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12 Album Covers So Terrible They’re Awesome

For Instagram’s TerriblyAwesomeCovers, Luke Johnson curates the best of the worst. Here he lists his all-time favorites

“I’m originally from a tiny, rural community in Virginia,” Luke Johnson, curator of Instagram’s TerriblyAwesomeCovers tells me, of how music provided an essential escape during his teenage years. “I felt stifled,” he says. “Music – and, by extension, music television – was my window into a larger, weirder world that I felt drawn to from a very young age.”

Later, it wasn’t simply music, but a keen eye for the more obscure and off-center outliers that showcased his true calling. Japanese jazz fusion, obscure prog, and Zamrock are genres that currently define his taste. But since 2019 he’s been curating the best of the worst album covers to share with his thriving social media community, the initial idea sparked while working for a local record store during his college days. “We took in a lot of used product, which means a lot of weird, random records,” Luke recalls. “Over time, I began to identify the aesthetic that I would later dub ‘terribly awesome.’” After years of sharing with friends, he took his reverence for “terribly awesome” album art online, feeling the niche was “untapped” and underrepresented. Turns out, there’s a coterie of music-lovers with a heightened appreciation for covers so bad they’re great. 

To be clear, this isn’t a place to ridicule, but rather gather and revere. And, yes, there’s some laughter, too. (As Luke puts it: “Roasting or toasting the covers, swapping jokes or sharing music knowledge.”) 

“I think it comes down to how you conceptualize ‘art’ in general,” Luke says. “To me, it’s a window into the creator’s mind. For better or worse, I’ve always felt a kinship to what would be considered ‘outsider art.’ The type of stuff that you often have to really dig into in order to find its value. The kind of art that doesn’t always make it easy on the audience – and sometimes seems outright ambivalent or spiteful to them. Early John Waters films, for instance. No one was submitting [actor] Edith Massey’s name to the Academy for an Oscar, and yet her performances were amazing – even if they weren’t classically ‘good.’ 

“It’s the same for music. It’s about looking beyond whatever shortcomings they may have in terms of craft and judging their intent. If the intent is there then it seems authentic. That’s always been the most important part for me: authenticity.”

So…where does he find these exquisite expressions of “outsider art”? And what qualifies as “terribly awesome”? “’Terribly Awesome’ [is] essentially any cover that – on the surface – shouldn’t work, but due to either the artist’s naïveté, chutzpah, or pure outlandishness somehow transcends its inherent limitations and becomes something amazing in its own right,” Luke explains. “I’ve always loved the idea of someone setting out to accomplish a specific aesthetic, and in failing, creating something even better than what they originally intended. “

Luke is nothing if not discerning. Not every cover can be “terribly awesome” – authentically “terrible” cover art won’t be posted. The bar is quite high. “My process is actually pretty rigorous,” he says. “Is the cover eye catching? Is it doing something (either accidentally or by design) that subverts normal expectations of what’s considered ‘good’? Is the music interesting enough to warrant a reexamination of the artist? When I post a completely ridiculous cover and the comment section is filled with people talking about how fantastic the music actually is, I know I’ve struck the right balance. The ‘terribly awesome’ cover is a magical blend  — a unicorn in a forest of banality. 

“I am not making fun of the covers/artists (though, admittedly, it is often a component), I’m celebrating them. I genuinely love all of the covers I post.”

The first cover he posted was Kenny Loggins’ 1979 album Keep the Fire, its most well-known single, the Grammy-winning “This Is It,” which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The cover features a bearded, messiah-like, thirty-something Loggins, holding a glowing orb in his outstretched hands. “It represents the best of what I think the ‘terribly awesome’ aesthetic has to offer,” Luke says. “Kenny is still my profile picture and will always be the patron saint of TAC.” 

Luke invites everyone to head over to Instagram and join his group of “hilarious and well-informed” followers – or submit a cover for consideration. For now, have a peruse of some of the tastiest of the terribly awesome in the list below.


Concerned Party No. 1, Captain Sky

“The perfect solution to superhero fatigue.” 

Yeti, The Yetians

“Believe it or not, he was only the third hairiest guy in the ‘70s music scene.” 

I Wanta Sing, George Jones

“Putting his name on the side of the bus was probably a bit unnecessary.” 

Slingshot, Michael Henderson

“If it’s cool enough for a jacket, it’s probably too cold for a speedo.” 

Getting Down To Business, Gary

“When their office is a phone booth, you know you’re dealing with a pro. Fun fact: Gary’s actually a doctor now.”

Bubbling Over, Dolly Parton

“It’s said the human body is around 60% water. For Dolly, it looks like more around 95%.” 

Fire Down Under, Riot

“There are no shortage of iconic heavy metal band mascots, but for my money, Riot’s The Mighty Tior is the best. Nothing says metal like a white, fuzzy seal.” 

Big Fun,

“Speaking of marine mammals, 70s SeaWorld was out of control.” 

Ride a Rock Horse, Roger Daltrey

“Riding an animal on your album cover: Cool. Becoming an animal: Terribly awesome.”

Cosmic Curves, Dee D. Jackson

“If you can’t shoot starlight from your sequined fingertips can you even call yourself Space Disco?” 

“Live” On Tour In Europe, The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band

“You’ll think never of the phrase ‘jazz hands’ the same way again.” 

Keep the Fire, Kenny Loggins

“Here it is: terribly awesome perfection. When I’m at a loss for what direction to take the page in, I convene with the Kenny and his glowing oracle. He’s never steered me wrong.”