In honour of the much-maligned new Arctic Monkeys album cover (which many are comparing to The Beatles’ “White Album”), here’s a look at some of the most controversial album covers in history.
White Zombie, ‘Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds’ (1996). Thanks to objections raised by retailer Wal-Mart, in American stores this model’s modesty was covered by a blue bikini.
U2, ‘Achtung Baby’ (1991). You’d have to study the back cover of this album very closely to discover that bassist Adam Clayton’s penis is visible. Even so, the US version of the album featured a prudish ‘x’ over the offending genitals.
Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ (1984). This sleeve was in fact never censored – but there were persistent calls for it to be banned, mainly from patriotic Republicans who thought Springsteen was urinating on the US flag.
The Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968). Early versions of this sleeve were plain – public toilets obviously being deemed unforgivably vulgar in 1968.
The Rolling Stones, ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971). Actually this sleeve was only ever banned outright in Spain. Many retailers elsewhere refused to stock it – but that was more to do with the metal zipper on the front of early pressings, which tended to scratch the records racked in front of it.
The Residents, ‘The Third Reich N’ Roll’ (1976). German retailers refused to stock this sleeve on account of the swastika, although it wasn’t really intended as a political statement, more a cultural one – the figure in the foreground is cheesy old-school US TV presenter Dick Clark.
Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ (1993). Under pressure from America’s biggest retailers K-Mart amd Wal-Mart, who threatened not to stock the record unless their demands were met, the back of this sleeve was altered and the song ‘Rape Me’ changed to ‘Waif Me’.
Poison, ‘Open Up and Say… Ahh!’ (1988). Somewhat bizarrely, some retailers objected to this sleeve on the grounds that it was too “raunchy”.
The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears’ (1966). This is the sanitised version of the sleeve. The original featured a dirty toilet in the bottom right-hand corner, deemed too unsavoury for public display.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Street Survivors’ (1977). Three days after this album came out several members of the band, including lead vocalist and primary songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, died in a plane crash. Suddenly the flames on the sleeve seemed insensitive, so for many years the flames were airbrushed out.
Jimi Hendrix, ‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968). Clearly this much nudity wouldn’t do. The sleeve was banned. To this day the version you’ll see in the shops features Hendrix’s face in close-up.
Roger Waters, ‘The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking’ (1984). Complaints that this cover could be seen as encouraging rape meant that subsequent pressings featured a black bar across the hitch-hikers’ buttocks.
The Five Keys, ‘On Stage!’ (1957). This ’50s vocal group found themselves unwittingly courting controversy with this sleeve. Some people looked at Rudy West (far left) and assumed the finger of his right hand was in fact another body part entirely. As a result, on later pressings the offending digit was covered up.
David Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974). For this sleeve Bowie was rendered as a man/dog hybrid, whose genitals were clearly visible on the reverse sleeve. At least until panicky record execs, sensing an uproar, had the offending area blurred.
Chumbawamba, ‘Anarchy’ (1994). The anti-establishment rockers, whose guitarist Danbert Nobacon famously drenched Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the 1998 Brit Awards, intended to cause outrage with this sleeve – and succeeded. Many retailers refused to stock it. Others stocked it in a plain sleeve.
Bow Wow Wow, ‘See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy!’ (1981). Singer Annabella Lwin was 15 at the time this picture was taken, prompting her mother to accuse band manager Malcolm Mclaren of exploiting a minor. There was even a Scotland Yard investigation.
The Black Crowes, ‘Amorica’ (1994). The album cover’s depiction of pubic hair, from a 1976 United States Bicentennial issue of ‘Hustler’ magazine, caused controversy. The record company ended up putting out an alternative cover that blacked out the offending image.
Alice Cooper, ‘Love It to Death’ (1971). In a repeat of the Five Keys controversy, a stray thumb was misconstrued as an exposed penis, and subsequently airbrushed out.
Andrew W.K., ‘I Get Wet’ (2001). Not banned, although some retailers put a sticker over the blood. To achieve the effect, W.K. initially said that he struck himself in the face with a small piece of cinder block during the photo shoot, but later denied this. The blood is actually that of an animal which he got from a butcher’s shop.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, ‘Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins’ (1968). Lennon pressed ahead with this album sleeve in the face of criticism from Paul McCartney, who tried to convince his former bandmate to reconsider. Many retailers stocked the album inside a brown paper bag.
Jane’s Addiction, ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’ (1990). Frontman Perry Farrell was incensed when moral guardians called for this sleeve to be censored. To voice his outrage he had it replaced with plain white cover, blank except for the text to the First Amendment to the US constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.
The Beautiful South, ‘Welcome to the Beautiful South’ (1989). The Hull-based piano balladeers were unlikely controversialists. Their debut album sleeve featured a picture of a woman with a gun in her mouth. After protests, in some markets the sleeve was changed to feature two cuddly teddy bears instead – a typically sardonic move by the band.
The Beatles, ‘Yesterday And Today’ (1966). In a moment of madness The Beatles thought it was a good idea to accompany this US-only release with images of blood-soaked decapitated babies. Thankfully it never saw the light of day.
Roxy Music, ‘Country Life’ (1974). In some parts of America a different version of the sleeve was used in which the women were airbrushed out completely, leaving only the green backdrop and the band logo.
Guns N’ Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ (1987). This disturbing (and ugly) image of alien/robot rape was originally destined for the cover of Guns N’ Roses’ debut album. In the end they saw sense and chose a different image – although this picture did still crop up on the inside sleeve.
Tin Machine, ‘Tin Machine II’ (1991). David Bowie’s alt-rock side-project were uncompromising with their artwork as well as their sound. On the US version of this sleeve, the statues’ penises were airbrushed out in the name of public decency.