In honor of Innocent Words Magazine’s 15th Anniversary, I will be blogging a new favorites list once a month for the rest of the year. This month I present to you, our faithful blog readers, my 15 Years of Innocent Words Favorite Album Covers Of All Time List (in alphabetical order).
In a world of disposable digital music, the art of the album cover is dying a slow death. To me, album cover art is one of the best parts of a new record. The art can show so much about the band and their music and it can also make you want to buy the record, even if you don’t know who the artist is. I am sure anyone reading this bought a new record at one point in time based solely on the cover art. Now that vinyl is coming back with a vengeance, I am hoping that with it, album art, liner notes, and back cover art will become cool again as well.
That said, here is a list of my 15 favorite album covers of all time. As you can see, I prefer the ones that caused a bit of controversy.
(1970, Warner Bros.)
Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album cover is the scariest album cover of all time, period. Not to mention the album contains the scariest song of all time “Black Sabbath.”
The person in black is standing in front of the Mapledurham Watermill on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England. If you were lucky enough to get the original vinyl, the gatefold sleeve had an upside down cross with a poem written inside of it. Rumor has it that the band’s UK label, Vertigo, added the cross, and when the band found out, they weren’t pleased. This version of the album was never released in the U.S.
Bow Wow Wow
See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!
Photographed by Andy Earl, Bow Wow Wow’s ‘See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!’ portrayed the band in the style of Édouard Manet’s oil painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. The cover was hugely controversial because front woman Annabella Lwin was underage. Her mother even commissioned a Scotland Yard investigation for “alleged exploitation of a minor for immoral purposes.” A deal was made with the band’s management and Annabella Lwin’s mother, but it wasn’t the last time the Mohawk-sporting lead singer would appear naked on an album cover.
To me, this cover art features such an incredibly powerful image: bassist Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass at The Palladium in New York City on September 21, 1979, during the Clash Take the Fifth US tour. In a 2011 interview, Simonon told Fender that he smashed the bass because he was frustrated with the bouncers at the venue because they would not permit the crowd to stand up during their set. The cover photo was taken by Pennie Smith (she thought that it was too out of focus) and the text used paid homage to Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album, making it one of the most iconic covers of all time.
(1989, Beggars Banquet)
I just love this cover. It features guitarist Billy Duffy with his Gibson Les Paul in a classic rock pose, arm outstretched like he is about to play a big chord or preparing for a windmill move. Hidden in a wash of red is lead singer Ian Asbury in a powerful live moment with his head thrown back and hair flowing freely. The black and red colors make the silver lettering just pop off the cover, too.
While on break from Blondie, Debbie Harry, along with her boyfriend and Blondie bandmate Chris Stein, set out to record Harry’s debut solo album ‘KooKoo.’
The cover art for ‘KooKoo’ was done by legendary Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger, best known for his design work on the 1979 sci-fi/horror film “Alien.” Based on the original Harry photograph taken by Brian Aris, Giger made several versions of the cover for ‘KooKoo’ and the main piece is a mixture of acupuncture and sci-fi, giving it a punk feel. Although Harry didn’t see herself as “punk,” she was so moved by the work of Giger that she went with the cover idea anyway, which also inspired the album title. Giger would also go on to direct the promotional videos for “Backfired” and “Now I Know You Know.”
1968, Reprise Records)
This album cover was banned, probably due to the fact that when you opened the gatefold album cover there were 19 naked ladies on the cover. The photo was taken by photographer David Montgomery, who also shot the inside cover portrait of Hendrix. Initially, Hendrix wrote to his record label, Reprise, telling them his vision for the artwork for ‘Electric Lady Land.’ He had hoped for a color photo by Linda Eastman of the group sitting with children on the famed sculpture from Alice in Wonderland in Central Park and drew them a rough sketch, but he was ignored. When the naked album cover came out, Hendrix was disappointed and embarrassed. When the cover was banned, the record label used a blurry psychedelic picture of Hendrix’ head instead.
In 1981, I was an impressionable 10-year-old kid who had been in love with music for the four years leading up to that. I would read as many music magazines as I could get my hands on and during that first year of the new decade, all the magazines had advertisements for the new Iron Maiden album ‘Killers.’ I had no idea who Iron Maiden was or that they were from England. All I knew was that this colorful album cover jumped off the magazine page and intrigued and frightened me.
‘Killers’ was the band’s second album and prominently featured the band’s well-known mascot Eddie on the cover, holding a bloody axe with hands grasping at his tattered shirt. With the band’s name in bold red letters and Eddie basking in the glow of a yellow light, you couldn’t help but take notice.
The cover illustration was done by artist Derek Riggs, who came up with the Eddie the Head mascot for the band. Thanks to the cover concept of Dave Lights, ‘Killers’ remains one of the bands most famous album covers.
(1988, Warner Bros.)
