When us old farts go on and on about how great it was back in the days when vinyl was king, one of the things we pine for was the experience of just staring at an album cover and getting lost in it while the music played. Sometimes certain substances were also involved, sometimes not. And few people have had their album art started at and examined more than Roger Dean. Dean’s fantastical landscapes and creatures have graced album covers since 1968, and his style is most closely associated with progressive rock.
Here, then, for your enjoyment, is my selection of Roger Dean’s ten best album covers. Don’t worry, I brushed all the seeds off.
#10. Gun, Gun (1968)
OK, so this may not strictly be Top 10 material, but the cover to the 1968 debut album from Gun — a most obscure British rock band — does deserve mention as Roger Dean’s first one. And truth be told, what it lacks in refinement it makes up for in spookiness and boldness. It also reminds me of the work of Gerald Scarfe from Pink Floyd’s The Wall movie.
#9. Squawk, Budgie (1972)
A decidedly un-Dean entry, this one. Photo manipulation seems to be more Hipgnosis’ thing, but I really dig this. I rather wish Dean would produce more covers like this, but I suppose there’s not much call for them. Gotta have those expansive rockscapes! As a special bonus, Squawk happens to be one of Budgie’s best records.
#8. Earth and Fire, Earth and Fire (1970)
So many of Dean’s images are of broad, amazing landscapes that it’s striking to see this much simpler imagery. The dark, dingy color of the tree contrasts rather effectively with the deep red of the… what is that anyway? Cooled lava? An evil spirit? Someone left a lava lamp on in a Hobbit’s house?
#7. Drama, Yes (1980)
Perhaps my judgment is clouded by the fact that Drama is one of my favorite Yes albums, but I really do think this belongs on the list. It perfectly matches the beautiful but slightly bleak music on the record.
#6. Cactus Choir, Dave Greenslade (1976)
After researching covers for this list, I have the overwhelming desire to bust out my copy of Heavy Metal and just watch it all day long. And not just because I love cartoon boobs. Which I do.
#5. Relayer, Yes (1974)
Definitely my favorite Dean Yes album cover. An otherwise stark white landscape is broken up by nothing more than some dark, mottled rocks and a couple of badass snakes. The full gatefold effect is definitely needed here, so click for a larger version.
#4. Octopus, Gentle Giant (1972)
Alright, one point off for being a fairly literal interpretation of the album title. But one thousand points awarded for being the coolest cephalopod I’ve ever seen on an album cover. The world wouldn’t see a badass killer sea creature on an album like this until Mastodon’s Leviathan.
#3. Walking Circles, Midnight Sun (1972)
Man, 1972 really was a banner year for Roger Dean wasn’t it? It makes sense I suppose — before Dean got locked into a definitive style, he probably still had both the freedom and inclination to try almost anything in his paintings. Like this skeleton, which wouldn’t look totally out of place on a Grateful Dead record.
#2. Alpha, Asia (1983)
You’ll get no argument from me that the first Asia album is still the best. But as striking as that ocean dragon cover is, I’ve always preferred the front of Alpha. While so many of Roger Dean’s covers tend to illustrate rocky, almost desolate lands, this is lush and vibrant. It really played up the foreign, exotic element captured by a band full of white British guys.
#1. Osibisa, Osibisa (1971)
A real stunner. Osibisa, for those who don’t know, is an Afro-pop band that formed in London in 1969. Roger Dean designed the cover for their first two albums and the flying, mosquito-like elephants he drew became a symbol of sorts for the band.
As with Relayer, this has to be seen gatefold style, so click on that image.
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