RetroTorque Classic Car Community Ten of the Best: Rocker Covers

Article Information

  • Posted By : Mathew Taylor
  • Posted On : Feb 19, 2018
  • Views : 830
  • Category : Features » Ten of the Best
  • Description : Ten examples of great automotive themed music album artwork.


  • Cars and music seem inextricably linked somehow. Perhaps it’s because both inhabit worlds where style, individuality and sometimes excess count for so much. Or maybe it’s just that most multi-millionaire musicians can’t help but show-off their wealth by buying an expensive motor or fifty.

    Whatever the reason, from John Lennon’s psychedelic Roller of the 1960s, via Elvis Presley's shot-in-frustration, non-starting De Tomaso Pantera a decade later, through to more contemporary ‘gangsta’-rap Hummer-bling, the music industry has pretty much consistently thrown-up a plethora of iconic images and moments involving an impressively diverse range of motors. Hence, in a place where the music industry has always required a striking image: on the front cover of an album or CD, it’s little wonder that so many automotive themes have featured.

    Often this artwork has been remarkable – sometimes due to its brilliance, occasionally because of an interesting story which lies behind the illustration, or even due to sheer laugh-out-loud awfulness.

    Sadly though, we may have to mourn the passing of this artistic genre – the MP3 may see to that. So, to celebrate its existence while we still can, here are some of the best and worst examples of car-based album art.

    Musician: Peter Gabriel
    Album: Peter Gabriel, 1977

    Artwork: Hipgnosis
    Car: Lancia Flavia Coupé
    Think of your favourite album cover…

    Well, I’m willing to take a punt that, whichever one you're thinking of, it was created by the prolific Hipgnosis design team, producers of some of the most iconic works of album art.

    For example, the classic image of the refracting glass prism on Pink Floyds “The Dark Side of the Moon” – that was Hipgnosis. And some of their lesser known creations are perhaps even better – check out the startling ‘man eating vinyl records’ Riff Raff album cover of 1981 for proof of that.

    Hipgnosis was also responsible for many of Genesis’s early album covers. So it was only natural, after Peter Gabriel had split from the group in the mid-‘70s, that his first solo album also should have featured artwork by the same design team.

    This particular piece of automotive-based creativity came about after one of the design group’s co-founders, Storm Thorgerson, had experienced a rainy cab journey through central London and noticed the how “cool” the raindrops looked as they danced about on the vehicle’s bonnet. Soon he was replicating the effect with the aid of a garden hose, his “beloved” Lancia Flavia Coupé and with Peter Gabriel sitting, somewhat obscured, in the car’s passenger seat.

    A couple of techniques enhance the image: the Lancia's vibrant turquoise blue was hand-coloured and the photo’s ‘highlights’ were all manually and painstakingly scraped clear with the use of a scalpel.

    Another notable feature of this collection of tracks is that, in common with Gabriel’s next three albums, other than bearing the musician’s name it doesn’t have an official title.

    Musician: Jackson Browne
    Album: Late for the Sky, 1974
    Artwork: Bob Seidemann
    Car: 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
    Musos rate Jackson Browne highly, citing a maturity in his early work which belied his then young age. And with “Late for the Sky” prime contender for his best ever album, it’s only appropriate that it features such great artwork.

    The Chevrolet, commensurate with some of the album’s lyrics, had been Browne’s own car and had to be borrowed back from a girlfriend of his for the photo shoot, while the cover itself pays homage to René Magritte’s L'Empire des Lumieres (1954).

    Musical Artists: The Carpenters
    Album: Now and Then, 1973
    Artwork: Jim McCrary
    Car: 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona'
    Bright-red Ferraris lack subtlety! This makes them so perfect for grabbing the attention which young, successful pop stars often crave – whether in real life, or on the front cover of their albums to help sell their music.

    Although, in the case of Richard Carpenter, visit his website ( and it’s clear that he’s a genuine car enthusiast, with many cherished and interesting ‘classics’ in his collection. Certain of which were bought by him before he and his sister, Karen Carpenter, became international stars back in the early ‘70’s.

    In fact, it’s hard to tell whether it’s music or an interest in cars which is Richard Carpenter’s greatest passion in life. Along with information about how the fold-out artwork of “Now and Then” was created – apparently, using the ‘Daytona’ was a last minute idea – the website also contains an interesting account of the singer’s experiences of touring (or not!!) using another Ferrari; this time a very troublesome sounding GTC/4.

    Musician: Chris Rea
    Album: Auberge, 1991
    Artwork: Alan Fearnley
    Car: Caterham Super Seven
    That Chris Rea is a petrol-head there can be no doubt! For example, his 1989 album “The Road to Hell” featured a track all about the Ferrari ‘Daytona’ and the car’s “twelve wild horses in silver chains”, while its title song was inspired by the frustrations of driving at rush-hour on the M25.

    Two years later, “Auberge” not only made several oblique lyrical references to the Caterham Super Seven, but Rea’s own example also played a bit part in the video for that album’s eponymous track. Perhaps even more significantly, the same blue Caterham also had a starring role on the album’s front cover, in the form of this very attractive illustration, painted by motoring artist of renown, Alan Fearnley.

    Some of the back story to Rea’s apparent obsession with cars came in 1996, with the release of La Passione– his semi-autobiographical film about a young boy who becomes fascinated with Formula One, and in particular the blood-red, ‘shark-nosed’ Ferraris of 1961 and the tragic racing driver Wolfgang von Trips.

