What better way to give yourself a good fright than looking at some of the most terrifying artwork of all time? For his album ‘Eureka’, Jim O’Rourke plumped for a chubby bald fellow in the nip, pleasuring himself with a toy bunny. That’s a sleeve destined to give you nightmares until the end of days…
AC/DC – ‘If You Want Blood’ If you want blood, you’ve got it. It’s a wonder that Angus Young’s still hopping across the stage 36 years after taking a guitar through the gut. As gory as the sleeve is, it really captures the visceral AC/DC live experience, here captured on record for the first time.
Pitbull – ‘Globalization’ Let’s face it, Pitbull haunts your nightmares already. This album’s not even out yet, but the double whammy of a) the implication that the pocket-sized Miami rapper is the entire world like some twisted take on Gaia theory and b) the thought of having no face is enough to send you doolally.
David Bowie – ‘Diamond Dogs’ The Dame was freaky-looking enough in the early 1970s without growing a pair of dog legs and hanging out with the Weird Sisters. The ‘Diamond Dogs’ cover is the work of Belgian artist Guy Peellaert who also excelled himself later in 1974 with the Bacchanal sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’.
Weezer – ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’ Just out, Weezer’s ninth album has a title that’s a small crumb of comfort once you’ve finished hyperventilating at the crazed hairy beast stalking the valley on the cover. It’s a kind of cross between a Muppet and Gnasher out of The Beano, but nowhere near as funny. Or cuddly.
David Byrne & St Vincent – ‘Love This Giant’ The glorious pairing of David Byrne and Annie Clark play with your perceptions just a little on the cover of their 2012 album. Byrne looks almost macho with his fake chin cleft, but it’s Clark who’s most unsettling, apparently having serious trouble chewing her lunch.
Electribe 101 – ‘Electribal Memories’ What in Hades even is that? Well, it’s a suitably otherworldly image to grace Electribe 101’s twilight house, an album that keeps you guessing even as you dance. Other than that, ‘Electribal Memories’ hasn’t got much else to do with a scaly neon lizard-human wearing a bed spring as an earring.
Various Artists – ‘Motown Chartbusters Volume 6’ Released in 1971, the sixth volume of the peerless ‘Motown Chartbusters’ series features classics like The Temptations’ ‘Just My Imagination’, Diana Ross’s I’m Still Waiting’, The Jackson 5’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and a massive fly-shaped starship that’s come to kill us all.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ This is a sleeve design from celebrated Swinging Sixties photographer David Bailey, clearly under the impression that what the world wanted from a new Stones album was Mick Jagger in a veil, wearing Mary Poppins’ hat. And in a way, he was right.
Future Islands – ‘Singles’ The scariest thing about the ‘Singles’ cover – apart from the simple fact it’s a picture of a headless, legless, undead ghoul-woman – is that it harks right back to all those concept covers by Hipgnosis in the 1970s, suggesting a flute-drenched prog record when really it’s lovely, careworn synth pop.
Antony & The Johnsons – ‘The Crying Light’ This is a picture – taken by Naoya Ikegami – of Japanese dancer Kazuo Ohno, a hero to Antony Hegarty who believes his dancing reveals “the dreams and reveries of his heart”. Lovely sentiments. It’s just a shame the image ends up so terrifying.
The Horrors – ‘Primary Colours’ The Horrors might have ditched some of their more goth-schlock tendencies in time for majestic second album ‘Primary Colours’, but they could still do creepy. Blurred out behind that big old desk, they’re a spectral firm of solicitors ready to suck out your soul in conveyancing fees.
The Human League – ‘Reproduction’ It’s extraordinary that it took The Human League a couple of albums to start racking up the hits – what didn’t the public love about cover art like this? There’s something deep about the painting on the front of 1979’s ‘Reproduction’, saying profound things about the oppression of big business. Not sure what it is though.
