And then there was sound
14 iconic album covers influenced by the Big Bang
Album covers are a portal into an artist’s creative world, so hop in a time machine to revisit 14 epic album covers inspired by the very idea of creation
Humans have been relentlessly obsessed with making sense of ‘where it all started’ since before we really understood who or what we were. So it makes sense that music – arguably the most universal form of artistic expression we’ve devised – is littered with references to new life, creation, heaven, hell, and spiritual planes.
From prog to psyche rock, ambient to hip hop, the meaning and origins of life form focal points for songs, EPs, even entire albums. There are countless tunes celebrating notions of a life beyond this one, higher powers, and celestial beings. And there are those which favour more scientifically-minded views, insisting that this is definitely no rehearsal.
Inspired by that spectrum, TOPIA has scoured the archives to come up with 14 examples of record sleeves that nod to the Big Bang and creation. From gloriously stylish to garish, dive into our immaculate collection…
King Crimson – Islands (1971)
The Big Bang was really just a fleeting moment, in world history time-frames at least, and Islands tells a similar story.
English prog rock-jazz-fusionists King Crimson have been through a vast array of members between their 1968 formation and today, but this is the only record to feature a seminal touring line-up that only lasted from 1971 for one year. This is the sound of a band hammering out a new sonic map.
As for the sleeve, you’re looking at the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius, a favourite of amateur astronomers thanks to its unique makeup. Check out 1995’s ‘Dinosaur’, which might as well be an anthem for the fossil fuel industry.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
It’s hard to imagine record sleeves without the advent of Hipgnosis, the design company responsible for this mysterious black and rainbow prism.
Depicting a glass prism dispersing light into colour, creation connotations are strong with this one. Pink Floyd’s most critically acclaimed release, and widely considered among the greatest albums and covers of all time, in many ways the sleeve for Dark Side of the Moon is the literal embodiment of where it all began. Prior to planets forming, there was almost certainly light, and from that a vivid universe emerged, refracting into wonderful colour. Like a Pink Floyd light show.
Boston – Boston (1976)
People really want to understand how everything came to be here, and they really, really want to know if there are other things out there in the universe that feel, think, and act like we do. Not to mention if there’s anything out there we need to be worried about. Whether Boston wanted us to be scared or enthralled by the flying saucers on the cover to their eponymous debut album isn’t clear, but it nods to the search for intelligent life, which in turn forms part of our quest to understand exactly what our lives are about.
Michael Stearns – Planetary Unfolding (1981)
There’s a pretty strong sense of mythology evident on the sleeve to the fifth studio album from US ambient artist, composer, and sound designer Michael Stearns. That bearded, god-like entity looks more than capable of catalysing life, or ending it. This record’s backstory ties into the idea of beginnings. Made from ideas and parts that emerged from a number of workshops the musician took part in, the result represents a genuine evolutionary path.
Main Source – Breaking Atoms (1991)
Canadian hip hop trio Main Source broke the mould with a landmark debut album which, among other things, provided an early platform for one of the greatest rap artists of all time, Nas – who appears on the track ‘Live At The Barbeque’. Up until a 2008 reissue, trying to pick up a vinyl copy of ‘Breaking Atoms’ was close-to-impossible. Music writers at the time of its release, and in subsequent years, have cited this among the genre’s most important records, kick-starting the trend of breaking down familiar parts – old jazz and soul samples – to find something fresh within.
Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
The tragedy of losing Kurt Cobain hits home with this angelic, nurturing, life-giving entity pictured on Nirvana’s third and final studio album.
A distinct departure from both 1989’s Bleach and 1991’s Nevermind in terms of music, In Utero showed a matured grunge outfit that seemed to be brimming with new ideas about where they wanted to go next. It featured anthems like ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, and ‘All Apologies’, and more experimental stuff such as ‘Scentless Apprentice’ and ‘Dumb’. Cobain created the collage on the back cover, which he described as, “sex and woman and In Utero and vaginas and birth and death”. He had originally wanted to name the album I Hate Myself and I Want to Die.
Frank Zappa – Civilization Phase III (1994)
Every bit a Zappa record, this artwork references the passage of time and development of society and the modern world as we know it.
