British supermarkets have seen fit to remove copies of the Manic Street Preachers' new album Journal For Plague Lovers from their aisles on the grounds that its cover--a relatively innocuous Jenny Saville painting of an adolescent boy with a slightly livid hooter--may upset the apparently delicate sensibilities of trolley-trundling shoppers.
It will now be repackaged in a Spinal Tap-like plain black sleeve. While this action is proof positive that supermarkets are singularly inappropriate places in which to sell "art" (hey checkout barons, why not stick to selling things we can eat and clean our homes with and leave album retail to those remaining specialist record shops your "pile-'em-high" discounting has yet to put out of business?), it's also just the latest chapter in an often inglorious history of sleeve art censorship.
The Beatles' album Yesterday And Today remains arguably the most infamous example of record cover expurgation. Released by Capitol in 1966, the LP originally featured a Robert Whitaker photo portrait of the group sporting bloodied butcher smocks swathed in dripping red meat and detached doll parts (something Paul McCartney later described as, "our comment on the [Vietnam] war"). The image so traumatized craven Midwest record dealers, however, that Capitol were obliged to replace the offending sleeve with a banal photo of the band sitting meekly atop an empty shipping trunk.
While mock butchery was too much for certain '60s sensitivities, intimations of paedophilia were apparently less contentious. The cover of Rod Stewart's 1969 solo debut An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down depicts the singer clad in the titular "dirty old man"'s garment shamelessly pursuing a little girl (it appeared, in a less risqué sleeve, as The Rod Stewart Album in the US). In contrast, the bevy of sprawling, topless women on the gatefold sleeve of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Electric Ladyland were deemed unconscionable even in swinging 1968, despite the women hiding their modesty with strategically placed photos of the iconic guitarist. Equally shirtless, the model on the cover of British supergroup Blind Faith's eponymous 1969 album featured a barely pubescent schoolgirl brandishing a phallic model spacecraft. Tuts of disapproval from the British shires and a US embargo ensued.
American prudishness would see the deletion of more semi-naked female cover stars--including the scantily-clad duo that graced the sleeve of Roxy Music's 1974 LP Country Life (leaving a desultory image of the undergrowth from which they had emerged). Cross-dressing, meanwhile--specifically the image of a supine David Bowie sporting an elegant woman's gown on the original, subsequently replaced, cover of his The Man Who Sold The World LP--had proved too much even for the relatively permissive Britain of 1970.
The original, swiftly censored, sleeves of German metal combo Scorpions' 1976 LP Virgin Killer (yet another naked, pre-adolescent girl, this time with cracked glass semi-obscuring her vitals) and Guns N' Roses' 1987 debut Appetite For Destruction (a crude cartoon of robotic rape), meanwhile, might each have been prohibited on grounds of abject literalism, let alone puerile tastelessness.
Controversy of a different stripe surrounded the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks..., an album whose mischievous title looked odds on to attract a ban until an infamous 1977 court case corroborated the Anglo-Saxon legitimacy of the word "Bollocks." Released in the same month, Lynyrd Skynyrd's inopportune Street Survivors (issued in a flame-emblazoned sleeve just days after three band members perished in a plane crash and sometime before their label thought better of it) and Oakland rappers The Coup's Party Music (set for release in September 2001, its cover depicting an exploding World Trade Center) at least proved that withdrawing a record sleeve is not always a bad idea.