Music and controversy seem to go hand in hand. Not a day goes by where musicians aren’t targeted by groups who deem their music to be offensive, but often this is restricted to the lyrical content (and typically the metal and rap genres). It is not just the lyrics that have caused shock, however, as often the album art has been deemed inappropriate. Many of these covers end up being censored or places will refuse to stock them, and sometimes they are forced to be packed completely differently. Here are 10 covers which have caused a huge amount of controversy.
Note: Because our bosses would get mad at us if we actually posted photos containing these album covers, we have provided handy links for each one. They are mostly NSFW, so don’t get fired today by looking at them if you’re not supposed to!
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mother’s Milk
Released in 1989, RHCP’s fourth record, Mother’s Milk, was a major stepping stone in terms of their success. The album artwork upset some, however, with it showing the band sprawled across the arms of a much larger and naked woman. Although her nipples are concealed (one by a rose and the other by frontman Anthony Keidis), several stores were not happy with the level of female nudity that was on show and they refused to sell the album. This saw a more censored version be created where the band members covered up more of the woman, which appeased most retailers. It would not be the last time that the band caused controversy with their artwork, however, as 2002’s By The Way, their most famous album, featured Julian Schnabel’s painting of his daughter (John Frusciante’s then-girlfriend) topless with her eyes scratched out.
9. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
Whilst Ziggy Stardust is David Bowie’s most famous concept, he also created Diamond Dogs in 1974, which was a blend of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and his own glam-tinged post-apocalyptic world creation. Whilst it was a success and contains some of his most popular songs, the original cover was controversial and a change was quickly made. Originally the cover showed Bowie as half-man, half-dog (as a nod to the title of the album) in a painting by Guy Peellaert, and this included the hybrid’s genitalia. Few copies of this made it into circulation, and soon the genitalia was airbrushed out which is now the version that you will find. Seeing as the original is such a rarity, it is sought after by record collectors and they have been amongst the most expensive collectibles with some selling as high as thousands of dollars for a copy.
8. The Beatles – Yesterday and Today
With their 11th overall release, legendary rock act The Beatles caused plenty of controversy with the cover to 1966’s Yesterday and Today. The “butcher cover” shows them dressed in butcher’s smocks and covered with pieces of meat and body parts from plastic baby dolls. They originally submitted the photos as promotional materials in the UK, but the reaction was negative. Paul McCartney pushed for the photo to be used as the album cover (it was only issued in the USA and Canada), and 750,000 copies were printed. Immediately a backlash occurred, and it was very quickly recalled under orders from EMI with all copies being shipped back to the label. Therefore, this is a rare copy and one that many collectors are desperate to get hold of. The Beatles liked the photo, as it was a very big departure from the photo shoots that they had become so accustomed to.
7. The Strokes – Is This It
An album that forever changed indie rock and inspired countless acts that followed, The Strokes’ 2001 release Is This It also caused controversy through its album art. The striking image from Colin Lane shows a woman’s rear and hip in white, with her contrasting leather gloved hand resting on her hip. Lane stated that it was a spontaneous photo that he took when his girlfriend got out of the shower and he noticed a glove that was left by a stylist. Whilst many claim it to be one of the great modern album covers, it was criticized for being too sexually suggestive. British retail chains continued to stock the album despite the controversy, whereas in America it was banned and was replaced with an abstract and colorful design. Although some were offended, the album performed incredibly well and it is now deemed one of the most important post-millennial records to date.
6. Nirvana – Nevermind
Again one of the most famous and important albums of all time, Nirvana’s 1991 record Nevermind brought alternative rock and grunge into the mainstream and music has not been the same since. Despite its legacy, it is also a record that caused plenty of controversy too, as the album cover depicts a naked baby underwater with a U.S. dollar on a fishhook just out of reach. There was plenty of concern, but Kurt Cobain refused an alternative cover and stated the only compromise that he would make would be if a sticker was placed over the penis which read, “if you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” The idea of the baby underwater came to Cobain and Dave Grohl when they were watching a TV show about water births, but the stock footage was too graphic for the record label.
5. John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
In 1968, John Lennon and Yoko One released the result of an all night session of musical experimentation, and this was titled Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. The experimental, avant-garde and alternative content is also reflected in the cover, which shows the two of them naked in a white room, and on the back them naked from behind. The nudity caused some outrage, and EMI refused to distribute it. As a result, it was distributed by the Track (UK) and Tetragrammaton (U.S.) record labels in brown paper bags covered in Bible quotes from Genesis Chapter 2. Some authorities saw it as obscene and seized them, with around 30,000 copies being taken in New Jersey in January 1969. Lennon retorted to this that it had less to do with explicit nudity, and instead that he felt they were unattractive.
4. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
Considered one of the all-time great albums and the best selling debut ever, Guns N Roses’ 1987 release Appetite for Destruction is also famed for its very controversial artwork, which was eventually placed inside the album and a different image was used on the front as a compromise. The original cover art was based on the painting “Appetite for Destruction” by Robert Williams, and depicted a rapist robot about to be punished by a metal avenger. The band clearly found it an important piece of artwork and claimed that it was a statement about what the industrial system is doing to the environment, but several retailers refused to stock the album which led to the compromise of moving the art to the inside. The front cover was then changed to a cross with skulls of the five band members.
3. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
A pioneering record, but also one that caused some controversy in the UK due to its artwork. The story goes that the artwork for the UK version of Electric Ladyland did not arrive in time, so instead a cover of many naked women against a black backdrop was used in its place. The cover was banned by a few different record dealers, whilst a few others sold it with the gatefold cover turned inside out. Hendrix himself did not like the cover and found it embarrassing, and he also found the cover to Axis: Bold as Love disrespectful for religious reasons, so he was not a fan of much of his album artwork. He had written to the label describing what he wanted for the cover of Electric Ladyland, but this was ignored and instead they used a blurred red and yellow photo of his head for the cover sold in North America.
2. Blind Faith – Blind Faith
Often considered to be the first ever “super group,” Blind Faith featured Steve Winwood (Traffic), Ric Grech (Family) and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker (Cream) and their eponymous and only release arrived in 1969. It was very well-received, but the cover upset many, which led the U.S. record company to issue an alternative. The original shows a topless pubescent girl holding a silver spaceship in her hands, and some people deemed this to be too phallic. Photographer Bob Seidmann wanted the spaceship to represent human achievement through technology, and he wanted somebody innocent to be bearing this and he thought a pubescent girl would be best. He approached a 14-year-old girl but found her to be too old for the shot, but he then met her 11-year-old sister who agreed. She originally requested a horse as a fee but was later given £40.
1. Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals
The king of controversy and an artist who is seemingly constantly targeted by groups, Marilyn Manson once again found himself shrouded in controversy with 1998’s Mechanical Animals. The cover shows a naked Manson depicted as an androgynous figure with breasts, airbrushed genitalia and six fingers. As it looked so real, it had a real shock factor and was praised by many and also won several awards. Not everybody was happy with the image, however, and a whole month before its release K-Mart, Wal-Mart and Target (three of the largest retailers) all refused to stock the album. The label used a similar tactic to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s record by enclosing it in blue cellophane, but Wall-Mart continued to refuse. In light of the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999, Wal-Mart pulled all of Manson’s records off the shelves and still refuses to sell them.