There’s a reason the Stones are one of the most iconic bands out there. Sure, it helps that their sound, for half a century now, has been packed with more inimitable, sleazy, electrifying rock ‘n’ roll thrills than pretty much any other band out there. But don’t overlook their look – a key part of what has made them counterculture heroes since emerging in 1962. With a world tour currently underway and hopes of more UK shows on the horizon, here’s every one of their striking album covers to date, and the stories behind them…
'The Rolling Stones' (1964): The Stones' debut album cover is as bullish and confrontational as the band themselves. It takes a spectacular brand of arrogance to omit your own name from your first album cover (shot by Nicholas Wright) but their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who lays claim to the concept, had the chops to match his charges.
'The Rolling Stones No. 2' (1965): Another nameless sleeve, and again, a deliberate move. It's actually the same David Bailey shot used on the cover of '12x5', a US-only release the previous autumn, but this time with all the info carefully removed. In egalitarian pose, Mick Jagger's stuck at the back while Keith Richards and quasi-bandleader Brian Jones vie for the limelight.
'The Rolling Stones, Now!' (1965): This was a US-only release, largely made up of tracks from 'The Rolling Stones No. 2', with a collage feel to a cover that has something in common with The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' (released a few months earlier), only looser, more natural, and pure '60s boho. That's David Bailey bringing the swing again.
'Out Of Our Heads' (1965): The cover for the Stones' third UK album was shot by Gered Mankowitz because David Bailey was unavailable and, according to Loog Oldham, Mankowitz had taken "some nice snaps of Marianne Faithfull". The resulting shot continued the stark, dark, in-your-face aesthetic of their previous covers.
'Aftermath' (1966): Broadening their sound palette on tracks like 'Mother's Little Helper' and 'Under My Thumb', the Stones also took a new approach to their cover art with a colourful, bleached-through image (by Bailey once more) that hinted at a new sense of adventure. They ditched the blues covers and put full faith in Jagger and Richards' maturing songwriting.
'Between The Buttons' (1967): This cover image was taken on London's Primrose Hill at 5.30 in the morning, with Mankowitz back in the chair and brandishing a pot of Vaseline to get a tripped-out effect. The photographer was disappointed with Jones's arsing about, but conceded that was the essence of the man, a rebellious streak that would eventually become a wedge.
'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (1967): Well, it was all the rage in 1967, wasn't it? Getting psychedelic with fussy covers and funny costumes. At their lowest rock'n'roll ebb, the Stones got photographer Michael Cooper to make a lenticular design, as found on the original release, that saw the other members turn to look at Mick if you moved it about. Keef blames the acid.
'Beggars Banquet' (1968): After the gaudy 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' cover, the Stones went right back to basics for 'Beggars Banquet'. Right back. Mick and Keith defaced the toilet wall themselves, but Decca weren't impressed and the row kept the album out of the shops until they compromised on a wedding invite design. The loo's back in place now though.
'Let It Bleed' (1969): American graphic designer Robert Brownjohn came up with the concept, an old record-changer piled up with a pizza, a tyre, a tape canister and, of course, that cake. That cake was baked by legendary TV chef Delia Smith (then an unknown) and by the time it gets to the back cover, someone's had a slice of that gooey goodness.
'Sticky Fingers' (1971): A Warhol classic. One myth we'll have to explode is that isn't Jagger's crotch – in fact, no one's 100% on who it is at all – but all that stuff about the actual zip ruining any other LPs it was stacked up against is apparently true. The solution was to pull the zip down halfway, which was probably the idea in the first place, the dirty old goats.
'Exile On Main St.' (1972): This legendary collage includes images taken from 'The Americans', a 1958 book of photos by snapper and filmmaker Robert Frank. That's 1930s circus performer Three Ball Charlie with the, er, three balls in his mouth, if you're wondering. The design was imitated for – among others – U2's 1991 album 'Achtung Baby'. No sign of Adam Clayton's shlong here though.