    Musical Artists: Oasis
    Album: Be Here Now, 1997
    Artwork: Michael Spencer Johns
    Car: Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
    This may be an Oasis album, but its cover art is all about The Who, their drummer and a tribute to the clichéd image of the rock ‘n’ roll hotel-trashing lifestyle. But did Keith Moon really ever drive a car into a swimming pool? And if he did, was it a Rolls-Royce, a Cadillac or, by his own account, a Lincoln Continental?

    Roger Daltrey swears that the tale is true, albeit with a slightly toned-down version of events: according to him the car was a Chrysler Wimbledon, and it wasn’t a swimming pool but an ornamental pond.

    Musician: Berry Lipman
    Artwork: Unknown
    Car: Citroen SM
    Album: Paramaribo Classics, The Unique Sound Of Berry Lipman, 2001
    Okay, so the quality of the artwork isn’t that great. It’s just that Berry’s look, the Citroen SM and the German lounge music - think late-night Ceefax but groovier - form such a potent and hip mix that it all puts Austin Powers to shame.

    Musician: Gene Clark
    Album: Roadmaster, 1973
    Photography: Henry Diltz
    Car: Ferrari 250 Europa GTAs pioneers of the US-West-Coast folk-rock sound, The Byrds will always remain one of popular music’s most celebrated acts. Inspired by The Beatles, they formed in 1964 and were already topping the charts – on both sides of the Atlantic – by the spring of the following year. And whilst their first successes came mostly as a result of their covering works by other artists, they soon proved that they too possessed their own strong song writing talents.

    This was particularly true of founder member, Gene Clark, who penned most of the group’s early original hits and later helped expand their musical boundaries by co-writing the psychedelic ‘Eight Miles High’. But the rock-star lifestyle didn’t sit easily with the introspective Clark and tensions within the band, combined with his fear of flying, led to him leaving the group in 1966 in order to pursue other projects.

    1973’s “Roadmaster” is one such album and its mid-80’s re-release cover artwork features this simple but strikingly cool image of the singer-songwriter sitting in his treasured, dark-red Ferrari GT.

    Ironically, the car is rather symbolic of some of the problems which had caused Clark to leave The Byrds. He had bought the Ferrari whilst still a member of the band, affording to do so because of the extra income he derived from his song writing credits – a cause of some resentment amongst the group.

    This Ferrari is one of the company’s earliest road cars: an ultra-rare 250 Europa GT – just 44 examples were produced. The GT was introduced in 1954, taking over from the first-series of Lampredi-engined Europas (of which only 20 were ever made). Despite most of the Pinin Farina bodied cars – of which Clark’s car was one – being outwardly almost identical to their predecessors, the revised model was very different under the skin: now being powered by a 3-litre Colombo V12 power-unit (which allowed for a shorter wheelbase) and featuring coil-springs at the front, instead of the leaf-springs of the earlier model.

    One friend of Clark recalls that the Ferrari was saved for special occasions, with a white MGB serving as the songwriter’s main mode of transport during the mid-’60s, while another recounts a different version of events, with tales of regular hair-raising driving exploits around the twisty roads of the Hollywood Hills in the Italian sports car.

    Sadly, Gene Clark died an untimely death in 1991 at the age of just 46. Does anyone know if his Europa GT still survives today?

    Musical Artists: The Mars Volta
    Album:  Frances the Mute, 2005
    Artwork: Storm Thorgerson
    Car: 1948 Buick Special Sedanet Model 46S
    Another of Storm Thorgerson’s stunning and rather surreal artworks, this time for the critically acclaimed experimental-rock outfit The Mars Volta and their 2005 album “Frances the Mute”.

    This album is a soundtrack for a movie never made, one of the themes of which would have been addiction. Thorgerson, taking this as his inspiration, wanted to illustrate what he saw as parallels between this subject and that of a driver blinded by the wearing of a hood, but still under the illusion of their being in control and knowing where they are headed, despite this being an impossibility.

    The stylish Buick featured on the cover is a two-door Special Sedanet with details specific to the 1948 model year. Although Buick is a luxury car manufacturer, the Special was in their ‘entry level’ model. These cars had 4-litre engines which developed 115bhp.

    Musical Artists: Heatmiser
    Album: Cop and Speeder, 1994
    Artwork: Unknown
    Car: 1954 Jaguar Le Mans D-type
    Quite a crude juxtaposition of images, but what classic car enthusiast wouldn’t delight at the sight of this Jaguar D-type! The number 14 worn by the car identifies it, most likely, as the Le Mans second-place finisher of 1954, co-driven by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt.

    Heatmiser was an early-’90s US indie band, most notable for having later solo star and Oscar nominated Elliott Smith as one of its founding members. Sadly it’s not only a passion for cars which seems to unite many musicians – unfortunately, Smith, in common with a considerable number of his fellow pop and rock stars, died at a tragically young age. In his case he was just 34.

    Musical Artists: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
    Album:  Crush, 1985
    Artwork: Paul Slater
    Car: 1940’s American Convertible
    Synthpop pioneers, OMD, originally had wanted to use a painting by American artist Edward Hopper for the cover of their sixth album, “Crush”, as they felt that the melancholic nature of his work matched the mood of their music.

    However, after discovering that this would prove too expensive, they instead turned to British illustrator Paul Slater to create something in the same vein. The result is this rather wonderful illustration, particularly reminiscent of Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning (1930) – complete with a 1940’s American convertible as its focal point.

    Other automotive themed album covers

    Images used in this article done so under the doctrine of "fair dealing", for the purposes of commentary, criticism and review.