Iron Maiden – ‘Killers’ None of Iron Maiden’s album covers are jolly little images to blu-tack to your kid’s wall, but ‘Killers’ takes the biscuit. The band’s mascot Eddie stalks an urban neighbourhood, taking an axe to some poor punter trying to rip his shirt off. Subtle.
John Grant – ‘Queen Of Denmark’ It’s the black eyes, really, and the sense of shapeshifting. If you’ll bear with us a moment (spoilers ahead), the ‘Queen Of Denmark’ cover is a little like the Leland Palmer/BOB split in Twin Peaks only with a crown and less murdering. Well, we hope there’s less murdering, but no one’s ruling anything out.
Kanye West – ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ Kanye’s never afraid to court notoriety. Let’s be honest, it’s the only prize he’s after these days, and his 2010 epic went for it with vigour, featuring our hero looking pretty chuffed about sexual congress with a winged, naked nymph with a dalmatian’s tail.
Avenged Sevenfold – ‘Nightmare’ Heavy metal bands have got previous for this sort of thing. On all albums by all bands. Still, US metallers Avenged Sevenfold took the concept to its horrific conclusion in 2010 with a literal interpretation of a nightmare that becomes kind of self-fulfilling. A meta-metal album cover then.
Massive Attack – ‘Mezzanine’ Reputedly an awful album to make owing to tensions between 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G, ‘Mezzanine’ comes off pretty dark in the delivery too. The cover shot is a beetle that fashion snapper Nick Knight photographed at the Natural History Museum. Up close it’s a monster.
Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Replica’ Daniel Lopatin’s otherwise friendly 2011 album of ambient electronica is graced by a spine-freezing illustration of a vampire looking at his reflection in a mirror. It was sketched by Virgil Finlay in 1936 for US fantasy/horror pulp magazine Weird Tales.
The Cure – ‘Pornography’ With sleeve design and photography by Ben Kelly and Michael Kostiff, the snap on the front of The Cure’s 1982 classic really captures the joie de vivre of the band – a horrorshow of three depressive ghouls inviting you into their doomworld. Actually, they would start to lighten up a bit after this but ‘Pornography’ stands as their grand, bereft statement.
Portishead – ‘Dummy’ It’s an image straight out of a horror flick. In fact, it’s from Portishead’s very own spy flick, To Kill A Dead Man, and that’s singer Beth Gibbons in the chair, beaten and bloodied. It’s just lucky that the music within this pioneering 1994 album was such a laugh-riot, otherwise this could’ve been a pretty bleak package.
Quilt – ‘Held In Splendor’ We’re not sure what’s going on here on the cover of Boston band Quilt’s second album, but we know we don’t like it. Did anyone see that Doctor Who episode ‘Listen’ a few weeks ago? That featured an alien hiding under a bedspread and it was utterly terrifying. For kids. We were fine.
Godspeed You Black Emperor – ‘F♯ A♯ ∞’ This is definitely a shot taken on the road to the Blair Woods to hunt down a witch who’ll eventually corral you into her abandoned house in a clearing and impel your mate to stand in the corner facing the wall while you meet your ugly demise. Goodnight, everyone – and don’t have nightmares.
Radiohead – ‘Amnesiac’ ‘Kid A”s 2001 partner is graced by more artwork by Stanley Donwood, of course, and that little chap on the cover is a crying minotaur. Because he’s lost. That’s the problem with living in a labyrinth without a ball of wool. It’s not so much scary as speaking to the yawning chasm of loneliness at the core of the human experience.
Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ Before heavy metal threw itself with gusto into images of skeletons and knives dripping with blood, Black Sabbath were a bit more subtle about the cover art thing. And that’s the only time Ozzy Osbourne’s ever been associated with subtlety. No one remembers the name of the ghostly woman on the cover of Sabbath’s debut. Did she even exist? Oooooo.
