Controversy and music have always gone together hand in hand. Especially in the genre of Rock ‘n Roll, there has always been this prevailing attitude that rockers are given a free pass when it comes to scandal. They’re expected to be free-thinking artists who push the boundaries of what’s deemed to be societally acceptable. Rockers are provocative, lewd, and often over-the-top both in their art and in their personal lives.
Nowhere has this been more apparent then in the realm of controversial album covers. When Rob Reiner made his 1987 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, a film which was all about the wild life and times of a stadium rock group, he made sure to reference society’s love affair with boundary-pushing album art.
During an interview about their latest album Smell The Glove, Spinal Tap had to justify why they included on it’s cover a depiction of an oiled up naked woman on all fours being led by a man with a leash who was forcing a glove into her face to sniff it.
In the film a journalist asked the band if they found that image to be offensive or sexist, to which they basically chalked it up to being artistic expression.
Be it objectifying depictions of women, gratuitous violence, or occult imagery, it’s clear that many album covers were intentionally designed to challenge the bourgeois social mores held by the masses. Many of the most controversial album covers of all time have been the subject of much criticism by conservative, middle-class critics – and isn’t that really precisely what the bands were intending?
Keep watching tom hear what album covers we think are the most controversial of all time. So grab a snack and get comfortable because this is about to be one wild ride.
Yesterday and Today – The Beatles
The Fab four often liked to step over the line for the sake of marketing.
In June of 1966, The Beatles released their album Yesterday and Today in North America. While not exactly a full-fledged album in the traditional sense, this studio release including tracks from Help!, Revolver and Rubber Soul.
The first copies of the record to hit stores featured a now-infamous photo of the cheeky chaps from Liverpool wearing white dresses and holding the disembodied body parts of toy dolls and cuts of raw meat.
After the album art was met with broad backlash, Capital Records proceeded to recall 750,000 copies of the record deeming it too provocative for the American and Canadian market.
A lot of folks assumed that the art was meant to be a protest against the ongoing war in Vietnam while others merely dismissed it as being a bit of harmless fun.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
The original UK release of Hendrix’s landmark chart-topping, psychedelic rock album featured a bit of liner art that depicted 19 nude women. Apparently it was too risque for even Jimi because upon his request it was changed in future cuttings.
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John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Two Virgins
The cover photo of John and Yoko’s avant-garde 1968 classic was taken with a time-delay camera that allowed the two musical stars to capture a snapshot of themselves in the nude.
Not surprisingly, the end result provoked widespread outrage. The cover art was so controversial that distributors opted to sell the record in plain brown paper cover. Only 5,000 copies of the album were ever pressed in the United Kingdom.
Guns N’Roses – Appetite For Destruction
GNR were accused of misogyny upon the release of their debut album which featured a painting of a robot who appeared to be attacking a woman. The painting in question which incidentally was also titled Appetite for Destruction was painted by artist Robert Williams in the mid-70s. Later pressing of the album replaced the image with the Guns N’ Roses logo we’re all familiar with.
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
Easily offended people weren’t too keen on the depiction of testicles sported by the half-Bowie half-dog hybrid featured on the cover of this album. The artwork was painted by Belgian artist Guy Peellart who thought it was ridiculous that people would take issue with such a minor thing. Fearing backlash, early editions of the album featured artwork where the offending gonads were airbrushed out.
The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
The Rolling Stones’ record label flipped out when they saw the sleave art that was intended to be used for the band’s 1968 album Beggars Banquet. The image depicted a horrendously dirty toilet wall featuring loads of graffiti. The photo was taken at a car dealership somewhere in the LA area.
The album ended up getting delayed for weeks before being released in a plain sleeve that appeared to be a parody of a party invite. The original cover that the band intended was later used when the album was released on CD in the 80s.
Nirvana – Nevermind
Kurt Cobain and companies groundbreaking grunge album Nevermind featured a photo of a three-month old naked baby swimming in a pool while chasing a dollar bill on a string. Because the cover featured the pint-sized model’s genitalia, the band’s record label Geffen wanted to censor it.
The only thing that Cobain was willing to let the label do was cover up the offending portion of the cover with a sticker bearing the words ‘if you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile’.
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
This album cover was offensive by 1969s standards. Today, it would probably considered to be illegal.
As the story goes, when Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood were trying to come up with a name for their new supergroup, they stumbled upon a controversial piece of artwork by artist Bob Seidermann bearing the name that the band would eventually become known as.
The piece depicts a naked female holding a model plane. While that alone isn’t too shocking by today’s standards, it’s only after learning that the model, Mariora Goschen, was only 11 years old when the photo being taken that you understand just how offensive this album cover really is. Why Clapton and Windwood ever thought this was a good idea remains a mystery.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Andy Warhol had a hand in the artwork that would come to be featured on the Stones 1971 album. Not only is the title of the album itself saturated in innuendo, but the close-up shot of a male crotch proved to be too much for some viewers.
The original vinyl even featured a working zipper. However, after retailers began complaining that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl while in transit, it was removed for future pressings.
Roxy Music – Country Life
Roxy Music’s fourth LP featured two scantily clad women models on it’s cover. One of these ladies was the cousin of guitarist Michael Karoli from the band Can. Not surprisingly, the cover art caused much outrage and ended up getting censored in a number of countries including the United States. Despite the controversy, the album still managed to break into the Top 40 of the Billboard Top 200 charts.
Scorpions: Virgin Killer
The fourth Long Play from German rock band Scorpions featured a photo of a nude 10-year old girl. Reportedly the band claimed that the image was supposed to depict time as being the killer of innocence.
After being met with moral outcry, the album ended up being sold in sealed black plastic wrap in many countries.
The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
What may very well be the most controversial British album cover of all time, the Sex Pistols lone LP caused chaos upon it’s release back in 1977. The album ended up at the center of an obscenity court case in the UK after the a record retailer in Nottingham was arrested for displaying the sleeve. The offending word that landed the album cover in hot water was “Bollocks” which for all of you American viewers is a term for testicles.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson hired an ace attorney named John Mortimer to defend the retailer and the charges were eventually dropped.
Dio – Holy Diver
This 1983 album by metal outfit Dio featured a sleeve that depicted the band’s demonic mascot, Murray, engulfed in waves while watching a chained up priest drowning to death. Frontman of the group, Jame Dio, argued however that looks can be deceiving and that it could very easily be that the priest was the one killing the devil.
The Mamas And The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears
Longtime viewers of this channel are probably aware how back in the day it was considered taboo to show a toilet on TV. Sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch wouldn’t even include a toilet in scenes that took place in the bathroom. Set designers simply didn’t even invest in one so as not to offend anyone.
So, while The Mamas and the Papas 1968 album cover might not seem offensive by today’s standards, it created some uproar upon it’s release. The cover shows the band sitting int a bathtub together adjacent to a toilet.
Retailers complained that the image was obscene leading to alternative versions of the album quickly being put out that featured text promoting the album’s singles where the toilet once sat.
Well there you have it – some of the most controversial album covers of all time!
Which album cover did you find most shocking, and can you think of any others that deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments.
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