Cover Stories: Iconic New York City Album Art
by Christina Parrella, 04/09/2013
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[Update, 4/14/2014: 2014 Record Store Day date added.]
Record Store Day, which fetes brick-and-mortar music shops, returns for a seventh year on April 19. To join in the celebration of all things vinyl, we've put together a list of memorable album covers shot in New York City. Such heavyweights as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin and the Beastie Boys have used NYC as the backdrop for these iconic photographs, which are inexorably linked with their classic LPs. Our roundup may just inspire you to re-create these shots on your own (and afterward, maybe you'll swing by one of the City's independent music stores and pick up a copy).
Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
Jones and West 4th Streets, Greenwich Village
Shot on a brutally cold February afternoon in 1963, the The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan cover features a photograph of Bob Dylan and his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo locked in an embrace as they stroll down Jones Street in Greenwich Village. The twosome embodies young love and the spirit of the '60s in a City budding with fledgling talent. A black-and-white photo of James Dean casually walking down West 68th Street supposedly served as Dylan's inspiration for the shot.
"Paul's Boutique" (1989), by Beastie Boys. Courtesy, EMI Records
Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique (1989)
99 Rivington St. (at Ludlow St.), Lower East Side
The cover of the Beastie Boys' second album, Paul's Boutique, features a panoramic shot of Lee's Sportswear—a clothing shop located at the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow Streets. The accompanying Paul's Boutique sign was added to the building's facade for the album cover shoot. A restaurant named Paul's Boutique (named in honor of the 1989 album) called the spot home until 2007. Today, "gourmet wrap" spot Wolfnights occupies the address.
"An Innocent Man" (1983), by Billy Joel. Courtesy, Sony Music Entertainment
Billy Joel, An Innocent Man (1983)
142 Mercer St., SoHo
The legendary piano man chose the site of 142 Mercer Street for the cover of his 1983 record, An Innocent Man—which featured songs inspired by the music he heard growing up. The cover features a pensive Joel, decked out in his downtown best, sitting on the steps of a cast-iron building. Today, the building and its adjoining steps, which are painted a deep green, house an oyster and sushi bar.
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." (1964), by Simon & Garfunkel. Courtesy, Sony Music Entertainment
Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM (1964)
5th Ave./53rd St. subway stop, Queens-bound platform of the E and M lines
Folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel chose the Queens-bound platform of the (now) E and M lines for the cover of their debut release. The Queens natives posed for hundreds of pictures during the shoot, many of which turned out to be unusable because of vulgar graffiti on the background wall. The experience inspired their song "A Poem on the Underground Wall" on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966).
"Physical Graffiti" (1975), by Led Zeppelin. Courtesy, Atlantic Records
Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1975)
96 and 98 St. Marks Place, East Village
The cover of Physical Graffiti features a fine-tuned photo of two five-story buildings at 96 and 98 St. Marks Place–a street that has been closely tied to rock 'n' roll since the 1970s. Graphic designer Peter Corriston (who has also designed album art for The Rolling Stones) chose the buildings for their tenement-style exterior and architectural details including fire escapes and stony faces of kings and angels. Today, a teashop appropriately named Physical Graffitea is located on the ground floor of 96 St. Mark's Place.
"Strange Days" (1967), by The Doors. Courtesy, Elektra Records
The Doors, Strange Days (1967)
Sniffen Court, East 36th Street (bet. Lexington and Third Avenues), Murray Hill
The band of circus characters on the cover of Strange Days suits the most peculiar music within. Shot in 1967 on the stony walkway of the half-street mews Sniffen Court, the album art was inspired by the 1954 Italian circus drama La Strada. Supposedly, the group of circus performers was hard to come by—so photographer Joel Brodsky recruited a taxi driver, doorman and his own assistant to sub in as carnival performers. Sniffen Court remains a private gated street today.
"Rocket to Russia" (1977), by Ramones. Courtesy, Rhino
Ramones, Rocket to Russia (1977)
Extra Place and East 1st Street (bet. Bowery and Second Avenue), East Village
The Ramones spent a lot of time performing and hanging out at CBGB, so the back door of the gritty rock club was a natural location for their Rocket to Russia album cover. Donning ripped jeans and matching leather jackets, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy are propped up on a door located at Extra Place (a small alleyway at East 1st Street, between Bowery and Second Avenue). You can still see and pose in front of the door—but be warned that ongoing construction on the cleaned up alley may impede the photograph.
"Live at Max's Kansas City" (1972), by The Velvet Underground. Courtesy, Rhino
The Velvet Underground, Live at Max's Kansas City (1972)
213 Park Ave. South (bet. E. 17th and E. 18th Sts.), Gramercy
Documenting one of Lou Reed's last performances with The Velvet Underground, Live at Max's Kansas City features a two-set performance that wrapped up their three-month residency at the nightclub. The cover features an exterior shot of the famed venue, which met its demise in 1981. Today, a deli/café called Bread & Butter occupies the building.
"After the Gold Rush" (1970), by Neil Young. Courtesy, Reprise Records
Neil Young, After the Gold Rush (1970)
Northwest corner of Sullivan and West 3rd Streets, Greenwich Village
Shot outside of the New York University School of Law in 1970, After the Gold Rush features a shot of a soulful Neil Young walking past an elderly woman. Photographer Joel Bernstein claims that including the woman in the shot was intentional—but because Bernstein adjusted the focus of his lens to the brick building in the background, his subjects appeared sharper than he wanted. In an attempt to rectify this issue, he added a solarized effect to the image, which Young loved.
The Who, The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Carl Schurz Monument, Morningside Park, West 116th Street (at Morningside Drive), Upper East Side
In 1979 British rock band The Who released The Kids Are Alright, a documentary and accompanying soundtrack, which featured audio recordings and footage of live performances. The cover art of both the album and film show sleeping band members wrapped together by a very large British Union Jack, leaning against a wall that's part of the Carl Schurz Monument in Morningside Park. A Henri Cartier-Bresson photo taken in Trafalgar Square in 1937 inspired the cover shot.
Kiss, Dressed to Kill (1975)
Corner of Eighth Avenue and West 23rd Street, Fashion District
The cover of Kiss' Dressed to Kill album finds the glam-rockers posing in suits on the corner of West 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue in the Fashion District. The cover shot was taken on the way back from a photo shoot with Creem magazine, which portrayed the band as Clark Kent figures saving the audience members of a John Denver concert. Most of the NYC rockers—known for their Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes and sky-high platforms—didn't own suits at the time (drummer Peter Criss was the exception). They wore borrowed gear, hence the short inseam on Gene Simmons' slacks.
New York Dolls, New York Dolls
131 Second Ave. (at St. Marks Place), East Village
Like Kiss, the New York Dolls were a hometown band whose members wore heavy makeup. On the back cover of their debut album, though, the Dolls chose a fresh-faced look that would capture their glam-chic nature. The back cover shows the band standing in front of Gem Spa—an East Village newspaper stand credited with inventing the egg cream. Still there today, Gem Spa remains a popular spot for re-creating this famed shot; the Dolls themselves have even done it.