Musicians have always tried to push the limits, not only of their music, but of what they can get way with their music album packaging. Below are some of the most censored music album covers in history.
1. The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’ (1966)
This is the original cover for the Mamas and the Papas’ debut album. All four band members crammed into a bathtub with Michelle Phillips stretched out over the other three. It was taken in an actual bathroom, so the photo included a toilet. This was taboo. The toilet was first obscured with a text box. It was later cropped out entirely.
2. The Beatles, ‘Yesterday and Today’ (1966)
Times have changed. This image of the Beatles in white smocks, posing with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls now seems like the mildest form of provocation. The original Fab Four may have been protesting the Vietnam War. Or they may have been complaining about how their American record company shuffled and repackaged their albums for the USA market. Or just British dark humor. But in the United States, the backlash against the cover was so strong, Capitol had to recall 750,000 copies and replace the image with an anodyne photo of the band around a steamer trunk.
3. Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968)
Toilets were still taboo in 1968. The Stones’ record company rejected the cover photo of a bathroom wall full of graffiti. They replaced it with a plain white cover with italic black print in the mode of a formal invitation. The album was delayed for months as a result, and the original art didn’t surface until the 80s.
4. Blind Faith, ‘Blind Faith’ (1969)
The Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood had no name for their supergroup until they saw this cover art for their album. Photographer Bob Seidemann called it “Blind Faith”, in which the cover shows an 11-year-old girl with her shirt off, her innocence in counterpoint to the technological toy in her hands. In the U.S., the image of a topless tween provoked outrage, so the record company also offered a version with a picture of the band.
5. Alice Cooper, ‘Love It to Death’ (1971)
Alice Cooper broke through with the third album, featuring “I’m Eighteen.” But they got flak for this juvenile stunt in the album photo, especially: Cooper wrapping his cape around him and poked his right thumb out. His entire right arm was later airbrushed out.
6. David Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974)
Bowie just looked freaky on this front cover. But it turned out to be half of a gatefold image by Belgian painter Guy Peellaert. The back cover revealed that Bowie had the body of a dog, complete with a prominent penis.
7. Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Street Survivors’ (1977)
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 5th studio album was released in 1977. Three days after the release, the band’s airplane crashed in Mississippi, killing three members, including leader Ronnie Van Zant. This made the cover photo above seemed in poor taste. The band didn’t change the Street Survivors title (which was problematic itself), but they did substitute a different photo of the band with a plain black background.
8. Funkadelic, ‘The Electric Spanking of War Babies’ (1981)
Warner Bros. didn’t want to release this Funkadelic record as a double album. It also wouldn’t approve the Pedro Bell cover art of a naked woman inside a phallic spaceship. So Bell covered most of it up with a big splash of green and wrote “OH LOOK! The cover that “THEY” were TOO SCARED to print!”
9. Spinal Tap, ‘Smell the Glove’ (1982)
The fictional This Is Spinal Tap, one of England’s loudest bands, has its album cover rejected by the record company and replaced with a plain black cover. The original vision? “A greased, naked woman on all four with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash and a man’s arm extended out up to here holding onto the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it.”
10. Roger Waters, ‘The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking’ (1984)
Old-school censorship for the first solo album by the former Pink Floydster: If people are offended by the rear view of a blonde hitching a ride, naked except for red shoes and a red backpack, then just slap a black box over her butt.
11. Guns N’ Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ (1987)
The album got its title from the Robert Williams painting that originally served as its cover: a robotic rapist about to get its comeuppance from a much larger robot predator. After complaints, the band replaced it with an image of its five members rendered as skull heads. The controversy could have been worse: Axl Rose originally wanted the cover to be a photo of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
12. Poison, ‘Open Up and Say… Ahh!’ (1988)
The original cover to Poison’s second album: a red-skinned female demon with big hair and an even bigger tongue. It was more odd than sexual or Satanic, but under pressure, the band changed it, covering up most of the image so you couldn’t see much more than the eyes.
13. Jane’s Addiction, ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’ (1990)
The iconic Ritual cover is a photograph of a diorama made by lead singer Perry Farrell, depicting him in the 3-way affair he sings about in “Three Days.” But the nudity, both male and female, made some retailers squeamish, so the band also provided a plain white cover adorned with the text of the First Amendment.
14. Tad, ‘8-Way Santa’ (1991)
The amazing cover for 8-Way Santa was found art: a photo from a thrift store of a beaming couple where a hirsute shirtless dude is copping one breast of his partner. Unfortunately, the couple wasn’t amused by the unauthorized use of their picture on the album: one had become a born-again Christian. They sued, and Sub Pop replaced the cover with a mundane picture of the band standing in front of cows.
15. Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ (1993)
The song “Rape Me” was too provocative for Walmart and K-Mart, which wouldn’t stock In Utero because of it. The title was too provocative — when the band changed it on the back cover to “Waif Me,” without changing the music, the album was approved for the stores’ racks.
16. Pantera, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ (1994)
What image did Pantera select for the cover of their seventh studio album to show their view of the modern world? Why, a drill penetrating an anus, of course. It was quickly replaced with a drill boring into a person’s forehead — savory only in comparison.
17. Van Halen, ‘Balance’ (1995)
This cover art — Photoshop-assisted conjoined twins on a teeter-totter — was just plain disturbing. Which is presumably what the band was aiming for, but enough people were weirded out that some territories offered a version with one twin airbrushed out.
18. Master P, ‘Ghetto D’ (1997)
The original title was Ghetto Dope, and the original cover featured a man smoking a crack pipe. To secure wider distribution, Master P truncated the title and concocted a new cover that was an ugly digital collage, heavy on the flames.
H/t: Rolling Stone