Elton John is a legend in the music industry and has made a ton of studio albums. But, if you had to rank the top Elton John album covers based on a mix of aesthetic appeal and the cover’s ability to convey the music inside the album, how would you do? Well, don’t worry, we’ve already done it! So enjoy this list of our favorite album covers by Sir Elton John (and see how well our ranking compares to your own personal ranking too).
Elton John Album Covers We Love
Let’s begin with an album from 1975.
1) Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)
I truly adore this album cover. It’s fantastical and fun and honestly the epitome of John’s career. I enjoy the abstract-but-distinct art style, and how there is so much going on that the eye never gets bored. Every time I look at this album cover I notice something new that I had not seen before. If I had to describe this art with one word it would be “circus.”
As mentioned, I believe this artwork is a good representation of a lot of John’s work. Anything that he has done that’s high-tempo, fun, and pop-themed, could be depicted well by this cover. Tracks on the album like We All Fall in Love Sometimes and the namesake Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy fit with the overall aesthetic of this album undeniably. Even songs that seemingly have a dark message, like Better Off Dead, still have a whimsical and almost light-hearted feel. The album, in general, leaves you feeling giddy and sets you up to enjoy the rest of the day.
Now I may be biased because this is overall my favorite album by Elton John, beyond just the artwork that represents it. But I still had to put this at the top of my list in terms of John’s best album covers because the art itself is unmistakable. You look at it and can tell immediately that it is an Elton John album. I truly cannot emphasize enough how much I love it.
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2) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
Keeping on the theme of fun and whimsical artwork, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road absolutely has to come in second. The cover shows a drawn Elton John all dressed in white, stepping through a brick wall onto the yellow brick road, in sparkly red platform shoes. I love the allusion to a well-known story that we all grew up in love with, and, again, it fits John’s entire aesthetic incredibly well.
As was the case with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, I could point out any sort of high-energy, fast-tempo song that could fit this album art well. Songs like This Song Has No Title, All the Girls Love Alice, and I’ve Seen That Movie Too are just a few I could name from this album. Bennie and the Jets, one of John’s most well-known songs, also comes off of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and that song especially fits with this cover beautifully.
This is another album that leaves you feeling good when it’s over. It’s one that anyone can listen to repeatedly and never get tired of. This album, like any of the others released during the 70s, came out of John’s prime era, so of course everything on them is good. Ultimately, this album is timeless.
3) Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973)
This album cover has an incredibly retro feel to it. The old timey movie theater sign and the couple going in to enjoy the “film”. I find this artwork particularly memorable, and that is why it has taken its place so high on this list. This art steps away from the whimsical, otherworldly covers I have discussed so far, and no other album could have introduced the rest of the list quite like this one.
I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol and Elderberry Wine are tracks that absolutely deserve recognition from this album, and ones that, in my opinion, have the retro vibe that the album cover flaunts. Of course, Crocodile Rock also has its home on this album, which is another hit of John’s, but that song is admittedly a little too much pop for the vintage aesthetic. Regardless, this album cover makes me nostalgic for a time I wasn’t even alive to see, but as an avid film geek, I love it even more.
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4) The One (1992)
I find this album cover especially elegant. With John’s portrait outlined in a frame of blue with gold embellishments, it’s understated yet still undeniably Elton John. The black-and-white photo of him is flattering in its own way, and I find John to be very photogenic. Everything about this album art just works very well together, but in a way that’s almost effortless.
With that description in mind, tracks like Simple Life are represented perfectly by the album art, as well as Whitewash County and Emily. I feel that a lot of the songs on this album are underrated compared to some of the artist’s larger hits, and the simple-but-beautiful cover art absolutely does that vibe justice.
I will admit this is an album from Elton John that I discovered much later than the rest, but I do enjoy it immensely. That is exactly why it takes its place at number four on this list.
