Vinyl records, LPs and CDs

Historic and Controversial Album Covers- part two
by Robert Benson 
posted on February 9, 2009

Historic and Controversial Album Covers- part two
In part one of our article series (one of three) about famous album cover art, we discussed a couple of iconic Beatles' album covers and some controversial album covers by other artists. Let’s continue our discussion with part two of our series.

The Rolling Stones make our list for their 1968 album called “Beggars Banquet.” It was the first cover not to feature a band photograph; instead the Stones’ decided to use a picture of an unsightly, filthy bathroom with graffiti-laced walls. The record label in the U.K. Decca and the U.S. label, London Records, both balked at the cover (it was considered to be in poor taste) and a bitter three-month legal battle began. The Rolling Stones lost the battle and the album was replaced with an elegant formal party invitation (but the cover was restored for CD pressings in the mid 80's).

Naughty “bathroom behavior” album cover first surfaced in 1966, when the “Mamas & the Papas” released their LP called “If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears.” The cover, a picture of the “flower power” quartet squeezed into an old bathtub next to a toilet, apparently received so many complaints that the record company Dunhill was compelled to rush out a replacement cover, with graphics that promoted the group’s hit singles blocking the offending toilet. They even went so far as to issue yet another cover, this time removing the toilet completely. The album covers with the picture of the toilet are worth considerably more than the ‘edited’ LP covers.

Middle fingers have always been taboo on album covers and the outrage began in 1957 when Capitol Records released an album by the doo wop group the “Five Keys.” An innocent cover, it pictured the vocal group posing together in snazzy suits. But it seems that lead singer Rudy West’s forefinger was imagined by some to be a specific part of the male anatomy. So a decision was made for subsequent issues to have the finger in question airbrushed out.

“Moby Grape’s” self-titled release in 1967, also had a finger of prominence displayed incorrectly, but the album cover was quickly airbrushed by Columbia Records.

A misplaced(?)finger/thumb caused another uproar in 1971 when Warner Brothers released “Alice Cooper’s” new album called “Love It To Death.” His “gesture” was not taken too well and was censored, the middle finger being airbrushed away. In fact, four different versions of the front cover exist, apparently in the picture his thumb could possibly be mistaken for a specific part of the male anatomy.

“David Bowie’s” cover art featuring a half-dog, half-Bowie figure (painted by Guy Peellaert) for his 1974 album called “Diamond Dogs,” caused quite a stir. Apparently, the record company RCA did not like the fact that the “Bowie-dog” was anatomically correct and had the offending appendage airbrushed out on subsequent releases.

Apparently, pulling bubble gum off of a woman’s exposed breast is a major crime, or at the very least, a reason to reissue an album cover. Or so that is what the German heavy metal band the “Scorpions” found out in 1979 with their album release called “Loverdrive.” The album cover features a man and a woman sitting in the backseat of a car, with the man removing the scandalous bubble gum from her breast. It was subsequently reissued with a black cover with a blue scorpion on it (thankfully the scorpion was fully-clothed). The band had another album “Virgin Killer” cover nixed because of a nude cover of a young girl.

In 1994, scandal found the rock group called the “Black Crowes,” because their album cover “Amorica” showed pubic hair from a Hustler magazine photograph. The close-up of a woman’s “mid-section” in a bikini, apparently exhibits too much hair, and made the public uncomfortable. Pressured by powerful conservative retail chains, the record company Universal had to reissue an alternative cover, just a bikini over a black background (sans the offending hair).

Hard rock band Guns N' Roses debut studio album, “Appetite for Destruction” also caused a bit of a stir. The LP was released in 1987 and it was well received by critics and topped the American Billboard 200 chart.

The original cover for “Appetite for Destruction” is based on a Robert Williams’ painting and featured an opened-shirt woman, who was clearly in the act of being raped by a robot rapist, who was about to be a crushed by a metal avenger. When every music video program refused to play any music videos because of the cover and after several major music retailers refused to stock the album, the band compromised and put the controversial cover art inside; replacing it with a cover depicting a cross and skulls of the five original band members (designed by Billy White Jr., originally as a tattoo), each skull representing one member of the band: Izzy Stradlin, top skull; Steven Adler, left skull; Axl Rose, center skull; Duff McKagan, right skull; and Slash, bottom skull. The photographs used for the back of the album and liner notes were taken by Robert John. The cover was supposed to be on the 2008 re-pressing of the vinyl, though the record label replaced it with the skulls cover at the last minute.

Heavy metal rockers Dio ran into some trouble with their 1983 release “Holy Diver.” The original cover offended churches because it looks as if the monster on the album was killing a Roman Catholic priest. Whoops.

In our third part of our series about controversial album cover art, we will again turn our focus to offensive album covers.

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