album cover collectible art

When Album Covers Become Collectible Art

Some of the most iconic images of the 20th century can be found on album cover art, from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to the stark minimalism of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.

What constitutes a classic album cover is, of course down to personal taste, but many collectors frame albums on their wall, whether it’s Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? or Nirvana’s Nevermind. The cover of the Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled debut is famous for its iconic banana artwork designed by legendary pop artist Andy Warhol. For the original pressing, the flesh of a pink banana was printed on the white sleeve and, in a stroke of artistic genius, a yellow banana manually stuck on top with the instructions “peel slowly and see.”

andy warhol velvet underground and nico bananaThe Velvet Underground & Nico ‎– The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966) | Andy Warhol

One of the influential albums of all time, The Velvet Underground and Nico is also collected for this artwork, and a mint first pressing with an “unpeeled” banana – and Eric Emerson visible on the rear cover – is worth in the region of $2,000.

But what would the value of a banana LP be worth if Andy Warhol had personally screen-printed a number of those Velvet Underground and Nico covers?

Which brings us to Banksy.

Banksy is, at present, the most collectible and talked about modern artist in the world. Amazingly, in this digital age, he remains anonymous. His unique visual style is conceptually similar to Warhol with extensive use of stencils, although his canvas might be the side of a house in his native United Kingdom or a wall in the Gaza Strip. Such is the appetite for Banksy that originals that walls featuring his artwork have been removed and sold at auction. A recent mural in Nottingham, U.K. accompanied by a bicycle chained to a pole, was removed by local authorities before it got stolen.

Early in his career, Banksy designed a number of sleeves for 12-inch singles and albums. In some cases, he spray-painted sleeves himself. making these covers sought-after Banksy originals. These are no longer collectible records but have moved into the realm of collectible art and been sold at auction (and on Discogs)

Capoeira Twins ‎– 4 x 3 - Blowpop RecordsCapoeira Twins ‎– 4 x 3 (1999) | Banksy

One of the scarcest is the 12-inch single by the Capoeira Twins, 4 x 3, issued on Blowpop Records in 1999. Banksy spray-painted a Matador standing before a car onto 100 copies for the white-label promo and originals sell for thousands of dollars. The standard pressing without Banksy art can be bought for the price of a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In 2002, Banksy added the word “Röyksopp” and some trees onto 100 promotional copies of the debut LP by Röyksopp, Melody A.M. Copies of these sleeves now fetch thousands of dollars. The standard album cover of Melody A.M. features non-Banksy artwork and is worth $40-$50.

Dirty Funker ‎– Let’s Get Dirty (2006) | Banksy

The Banksy to try to get your paws on is Dirty Funker’s Let’s Get Dirty 12-inch from 2006. This un-credited Banksy artwork mimics Warhol’s famous portraits series and shows supermodel Kate Moss with or without a barcode across her eyes. Equally amazing is the 2008 Future (Remixes) promo featuring an iconic Banksy rat. Flat Beat from 2009 depicts an attack helicopter with a bow just below its rotors.

DJ DM’s Laugh Now 12-inch is equally arresting boasting a monkey with a sandwich board around its neck with the message “Keep It Real.” There were 4,000 sleeves printed with 1,000 on gold, silver, bronze, or green. They are worth around $500 each but a framed set of four will rocket in price like a Space X project.

Of course, it is rare for these records to come up for sale on Discogs at a price most of us can afford. So what can I buy here today on a budget? Easy — One Cut’s Cut Commander (1998), Grand Theft Auto (2000), and Mr. X/Rhythm Geometry (2000), as well as Roots Manuva’s Yellow Submarine (2002). On top of that, Blur’s Think Tank LP from 2003 with the diving helmet cover and Blak Twang’s Kik Off LP from 2002 range in price from hundreds of dollars to fewer than $50.

Rammellzee and K-Rob ‎– Beat Bop

Rammellzee and K-Rob ‎– Beat Bop (1983) | Jean-Michel Basquiat

There are many other famous artists whose work has graced record sleeves. Jean-Michel Basquiat played in the short-lived, hardly recorded Gray, whose minuscule output is sought after. But Basquiat produced and did the artwork for the pressing of Rammellzee and K-Robs’s Beat Bop, which was limited to 500 copies in 1983 on Tartown (TT001).  Although original copies – again worth thousands – hardly come for sale, there have been a number of reissues, most recently by Mr. Bongo in 2020, and even these are getting scarce.

Keith Haring was another product of the New York art scene and extremely productive when it came to musical artwork. There are many striking Harings that can be bought very cheaply for your wall, like Sylvester’s Someone Like You, Run D.M.C’s Christmas in Hollis, David Bowie’s Without You, and the Peech Boys’ Life Is Something Special. When it comes to expensive, the private party invitation Haring made in 1989 for Princess Gloria Thurn Und Taxi is the one to seek out. Only 250 copies of this 7-inch were pressed, and Haring did the original artwork for the sleeve and labels. One has yet to be offered for sale on Discogs, but when it does land, it will sell for at least $4,000.

keith haring run dmc christmas in hollisRun D.M.C. ‎– Christmas in Hollis (2014 Reissue) | Keith Haring

I’m running out of spray paint, so must direct you to Warhol’s signed line-drawn covers art for a number of EPs and LPs in the 1950s, like Kenny Burrell’s Kenny Burrell (1956) and Blue Lights Vol. 2 (1958) — where collectable Blue Note and collectable artist collide.

In closing, the crucial thing is this: There are artists out there right now all over the world doing original or screen-printed cover art for singles, 12-inches, and LPs listed here on Discogs you can pick up for the price of a couple of Arby’s turkey sandwiches. The hard thing to work out is who will be the new Warhol, Haring, Basquiat, or Banksy.

Only time will tell.

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