Silver Apples – ‘Contact’ Well, this isn’t immediately terrifying – not in an obvious way, anyway. But do you really want to plunge into the depths of interstellar space with a couple of acid-fried psych casualties at the controls of your, er, Pan Am jet? Silver Apples’ second album takes you to weird places, but fortunately all from the comfort of your own armchair.
Crystal Castles – ‘(II)’ No one’s saying there are any dark implications to the image on the cover of the late Crystal Castles’ second album, but it’s in a cemetery – isn’t that enough? And the girl, who many mistakenly believed was a young Alice Glass, has a classic, undead, goth look about her.
Talking Heads – ‘Remain In Light’ Something about anonymity? Something about sacrificing image on the altar of the music within? Just a Warholesque way of presenting the band? Or a chilling homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre serial killer Leatherface? We know where our money’s going.
Technicolor Teeth – ‘Teenage Pagans’ It’s a little bit mauve, isn’t it, as Withnail’s Uncle Monty might say. All these saturated colours in themselves are an insult to the eyes, but the fellow on the cover of the Wisconsin punk trio’s debut album looks like he might have more than mischief in mind too. He looks like he has stringing you up to the ceiling joists by your intestines in mind.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs –’Mosquito’ Even diehard Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans hated the image on the front of their fourth album when it emerged in 2013. And that’s fair enough – it’s bloody horrible. Designed by filmmaker and artist Beomsik Shimbe Shim, it features a mosquito (yes) capturing a screaming baby and is as lurid as – hmmm – a Technicolor Teeth album cover.
Venetian Snares – ‘My Love Is A Bulldozer’. The electronic artist (aka Aaron Funk) opted to turn himself into a terrifying centaur, here. As you do…
Kevin Rowland – ‘My Beauty’ Releasing an album of covers reflecting his substance abuse problems, Dexy’s man Kevin Rowland’s 1999 LP was always going to be controversial. Pushing it further into eyebrow-raising territory, however, was his dragged up artwork – an image he later used on stage throughout the album’s tour.
Lil B – ‘Pink Flame’
Proving that men really do only have one thing on their minds, Lil B’s 2013 mixtape featured artwork showing a busty blonde literally coming out of his head. Or maybe her body was made of his face? Either way – it’s pretty damn weird.
The Wagners – ‘My Heart Says I Love You’ We’re sure The Wagners were aiming for something cute here, but nothing spells ‘unnerving’ like a weird, dead-eyed rag doll. Their heart might say I love you, but our heads are saying, “Dear sweet Jesus, please take that thing away from my children”.
Peter Frampton – ‘I’m In You’ Where to even begin with this one? It’s not so much that Peter Frampton’s 1977 release is a particularly weird or quirky offering, it’s more that you feel Operation Yewtree could come knocking at any moment. The trousers… the bare chest… Grandma’s patchwork quilt jacket… the seductive stare and the title. Oh god, the title…
Judas Priest – ‘British Steel’ Ah, Judas Priest. For their sixth studio LP, Birmingham’s second favourite heavy metallers decided to ditch the subtlety and go straight for the jugular. And what’s the most rock’n’roll thing you can make out of British steel? A big old razor blade of course! How inviting.
Die Antwoord – ‘Ten$Ion’ Never ones to shy away from all things odd, South Africa’s Die Antwoord took their inimitable aesthetic to the extreme with 2012 LP ‘Ten$ion’. Here, singer Yolandi Vi$$er is pictured as an angel eating a bleeding heart. You don’t get that with Two Door Cinema Club, do you?
The Edgar Winter Group – ‘They Only Come Out at Night’ Albino rock star Edgar Winter is a well-known Scientologist and has appeared in the religion’s ‘Celebrity’ magazine on a number of times. We wonder if that has anything to do with the singer’s odd choice of get up for his 1972 LP? Maybe aliens told him to do it?
