There is probably nothing more likely to be censored on an album cover than male nudity. A penis is certain to get a mosaic blur or a sticker placed over it. Artists who use images of naked men on their albums may do it for shock value.
Probably the most noteworthy album cover featuring frontal male nudity is Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins (right), which was released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1968. The cover caused a major controversy. It was distributed in a brown wrapper and even seized as obscene material in some jurisdictions. The thing that made the album more controversial than other albums that featured nudity was John Lennon's penis. It was something that had simply not been done before.
Today, artists do not risk having their albums declared obscene for featuring a naked man. Many brick and mortar retailers would refuse to display the album on their shelves and online retailers would censor the image. However, there would be very little controversy. Of course, showing an erection or a sex act would be an entirely different matter.
I recently noticed that three forthcoming albums feature male nudity. Two use frontal nudity and one is a photograph of a naked man shown from behind. Although there are many other recent examples, I think that these three covers may show a trend for 2012.
In no particular order, here are 11 interesting album covers depicting blurry people. From out of focus camera shots to post production techniques and additional design elements. For some, it's to hide the naughty bits (sigh). For others, it's to create the illusion of rapid movement and/or two heads! And others, well, it's to jazz up a boring head shot or the designer discovered a new plugin in Photoshop. Or maybe they were under the influence when they used their camera.
My favorites would have to be Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (come on, who wouldn't like Joan Jett naked?), Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Uffie. What are yours?
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Shooting Straight in the Dark (1990)
Inked bodies, tattooed birthday suits, and artistically painted flesh make up this installment of The Nude Series. My favorite is Joss Stone, followed by Bullets and Octane, but I'm quite like the last one for the clever play on words and cool band name (Johnny Depp's character Rango should cover them!). Oh heck, I like them all.
Jocelyn Eve Stoker (or Joss Stone to those in the know!) went au naturelle for her third studio album. I assume she has been painted "silver/gray" to blend in with the wall, and then the painted swirly and "hippie-like" designs have been accented along with her red hair. Totally awesome!
The album's lead single Tell Me 'bout It, was, incredibly, Stone's first solo single to make the Billboard Hot 100 in the US (come on America, what are you playing at?). The album itself debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 in it's opening week, becoming the highest debut for a British female solo artist on the chart, surpassing the record previously by Amy Winehouse's Back To Black.
Kelli Ali - Tigermouth (2003)
Poison - Hollyweird (2002)
Lead singer of the trip-hop group Sneaker Pimps, female vocalist Kelli Ali, kindly went topless for us (just in case a sleeve might get in the way, God bless her!) so we could see the pair of tigers tattooed on her left arm. Now that's dedication! Tigermouth, so named for her "unique canine dentition" (that's special cat-like teeth), was Ali's debut solo album.
Next we have American hard rock band Poison's sixth studio album, Hollyweird, sporting the obligatory motorcycle with flames and skull, a nude woman in boots, and a snake, albeit tattooed. There's also four terrifying monster heads in the background and a "Bret Michael looking" cowboy hat present, just in case you still weren't entirely sure what sort of album you might be getting yourself into.
Another American rock band, Buckcherry, for their eponymous debut album, decided to use an illustration of a hot, luscious, decorated, painted, red-haired beauty (OMG, it's Joss Stone!). Such decorative and patterned "full" body tattoos were common throughout Polynesia and other parts of the world, and accentuating weapons, sorry, features such as the breasts is nothing new that isn't being done today without ink or paint.
Bullets and Octane In the Mouth of the Young (2006)
Bang Tango From the Hip (2006)
And lastly, we have two very contrasting covers, both from 2006. One, quite tattooed and in areas that could easily be bare or visible in public, the other small and lonely, discrete and intimate. I have covered punk/hard rock/thrash metal band Bullets and Octane's cover in an earlier Déjà Vu entry. Suffice to say, that baby will probably grow up to be a hulking WWE star with arms thicker than his head (see what I did there?!).