The one thing I never understood about this album cover was why they put cowhide as a background and made the main art smaller. The two girls should have taken up all the cover space. Perry Farrell created the cover, which featured a pair of nude, female conjoined twins sitting on a sideways rocking chair with their heads on fire. At the time, nine out of the eleven leading record store chains refused to carry ‘Nothing’s Shocking,’ and the record had to send out copies with brown paper covering the naked women.
I was seven years old and I just saw the made-for-TV movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park” and I was hooked. I didn’t know who they were or that they were the biggest band in the world at the time. I just saw the costumes, face paint, and big stage and heard the loud guitars. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. Kiss was right there in my face breathing fire, blood spitting theatrics and all. I wanted more, I needed more. So I begged my mom to get me one of their records, and I guess she couldn’t resist my baby blues because she came home with a vinyl copy of ‘Love Gun.’
Mom came back from the store and in her hand was a plastic bag. She reached in and pulled out the record in all its 12×12 colorful glory. Before she would give it to me, though, mom uttered these words: “I know I shouldn’t have bought you this because of the girls on the cover.” Then she handed me the record. “Your dad is going to kill me,” she said as she went to throw away the plastic bag. I just about jumped out of my skin. There it was—Gene, Paul, Peter, and my favorite, Ace. I didn’t care about the scantily clad girls, I just wanted to be Ace.
Houses of the Holy
Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album ‘Houses of the Holy’ caused quite a stir with its cover, even being banned in some countries.
The album cover was inspired by the ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 science fiction novel “Childhood’s End.” Although the cover depicts 11 children, it is actually just two—brother and sister Stefan and Samantha Gates—and was taken by Aubrey Powell at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland. The photo shoot took 10 days to complete due to inclement weather and even when it was done, there was extensive alterations done in post-production to achieve the desired color effect.
In 2010, Stefan Gates admitted on the half-hour BBC Radio 4 documentary titled “Stefan Gates’s Cover Story” that he had never heard ‘Houses of the Holy.’ The documentary ended at Giant’s Causeway with Gates listening to ‘Houses of the Holy’ on a portable player, after which he claimed that a great weight had been lifted from him.
As with their previous four albums, there is plenty of quirky trivia to go along with ‘Houses of the Holy.’ The band’s name nor the album title was printed on the original album sleeve. However, the band’s manager, Peter Grant, did let the band’s label, Atlantic Records, add a wrap-around paper title band to US and UK copies of the sleeve that had to be broken or slid off to access the record. This also allowed the naked children to be hidden. Even though the album cover was banned by many states in the US south, the album was nominated for a Grammy Award for best album packaging in 1974.
Sleeping with Ghosts
Eternal soulmates. How can you go wrong with romantic ghosts?
Photographed by Eric Boman, Roxy Music’s controversial cover for their 1974 album ‘Country Life’ features the band Can’s front man Michael Karoli’s’s cousin Constanze Karoli and his girlfriend Eveline Grunwald. The girls were not credited in the album liner notes as models, but were credited for co-writing “Bitter-Sweet” with front man Brian Ferry. The cover was banned in a few counties, like the United States, where the album’s artwork was just a picture of the green trees.
The Slits were a short-lived and inspirational band featuring a revolving door of members, but in the beginning with their debut album ‘Cut,’ The Sluts featured Ari Up (vocals), Viv Albertine (guitar), and Tessa Pollitt (bass), with Budgie on drums. With its blue background and simple text, ‘Cut’ was all about the photograph of the three topless bandmembers covered in mud and standing in a jungle. The iconic photos were taken by Pennie Smith and certainly announced the bands presence with authority.
Grave Dancers Union
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add an album cover from my favorite band, Soul Asylum, but which of the 11 albums should I pick? Honestly, it’s a no brainer: the band’s most successful album, 1992’s triple platinum selling ‘Grave Dancer’s Union.’
The striking photo, from famed photographer Jan Saudek, is called “Fate Descends towards the River Leading Two Innocent Children.” With art direction and design by Francesca Restrepo, ‘Grave Dancer’s Union’ continued the tradition of the Minneapolis band utilizing interesting/weird pictures for album covers, a tradition they still carry on today. The one on ‘Grave Dancer’s Union’ is iconic and gives the viewer a lot to think about. Who is the girl and the two little kids? Why are the kids naked, but the lad in a dress? Where are they going and what does the title have to do with it? Twenty-five years after its release, these questions still linger, and ‘Grave Dancer’s Union’ is still one of the best albums of all time.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Born To Run
Bruce Springsteen has had many iconic album covers during his Hall of Fame career, but none of them captures my attention more than his 1975 masterpiece, ‘Born To Run.’
The image, in all its black and white glory, was photographed by Eric Meola, during a three-hour photo shoot where Meola snapped an astounding 900 pictures. You only see Springsteen, wearing a leather jacket and with frazzled hair, leaning on saxophonist Clarence Clemons, his famed Fender Telecaster hanging off his shoulder. The most intriguing part of the cover just might be the smirk on Springsteen’s face. The photo has been imitated by everyone from Cheap Trick on ‘Next Position Please’ to Bert and the Cookie Monster on the cover of the Sesame Street album ‘Born to Add.’