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As Nasty as They Wanna Be: The 20 Dirtiest Album Covers of All Time

Racy images that pushed the boundaries of art — and taste

Pixies, ween, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Pulp, The Strokes, Prince, Ohio Players, Scorpions

Years ago, before American society had achieved full pornofication, the raciest image in a teenager's room might be an album cover. And many musicians (and record-company art departments) had figured out that an easy way to goose sales was to slap a photo of a half-naked girl on the cover, until the borderline between "sexy" and "sexist" was obliterated. But these 20 covers went above and beyond the normal level of titillation, overloading a nation's brain cells with an unusual level of nudity, kinkiness, or general raunch (and so many of them duly got censored). Without apology: 20 of the dirtiest album covers ever.

John Lennon, yoko ono

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ‘Two Virgins’ (1968)

Not the most flattering photo ever (Lennon described the picture of him and Ono as "two slightly overweight ex-junkies"). But it has that post-coital look — and was only distributed in the United States after a brown paper bag covered the previously unseen Beatle genitalia.

Jimi Hendrix

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968)

Sexiness by excess: if one naked woman is hot, then surely 19 naked women must be orgasmic? That was apparently the logic on this European variant cover for the classic Hendrix double album, which anticipated the seas of naked flesh by art photographer Spencer Tunick and suggested that listening to "Crosstown Traffic" on headphones was just the prelude to an orgy.

Mom's Apple Pie

Mom’s Apple Pie, ‘Mom’s Apple Pie’ (1972)

Decades before American Pie popularized the notion of coitus with dessert, an Ohio rock band had one of the most lurid album covers ever. The cover illustration was in the tradition of Norman Rockwell, except for the giant speakers and the slice cut into the apple pie, which revealed a spread vulva — shown in pornographic detail, lubricated and dripping.

Emerson, Lake, Palmer, Brain Saldad Surgery

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ (1973)

The title, slang for a blowjob, came from a Dr. John single. The art, by H.R. Giger (most famous for designing the alien in Alien) originally had a more obvious shaft heading towards the mouth. Even obscured by the record company, the image of freaky skull-based fellatio remained.

Roxy Music

Roxy Music, ‘Country Life’ (1974)

Roxy Music album covers typically featured beautiful women in classic pinup poses — but with an unsettling note of teeth-gritting discomfort for the models. Country Life, maybe because the models seemed relatively at ease, became the most iconic of all Roxy covers — and the flimsy panties on models Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald emphasized the pun in the title (borrowed from a Hamlet line about "country matters").

Ohio Players

Ohio Players, ‘Honey’ (1975)

A well-oiled Playboy centerfold under hot lights with a jar of honey — what could possibly go wrong that a good dry cleaner couldn't handle? According to urban legend, model Ester Cordet was disfigured because the "honey" was actually acrylic, and when she came to the studio, the band's manager stabbed her, with her screams captured in the breakdown on "Love Rollercoaster." Ohio Players drummer Jimmy "Diamond" Williams denied all these stories: "We've never been arrested or incarcerated or interrogated," he told Rolling Stone. "Some of us have been handcuffed — we've had some wild times — but that's different."

Scorpions, Lovedrive

Scorpions, ‘Lovedrive’ (1979)

This German metal band, with an assist from the design firm Hipgnosis, presented one of the most adolescent depictions of sexuality ever: the back seat of a car, a bare breast and an astonishing amount of bubblegum.

The Slits

The Slits, ‘Cut’ (1979)

Fierce, topless, mud-covered. On the cover of their debut album, Cut, the great British punk group the Slits subverted the pinup potential of cheesecake album pictures and National Geographic photo spreads — and simultaneously reveled in the power that the sexy imagery gave them.

The Cars

The Cars, ‘Candy-O’ (1979)

For their second album, the Cars lured renowned pinup artist Alberto Vargas out of retirement; at age 83, the Peruvian master delivered with a gorgeous image of a redhead in a body stocking, reclining on a car. The automobile was lightly outlined — Vargas knew that neither the car nor the Cars was the selling point.

Prince

Prince, ‘Lovesexy’ (1988)

Prince made many memorably filthy tracks, from "Head" to "Erotic City," but none of them may have been as dirty as this cover, which cloaked itself in floral innocence. But Prince wasn't content to have a photo of himself starkers: the cover also featured a prominent pistil, sometimes called "the flower penis" by fans: his sex pistil, if you will. It was Prince's best visual double-entendre until the 2006 Super Bowl, where he went behind a sheet so his guitar would, in silhouette, explode out of his pants.

Pixies

Pixies, ‘Surfer Rosa’ (1988)

Indicators that these bare breasts have been classed up and the album cover should be considered art rather than porn: the sepia-toned photography and the flamenco dancer outfit. But somehow the overall vibe is "hot quickie between two eager photography students in the university darkroom."

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mothers Milk

Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Mother’s Milk’ (1989)

Anthony Kiedis described this cover as "like four Tom Sawyers being held by this giant naked lady." Hot for fans of giantess porn, or for those who like to imagine the Chili Peppers as anatomically correct Ken dolls. When the band printed up posters where model Dawn Alane's nipples were exposed, she successfully sued them for $50,000; Kiedis groused, "I couldn't understand why we couldn't have found a model who was happy to have her tits on a cover."

divinyls

Divinyls, ‘Divinyls’ (1991)

How do you package an ode to masturbation like the classic "I Touch Myself"? With the Divinyls, you put singer Christina Amphlett in the cover in a fishnet outfit, touching herself and giving a classic come-hither look. Rumor has it that guitarist Mark McEntee was also on the cover, but that is impossible to confirm since nobody has ever looked at the right half.

black crowes

Black Crowes, ‘Amorica’ (1994)

A reappropriation of the cover of a 1976 issue of Hustler: one of Larry Flynt's most potent blends ever of sexuality, race, and American civil liberties. It was later sold with the entire image blacked out except for the central triangle.

Ween

Ween, ‘Chocolate and Cheese’ (1994)

Model Ashley Savage stars in a tribute to the power of underboob and strategic airbrushing, clad in a tiny red shirt and a belt that looks like it belongs to a boxing champion. Like Ween themselves, this image was so over-the-top that it became its own freaky thing.

Pulp, This is Hardcore

Pulp, ‘This Is Hardcore’ (1998)

For This Is Hardcore, Pulp had album art that cast actual hardcore porn stars. In various states of undress and simulated arousal, they looked plastic, and they looked like they were going through the motions on one more paid job. It achieved the intended effect: dirty and raw without being particularly titillating.

Basement Jaxx

Basement Jaxx, ‘Remedy’ (1999)

An actual orgy? A multilayered sandwich of human flesh in contrasting skintones? A computer-assisted pasteup job? Whatever the source of the cover art for the debut album by Basement Jaxx, the image suggests that the duo's music will lead to intimate but anonymous writhing with four to 11 loved ones.

D'angelo

D’Angelo, ‘Voodoo’ (2000)

On his second album, D'Angelo discovered the star-making power of removing his shirt, revealing that he was not only a world-class R&B singer/writer/producer, he was amazingly ripped. In the cover photo, he definitely looked like a man who was in the process of taking his clothes off, not putting them on.

Strokes

The Strokes, ‘Is This It’ (2001)

Americans got a trippy picture of subatomic particle tracks, but Europeans got the sexy version of the album art for the Strokes' debut: a leather glove resting on a shapely female hip. The picture, reminiscent of Helmut Newton, was actually by Colin Lane, and is dirty for the pervy situation it implies as much as for what it shows.

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