To say the overall breadth of the US punk scene through the 80s and 90s is sprawling is to make a massive understatement; thousands of bands and myriad esoteric subgenres mean that picking a mere ten examples of choice record cover art is a weighty and daunting proposition. Conspicuous absences abound—a list like this failing to feature Ray Pettibon could be considered more than heretical, but how do you choose between Nervous Breakdown and Slip It In?—but what follows is a relatively tiny selection of examples both iconic and ubiquitous, some a little more obscure, and all worthy of revisiting.
1. Descendents—Milo Goes To College (New Alliance, 1982)
Despite their occasionally crass, hardcore paeans to coffee, food and not getting laid, Manhattan Beach’s Descendents were always one of the more cerebral early 80s SoCal punk bands. Jeff Atkinson’s classic design for their first record directly referenced singer Milo Aukerman’s departure to study Biology at the University of California, San Diego, and the illustrated Aukerman would quickly become the band’s longtime visual mascot.
2. SS Decontrol—The Kids Will Have Their Say (Dischord/X-Claim, 1982)
Al Barile’s straight edge unit were a self-consciously intense proposition within the early 80s Boston hardcore scene. Many groups of the era were anti-establishment, but SS Decontrol nailed the sentiment with The Kids Will Have Their Say’s iconic image of the Boston Crew storming Massachusetts State House..
3. Misfits—Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (Plan 9, 1983)
The seminal New Jersey horror punk band Misfits’ second record—their last before breaking up for the first time following the departure of Glenn Danzig—may not be considered their finest work, but its cover art perfectly exemplifies the lurid retro-schlock the group dealt in.
4. Rites of Spring—s/t (Dischord, 1985)
Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty’s pre-Fugazi outfit Rites of Spring were DC’s finest band and their self-titled 1985 LP Dischord’s best ever record; marrying an evocative post-hardcore bluster with breathless, cathartic emoting, they’re held almost singularly responsible for the then nascent emocore scene. Rites of Spring’s beguiling cover art perfectly captures the elegant recordings therein, and instigated a stark monochromatic style long copied within the genre.
5. Egg Hunt—2 Songs (Dischord, 1986)
The only release by Ian Mackaye and Jeff Nelson’s short-lived post-Minor Threat project, 2 Songs’s artwork is charmingly unassuming, but does feature one of the great band logos in a decade absolutely peppered with them.
6. Bad Religion—Suffer (Epitaph, 1988)
Bad Religion’s classic 1988 full length cemented their position as one of the SoCal scene’s most important bands, and its artwork remains one of the decade’s most recognizable images, a brunt depiction of suburban teenage ennui (and, due to the band’s logo, not a little bit of atheistical provocation).
7. Born Against—Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children (Vermiform, 1991)
New York’s Born Against were one of the 90's key underground punk groups, espousing an admirable DIY approach and a rousingly snarky leftist political stance (a fact that lends gravitas to song titles such as “Well Fed Fuck” and “Jock Gestapo”). 1991’s Veriform debut Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children exemplifies both the band’s self-righteous social stance and state-baitingly irreverent humour.
8. Man Is The Bastard—Sum of the Men (Vermiform, 1996)
Eric Wood’s pioneering hardcore/powerviolence group debut (technically also released under the band’s previous alias, Charred Remains) featured the stark, simplistic artwork which would adorn many of its later releases in a barely altered state. Iconic in itself given the influence the band would wield, but Wood’s medical textbook-derived skull logo is what makes it truly inimitable (despite Akron/Family’s plagiaristic efforts a few years back).
9. Evergreen—These Last Days (Gravity Records, 1997)
Evergreen’s 1997 7-inch release on Gravity is one of emo’s great records; a too-short mix of drifting, wistful melody and melancholy atmosphere. Its artwork perfectly captures this—slowly degrading, workaday, and sweetly nostalgic.
10. Hot Water Music—Forever and Counting (Doghouse Records, 1997)
This is an altered version of the original 1997 cover (text only though: it was originally released under the clunky and short-lived “The Hot Water Music Band” name), though its artwork remains the Floridian artist Scott Sinclair's first great illustration for the band. He’d go on to better it with his work for Division and A Flight and A Crash, as well as via the group’s ubiquitous flame logo, but its subtly haunting composition and painterly nuance makes it a classic in its own right.
(Image on top: Misfits, Earth)