Twenty years later, Nirvana is still managing to cause controversy.
The band, whose Nevermind album made waves when it was released in 1991 because of its cover art which featured a naked baby boy floating in a pool, has run into censorship yet again, this time on its Facebook page.
When the cover was originally released, many U.S. retailers refused to display it on their shelves. It was banned in Saudi Arabia and several other countries. So, it looks as if things have not changed in two decades -- at least as far as Facebook is concerned.
Ideas for Songs by Canadian indie rock band Destroyer was originally released on cassette tape on 1997. The cover art for the cassette featured a painting by the late artist Sylvia Sleigh, titled Imperial Nude: Paul Rosano.
Sleigh was a highly acclaimed realist painter who emerged onto the fine art scene in the 1970s with a series of works that reverse stereotypical artistic themes by featuring naked men in poses usually associated with women. The painting used on the Destroyer cover is one of the most notable of the series.
The album was recently made available on LP and digital download with a beautiful reproduction of the Sleigh painting. It is ironic that a painting of a nude woman reclining on a sofa would hardly get noticed in 2011, while Sleigh's painting is censored on iTunes with a large pink dot over the subject's genitals (above right). Amazon.com has chosen to display an uncensored version of the cover on their website.
I generally try to take a neutral position when it comes to censoring nudes on album covers. In this case, I find it somewhat offensive that an important work of fine art has been defaced with an ugly pink dot. I wonder if they would do the same thing to Michelanglo's David.
Ritual de lo Habitual is the second studio album from the alternative rock band Jane's Addiction. It was released under the Warner Bros. Records label in August 1990. The cover artwork, by the band's frontman Perry Farrell, depicts male and female nudity, and relates to the song Three Days.
The inspiration behind that song was Xiola Blue, who died in 1987 of a heroin overdose. The song, written prior to Blue's death, is a reference to a three day "haze of sex and drugs" in Los Angeles enjoyed by Farrell, his girlfriend Casey Niccoli, and Blue who was in town at the time for her father's funeral.
Warner Bros. reportedly weren't thrilled when initially presented with Farrell's original artwork. Farrell insisted and the record label went with it. But conservative groups, some record chains, and political pressure in the USA eventually forced the band to reconsider.
A record store owner in Royal Oak, Michigan was even arrested for "indecency" by displaying a poster of the album cover in his front window. A compromise was made between the band and Warner Bros. that allowed this version and a "Censored Version" to both be produced. In the "Amendment Version", the band opted for minimal text on a plain white background, simply quoting the free speech guarantee within the First Amendment. Interestingly enough, the back cover also contains what I can only think is an early pre-internet fore-runner of Godwin's law.
And lastly, on an interesting side note: 'Three Days', a 10 minute and 46 second long three part song, contains a guitar solo by Dave Navarro which was ranked as number 100 by Guitar World in their 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.
I recently stumbled on a review of a forthcoming EP by a French surf music band called La Femme. The cover for Le Podium #1 (below) features a nude woman with a large black square covering her exposed genitals. Text on the square reads, "This is not La Femme actaul cover because it got censured."
I assumed that this was a clever publicity stunt. Then, I did a little online research and found the uncensored cover for the EP. It was located on the band's Bandcamp page as the cover art for one of the four tracks available for download. I assume that the cover was not replaced with the censored version in error.
I have written about nudity being censored on album covers several times. This is the first time that I actually agree that a cover needed to be censored. Who would use a graphic close up photograph of a vagina as cover art for an EP of retro surf music? I could imagine it being appropriate for an album of protest songs or something a bit more serious.
I think many people will like the band's sound. I have posted the first track, Sur La Planche, below. It reminds me of some of the early New Wave bands from the late 1970s. The EP is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2010 and can be purchased now from Bandcamp.
Since country music legend Willie Nelson was arrested this morning for allegedly possessing six ounces of marijuana, I thought it would be a good time to write about the cover art for his 2005 album Countryman.
In case you haven't heard, Nelson was arrested at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas as his tour bus was traveling from California to Austin. He was booked into the Hudspeth County Jail on a $2,500 bond and a released. Nelson has a worked for the legalization of marijuana for several years and is a defiant advocate for use of the drug.
While not surprising in anyway considering Nelson's history and position regarding pot, the cover art for Countryman was controversial. Nelson's first reggae album, it was released on August 2, 2005 by the Lost Highway label with an illustration of a marijuana leaf designed by art director Craig Allen.
As is often the case with controversial cover art, an alternate cover was also created for the album. On the alternate cover, the marijuana leaf has been replaced with a palm tree. Those who shop exclusively at large chain stores may not even be aware that the marijuana-themed cover exists. The palm tree seems to have been created to look somewhat sad and lonely.