The cover for American funk-infused hard rock and glam metal band Bang Tango's fifth and last studio album, From the Hip, also "features" a tattoo, on a hip. It's a Chinese dragon. While "features" may be a slightly strong word to use here, the album title and model's tattoo are indelibly inked ... err ... linked, and the first thing my eyes looked at was her hip, honest! :)
Having trawled though almost two thousand suggested album covers for "The Nude Series" (gee life is tough), here is the first in the series -- bare bottoms!. Now, I appreciate a nice bare bottom as much as the next man (or woman), but only as long as it's done tastefully. So, without further ado, here are twelve delightful derrieres, brilliant buttocks, perky posteriors, tasty tushies, awesome asses and beautiful behinds. OK, I'm running out of alliterative synonyms... on with the show... err... article.
Robert Palmer - Pressure Drop (1975) Now On - Tomorrow Already (2008)
For more information on arguably the most famous album cover featuring a naked behind, Robert Palmer's Pressure Drop, please check out Fritz's excellent Déjà vu: Now On vs. Robert Palmer. It's nice to know that Now On went the extra mile and used three different models. Good for them. And us.
The Strokes - Is This It (2001) (Non-US version)
Mark Pritchard & Om'Mas Keith Wind It Up (EP) (2009)
American rock band The Strokes'
debut album cover, by Colin Lane, features a photograph of a woman's nude bottom and hip, with a leather-gloved hand suggestively resting on it. The model was later revealed to be Lane's then-girlfriend. In what was purely a band decision, an alternative cover of a microscopic close-up of particle collisions was used for the American market. The Strokes' 2003 biography mentions the fear of objections from America's conservative retail industry and right-wing lobby as reasons for the artwork's alteration. And now my "other" favorite (Akercocke's is the other), the deliciously green "tattooed" smoothie presented by electronic music producer Mark Pritchard and hip hop artist Om'Mas Keith. It's so different! And green! I want one!
The cover of Australian rock band Wolfmother's single White Unicorn is from The Moon's Rapture (1994), by the late great fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. Another of his works, The Sea Witch (1967), graces Wolfmother's self-titled debut album. The 2008 live bootleg Mammoth, continues the tradition with The Mammoth (1973). If you happen to have a Frazetta original lying around, it's worth millions. In July 2010, Conan the Destroyer (1971) sold for US $1.5 million.
Whitesnake - Lovehunter (1979)
The New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour (2007)
The cover art for British band Whitesnake's Lovehunter was created by fantasy artist Chris Achilleos. At the time, the cover was controversial and Achilleos refused to do album covers for many years. The original Lovehunter artwork was stolen in the 1980s and has yet to be recovered. The same concept of a naked woman riding a serpent was used years earlier in Jon Lord's Sarabande. And hey! Guess what? Lord was a member of Whitesnake at the time of Lovehunter. Now with a name like The New Pornographers, you'd expect a bare bum somewhere. They obliged and threw in a spaceman for free. Thank you, you Canadian indie rock band you, that's awesome!
German heavy metal, hard-rock band Scorpions have sold over 100 million albums worldwide and released eighteen studio and four live albums (and 23 compilation albums!). Their first compilation album, back in 1978, continued heavy metal's time honored tradition of female nudity. The Scorpions most famous cover is the very controversial Virgin Killers (1976), which Fritz has written about in great detail here.
UNKLE - Where Did the Night Fall (2010)
Akercocke - Choronzon (2003)
British trip-hop outfit UNKLE's fifth studio album reveals a thong wearing beauty. The album has been released in three versions; standard, limited edition, and a 2011 re-release entitled Where Did the Night Go - Another Night Out, which depicts (tasteful) female frontal nudity (view here). Another exquisite bottom is used on 2010's The Answer EP. The photography for these covers is the result of the collaborative work of Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones. Akercocke, an English "progressive blackened death metal band" (I have no idea what that means), have what I think is the best of them all on their third album; a gluteus maximus in glorious motion (oh dear, more alliteration).
And one last thought. I'm not sure exactly why it is, but male rears seem to be lacking. They're very rare (homophone intended), so much so that I couldn't find any to use in this article. Is this because it is an unproven design or marketing angle that no one is willing to try. I'm sure there are superb male butt models out there, and I'd love to see someone (Lady GaGa perhaps) break the female dominance of bare cheeks on covers.
