin Machine’ (1989)
Bowie’s brief foray into band life with Tin Machine saw him team up with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, drummer Hunt Sales and bassist Tony Sales for two albums around the turn of the decade. The plain and simple cover of their first reflected a new era in Bowie’s musical evolution.
‘Tin Machine II’ (1991)
Another slice of genitalia-laden sleeve art here for ‘Tin Machine II’. Featuring four male Kouroi statues, the album was airbrushed in America so as to remove the offending body parts.
‘Black Tie & White Noise’ (1993)
Returning to his solo career after two acclaimed LPs with ‘Tin Machine’, ‘Black Tie White Noise’ featured a bare and un-tampered profile shot of the star – a direct visual translation of Bowie’s standalone state.
Featuring a painting by Bowie himself entitled ‘Head Of DB’, ‘Outside’s artwork reflected the worried and uneasy tone of the album. “The queasy, strange, textures…. Oh, I’ve got the fondest hopes for the fin de siecle. I see it as a symbolic sacrificial rite,” he said.
The album’s cover features a photograph of Bowie wearing a Union Jack-based coat designed by British designer Alexander McQueen in conjunction with Bowie himself. McQueen had previously designed a host of stage costumes for Bowie and his band.
Designed by Rex Ray with photography by Tim Bret Day and Frank Ockenfels, the cover shot for ‘Hours’ features a modern day Bowie broken and lying in the arms of a younger, long-haired version of himself. A limited-edition 3D cover was also available.
Shot by Markus Klinko, the satanic edge to the photo that adorns ‘Heathen’ was meant to reflect the meaning of its title. “The design of the album plays on the anti-religious meaning of Heathen using our typeface Priori,” said designer Jonathan Barnbrook.
Artist Rex Ray collaborated on a number of fine art projects with Bowie over the years and also lent his talents to the sleeve of ‘Reality’. “Bowie asked if I knew any illustrators who worked in an anime style who could produce a Bowie character for use on the cover,” said Ray, who eventually drew the figure himself.
‘The Next Day’ (2013)
Designed again by Barnbrook, Bowie’s most recent surprise studio LP took the cover to ‘Heroes’ and reworked it. He says: “’Heroes’ is the iconic Bowie album and to do something like put a white square on it or to cross out the title we felt was almost sacrilege but that’s the point of contemporary pop music – it spits on the past.”