- Sometimes you don’t even need to hear the songs to be outraged by a band.
The music industry isn’t just about music. Sure, the tunes are the bread and butter, but the artist’s or band’s image matters just as much – sometimes even more.
Album covers are one way for musical artists to project their message to people who haven’t heard the music yet. But sometimes the public isn’t ready for what the bands are trying to say.
Here are six album covers that have stirred controversy over the years, or have straight up been banned. We can’t unfortunately include pictures of the covers, both because of copyright issues and…
Well, let’s just say some of these pictures would probably land us some kind of an indecency charge.
1) Guns N’ Roses — Appetite for Destruction
Almost everybody recognizes this classic hard rock album cover, with a cross overlaid with the band members’ skulls. But not everybody knows that this isn’t the album’s original cover.
Appetite for Destruction originally shipped with a cover depicting an open-shirted woman who has clearly just been sexually assaulted by a robotic rapist. Both characters are also about to be devoured by a weird multi-limbed, sharp-fanged monstrosity.
Many retail chains declared the aftermath of mechanical rape much too raunchy and refused to stock the album. In response, the record label replaced the picture with the cover we know today, and moved the original illustration inside the cover booklet.
Maybe that was for the best. In this occasion, the alternative cover just looks better.
2) Scorpions — Virgin Killer
German rock band’s Scorpions’ 1976 album Virgin Killer was their first release that gained popularity outside of their native Europe. It also got some attention for its… Let’s say, questionable cover art.
The album’s original cover depicted a prepubescent girl posing in the nude. The only thing covering her is a cracked glass effect superimposed over her genitals. The Wikipedia link includes the picture, so if you don’t want to see that, don’t click on it.
Needless to say, not everybody was thrilled about the cover. Stores and lawmakers in the U.S., the UK, and many other countries were a bit iffy about a naked little girl combined with the words “virgin killer.”
As a response, some countries got an extremely uninspired alternative cover with the band members doing generic tough-rock-guy poses. But that hasn’t been the end of the controversy — to this day certain websites refuse to host a picture of the original cover art in fears that it will be viewed as child pornography.
3) Nirvana — Nevermind
On the topic of naked children, how can not mention Nirvana’s legendary 1991 release Nevermind. The album changed rock ‘n’ roll overnight, and also caused uproar due to its cover.
You’ve definitely seen this picture of a naked baby boy diving after a dollar bill on a fishing hook. The baby’s gender is immediately apparent because his penis is clearly visible on the cover.
The label anticipated the controversy and prepared a version of the cover where the offending genitalia had been airbrushed out. But at the band’s insistence they ended up releasing the original artwork.
Like with Virgin Killer, this cover’s infamous legacy continues. Just this year, Spencer Elden, the baby on the cover, sued Kurt Cobain’s estate for depicting his naked, underage body without consent.
4) David Bowie — Diamond Dogs
Rock legend David Bowie’s 1974 Diamond Dogs LP features a fascinating painting of the British singer. It depicted a nude Bowie as some kind of a half-man, half-dog hybrid, complete with canine genitalia.
This was a sneaky painting, too. The full picture didn’t become apparent until you folded out the LP’s cover.
Unsurprisingly, Bowie’s red rocket was airbrushed out from subsequent releases, but some of the original printings managed to make it to stores. Today, copies of Diamond Dogs with the uncensored artwork are among the most expensive record collectibles of all time.
5) Mayhem — The Dawn of the Black Hearts
The Norwegian black metal band Mayhem is controversial even without their music. You know, what with the band members burning churches and murdering each other and whatnot.
In all honesty, The Dawn of the Black Hearts probably shouldn’t be featured on this list, since it’s a 1993 bootleg live album that was never officially released. But the cover’s in such bad taste that we couldn’t leave it out.
Instead of the usual satanic and dark artwork seen on black metal albums, The Dawn of the Black Hearts features a simple Polaroid photograph… Depicting the gory aftermath of the band’s then-vocalist Dead’s suicide by a shotgun blast to the head.
The album has since been released officially. To no one’s surprise, it got an alternative cover without an actual dead person on it.
6) The Mamas and the Papas — If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
You probably wouldn’t even consider this album cover weird or anything. We’re just featuring it here to show how 1966 was a very different time.
There’s no blood or genitals plastered all over this album. The cover shows the folk rock band’s members posing fully clothed in a bathtub.
But what’s that in the corner of the bathroom? Oh my god, it’s a toilet! How dare they?!
That’s right, people considered a clean toilet so controversial at the time that the label had to release an alternative cover for the album. First, they covered the offending toilet with a text box, and later cropped the toilet and the bathtub out altogether.