There are a bunch of banana themed album covers out there in album cover land (pun intended). In fact, there are thousands of them. Boring fruit salad, dessert-themed, split-in-a-sundae uninspiring concepts, many with accompanying names and titles such as the Peel Sessions or Go Bananas. And yet, many others merely include a stock standard yellow banana, and fewer still a prominent one.
Let's face it. There's not much you can do with a banana, or a can of soup, or Marilyn Monroe, or Mickey Mouse. Isn't that right Mr Warhol? As a teaser for an upcoming "Noah's Ark: Monkeys" post, here is a small collection of "bananas" I consider important, different or well skinned... err... peeled... err... done.
First up, is what has to be, in my opinion, the album cover world's sexiest banana, courtesy of The Dandy Warhols, The cover of their fourth album is a tribute to The Velvet Underground's debut album (see last image) and an homage to Andy Warhol. But oh my, that is one nice looking zipper, skintight jumpsuit, unblemished flesh, and great curves... the Liz Hurley of bananas!
The Dandy Warhols - Welcome to the Monkey House (2003)
And here we have Katy Perry using a banana as a phone. She also does this with a watermelon in an alternate cover. Silly girl! Everyone knows watermelons are only for tweeting! Cris Rea flaunts no banana, just a banana skin, and the members of James chow into some (an average Cavendish banana is around 90 to 100 calories). And a Velvet Underground compilation album which, like Welcome to the Monkey House, pays tribute to their debut album.
Katy Perry - Hot n Cold (2008)
Chris Rea - God's Great Banana Skin (1992)
James Laid (1993)
Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground Best of (1995)
The album cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico is recognizable for featuring a Warhol print. Early copies of the album (now rare collector's items) invited the owner to "Peel slowly and see"; peeling back the banana skin revealed a flesh-colored banana underneath. Largely ignored upon it's release, the album has since become one of the most influential and critically acclaimed rock albums in history, ranked at #13 by Rolling Stone in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The Velvet Undergound - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
What else can I say other than to throw on your shades, kick back and enjoy the kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic, super-bright, over-saturated, rainbow-colored cover-art fest about to unfold before your eyes.
WARNING: These images may induce prolonged spells of euphoria to the observer. In such cases of extreme psychedelia, do not panic, become paranoid, or get the munchies. Be groovy and calmly apply one dose of this reality check for adults, and up to three doses for children and teenagers. Do NOT exceed recommended amounts.
The cover for Saliva's new album Under Your Skin, posted earlier by zeefritz, got me thinking of albums with prominent or strange eyes and eyeballs. So with a little digging, here's a selection for you to vote on.
If you can think of any others, please leave a comment. Green "cat people" eyes, big baby blues, eyes on hands, a bloodshot eye used as a gobstopper, terrified and surprised eyes -- what's your favorite? Get voting. Results will be posted in a week's time.
For the last six weeks, I have been avidly watching the first season of the Syfy supernatural thriller Being Human, which is an adaption of the acclaimed BBC drama Being Human (UK), which in turn just so happens to also be currently airing for the last five weeks (Series 3). It's almost surreal to watch them together each week. I highly recommend them both. They're darkly comedic, twisty-plot-driven, unexpectedly surprising, and refreshingly entertaining with excellent music choices ! "At times frightening, witty, and romantic" says Space. I like my description better.
In a nutshell, the show revolves around three roommates living in Boston (or Bristol) who appear to be in their twenties, who try to live normal lives despite being a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. When I first saw the promotional "banner" for the North American adaption, with the slight morphing of each character into their supernatural state, I thought "What a great idea for a blog!" My only criteria is that no soundtracks covers are allowed. Feel free to list your variations in the comments below.
One subject that many people mistakenly assume to be used frequently on album covers is kissing. If you actually browse through the over 90,000 covers in the AlbumArtExchange.com gallery, you will discover that is not the case. There are actually very few album covers that feature clear, tight images of people engaging in a passionate kiss.