Andy Partridge's Ape House record label has announced the reissue of XTC's 1986 album Skylarking as a vinyl double LP. The album is scheduled to be released on November 23, 2010.
The album will also include the original cover art that was banned by Virgin Records. Here is the story from the Ape House website:
The fantastic sounding forthcoming double vinyl release of XTC's SKYLARKING album is being pressed up right now and will soon be in your hands. You know of course that it's cover will be the original one? No, not the last minute drawing of the elysian type couple tooting on their flutes, nice as it was, I mean the ORIGINAL cover, the one that Virgin banned. Quick version goes like this. XTC had sleeve shoot with naked male and female models. Took mock up of sleeve to big store chains in London. They went all coy and said they would refuse to stock it, Virgin said that can't be sleeve. XTC had to find a last minute replacement. IE: the one you're familiar with. Till now.
I guess there's no point in speculating as to why the original cover was banned. From an artistic viewpoint, it is interesting. However, I can't imagine why anyone would expect a retail store to display it on their shelves. A retail store is not an art gallery.
It looks like Kanye West is getting quite a bit of publicity from his claim over the weekend that the cover for his forthcoming album was banned. It is one of the hottest stories on music and entertainment blogs today.
In his numerous tweets about the album cover yesterday, West complained that there were album covers in the 1970s that featured nudity. However, West doesn't seem to realize that most of those album covers were either censored at the request of retailers by placing them in plain brown wrappers or by having stickers placed on the offending parts of the cover.
Two Virgins: Untitled Music No. 1, the 1968 experimental album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (above right) is an excellent example. While the album cover that features Lennon and Ono in full frontal nudity is commonly displayed online today, it was not displayed in retail stores when it was released.
In fact, entire shipments of the album were seized by authorities as obscene material in several US jurisdictions. It was one of several album covers by Lennon and The Beatles that were censored over the years. There is very little risk of Kanye West having the same experience as Lennon and Ono.
West's record label has clarified that the album cover was not banned. They simply suggested that it be changed in order to prevent retailers like Walmart from refusing to display the album face out on store shelves.
I think that West should use the cover and place it in a brown wrapper similar to the one used for the classic Two Virgins album. It could look something like the image below. It would also be a fitting tribute to John Lennon and the countless other artists who have had their album covers censored in the past.
When his album with wife Yoko Ono Some Time in New York City was released in 1972, John Lennon had already experienced the censorship of two album covers by retailers. The first was The Beatles album Yesterday and Today which was puled from shelves and given a new cover when retailers complained about the use of raw meat on the original cover. The second was the cover for the 1968 Lennon and Ono album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, which featured a photograph of the couple in full frontal nudity. The Two Virgins album was ruled to be obscene material in several jusridictions and copies were impounded.
The album cover was mocked up to look like the frontpage of the New York Times, with outrageous headlines and photos. This is a concept that has been imitated many times over the years, most notably by Guns N' Roses for their 1990 album Lies. The Guns N' Rose cover was also censored, with two objectionable headlines changed.
Some Time is New York City has a cover that was obviously intended to be censored. There are several elements that made it shocking for its time, the most controversal being a fake photo of Richard Nixon dancing naked with Mao Zedong. The album cover also featured the title of the song Woman is the Nigger of the World and a cartoon image of a bare breasted woman being eviserated.
As could have been expected, many retailers censored the objectionable portions of the album cover by pasting stickers on it. Unfortunately, many of them used stickers that could not be removed and the covers were permanently damaged.
In an interview with Playboy magazine that is recounted in David Sheff's book All We are Saying, Lennon expressed his outrage over his album covers being censored:
You see how they banned the picture here. [He points to a gold seal pasted onto a corner of the album.] Yoko made this beautiful poster. Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon dancing naked together, you see? And the stupid retailers stuck a gold sticker over it that you can't even steam off. At least you could steam off that Beatles cover. So you see the kind of pressure Yoko and I were getting, not only on a personal level, and the public level, and the court case, and the fucking government, and this, that, and the other, but every time we tried to express ourselves, they would ban it, would cover it up, would censor it.
The cover shown below is from the new remastered version of the album that was released to commemorate what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday.
The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking was the first solo album released by British musician Roger Waters following his split from Pink Floyd. It is a concept album about a man who fantasizes about an extramarital affair during a midlife crisis. The album is unique in that it takes place in real time during the early morning.
When it was released in 1984, the album was controversial due to a nude photograph of model Linzi Drew that appeared on the cover. Many retailers refused to stock the album without the bare bottom of the model being censored with a black bar (right).
Online retailers including Amazon.com and iTunes continue to use the censored cover to illustrate the product. This is due to the censored cover being supplied by the record label rather than a concern over the image. This image would hardly raise an eyebrow in 2009.
