Since the late ‘60s, artists and labels have tapped the wells of creativity to transform the humble vinyl record into a cornucopia of inspired design and functionality. Some of the record, album, and sleeve packaging concepts are breathtaking, merging art with form. From the absurd to the brilliant, we present our top five favourites.

Shout Out Louds, Blue Ice (2012)

Swedish indie band the Shout Out Louds conceived an extraordinary idea for their 2012 single, Blue Ice. Alongside the standard release, they created a limited run of ten boxed sets made available to a selection of chosen fans and media outlets. Inside was a silicone mould with an inset vinyl pattern and a bottle of distilled water with instructions to pour the liquid into the mould and freeze for ‘no less than six hours’. While not great for the stylus, once frozen and removed from the mould, the song could be played.

Record mould with bottle of water

album cover for The Durutti Column, made of sandpaperThe Durutti Column, Return of the Durutti Column (1980)

Stablemates with Joy Division, post-punks The Durutti Column’s debut album sleeves were initially covered with sandpaper. It was the idea of Factory boss Tony Wilson who roped in Joy Division to glue the coarse sandpaper to the covers. Conceived solely for destructive purposes, the sandpaper cover would cause significant damage to any album that it was slotted next to in a record rack. Sonic sabotage at its best.

Album cover for Bob Marley album, flipped openBob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire (1973)

The excellent fifth album from Bob Marley and the Wailers was a turning point in the musician’s career, establishing him – and reggae music – on the international stage. Graphic artists Rod Dyer and Bob Weiner designed the original cover based on a Zippo lighter. Restricted to the first 20,000 pressings due to the manual work of riveting the cover together, the top would flip open on a hinge like an actual Zippo.

Hawkwind, In Search of Space (1971)

In Search of Space, the band’s second album, was recorded just before Lemmy joined. Well received by critics and punters alike, the space rockers enlisted graphic artist Barney Bubbles to create a striking cover with an interlocking sleeve that formed the shape of a hawk when unfolded. Occasional band member and poet Robert Calvert wrote a 24-page sci-fi-inspired booklet called The Hawkwind Log, which contained a collection of lysergic-induced mythical space log entries, photos, and illustrations. Yeah, man.

Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door (1979)

No strangers to innovative packaging (see Led Zeppelin II and Physical Graffiti ), Zeppelin’s final album, In Through the Out Door, was designed with six different covers. These were concealed inside a plain brown paper bag outer sleeve sealed in cellophane. Buyers had no idea what cover they were getting until they paid at the counter. It was catnip to collectors. It didn’t end there, though. The black and white artwork on the inner sleeve would permanently colour if brushed with water.

Composite image of Hawkwind vinyl album cover and Led Zeppelin vinyl album cover

L – R: Hawkwind’s In Search of Space folded out; Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door in one of its six cover design iterations

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