The most iconic album cover designs: Banana

Author: Andrzej Leraczyk

25 min read

The most iconic album cover designs: Banana

When did album covers (or at least some of them) stop being banal dust jackets in 33 × 33 cm format (later 12 × 12 cm), and started to function as manifestos, comments on everyday life, symbols of political or moral opposition? It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific moment. One thing is clear: when writing about iconic album cover designs, I have to start with this one. With a banana!

The year 1967 in Western pop culture was an era of exuberant, colourful, and overloaded hippie baroque. The cover design of the Beatles‘ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in May, is a good example of it. But neither the album itself nor the hype around it made an impression on the sad young men from NYC. Musically and in terms of image, Lou Reed and company did not fit the summer of love vibe.

Velvet Underground’s first album

Their debut album entitled Velvet Underground & Nico is a raw playing, full of dirt fascination – not only the sonic one. What they were interested in was on the periphery, under the skin of the dominant, over-optimistic vision of the world. For the iconic album cover design was responsible Acy R. Lehman (although credits also belong to Craig Braun). Lehman is often overlooked in descriptions of this album. And it was he who came up with the idea to peel off the banana peel to see the ambiguous pink fruit, and also used an illustration by Andy Warhol, the album’s producer and patron of the band.

album cover designs
The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1966

The whole project turned out to be too expensive for the label. Especially as only 30,000 copies were sold in the first five years of the album’s release. Therefore, subsequent releases no longer had this option. Later editions, however, featured the band’s name on the cover, which is undoubtedly useful – especially for a debut!

The beginning of the banana era

Despite its difficult start, “Banana” became a benchmark and the beginning of an era. This album cover design had a huge impact on the next generations – not only because of the music. It’s no wonder that many authors have chosen to refer to the icon.

In 1990, while recording The Vegetarians of Love, Bob Geldof wanted a picture of a cucumber in a distinctive arrangement on the cover. He dropped the concept because of the label’s lawyers. But the idea didn’t fail completely, because one of the singles from this album (A Gospel Song) was released with this slightly ridiculous album cover design. There were many pastiche references. For example, the 1995 album cover by Spanish band Los Vegetales or Brule Lentement by Swiss band Mama Rosin. Josh Wink (American DJ and producer) in 2009 recorded material under the revealing title When a Banana Was Just a Banana.

There were also fewer direct references. For example, the British band of the Madchaster era of the 1990s, the Charlatans, put a picture of a bunch of slightly overripe bananas on their album cover Between 10th and 11th.

banana designs
The Charlatans ‎– Between 10th And 11th, 1992
Mama Rosin ‎– Brule Lentement, 2009
Josh Wink ‎– When A Banana Was Just A Banana, 2009
Bob Geldof ‎– A Gospel Song, 1990

Do not be fooled. We are damn serious graphic designers.

Banana as a symbol

Bananas have also appeared in visual art, and such use obviously did not always refer to the music of the Velvet Underground. Rather, it was about using the fruit as a catchy symbol. Quite recently there was a lot of noise about two banana scandals.

The first, a local one, concerning works from the early 1970s, was a series of photographs and films by Natalia LL entitled Consumer Art. She created the series in the times of communist Poland’s poverty when the scarcity of all goods was accompanied by Edward Gierek’s promises and hopes for a better life. In the artwork by Natalia LL, a young, attractive blonde ostentatiously eats bananas, sausages, or kisiel. This work, critical of consumerism and its erotic context, has gained well-deserved fame not only in Poland. In 2019, Professor Jerzy Miziołek, director of the Polish National Museum, ordered the removal of these works from the walls, among others, arguing his decision with concern for young viewers and their mental and emotional state. The effect of this unprecedented censorship was a massive, mocking protest by creative environments and young people who shared their pictures of bananas being eaten online.

banana in art
Natalia LL, Sztuka konsumpcyjna, 1974
Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian, 2019

The most expensive banana ever, the work of Maurizio Cattelan (best known as the author of a sculpture depicting the Pope crushed by a meteorite) caused a worldwide stir in art. The banana work was presented at the 2019 Art Basel international art fair in Miami Beach. The artist simply taped the fruit with silver tape to the wall. The work, titled Comedian, was sold in three copies (two for $120,000 each and the third $30,000 more expensive). One was eaten by another artist. In this case, there is an obvious reference to Warhol’s banana. Both the composition and the commercialisation aspect of the art make you feel the spirit of the king of pop art.

Sad banana

On 27 October 2013, Lou Reed passed away. Milan-based agency DLV BBDO said goodbye to the musician in a subtle and insightful way. They prepared a poster with a banana for the Italian edition of the Rolling Stone magazine. A sad banana.

famous album cover design
DLV BBDO Milano, Tribute to Lou Reed, 2013

Check out our articles on other legendary album covers: mayhem album cover, and crosswalks album cover.

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