My favorite record covers are ones that are beautiful and mysterious. Alex Steinweiss dominates the field, especially during the golden age of the 1940s, but some of the RCA 78 rpm sets are right up there, and so are some 1960s psychedelic works and some current things as well.
Best cover of all time, however, is not exactly the same thing as favorite cover. Some of my favorites might be the best. The original cover of Saxy Jazz by Bill Black and his combo is another possibility. Imagine the sedate year 1960, an era of highly mediocre graphic arts. “Elvis is Back” or “Sing Along With Mitch” or “Persuasive Percussion” (even if Josef Albers did design it). Throw into this mix a black and white cover showing couples dancing in a smoke-filled room. Everything about the couples screams “illicit sex”, at least to me. It is not beautiful, but it is powerful and would actually still work for an album of emo. Nothing else looked like it in 1960. Nothing else Bill Black ever did looks at all like it. Nothing else Hi records ever released, and it is their first or second lp, ever looked at all like it.
The cover was redone a number of times. First it was colorized – you can tell the black and white is older because it says Bill Black and His Combo. Bill Black only released four or five lps, and died young. The “Bill Black Combo” was the name used for dozens of faceless instrumental lps after his death. Saxy Jazz was redesigned to make it seem like Bill Black Combo lps were by the same artist that it was. The later reissues dispense with the original drawing, trying for a modern look. The original design would work well today, and the redrawn cover looks like a lame graphic from swinging 1968.
I am sorry I don’t know who designed this cover.