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5) Reg Strikes Back (1988)
Like Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, this is another album cover (Reg Strikes Back) where you constantly discover some new detail every time you look at it. It’s flamboyant and covered in hats and outfits of all kinds, and that represents Elton John’s iconic wardrobe beautifully. I like the various colors that stick out against the white background of the cover, and think that the plain background balances out everything that is present in the foreground.
Something about this album cover kind of feels like it’s all over the place to me, so I believe it would fit a wide variety of songs well. With more upbeat tracks like Town of Plenty, and even with something more mellow along the lines of I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That, the cover art fits it all. This album art feels like a jack of all trades, but admittedly it does feel a little muddled and hard to distinguish all of the individual details, hence its place at number five on this list. But I do still find it to be one of the best because of its versatility.
6) Tumbleweed Connection (1970)
The album art for Tumbleweed Connection is very clearly “Wild West” themed, showing some sort of old “western style” store or building with Elton John sitting in front of it. I, myself, love old West movies, and this artwork reminds me a lot of those, which is why I think I enjoy it so much. It’s different from a lot of the other album covers of John’s, but stands up next to any other well.
With the “old Western” feel of the cover art, songs like Ballad of a Well Known Gun and Country Comfort fit so incredibly well. Admittedly, most of the songs on the album fit the Western theme perfectly, including Talking Old Soldiers and My Father’s Gun.
Though these are not songs that would necessarily fall into what is typically considered “American country” music, the album is impeccable for what it is. I was tempted to put this one higher on the list because I truly believe that there is not a single song that does not fit the album cover, but in terms of the artwork itself, there were just others I liked more.
7) Caribou (1974)
The word to define this album art is quirky. It shows John dressed in a tiger print shirt standing in front of a background of mountains. It’s almost as if John is depicting himself as an animal that would belong in the same realm as the namesake caribou. There’s something a little cheesy about it, but for some reason it brings a smile to my face whenever I look at it.
This album is well-known for the tracks Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me and The B*tch is Back. That first song, especially, also always brings a smile to my face when I hear it. Though the song is admittedly mellow compared to many of John’s others, I genuinely enjoy the message. Whenever I hear the song, I think of the album cover. The artwork is memorable, and it truly fits the songs the album is known for.
8) Songs From the West Coast (2001)
To be honest, I’m not quite sure what this album art means. It shows Elton John sitting on some kind of red seat with a dove next to him, and what appears to be a police car behind him. John himself looks especially understated in a black and white suit, though the suit jacket draws the eye to it with its striped pattern. I mentioned earlier that the cover art for Tumbleweed Connection is different from many of Elton’s other albums, and I feel the same about this one. But something about this album cover is endearing to me.
The album art is serious, yet questionably hopeful because of the dove sitting next to John. It fits tracks like Dark Diamond and The Wasteland well, but I feel like The Emperor’s New Clothes just sticks out on this album. It’s mellow, but the piano notes have a light-hearted, melodic sound to them that I think perfectly fits the art. I enjoy that the artwork is kind of open to audience interpretation, and is definitely one of Elton John’s more recent albums (if you can call 2001 recent) that I like the most.
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9) Empty Sky (1969)
I love the art style for this album cover. It is very simple on the surface, just showing Elton John drawn in some kind of blue material (pencil, maybe) playing the piano. For some reason this cover reminds me of A-ha’s classic music video for Take On Me, which shows drawings come to life. That is one of my favorite music videos of all time, and I think that is why this album cover resonates with me.
This was actually Elton John’s first album, and I think it set him up well for the rest of his career. The namesake of the album Empty Sky is a funky, catchy tune that I think the album art represents well. I look at the album cover and can imagine the drawn John playing that song on the piano. It is overall a good vibe, and honestly I feel the same about Lady What’s Tomorrow, in that I could definitely picture the album art whenever I listen to it. The artwork absolutely represents the music within well.
10) A Single Man (1978)
This album cover is very classy, and I’m sure that was the intention of it. It shows Elton dressed in a suit and top hat in front of a castle in the distance. It’s simple, but it gets its message across: this album is classic, refined, and in good taste.