The most notable album cover featuring a kissing couple is Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The album was released in 1980, shortly before Lennon's death. The album won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and is Lennon's best-selling studio album. The photograph on the cover was taken by Japanese photographer Kishin Shinoyama.
Even as late as 1980, a great deal of racial prejudice existed in the United States. The image of an interracial couple kissing was still unusual. Just last year, two album covers featuring interracial couples kissing were released.
Of course, there have been many album covers featuring couples kissing released over the last several decades. However, covers using images of graphic close up shots of lips pressed together have been few in number.
Probably one of the most interesting developments has been theuse of same-sex couples kissing on album covers. While a couple of the cover posted above are sexually ambiguous, there have been a few album covers featuring both male and female couples kissing.
It has been quite a long time since my last installment of Variations on a Theme. This one is especially timely due to the revival of 3D movies. I'm not really sure if that has anything to do with it, but there have been several recent album covers that use 3D imaging as a special effect.
I don't think the designers expect anyone to put on 3D glasses to view these covers. The red and blue color separation has been used more to create an interesting visual effect. However, the covers do have a 3D look when viewed with the glasses. I tried them all.
The best of the four covers in 3D are Semi Precious Weapons self-titled album and Annie Mac Presents compilation. The other two don't really pop out at you.
A very common theme in album art is womens’ legs and high heels. This should come as no surprise since images featuring shapely legs and heels have been a popular subject for artists and photographers for generations. The classic example is the World War II pin up of Betty Grable, but it is certainly not the earliest. Just look through an stock photo collection and you will find dozens of examples of images similar to the one posted on the right.
Over the years, many album covers have featured legs and high heels. One of the earliest notable covers is Cool Struttin’ by Sonny Clark. The 1958 Blue Note release was considered to be quite racy at the time. It was a hip jazz album that could be found in the apartments of many young bachelors (the kind of guys mother warned you about). Throughout the next decade, the skirts got shorter and the heels got higher.
A very popular version of the legs and high heels theme uses a shot of the back of the woman’s legs in either red or black pumps. Typically, the legs are spread in an open stance. The most familiar example of this version can be found on the cover of the soundtrack for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
The examples below span several decades. The style of the shoes may change over the years, but the concept remains the same. Artists such as ZZ Top and .38 Special have used this theme. It is one that will probably never go out of style.
This theme is often executed using silhouette and illustrations. The three examples below display a very similar design.
Other variations have used mannequins, giant pumps, and dramatic poses. It is obvious that this is a theme that has sparked a lot of creativity.
Ever since the leak of a photo taken of Adam Lambert during the photo shoot for his forthcoming album (right), people have been speculating about the costume that the artist is wearing. Some people believe that he is made up to be some kind of glam astronaut.
An astronaut isn’t a bad guess. If you take into consideration the numerous albums that have used a space suit theme in the past, the odds a pretty good. Space exploration has been a popular theme on album covers for decades.
Probably the most controversial cover to feature astronauts was the the 1970 album by L.A. blues/rock band Canned Heat called Future Blues. The politically charged cover shows five astronauts planting an American flag on the moon upside down (a distress signal).
Probably the strangest cover with an astronaut theme is for a greatest hits album by pop diva Christina Aguilera. The photo shoot caused a buzz when it was reported that Aquilera was wearing a full space suit and carrying a toy ray gun. The cover ended up being just a shot of her wearing a space helmet.
Other notable covers with an astronaut them include Led Zeppelin’s Early Days, 18 by Moby and Happy Smiles by t.a.T.u. (which many fans assumed to be a joke when the cover was revealed).
Below are a few other examples of albums using a variation of the astronaut theme. There are probably over 50 popular album covers that feature a space suit. This is in no way a comprehensive listing. As always, you can click the images to see the large image in the AAX gallery.
If you have a favorite astronaut-themed album cover that is not mentioned here, add a comment to this article and let me know about it.
Probably one of the most iconic album covers of the early ’90s is for Nivana’s Nevermind. The cover features a photograph of a baby swimming after a dollar bill on a hook. The cover has been the subject of a number of parodies, including one by Weird Al Yankovic (shown at right).