No Big Bang and creation-themed album cover list is complete without Frank Zappa, given his links to California band The Mothers of Invention. Album number (drum roll, please) 63 was released posthumously. It’s about a group of people living inside a piano, and the menacing reality of the outside world. *Looks for nearest piano.*
Styx — Big Bang Theory (2005)
This is the 15th long-form outing from Chicago-born rock giants Styx. Formed in 1972, by this point the troupe had ridden the prog rock wave, overseen the invasion of synth pop, and lived to tell a few tales – and breathe new life into a few covers. The visualistion of Einstein’s ideas fits into the idea of them being adaptable and flexible, able to go off the menu and come up with things on the spot. Big Bang Theory includes cover of songs by The Beatles, The Who, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The Ocean – Heliocentric (2007)
Heliocentric wears celestial bodies on its sleeve, quite literally.
it’s about time that Copernicus and Galileo had music made about them. In this album, the German progressive metal band focuses on ideas spawning from the heliocentric world view, in which the Earth revolves around a static Sun found at the centre of the solar system. Revolutionary and controversial when people first brought it to the table, the roots lie in the book of Genesis, offering a rare case of science and religion converging.
Wolfmother – Cosmic Egg (2009)
If any object represents life, it’s an egg. Even better if that egg is huge, suspended in midair, has a rainbow behind it, and is gazed upon by someone searching for answers. Leaving fans still none the wiser as to which came first, Cosmic Egg represented Wolfmother reborn back in 2009, with this the first outing for a renewed and revised lineup following the departure of original members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett. More appropriate still, the title comes from a yoga move which frontman Andrew Stockdale once described as akin to the foetal position.
Monster Magnet – Last Patrol (2013)
Stoner rockers Monster Magnet may not be known for the most tasteful artwork, but if you dig aesthetics on the far side of cosmic, their back catalogue is about as good as it gets. Self-described as a “space noir”, Last Patrol explores a retro-future that’s strange, unknown, and waiting to be discovered, mapped, and experienced for the first time. Much like our own world once was, the accompanying cover emanates a feeling of mystery early humankind must have constantly felt.
Max Cooper – Emergence Remixed (2017)
Could there be stronger musical symbolism for the Big Bang than a remix album? Max Cooper’s Emergence was a landmark for the critically acclaimed and groundbreaking electronic producer. The record he gave birth to was then passed to a bunch of similarly talented friends who collided with those original parts to produce something new again. The cover itself may not necessarily reflect this, but there is a whole circle of life thing going on, and those textures surely evoke Mother Nature’s minute artistry.
Klone – Le Grand Voyage (2019)
French art rockers on a tip so cinematic that the listening experience is akin to watching a great epic, Le Grand Voyage is true aural adventure and a musical masterclass. The experimental ensemble consider the nine tracks here to be sonic landscapes, each representing a different emotion and atmosphere. What better way to market that than through artwork depicting dawn in a strange new realm filled with endless possibilities?
Big Scenic Nowhere – Vision Beyond Horizon (2020)
If you’re not familiar with Big Scenic Nowhere, let’s start with the basics. A desert rock supergroup, members are plucked from acts including Yawning Man, Fu Manchu, Fatso Jetson, and Queens of the Stone Age. Together they make beautifully loud and rather operatic guitar fare. Vision Beyond Horizon is the highly anticipated debut album – fresh starts all round – and the cover may or may depict followers of a forgotten religion caught in their creator’s terrifying gaze.
What’s so good about this?
The rise of the playlist and sharing platforms like Spotify are reducing albums to categories and changing the very concept of the ‘album’ format. But the art of the album cover will never die. Seeing is a part of hearing. The timeless visual manifestations of music give it a more tangible meaning, to help us make sense of it.
While cover art is displayed when a track comes on in a playlist, it remains important when it comes to music promotion and distribution. Next time you listen to something, really look at its cover art, and support the independent artists taking ownership of their visual artistic direction – and making bold social statements.
Meet the writer
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt has written on music, art, culture, design, environmental, and social issues for 15 years, contributing to titles such as BBC Travel, The Guardian, DJ Mag, The Face, Dazed & Confused, and Metro, with commissions taking him across the world from his Manchester base. Follow him on @martinghewitt.