You can't judge a book by its cover? Sure you can! Really lame folk music always comes with an album cover that perfectly reflects the corniness within. Generic metal bands always manage some endless variation of an unreadable logo matched with bloody, "scary" imagery that isn't shocking to a junior high schooler. Metallica are banking on plain ugly!
Throughout rock history, controversy has helped sell records. And the easiest way to drum up controversy is by putting something on the album cover that you know is going to cause people to complain. It's cheaper and more prevalent than making an incendiary video that potentially no one will ever see. Or paying for advertising.
What's amazing is how few controversial album covers there have been, considering how many millions of albums have been released. The most controversial ones are often by bands that no one--besides a band's loyal cult following--has ever heard of. Therefore, the mainstream just ignores it. As long as it's not in MY backyard, it doesn't matter, seems to be the prevailing logic.
But once the kids start bringing home Appetite For Destruction in large quantities throughout suburbia, watch out!
A lot of these "controversial" album covers seem pretty harmless these days. But to think that including a toilet on your album cover was once deemed offensive is pretty quaint when you consider how often we're treated to herpes commercials on TV today. Not to mention all those promos for "soft rock" and "power ballads" collections that have done more to destroy the "moral fabric" of our country than a thousand middle-fingers airbrushed to oblivion.
That said, we here Yahoo! did apply a standard. There were a few album covers--the Scorpions' Virgin Killer and a band called Mayhem--that we deemed too offensive for our beloved audience. It's a tricky decision. But one where he had to decide that even we didn't want to have to look at it.
Lovesexy--Prince: Not everyone wants to look at a naked Prince. Some people would rather look at a paper bag.Street Survivors--Lynyrd Skynyrd: Not so much controversial as bad karma, since the flames surrounding the band only served to remind everyone that they soon lost several members to a plane crash.
Achtung Baby--U2: Adam Clayton posed naked on the back cover and they eventually put an X over the "offending" spot. I'm all for artistic expression, but why do so many people want us to see them naked?Nevermind--Nirvana: Personally, I don't think it's the little kid's genitalia that's offensive, so much as the kid's clamoring for the almighty dollar. What are parents teaching their kids? You want to negotiate these things. You want points. You want a percentage! Not just some stupid dollar. Hefty Fine--Bloodhound Gang: Talk about a Man in a Box. From the looks of it, the model wasn't paid enough to do this. He doesn't look very happy. Do you think this improved his dating life? Could it? This guy's really out there somewhere, probably selling shoes. Did he do this to pay for an operation for his sister? To help bail his parents out of debt? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. There must be some unusual beholders out there. Love It To Death--Alice Cooper: What is it about the middle finger that causes so much trouble when it's extended? I just see it as another way of people saying hello. Isn't that what they're saying?
Moby Grape--Moby Grape: Moby Grape never became the huge success expected of them. When your marketing plan includes releasing five singles all at once so radio programmers don't know what to push and everyone's hearing something different, you've got a problem not even the folks at Sterling Cooper can fix. Don Stevenson, one of the Grape's four members who wasn't Skip Spence, was giving the middle finger from his washboard on initial pressings of the album. The record company sensibly airbrushed it out of subsequent printings, as America's moral status hung in the balance.If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears--The Mamas And The Papas: Not only did the foursome pose in a bathtub but they had the nerve to leave the toilet in the shot for "realism." Was the bowl empty? Who knows? The record company quickly put a little sign over it letting us know what hits the album had in store for us. In a rare moment of honest advertising, the songs listed were actually hits and not some manager's wishful thinking.
Beggar's Banquet--The Rolling Stones: This album's release was held up because the Rolling Stones wanted an old toilet on the cover and the record company said no. The Stones were always courting controversy. It was their gestalt. Yet the record company had its limits and eventually won out with a white cover with just the name of the band and the album title made to look like a bland wedding invitation. Of course, by the time CD reissues were happening two decades later, the original album cover was then allowed and whatever "cutting edge" properties the cover possessed had been effectively blunted by years of people coming up with album covers considered to be much worse.The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking--Roger Waters: Once the other guys in Pink Floyd finally got tired of being Roger Waters' back-up group, Waters was sent packing to go solo and try out his tuneless wonders on a crack band of session musicians. Always big on "concept," Waters put together an album about, I guess, hitchhiking. As one of six people who enjoyed The Final Cut, I must admit I never quite grasped (i.e. listened to) this Hitchhiking saga. I tried. But like trying to eat cardboard, it wouldn't go down. The original cover, however, did include an illustration of a woman's bare butt, which soon had a black box over it--to save civilization (natch).
