Pink Floyd were one of rock’s most successful bands, both in terms of commercial impact and their influence on rock music and technology. The band expanded the reach of progressive and psychedelic rock even as they dabbled in country and blues, even electronica. They were known for their elaborate live shows that pushed the technological boundaries of lighting and speaker systems as well as display screens. But Pink Floyd were also known for their artistic vision, and their album covers are some of the most recognizable in rock music history. Here are the stories behind six of those albums.
1. Ummagumma (1969)
Ummagumma features one of the best known examples of Droste effect or Mise en abyme (French for “placed into abyss”), which is a picture that appears in itself. Perhaps most interesting is that the arrangement of the band members is different in each picture. Several slightly different versions of the cover were released: because of copyright concerns, the Gigi album on the original British cover was airbrushed white on the American and Canadian version and airbrushed out entirely on the Australian version.
The cover was designed by Storm Thorgerson of the English art group Hipgnosis. Thorgerson had designed Pink Floyd’s second and third albums, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) and More (1969), which also led to further work throughout the music industry.
2. Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Atom Heart Mother is one of the simplest album covers in existence, and it comes with an equally simple story: Storm Thorgerson drove into the countryside, stopped at the first cow he saw, and took a photograph. There is no accompanying text, no indication that this is even a Pink Floyd album. And if you were wondering, the cow was named Lulubelle III.
3. The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
The word “iconic” gets thrown around a lot, but the stylized prism on the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon is truly deserving of the term. Everyone knows this cover. The office hamster knows this cover. If someone says they don’t know this cover, then they’re lying to you. Interestingly enough, the spectrum exiting the prism is missing indigo, because Pink Floyd secretly hated Roy G. Biv.
But seriously, like Atom Heart Mother, the cover is well-known and well-discussed but the story is rather dull. Hipgnosis offered the band seven covers and they unanimously choose the prism, which was designed primarily by George Hardie.
4. Wish You Were Here (1975)
Wish You Were Here has more of a story.
On the cover, two businessmen (stuntmen Danny Rogers and Ronnie Rondell) are shaking hands in an empty Hollywood lot. Rondell is on fire (intentionally, of course), and wore a fireproof suit and hood underneath the business suit and wig. Storm Thorgerson conceived and designed the cover, based on his interpretation of the lyrics. They were, he decided, about absence and emptiness (represented by the lot), empty gestures (the handshake), and hiding feelings to avoid “getting burned” (you guessed it, the fire). The cover was hidden behind a green sleeve, not to censor it but as an artist statement about absence. Pink Floyd enthusiastically approved the cover artwork. Their U.S. label was less happy, but the band had enough clout to get their way.
5. Animals (1977)
For Animals, Hipgnosis suggested several designs but bassist Roger Waters had his own idea: a pig flying over Battersea Power Station, a coal power plant he often drove past. The band had Australian new media artist Jeffrey Shaw and German Zeppelin manufacturer Ballon Fabrik build a giant inflatable pig named Algie. The first day of photography was a wash due to poor weather. On the second day of photography, Algie broke free and floated into the path of jets at London Heathrow Airport, only to land in a pasture where it frightened the farmer’s unnamed cows. (Lulubelle III could not be reached for comment.) Ironically, on the first day, band manager Steve O'Rourke hired a sniper to shoot Algie should it float away, but forgot to ask him back the second day. The entire production was a debacle but made great press for Pink Floyd.
Pink Floyd used pigs—some inflated, some not—in many of their future stage shows. After leaving the band, Roger Waters continued with Algie on his own tours, as he held the rights to the pig. Pink Floyd then made counterfeit pigs.
6. The Wall (1979)
Compared to their earlier covers, The Wall is a piece of minimalist art, simply a black and white brick wall. “Pink Floyd” and “The Wall” were written on some versions. Roger Waters was involved in a dispute with Storm Thorgerson, so the cover was instead designed and lettered by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. It was, in fact, the first Pink Floyd album not designed by Hipgnosis since The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
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Which Pink Floyd album cover is your favorite? Is that also your favorite album musically? Please let us know in the comments! If you’re into Pink Floyd, remember that we have a Pink Floyd shirt for everyone!