However, the use of swimming pools as a theme for album covers was not new when Nevermind was released. Recording artists have been photographed in and around pools quite frequently. I browsed through the AAX gallery and selected a few covers that caught my eye, including one by Howie Day that is yet to be released.
This installment of Variations on a Theme is all about a piece of furniture that seems to pop up on album covers more often than most would guess. I’m referring to the sofa. It doesn’t seem very a very exciting concept to show pop stars and rock icons sitting on the couch. But, I’ve got several examples of album covers that do just that.
Often, everyday household items can become the inspriation for album cover art. In this installation of Variations on a Theme, we’ll be looking at a few album covers that feature a very common household item, the light bulb.
The light bulb was invented almost 130 years ago, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it has been featured in popular art and advertising images countless of times. Album covers are no exception. I browsed through the AAX gallery and found several examples. The one’s I’ve posted are intended to show a diverse range of genres. The most recent is the cover of The Black Eyed Peas single, I Gotta Feeling.
Here are a few more interesting light bulb album covers:
One of the most elaborate use of light bulbs as a theme has to be The Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris. The band posted a number of promotional videos online featuring the light bulb cartoon characters that appeared on the album cover.
For someone like me who remembers when cassette tapes were new, it is amusing to see them being featured on so many fairly current album covers as something quaint. I guess it can be compared to album art in the ’50s and ’60s that featured Victrolas.
Here is a batch of albums and singles with cassettes used as the primary graphic element.
In this installment of Variations on a Theme, we take a look a classic Rock ‘n’ Roll hairstyle, the pompadour. The first recording artist that most people think of in connection with the pompadour is Elvis Presley. However, there have been dozens of others who have worn the style over the last 50 years.
Also known as the “greaser” look, the pompadour was worn by bikers and bad boys in addition to rock ‘n’ rollers. It has even been worn by a few stylish ladies, such as P!nk, Annie Lennox, Janell Monae, and Elly Jackson of La Roux.
The most recent pompadour to appear on an album belongs to Hannah Blilie, drummer of Gossip. Blilie is being confused by some for a man, wearing a classic pompadour on the cover of Music For Men. This particular album cover reminds me of the Morrissey covers from the late 1980s.
In the last installment of Variation on a Theme, we looked at album covers that feature dice as a main element. This time, we’ll discuss covers that use another item associated with gambling — the iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
Did you know that the this famous landmark is not copyrighted? That is why it is used on so many tourist items for sale in Las Vegas. The manufacturers do not have to pay royalties.
Because of the lack of a copyright, surprising the sign doesn’t appear on more album covers. I was only able to find four examples.
The next two examples are not included in the AlbumArtExchange gallery. The first is by Merengue star Elvis Crespo who was recently accused of doing something nasty on a flight to Miami. The second is a digital compilation album called Simply Rat Pack.
The album covers above are separated by 34 years and yet they are both rolling lucky seven. There are many other examples of album covers that feature dice as a main object.
Then, we have “fuzzy” dice — the kind that people hang from their rearview mirrors.
Once again, this goes to show that there are very few “original” concepts left when it comes to album cover art. How well those concepts are executed is another matter.
Do you know of a variation on a theme and would like to see it covered here? If so, leave a comment. Remember, guitars, human skulls, and automobiles are the most common objects found on album covers. We’re looking for something a bit more obscure.
Every now and then, we run across an album cover that looks familiar. That shouldn’t be too surprising. There are only so many original concepts and hundreds of album covers being produced every week. Therefore, variations on a theme is a very likely topic for this blog.
Here’s an interesting example. Eeech!
There are lots of album covers with people on TV screens.
How many times have you seen an artist turned into a doll?
Ah, the old “Goldfinger” treatment.
We don’t have the original Goldfinger soundtrack in the collection yet.
If you spot any variations on a theme, let me know by commenting on this post. Just keep in mind that skulls and butterflies have been used countless times. I’m looking for unusual themes like urinals and space suits.