Thee Oh Sees – ‘Floating Coffin’ Prolific garage-psych outfit Thee Oh Sees have released eight albums in the last six years. That quick a turn over has to play havoc with your sanity, at least that’s the only reason we can think of for this disarming sleeve that we’ll fondly dub ‘Strawberry Fang Eyes’.
Ken Snyder – ‘By Request Only’ Poor Ken Snyder. The Christian singer only recorded ‘By Request Only’ to give to fellow religious devotees, but has wound up infamous for one of the worst album covers ever. Somewhere between the glazed expression, Lego hair and budget design, we’re guessing Ken doesn’t get that many genuine requests.
Uriah Heap – ‘Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble’ The 1970 studio debut from the London rock outfit saw Uriah Heep go straight in at the artwork deep end. The cobweb-ridden, possibly dead Einstein lookalike is weird enough, but it’s the horrible, gaping mouth hole that’s the sleeve’s real piece de freaky resistance.
Captain Beefheart – ‘Troutmask Replica’ Notorious oddball Captain Beefheart’s 1969 album cover is actually, when you think about it, a pretty straight-up literal take on the album title. It’s just that said title happens to be bonkers. When it comes to Beefheart’s avant garde experimentalism though, a picture of a trout face really is just the tip of the bizarre iceberg.
Patrick Wolf – ‘The Magic Position’ Confirming the pretty obvious fact that grown men and children’s toys should never mix, Patrick Wolf’s pop-centric career peak featured the singer seductively straddling a merry-go-round deer to pretty awkward effect. The only thing rescuing this from full-on inappropriateness is the fact that Wolf looks kind of like a fairground toy himself.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – ‘This Christmas’ Is there anything more tragic than a desperate attempt to cling on to long-faded glory? Sure, John and Olivia might have ruled the movie roost in Grease, but that was back in 1978 and this just looks like a sad Christmas afternoon spent with the relatives you try and avoid visiting.
Frightened Rabbit – ‘State Hospital’ Scottish mopers Frightened Rabbit might be more likely to shed a tear at a particularly beautiful sunset than go on a knife-wielding rampage, but there’s something about the eery minimalism of ‘State Hospital’s sleeve that’s giving us the fear. Who knows where that rusty fork has been…
The Beatles – ‘Yesterday And Today’ Said to be a comment on the Vietnam war and a result of the band being “bored and resentful” of photo shoots, the original cover to The Beatles’ 1966 LP understandably caused a huge public furore. Thousands of the sleeves were destroyed, while the rest of the original print run had new, PC photos of the band posing next to suitcases pasted on top of them.
Sum 41 – ‘Does This Look Infected?’ Never ones to shy away from a bit of crude humour, Sum 41’s sleeve for 2004 album ‘Does This Look Infected?’ was as gross as its title. Judging by the zombified make up caked over drummer Steve Jocz, we’d say yes – it pretty much definitely does.
Beck – ‘Mellow Gold’ Beck’s third album – 1994’s ‘Mellow Gold’ – propelled the singer into unlikely fame, but it wasn’t just the lyrics that lead to the record’s parental advisory label. Check out the robot skull creature and its spiky metal genitalia – PG rated, for sure.
Aphex Twin – ‘Richard D. James’ Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James) may have made a career out of drugged-up, mid-bendingly creepy visuals, but the cover to his 1996 LP must rank up there with the most straight-up unnerving. It’s all in the eyes…
Korn – ‘Life Is Peachy’ Korn’s lyrics may have been on the receiving end of some public backlash after they were deemed “indecent, vulgar and obscene” and banned from a Michigan school, but ‘Life Is Peachy’ depicts a far more ominous scene. We’re not sure why this sweet-looking blonde child has a demon shadow, but we don’t want to see what happens next.
The Louvin Brothers – ‘Satan is Real’ And rounding off the bunch is The Louvin Brothers’ tribute to Beelzebub, which they seem to have nattily whipped up using clipart and MS Paint. Considering the devil himself is standing behind them, the siblings look pretty perky. Takes all types.