The cover below is from the 2000 remaster CD of the album. The color balance and saturation is slightly different from the original LP. The AAX gallery contains all three covers, the original uncensored version, the original censored version, and the uncensored remaster version.
In a recent interview for an Oklahoma newspaper, musician Andrew W.K. spoke about the censoring of his 2001 debut album I Got Wet by retailers.
He said that it’s easy to get lost without a visual hook to catch a record executive’s attention. When he started marketing his debut disc, 2001’s “I Get Wet,” Andrew W.K. took the extreme route: he gave himself a bloody nose, and the resulting photo became his album cover.
Ultimately, the album cover was censored with a black sticker, but that was music to Andrew W.K.’s ears.
“This was my dream all along: I wanted an album cover that had to be censored,” he said. “Sure enough, a lot of people who bought the CD said they wanted to see what was behind the black sticker.”
The interesting thing about this kind of marketing strategy is that it rarely works more than once — for the artist or for those using the same type of graphic image in the future.
A similar album cover was created for New York DJ Cazwells’ 2007 single Watch My Mouth and it barely got noticed. It seems that people are no longer quite as shocked by bloody faces — unless they are the faces of children.
Journal for Plague Lovers, the 2009 release by Manic Street Preachers, featured an illustration that appeared to represent the beaten and bloody face of a young boy. It was banned in may retail stores in the U.K. and drew concern in many other countries.
Whether it is toilets, nudity, or violence, the more we see in the marketplace, the less likely we are to be offended. If an album is good enough to stand the test of time, the effectiveness of a marketing gimmick like a deliberately offensive cover will wear thin. The public will become increasingly jaded and recording artists will have to go to other extremes to get noticed.
In previous installments of Banned in the USA, I have featured album covers that were censored due to depictions of nudity, bathroom fixtures, and cuts of raw meats. In each of those cases, I had no qualms about including the original album art in the article. The album cover Virgin Killer, a 1976 album by German heavy metal band Scorpions, is an exception.
Before writing about the Virgin Killer cover, I consulted with AlbumArtExchange website owner Scott Robb as to whether the controversial cover should even be included in the AAX gallery. It is a cover that has generated a great deal of controversy as recently as last year when the social conservative site WorldNetDaily reported the use of the image on Wikipedia to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
An officer of the Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian advocacy group, commented, “By allowing that image to remain posted, Wikipedia is helping to further facilitate perversion and pedophilia.” EContent magazine subsequently reported the Wikipedia community’s internal debate as concluding, “Prior discussion has determined by broad consensus that the Virgin Killer cover will not be removed”, and asserted that Wikipedia contributors “favor inclusion in all but the most extreme cases”. In December 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a UK-based non-government organization, added the Wikipedia article Virgin Killer to its internet blacklist due to concerns over legality of the image, which had been assessed as the lowest level of legal concern: “erotic posing with no sexual activity”. As a result, people using many major UK ISPs were blocked from viewing the entire article by the Cleanfeed system, and a large part of the U.K. was blocked from editing Wikipedia due to the means of blocking in use. Following discussion, representations by the Wikimedia Foundation (who host the Wikipedia website), and public complaints, the IWF reversed their decision three days later, and confirmed that in future they would not block copies of the image that were hosted overseas.
Scott and I agreed that the Virgin Killer cover is one that is of interest to album art collectors and historians — due mostly to the recent controversy. Therefore, it has been included in the AAX gallery and I have included it in this article. It would be almost impossible to discuss this cover without including the actual image. Doing so is not an endorsement of the record label’s decision to use a photograph of a nude child on an album cover. The cover was distibuted as part of a commercial recording by a major label (RCA) and is for that reason historically significant. Apparently, the cover was held up on national TV by Tipper Gore, the wife of former U.S. vice president. If it was acceptable for Mrs. Gore to show Vigin Killer to the world, I feel more comfortable with my decision to display the uncensored image here.
Unlike many other banned and censored album covers, the cover of Virgin Killer was intended to spark controversy. In a 2007 interview with Blasting-Zone.com, Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker discussed releasing the cover:
Blasting-Zone.com: In hindsight, do you regret releasing the album Virgin Killer with the original uncensored cover?
Rudolf: “No. We didn’t actually have the idea. It was the record company. The record company guys were like, ‘Even if we have to go to jail, there’s no question that we’ll release that.’ On the song ‘Virgin Killer’, time is the virgin killer. But then, when we had to do the interviews about it, we said ‘Look, listen to the lyrics and then you’ll know what we’re talking about. We’re using this only to get attention. That’s what we do.’ Even the girl, when we met her fifteen years later, had no problem with the cover. Growing up in Europe, sexuality, of course not with children, was very normal. The lyrics really say it all. Time is the virgin killer. A kid comes into the world very naive, they lose that naiveness and then go into this life losing all of this getting into trouble. That was the basic idea about all of it.”
