As I wrote here last year, one of my early musical influences was dub reggae and I cited the very specific moment I can remember first hearing it. Many of the sleeves of the reggae records/CDs I've collected in the last 40 years have never really done the music justice. Some rereleases have managed to address this with the opportunity to completely overhaul the visuals of many important records. The Blood and Fire rereleases designed by London's Intro in the mid 1990s were very good, with a particularly excellent repackaging of the Congos' Heart of the Congo. The original sleeve (a photo of the band playing some congos, not exactly taxing the imagination, is it?) can be seen centred, in homage, in an elaborate 3D collage of found material and different collages representative of each track title adorn the accompanying booklet.
The Congos' Heart Of The Congo, rereleased on Blood and Fire.
Lots of the original Jamaican sleeves are bizarre, often over egging an idea with very staged photo shoots. Many feature cliché ridden embellished drawings and there is an unintended high 'cheese' element apparent on numerous releases. Despite this, I have come to love these sleeves, particularly the ones that are just outright funny and have a more natural, carefree feel. An excellent example of this can be seen in the infamous Dr Alimantado's Best Dressed Chicken in Town. A fantastic LP and a great sleeve.
I mean, come on, do your flies up man!
With all this in mind, I've just read a great article on crestock.com's blog analyzing the design of 42 reggae album covers. Despite the author's dissing of dub and the fact he has never listened to Linton Kwesi Johnson, it's well worth a read and has two links to reggae sleeve flickr sets, here and here.