International Guitar Month: 10 Iconic Vinyl Record Covers Featuring Guitars
April is International Guitar Month, in which we celebrate the instrument that helped to define most of the last century of popular music. Whether listening to a carefully plucked acoustic guitar, or having your face melted off by a scorching guitar solo, it's hard not to appreciate the artistry that goes into playing guitar. Even the instrument itself is a work of art, with companies and luthiers putting their individual stamps on everything from the curves and contours of the body, to unique paint jobs and custom fret inlays. It's impossible not to think of legendary guitarists like Eddie Van Halen without his signature Frankenstrat or B.B. King and Lucille. We decided to take a look at a few iconic vinyl records featuring guitars gracing their covers.
When you say the word "guitar", Jimi Hendrix is likely one of the first artists who comes to mind. Hendrix helped to reinvent the instrument, with his brand of psychedelic blues-rock providing a perfect backdrop to the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Hendrix was an incredibly gifted musician, and Band of Gypsys, his final album released during his lifetime, is him at his best. Hendrix blended elements of jazz and funk with his signature psychedelia, with "Machine Gun" even providing some of the basis for early heavy metal. Hendrix died just a few months later, leaving the music world devastated, and listeners with plenty of questions about how his career would have continued to develop.
Elvis may not have invented rock and roll, the credit there can generally be attributed to a number of Black artists who added a grittier edge to R&B standards of the 1950s, but his debut album helped to popularize the burgeoning genre. Elvis gave more reverence to those who came before than many of his white contemporaries, and while he may not have had much skill on the instrument, he put guitar at the forefront of his music. The album cover is iconic, featuring Elvis belting a tune strumming his beat-up Martin guitar.
See any similarities? The Clash paid homage to Elvis with the cover of London Calling, their most recognizable album. Despite the cover featuring Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar, the album represented a step in a new direction for the band. While their first two records were more firmly rooted in punk rock, London Calling introduced elements of new wave and other genres while still retaining their signature sound. London Calling cemented The Clash as icons of punk, and helped to expand the genre beyond power chords and simplistic lyrics.
Compared to their British Invasion counterparts like The Beatles and the early Rolling Stones, The Kinks came in with a decidedly grittier quality. Guitarist Dave Davies was known to have taken a razor blade to his amplifier to create his signature distorted sound, while his brother Ray fronted the band with cockney attitude. The album's title chiefly refers to the ban placed on the band's concerts in the United States due to riots and onstage fights.
As a teen, Joan Baez had already cultivated a reputation as a gifted singer-songwriter and guitarist in the growing folk revival scene of the late '50s. She released her debut album at just 19 years of age, a collection of traditional arrangements that mostly featured just Baez and her acoustic guitar. It became a pillar of the genre and vaulted her into folk superstardom, paving the way for artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Simon & Garfunkel.
There may not be another musician so closely identified with his genre than Bob Marley is with reggae. Marley was already an icon of Jamaican music when Live! produced the band's first international hit with "No Woman, No Cry." After that, it was all uphill for Marley, helping to introduce reggae to the world and serving as the face of the Rastafari movement. Marley died in 1981, but his legacy lives on, inspiring virtually every reggae and ska artist that came after.
Van Halen wasted no time introducing themselves as the next big thing in hard rock, with their eponymous debut serving as the springboard that would make them the most popular band in the world for the next decade. It also introduced us to Eddie Van Halen and "Frankenstrat", his modded out Fender Stratocaster. Van Halen was one of the most innovative guitarists of his era, popularizing the two-handed tapping technique and showcasing an ability to play his guitar at blistering speeds. His instrumental composition "Eruption" remains one of the most widely covered guitar solos of all time, just walk into any guitar shop.
Bruce Springsteen is an unusual artist to try to pin down by genre. Heavily influenced by folk revival, Born to Run was his first major success, a gritty, Americana-inspired rock masterpiece. From the opening piano on "Thunder Road" to his signature growl on "Backstreets", this was the record that made Bruce into "the Boss". The album's cover features Bruce and his iconic Telecaster, the guitar that he remains associated with to this day.
Bo Diddley was one of rock and roll's first superstar guitarists. Rather than using the instrument as simply a songwriting tool and rhythm instrument, Diddley incorporated blues-inspired guitar solos into his songs, playing on the unique, rectangular Gretsch guitar that would become his signature. Diddley helped give the guitar credibility as a lead instrument in rock music and served as an influence for countless guitarists.
Brothers in Arms remains Dire Straits' most successful album, with guitarist and bandleader Mark Knopfler's unique style of play standing out among his contemporaries. In an era of heavily distorted shred guitar, Knopfler used his fingers rather than a pick, and little to no distortion or effect pedals, creating a signature pop and trebly tone that came to define his sound. Still, Knopfler was one of the technically gifted guitarists of his era, bringing virtuoso guitar talent to Dire Straits' brand of pop inspired rock.