'Goats Head Soup' (1973): The story goes that retail recoiled at the original design of an actual goat's head soup – which ended up as a giveaway poster inside – so the Stones toned it all down. If anything, David Bailey's shot of a dazed, androgynous Jagger wrapped in a veil is even weirder, a sure sign the louche rock'n'roll of 'Exile…' has been shelved, for now at least.
'It's Only Rock 'n Roll' (1974): Now for something completely different, this time a painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, capturing the Stones as rock deities adored by Grecian handmaidens. David Bowie was so taken with Peellaert's work that he got him to do 'Diamond Dogs' and rushed it out four months before the Stones got their act together.
'Black And Blue' (1976): Things were changing with the Stones – Mick Taylor (Brian Jones's replacement) was out the door, Jimmy Miller was no longer producing and they were whacking Mick and Keef front and centre on album covers. The Glimmer Twins (also the name they produced the album under) hogged this shot from US photographer Hiro, with Bill Wyman looking on lugubriously.
'Some Girls' (1978): If there was something unsettling about 'Black And Blue' (what's Richards saying to Jagger?), then Peter Corriston's 'Some Girls' design only increased the unease, with the Stones' faces superimposed on salon models. Images of Raquel Welch, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball excited some legal action, leading to a revised version with the offending faces lopped off.
'Emotional Rescue' (1980): The hit-free 'Emotional Rescue' – yep, these were dark days for the Stones; well, as dark as it gets for globe-horsing rock behemoths anyway – was wrapped in another Corriston design slathered with thermographic photos by Roy Adzak. It was the 80s, you see. It was time to get hi-tech.
'Tattoo You' (1981): Corriston again, this time working with photographer Hubert Kretzschmar and illustrator Christian Piper. That's Mick, of course, under all those tattoos, an unwitting prototype for models that appeared in a Duran Duran video for the following five years. The album, a collection of odds, sods and outtakes, kicked up the Stones's biggest hit in years in 'Start Me Up'.
'Undercover' (1983): Throwing funk and reggae into the stew along with the customary low-slung rawk, The Rolling Stones' 17th album presented a band trying to keep it fresh – or suffering a very public midlife crisis. Strategically placed stickers on the lurid cover suggested the latter, but when they were peeled off the vinyl version they just revealed more shapes beneath.
'Dirty Work' (1986): Really shouldn't have shot our bolt with "lurid" back there, because this garish monstrosity is the true definition. Shot by Annie Liebovitz – but let's not blame her; everything was like this in 1986 – it's an iris-shredding day-glo smear of capitalist 80s champagne-swilling excess that (probably) singlehandedly forced the Stones into a re-think of sound and image.
'Steel Wheels' (1989): And this alleged re-think resulted in 'Steel Wheels'' return to basics. Not just in rediscovering a largely unadorned Stones rock sound – one that didn't chase fashion – but also in slapping a plain, distinguished sleeve on the thing. The classy simplicity of the cover art heralded a new dawn for the band, a new era with fewer pairs of shocking pink slacks.
'Voodoo Lounge' (1994): The title comes from the name Keith Richards gave to Ronnie Wood's granny flat when he moved in there, and he painted the cover too – but somehow it was Mick's idea to use it. "I was really pissed with myself, though, after painting the sign and all," said Keef. "I'm usually the one with the cheap ideas, not Mick. His are usually real expensive."
'Bridges To Babylon' (1997): For the follow-up, they did spend a bit of cash again and got some real artists in. That's an Assyrian lion on the cover, for all you big cat experts out there. To drive home the news that megabucks were being thrown at this, the CD came in a special limited edition brocade-effect slipcase, proving some of those gaudy '80s excesses never quite fade away.
'A Bigger Bang' (2005): And it's right back to the start for the last Rolling Stones studio album to date. All those Assyrian lions, all those voodoo anteaters, all those luminous trousers – it's all ditched in favour of a pretty much straight band image. They're a bit more cheerful than they were back at the beginning, but unimaginable success will do that to you, right?