As was expected, the cover was banned in many counties or sold in a plain wrapper. An alternate cover featuring a photo of the band was issued for use where the original was banned. The alternate cover is used on Amazon.com and iTunes.
The band has also released two other albums with controversial covers. Taken By Force depicted children playing with guns in a cemetery. The cover of Lovedrive features a woman with a bare breast that appears to be made of chewing gum.
In 2006, Classic Rock Revisited published an interview with Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth, in which he was asked about the Virgin Killer cover:
Classic Rock Revisited: “Virgin Killer” was banned!! Who was the girl on the cover and whose idea was it to have a nude child with broken glass in that area? What a statement.
Uli: “Looking at that picture today makes me cringe. It was done in the worst possible taste. Back then I was too immature to see that. Shame on me — I should have done everything in my power to stop it. The record company came up with the idea, I think.
“I can’t blame Tipper Gore for brandishing the cover on TV as offensive, though. She was completely right in doing so and she’s a good person anyway, although she probably didn’t make the effort to check out the lyrics, which put a different slant on the whole thing — can’t blame her for that either, because knowing what I know today, I would have possibly reacted in a similar vein.
On June 15, 1966, The Beatles released their classic album Yesterday and Today. The cover featured the Fab Four wearing lab coats and draped with parts of butchered animals and naked, decapitated dolls.
As soon as the album was shipped, many retailers refused to display it in their stores. Complaints flooded Capitol Records and the label took the almost unprecedented step of recalling all of the albums. The returned albums were unpacked and a new cover was actually glued over the original.
The new cover art featured the band and a steamer trunk. Like many other controversial album covers, the original cover for Yesterday and Today was used for the cover of a CD years later. The CD booklet featured both the “trunk” and the “butcher” covers as a reversable cover. It will be interesting to see which cover is used when this album is reissued.
Today, the “butcher” cover is likely to receive objections from groups like PETA. However, most retailers would not find it offensive. By today’s standards, it is barely even interesting.
The “butcher” cover was featured on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow a couple of years ago. Here is the clip for those of you who missed it when it aired
In this second installment of Banned in the USA, we’ll look at a couple of album covers that have been censored because they featured something truly horrible — a toilet!
In 1966, The Mamas and The Papas released If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears. The covered featured the quartet sitting in a bathtub, fully clothed. Next to the tub was something that was rarely shown on TV and in movies at the time. The cover displayed a toilet — and not a very clean looking one at that!
The toilet was soon declared obscene by many U.S. retailers and was pulled from shelves. As often happens, a sticker was placed over the toilet and the LPs were redistributed. Subsequent covers were printed with the toilet covered.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the controversy regarding this particular cover. After the hysteria over the obscene toilet died down, someone noticed that four young people were — gasp — in a bathtub together! Not only that, one of the young women appeared to be thrusting her buttocks toward the camera in a very suggestive manner.
You can probably guess what happened next. The cover was censored for a second time. A third cover was created that cropped out the tub and Michelle Phillips’ butt. When If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears was released on CD, the first censored cover that simply hides the toilet was used rather than the cropped version. I guess people were still offended by toilets, but neither the bathtub nor Michelle Phillips’ butt were quite as offensive anymore.
Another well known cover banned for featuring a toilet is the 1968 Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet. Not only did this album cover feature a dirty-looking public toilet, it also showed a wall of restroom graffiti.
The Rolling Stones’ record labels in both the U.S. and the U.K. refused to release the album with the cover and the band refused to change it. The stand off lasted several months, but the band eventually gave in and allowed the album to be released with a cover that resembled a formal invitation.
When the album was released on CD, the original toilet/graffiti cover was used. The scans that we now have of this cover are from the CD, although sometimes I see it incorrectly labeled as the original LP release cover.
The United States has a long history of censoring album covers. Typically, retailers will object to a cover being displayed on their shelves and the record companies respond by either changing the cover or placing a sticker over the offending part of the cover.
One of the most controversial banned covers is John Lennon’s Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins — commonly called the Two Virgins album. The album features John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in full frontal nudity.
As could be expected, the Two Virgins cover created a huge controversy. Retailers sold it in a brown paper wrapper and thousands of copies were confiscated as obscene material by local police across the country.
Eventually, an alternate cover was created for the album that showed the nude couple in a much more modest pose.
In spite of the publicity, the album was not a chart topper. However, it continues to be known as one of the most contorversial album covers of all time.
The reissued CD features a brown paper insert that simulates the brown paper wrapper in which the LP was forced to be sold.
So far, neither the reissue cover nor the alternate cover have been added to the collection.
There are many more album covers that have been banned or censored over the years. From time to time, we’ll do a feature on a particular cover. If you have one in mind that you think should be featured here, leave a comment.