Dark Side Of The Spoon--Ministry: It wasn't the allusion to heroin in the title or the presence of a naked obese person on the cover, but the dunce cap that encouraged retailers to refuse this Ministry album. Some took it not as a dunce cap, but as a Klan hat. I guess you could infer that the kid writing on the blackboard was naked because his robe was in the wash, but I still think it's a dunce cap.Waking And Dreaming--Orleans: OK, so what is the guy in the middle looking down at? And is he smiling? The guy he's apparently looking at seems to be pretty impressed with himself. Supposedly, they all have jeans on below the crop. But this album turned me against group showers for life.
Tin Machine II--Tin Machine: Sure, the frontal nudity may have offended people who don't like looking at such things, but most David Bowie fans were more annoyed by the stiff, robotic, uninspired music contained within. The cover was, arguably, the highlight.Country Life--Roxy Music: Rock musicians live such a charmed life that they often forget that the rest of society is trying to pretend these rock stars aren't as lucky as they are. Sex, drugs and rock n' roll really do beat working for a living. Unless you're a masochist. And naked girls seem to be one of the perks of the rock life. So, of course, the band would want you to see this instead of some boring old grass. I don't think people were really so much offended as just plain jealous.
Lovedrive--Scorpions: Nothing worse than getting your gum stuck on your date's breast. That's a pretty awkward moment. It's as if the Scorpions were auditioning for the part of Spinal Tap.
Diamond Dogs--David Bowie: Dogs love their private parts. Just watch them expose them. Just watch them clean them. Just watch them use them. But when a person decides to become a canine, he must bear adult responsibility for his actions. And, therefore, David Bowie was forced to sacrifice his artistic ideals to appease the canine-sensitive members of his audience and cover up his doggie parts.Ritual De Lo Habitual--Jane's Addiction: Two covers for this one. One with the first amendment, the other with nude artwork by Perry Farrell. By this point in time, bands kinda knew when they were screwing themselves, so what better way to have it both ways than to offer people options? If retailers don't want to see frontal nudity, then they can read a bunch of legalese. Oddly, the music inside still sounds the same.
Electric Ladyland--Jimi Hendrix: Jimi Hendrix liked women. He named his recording studio Electric Lady and his third studio album Electric Ladyland. To honor the album's title, someone (not Hendrix, who reportedly did not like the cover) put naked women on the cover of the British pressing. You can't put naked women on the cover of an album that is mostly going to be bought by impressionable young men. They might get the right idea. And then they might dodge the draft and do drugs and use the cardboard gatefold sleeve for unpure purposes. It's a slippery slope, this morality.Amorica--The Black Crowes: Pubic Hair is a touchy subject. Like children, it should be seen and not heard, or rather it should be waxed and not seen. In any case, get out your airbrushes kids or your copy of photoshop, there's a job that needs to be done. It is true that some people--like me--should never wear a bikini. Some of us respect that.
Back To The S**t--Millie Jackson: "Muffle That Fart," one of the album's illustrious tracks, was once an option on a jukebox in a local diner. It got me to part with a few quarters. How could it not?Appetite For Destruction--Guns n' Roses: It's a bit shocking, I know, to think that a wholesome, fun-lovin' group such as L.A.'s Guns n' Roses would choose album art that some might find offensive. The artist Robert Williams was already well-known in art circles and as long as Guns n' Roses were some struggling young glam metal band, no one really cared what they put on their album covers. But once it was apparent that G n' R would likely become a major cultural force destined to take over the minds and wallets of young America, if music retailers would stock the album, it was time to remove the raped and battered woman from the album's cover before the rest of society became infected like TB.
Yesterday And Today--The Beatles: The Beatles were pretty tame by today's standards. But they had such an effective hold on the youth of the day and were so central to the culture that anything they did brought heavy scrutiny. So to appear in butcher smocks with bloody meat and decapitated baby dolls on an album cover was likely to cause a few people to be "not pleased" with them. Being the Beatles, they were, of course, smiling and looking like it was all one big joke. Which, of course, it was. But this was 1966 and people were still wearing suits to attend baseball games, you think they were going to put up with this?Unfinished Music, Vol. One: Two Virgins--John Lennon And Yoko Ono: I suppose they had to figure out some way to interest people into listening to these experiments in sound and if it took standing naked on the album cover then that was what it was going to take. Obscene? Well, it's not the most attractive cover photo I've seen. In these days where every pimple is airbrushed, the honesty and integrity of the cover shot is to be respected. But when I reach for a Lennon album, this isn't the one that comes to mind.
Blind Faith--Blind Faith: This is still a touchy subject because we're talking about kids and the age of consent, and if you've noticed a lot of old school rockers, who used to sing about having relations with underage girls now move their ages upwards of 18 and 19, instead of 15, 16. Then, you're probably not surprised to hear that a lot of people didn't think the idea of putting a barely pubescent girl with her top off was a good idea for an album cover even if the album did include Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton. They might've been a super group, but they still had to use some common sense.