In the sanitized world of Walmart and iTunes, you’ll never see album cover images that are even remotely offensive. But it wasn’t always that way. The storied histories of rock and metal are filled with episodes in which sordid album art made its way out of record company art departments and onto store shelves, where it caused an outcry until the record company repackaged the album in a more shopper-friendly guise. Ah, those were the days...
Join Guitar World as we take a look at 20 of the most shocking banned album covers of all time.
Alice Cooper - Love It to Death (1971)
The original artwork for Alice Cooper's Love It to Death featured the front man engaged in the classic prank of poking his thumb through the fly of his pants. For the revised sleeve, Alice's main "member" was airbrushed out.
The Beatles - Yesterday and Today (1966)
Meat the Beatles. For their 1966 album, Yesterday and Today, the Beatles presented themselves as grinning butchers, complete with raw beef and dismembered baby dolls. The image didn't jive with the Fab Four's squeaky clean public image (or anyone's public image, for that matter). Upon receiving advance copies, radio DJs (always arbiters of good taste) were outraged, and Capitol Records quickly repackaged the record with what was apparently the only image of the band it had available.
The Black Crowes - Amorica (1994)
The cover image of the Black Crowes third album, Amorica, featured a closeup shot of a woman wearing a U.S. flag bikini that was brimming with pubic hair. But after some commotion, the record company blacked out the offending elements and reissued it. Who’d have thought an image from Hustler’s 1976 U.S. Bicentennial issue would’ve cause so much controversy?
Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)
Featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Family’s Ric Grech and Cream’s Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, Blind Faith are widely considered to be one of rock’s first super-groups. There's less agreement over whether the British version of their debut album—featuring a topless girl (Baker's daughter, according to some sources) holding a vaguely phallic airplane—was in good taste. The nays won out at the time, and the debut was repackaged in U.S. with the shopper-friendly band photo.
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet (1986)
Bon Jovi's third album, Slippery When Wet, was so popular that it secured the band's position as one of the most successful hair metal acts of the Eighties. What you may not know is that the wet, black abstract theme of the final cover was second choice. The first, rejected option was a buxom woman whose attributes were nearly bursting out of her Slippery When Wet T-shirt.
Bow Wow Wow - See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy! (1981)
Bow Wow Wow, the English no-wave band put together by Sex Pistols' Svengali Malcolm McLaren, featured teenage frontwoman Annabella Lwin. Controversy arose when, for their 1981 album See Jungle!, the then-15-year-old Lwin was posed as the nude woman in a recreation of Manet's famous painting The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe).
David Bowie - Diamond Dogs (1974)
Shifting away from his alien Ziggy Stardust image, David Bowie took the form of a half-man, half-dog for the gatefold cover of Diamond Dogs. To some people's dismay, when the original cover was unfolded the dog's anatomy was featured in all its glory. To Bowie-dog's dismay, the troublesome bits were excised in the revised cover. Nuts.
Great White - Hooked (1991)
For their fifth full-length, Hooked, the consummate gentlemen in Great White chose a design of a naked woman straddling a large hook being hoisted from the sea. Following objections, the cover was reprinted so that the model and hook were partially submerged in the ocean. Well played, sirs.
Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Welcome to the bungle. When retailers took exception to the robot rapist scene on the original cover of GN’R’s Appetite for Destruction, the band opted to go with the far more tasteful, and now-classic, cross-and-skulls design.
Hurricane - Slave to the Thrill (1990)
The enigmatic cover art for Hurricane’s third album featured a naked woman sitting on a biomechanical, H.R. Geiger–style machine seat/penetrator. This unnerved enough people for Hurricane to remove the woman altogether from the scene in all additional pressings.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (1968)
For this classic double-album, Hendrix originally wanted his label, Reprise, to use a photo of his band surrounded by children in front of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in NY’s Central Park. The label didn’t go for it, and pressed the album with a blurry red-and-yellow shot of Hendrix instead. A third version also went to print that U.S. audiences didn’t see. Released in the U.K. and Germany, it featured a harem of naked women.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (1968)
Is it really surprising that no one wanted to look at two naked, hairy hippies, even if one (guess who) ranks among the best songwriters of all time?
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Street Survivors (1977)
Three days after this album’s October 20, 1977, release, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed en route to Baton Rouge, LA. The accident claimed the lives of the pilot, copilot, Skynyrd’s assistant road manager and three band members: singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines. Out of respect for the survivors and the victims' families, the original cover image—featuring the band in a ring of fire—was replaced with a respectful, though funereal, band image.
Mama Lion - Preserve Wildlife (1972)
The wildcard of our list, Mama Lion’s Preserve Wildlife cover featured the singer nursing a lion cub. In a move to prevent confusion, as much as objection, the final version of the album was issued with a cutaway cover that obscured the cub-to-jug action.
Pantera - Far Beyond Driven (1994)
The original art for this groove metal gem included an anus being impaled by a drill bit. After the album was banned under new censorship laws, Dime & Co. went with the now-classic skull-impaled-by-drill bit motif. Perhaps that was just their way of telling the government it had its head up its a--.
Poison - Open Up and Say...Ahh! (1988)
This glam-metal album boasted a cover with a female demon sticking out a massive Gene Simmons-style tongue. After much fuss from church and parental groups, the black bars were added to hide the offensive tongue. (Unfortunately, Simmons was spared the same treatment.)
Roger Waters - The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984)
Roger Waters’ solo concept album about a man’s midlife crisis went to press with a cover that featured a rear shot of a female hitchhiker, wearing nothing but a red backpack and high-heels. This impractical travel wear didn’t win points with censors, and subsequent pressings received black bars over the woman’s backside.
Roxy Music - Country Life (1974)
The title of British glam rockers Roxy Music’s fourth album, Country Life, was reportedly taken from a U.K. rural lifestyle mag of the same name. It’s not confirmed whether the magazine also featured see-through lingerie-clad models, like the pair shown on the album. Of course, the cover offended the moral majority in the U.S. at the time, and the album was repackaged to appease them.
Scorpions - Lovedrive (1979)
Already familiar with cover art controversy (see following entry), German heavy metal act Scorpions once again got the censors' attention with the cover of their 1979 album Lovedrive, which featured a formally dressed couple in a pose where the man’s hand was connected to the women’s exposed breast by a wad of bubble gum. ("Sticky Fingers" might have been a more appropriate title.)
Scorpions - Virgin Killer (1976)
The original uber-controversial cover of Scorpions 1976’s Virgin Killer—featuring a nude girl partially obscured by shattered glass (which is censored below)—garnered immediate and justified protest from, well, everyone. The band pointed to label executives for the misguided art direction and was pleased when the album was reprinted with a band photo instead. Good call.