Change it, ban it, cover it up. Here are a few album covers from the 60s and 70s, that were either pulled from release to swap out the cover art or simply placed in a plain wrapper and hidden under the sales counter, only available upon request. Most of these are in my collection, and all are infamous in their own way. It usually comes down to nudity, although the Beatles, once again ahead of everyone else in 1966, chose to use an image that in their minds, was a metaphor to protest the war in VietNam.
One noted omission is Spinal Tap’s, Smell the Glove (1982). The original cover image was not available at the time of this posting. The final released cover is shown at the end of this post .*
The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet 1968: Both UK Decca and the U.S London record companies refused to release the filthy bathroom cover. The Stones held their ground for awhile, causing a several month delay for the record to come out. The simple Invitation/RSVP cover finally appeared on it’s release just before the holiday season.
The Beatles Yesterday and Today, 1966: The photo on the original cover was from a conceptual art series photographed by Robert Whitaker in 1966. Although the image was not originally intended for an album cover, Paul McCartney insisted it be used on this American collection that included singles and tracks left off of the American releases of Help, Rubber Soul and the upcoming Revolver. Capitol Records in the US, continually released slightly different versions of their sister UK releases, usually deleting a couple of tracks and packing in the hit singles that were never included on the original British counterparts. Yesterday and Today was simply a mix of orphaned tracks, but another huge American seller. McCartney referred to the cover image as “our comment on war“, with the Beatles smiling amongst the carnage of death. Their stab at black humour. After a few advance copies were sent to radio stations, reviewers and retailers, the outrage caused Capitol to pull all of the copies and splash the trunk photo over the offending cover image. A collectors item was born.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors, 1977: I was managing a record store in San Francisco in late 1977, when we received several boxes of this latest Lynryd Skynyrd album. There was some big promotion for it, so we placed about fifty copies on several long shelves that scaled up a wall about fifteen feet high. You could see the multiple images of the band, standing in-between the fiery flames from anywhere in the store. A few days later, the band’s chartered airplane crashed, killing three of it’s members and injuring the others. You might say this album cover all of a sudden was in bad taste. MCA replaced the fire cover with a shot of the band standing in a spotlight. Of course we all took home copies of the original. Even though most of us were not huge fans of the group at the time.
Roxy Music Country Life, 1974: This was the very first Roxy Music Album I ever purchased. I can’t say that the cover had nothing to do with it, but after listening to the track, The Thrill of it All, I was hooked on this band and picked up all their earlier albums and every one after afterwards. I remember that Country Life had dark green semi-transparent shrink-wrap, that concealed all the goodies as some retailers wouldn’t carry it otherwise. At some point after its initial release, the cover was changes to just the bushes, sans girls.
Blind Faith, 1969: I bought this album the first week of its release at Tower Records near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I remember the two stacks of albums side but side, one with the girl and the other with that silly looking band photograph. I had to choose which one, and after what seemed like a very long time, I chose the band shot. I was young and living home with my parents. They were cool, but I didn’t want to go there at that time. The album cover with the girl had no copy whatsoever and was controversial on a number of levels. First and foremost, was the nude photo of the young, 11 year old girl, taken by Bob Seidemann with the girl’s parent’s permission of course. The other controversy was her holding the phallic-life rocket ship designed by art student and jeweler, Mick Milligan. Once I moved out from my parents and worked in a record store, I purchased a UK edition with the other cover. The cover photograph became Siedemann’s most famous and controversial work.
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, 1968: Although this album came out in 1968, I didn’t buy it until the following year. Not sure why, but I guess it just wasn’t on my radar. I did have the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, but for some reason had skipped his second one, Axis Bold As Love. But when I heard his version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, I knew I’d have to have it. When I went to record store, I picked up the regular American release with the red close-up of Jimi’s face. I took it to the counter and the clerk asked me if I wanted the other version. The better version. The imported version. The…naked version. I didn’t know what that was and so he pulled it out from under the counter. As I stared at the front and back continuous image, he told me that the UK Polydor edition was a much better pressing and well worth the extra few bucks. And of course, there was… that cover. So I thought for about three seconds, and then bought it. It’s still one of my all time favorite albums. I heard many years later that it was not Hendrix’s cover choice, but created independently by the Polydor Records art department in the UK.
