The Story Behind the Rebelliously Angelic ‘1984’ Van Halen Album Cover

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

After covering delving into the covers of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, we might as well jump into the story of a Van Halen album cover.

1984 (officially stylized in Roman numerals as MCMLXXXIV) was Van Halen’s best-selling album, alongside its eponymous debut. It was also the last album that all four original band members performed on before their reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth, in 2012. Together, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony had created a nine-track record that would be heard for many, many years after 1984.

But what is the story behind the album’s cover? That rebellious-looking cherub smoking a pack of cigarettes?

The Story Behind the Album Cover

Graphic designer Margo Nahas created the painting that became the cover for 1984, but Nahas had originally declined to create album art for Van Halen. More specifically, the band first asked Nahas to create a painting of four chrome women dancing for the cover, to which she refused. Nahas’s husband then took her portfolio to Van Halen anyway, which included the smoking angel baby. The band, as you may well guess, chose the existing painting of the cherub.

But before Van Halen was in the picture, Nahas had created the artwork by modeling the cherub off of her friend’s son, Carter Helm. He was the child that sat for Nahas, who gave Helm a pack of candy cigarettes while she was creating the artwork.

“I took a picture of him, took him candy cigarettes which he proceeded to eat, every single one, after a brief tantrum, of course,” Nahas said in a 2020 interview.

In 2020, after Eddie Van Halen died, Nahas created an alternative image of the now-ionic artwork that featured the cherub with tears under his eyes. “It’s like the angel has to cry, he has to cry,” she said upon learning of the lead guitarist’s death.

Legacy

1984 holds some of Van Halen’s most recognizable hits: “Jump,” “Panama,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Hot for Teacher.” The album itself peaked at the No. 2 spot on the Billboard albums chart (it was unable to overtake Michael Jackson’s Thriller album). These singles and the album had garnered a wider audience for the Pasadena, California band, and still endears the band to rock fans today.

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