Most of us aren't even sure what we're looking at. Is it a mountain range? Is it a clump of waves? Somebody give us a clue! Whether you know what the design is or not, you ultimately identify the striking image with the post-punk band Joy Division. And that's precisely what makes it a great album cover.
The bold cover of Joy Division's debut album, Unknown Pleasures, was suggested by drummer Stephen Morris and designed by Chris Mathan and Peter Saville. Saville was the in-house designer of the famed Manchester record label, Factory Records. He was depicted in the 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People, which is based on Tony Wilson and the history of Factory Records. In the film, Saville has a reputation for missing deadlines.
Peter Saville went on to design album covers for New Order, Roxy Music, Ultravox, Suede, Pulp and Peter Gabriel, but he cut his teeth with Unknown Pleasures, a grim and mysterious blueprint that spoke directly to Joy Division's brooding fans.
So what exactly are we looking at? I'm glad you asked.
It’s one hundred successive pulses from the first pulsar ever discovered, PSR B1919+21. Now if you're like me and don't know a thing about astronomy, a pulsar is a "celestial object, thought to be a rapidly rotating neutron star, that emits regular pulses of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation at rates of up to one thousand pulses per second." Got it? Good.
The complete artistic design of Unknown Pleasures is untraditional: the back cover doesn't include a track listing, instead of the customary "side one" and "side two" they are replaced by "outside" and "inside," and the track information and album credits appear only on the inner sleeve.
In the end, when you see this enigmatic image, you don't think pulsar. You think Joy Division.