David Bowie Diamond Dogs, 1974. This was Bowies’ post-apocalyptic themed album containing the intense half-man half-dog painting by the Belgian artist, Guy Peellaert. The original cover painting showed the grotesque creature’s genatalia, but was quickly airbrushed out and only few of the original copies ever got out, making it one of the rarest albums ever. Around the same time that Diamond Dogs was released, I had purchased Peellaert’s book called Rock Dreams, which included surreal writings by rock journalist, Nik Cohn along with a stunning series of paintings of rock and R&B musicians in fantasy settings. The book was a huge seller and Peellaert then designed the Rolling Stones, It’s Only Rock and Roll album cover along other rock albums and a series of film posters.
John & Yoko Unfinished Music No. 1. Two Virgins, 1968: OK where do I begin with this one…? This was one album I was waiting for. A John Lennon solo album at the end of 1968, right around the same time as the Beatles White Album was released. There had never been a true solo album released by any Beatle at that time, aside from the Wonderwall soundtrack by George Harrison released one week earlier. When I heard that Lennon was putting out his own album, I was so excited. I knew very little about experimental or conceptual art at the time and the avant-garde had just come into my radar that year, but I still was not prepared for what I was about to see and hear.
I hurried to the record store after school on the day if its release. I perused the bins and looked on the new release wall racks to find nothing. How could the new John Lennon album not be displayed? I finally went over to the clerk as asked about it. “Are you sure you want it? Are you really sure”? he replied. Of course I wanted it! So he pulled out a couple of copies from under the counter for me and my friend. The album was wrapped in a brown paper bag-like sleeve with a printed oval photo showing only the heads of John and Yoko. It was a faux cut-away, a preview of what was to be seen inside. The back had some words from the book of Genesis : The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Now this should have been a clue. We paid up, rushed home and pulled the real cover out from the brown outer sleeve. WOAH!
Shock and awe! Well it wasn’t exactly a heavily retouched Playboy centerfold, but more like Adam and Eve it all their pure full-frontal glory. The front and back images were taken by the couple themselves with a camera timer at Ringo Starr’s Montague Square apartment where they were staying at the time. As for the music, or should I say the ongoing montage of tape-loops, musical instrument sounds, amplifier distortion and reverb, chanting and conversations between the two artists. It went on and on and on. I remember picking up the phonograph needle and moving it forward, waiting for a song to start. A song that never happened. It was like listening to a couple though the walls of a cheap motel. I turned the record over, hoping that the tunes would be there, but it was just more of the same. I had never heard anything like it. Ever. It was my first introduction to the conceptual performance art that Yoko had been working on for many years with the Fluxus movement, and sounds that I would later discover with the works of John Cage. Something I was not ready for at the end of 1968. This was something Beatles fans were not ready for.
Two Virgins was released by Tettragrammaton in the U.S and Track Records in the U.K. since Capitol and EMI refused to release it because of the cover. Many copies of the album were confiscated for being obscene, but the controversy still didn’t help record sales. Lennon commented that the uproar seemed to have less to do with the explicit nudity, and more to do with the fact that the pair were rather unattractive (and the photo unflattering; Lennon described it later as a picture of “two slightly overweight ex-junkies”). And then, only five months later, there was Unfinished Music No. 2 Life with the Lions. But that’s another story…
Spinal Tap Smell the Glove, 1982: Also known as the Black Album after Polymer Records bowed to demands from retailers such as Sears and K Mart to block out the “sexist” cover. The original cover depicted, in the words of Polymer rep Bobbi Flekman, a “greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash and a man’s arm extended out up to her holding on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it.” The original cover image was not available at the time of this posting. The eventual cover (shown below) was much more tasteful.