I would agree that that interpretation fits the songs on the album. Return to Paradise, Shine on Through, and It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy are especially ones that I think the art fits well. I immensely enjoy the song Big Dipper, but I feel as though the overall vibe of that song is a little too pop-feel for the album art (though that is of course a matter of opinion, as is this entire article).
Overall the cover art does a good amount of the songs within justice. Still, there are a few songs that, to me, just doesn’t quite fit well with the cover’s aesthetic.
11) The Big Picture (1997)
This album cover is abstract but also isn’t at the same time. It shows a colorful Elton constructed out of some kind of thrown together material. It’s unique, and I think holds up well compared to his other album covers, even though it is not exactly the same style.
Due to the sort of abstract nature of the cover art, I think it fits the songs on the album well. The somber look on John’s face on the cover could represent the more melodic tracks like Recover Your Soul and The Big Picture. I would say this album overall is slower than a lot of John’s earlier works (as Elton John intended it to be), so cover art like this was just what it needed. Especially when one learns of the story behind this album as a whole, I feel they would agree with my interpretation.
12) Too Low For Zero (1983)
This album art is very, very simplistic. It shows a multicolored two, down-pointing triangle, four, and circle on a white background. I don’t typically tend to lean toward minimalistic art (as shown by the fact that my top choices on this list are some of the busiest album covers of Elton John’s), but something about this album cover is just incredibly beautiful to me.
But it is difficult to say that the album cover does the songs justice. The art is beautiful, yes, but admittedly boring. Songs like I’m Still Standing and Dreamboat are, undeniably, not boring. I don’t think the artwork gives the songs on the album the representation that they deserve. As a standalone piece of art, it is lovely, but as an album cover, it’s a little lackluster.
13) 21 at 33 (1980)
I mentioned earlier, the cover for The Big Picture is abstract in its own way. But the cover for 21 at 33 is even more out there. It shows a blue, yellow, green and red background with a pair of hands holding some cards with poker chips in front of them. If I’m being honest, I am not entirely sure what I feel when I gaze at this album cover. But I do think it is vibrant and lively, and something about it is intriguing to my eye.
If I had to pick a song I thought would go best with this album art, it would be White Lady White Powder, though Little Jeanie is a close runner up. The message of the songs, to me, just seem to relate to the album cover. But this is another cover that I feel is open to interpretation, so anyone that listens to it may feel that certain songs fit better than others. But that is also why it landed itself on this list, because no matter who is listening, at least one song relates to the cover well.
14) Blue Moves (1976)
I enjoy that this album cover looks like a kindergartener was handed a piece of paper and a blue crayon and told “draw whatever you want”. The art is a simplistic blue background with multiple drawn people doing various things on it. It’s fun, even if a bit monotone in nature.
This album boasts catchy tunes like Chameleon, Boogie Pilgrim, and Cage the Songbird. If I were to keep going with the idea of this album cover being a kindergartener’s drawing, it would be difficult to say that the cover represents the songs well, as John’s music is of course more extravagant and not nearly as simplistic as the cover would imply. But I do find the art to be overall aesthetically pleasing, which is why it still landed a place on this list, even if it is a little more simplistic than would normally fit Elton John’s music.
15) Elton John (1970)
As this is a list of the top 15 best album covers of Elton John’s, this cover is not particularly bad, but it is another one that is kind of boring. It shows Elton John’s face in shadow on a black background. But it gained a spot on this list because there is something especially moody about the cover art that I like. It goes well with tracks like The Cage and The King Must Die.
Compared to the other covers on this list, this one does not quite hold its own as well as those do, but compared to the countless other albums that didn’t even make it on this list, it is clear that I still enjoy this simplistic-yet-emotional artwork for what it is.
It is difficult to narrow down a list of the top Elton John album covers when he has released a whopping 30+ studio albums over the years. And while some covers are more eye catching than others, there’s no doubt that John has crafted a legacy of music that will stand the test of time (alongside some very memorable album covers too).
This article was written by Angela and edited by Michael.