Puritans were some of the earliest European settlers in North America, and despite the sexual revolution and half a century of rock & roll, the U.S.A. still has a strong tradition of bluenose moralizing. Many musicians have tried to push the limits of society in their album packaging — only to find out that sometimes society pushes back. Here are 20 of the most notable censored album covers: The reasons for their bowdlerization include squeamishness about toilets, nudity, and general freakiness.
The original cover for the Mamas and the Papas' debut album: all four band members crammed into a bathtub (with Michelle Phillips stretched out over the other three). But because it was taken in an actual bathroom, the photo also included a toilet, which was taboo. The toilet was first obscured with a text box, and later cropped out entirely.
Times have changed: this image of the Beatles in white smocks, posing with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls now seems like the mildest form of provocation. (The Fab Four may have been protesting the Vietnam War, may have been complaining about how their American record company shuffled and repackaged their albums for the USA market, or may have been indulging in some dark humor.) But in the States, the backlash against the cover was so strong, Capitol had to recall 750,000 copies and replace the image with an anodyne photo of the band around a steamer trunk.
Toilets were still taboo in 1968 — enough so that the Stones' record company rejected the cover photo of a bathroom wall full of graffiti (at a Porsche dealership in Los Angeles), ultimately replacing it with a plain white cover with italic black print in the mode of a formal invitation. The album was delayed for months as a result, and the original art didn't surface until the Eighties.
The Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood supergroup had no name until they saw the cover art for their album, which photographer Bob Seidemann called "Blind Faith": an 11-year-old girl with her shirt off, her innocence in counterpoint to the technological toy in her hands. (Model Mariora Goschen says that she was promised a horse for posing for the cover, and had to settle for 40 pounds sterling.) In the United States, the image of a topless tween provoked outrage (although not as much as it probably would today), so the record company also offered a version with a picture of the band.
Alice Cooper (the band and the singer) broke through with their third album, featuring "I'm Eighteen." But they got flak for a juvenile stunt in the album photo: Cooper wrapped his cape around him and poked his right thumb out, making it look to a casual viewer like his schlong was hanging out. For his trouble, he had his entire right arm airbrushed out.
On the front cover, Bowie just looked freaky — it turned out to be half of a gatefold image by Belgian painter Guy Peellaert, and the back cover revealed that Bowie had the body of a dog, complete with a prominent penis. Those hindquarters were quickly gelded, with some airbrushing rendering Bowie's canine groin smooth and blank.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's fifth studio album was released on October 17th, 1977; three days later, the band's airplane crashed in Mississippi, killing three members, including leader Ronnie Van Zant. That made the cover photo, of the band standing in front of a backdrop of flames, seem in exceptionally poor taste. The band didn't change the Street Survivors title (which was problematic itself), but they did substitute a different photo of the band with a plain black background.
Warner Bros. didn't want to release this Funkadelic record as a double album, so George Clinton whittled it down to a single disc. It also wouldn't approve the Pedro Bell cover art of a naked woman inside a phallic spaceship: Bell covered most of it up with a big splash of green and the message "OH LOOK! The cover that "THEY" were TOO SCARED to print!"
Fictional but classic: in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, one of England's loudest bands has its album cover rejected by the record company and replaced with a plain black cover. The original vision? "A greased, naked woman on all four with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash and a man's arm extended out up to here holding onto the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it."
Old-school censorship for the first solo album by the former Pink Floydster: If people are offended by the rear view of a blonde hitching a ride, naked except for red shoes and a red backpack, then just slap a black box over her butt.
The album got its title from the Robert Williams painting that originally served as its cover: a robotic rapist about to get its comeuppance from a much larger robot predator. After complaints, the band replaced it with an image of its five members rendered as skull heads. The controversy could have been worse: Axl Rose originally wanted the cover to be a photo of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
The original cover to Poison's second album: a red-skinned female demon with big hair and an even bigger tongue. It was more odd than sexual or Satanic, but under pressure, the band changed it, covering up most of the image so you couldn't see much more than the eyes.
The iconic Ritual cover is a photograph of a diorama made by lead singer Perry Farrell, depicting him in the three-way affair he sings about in "Three Days." But the nudity, both male and female, made some retailers squeamish, so the band also provided a plain white cover adorned with the text of the First Amendment.
The amazing cover for 8-Way Santa was found art: a photograph from a thrift store of a beaming couple where a hirsute shirtless dude is copping one breast of his partner. Unfortunately, the couple wasn't amused by the unauthorized use of their picture on the album: one had become a born-again Christian. They sued, and Sub Pop replaced the cover with a mundane picture of the band standing in front of cows.
The song "Rape Me" was too provocative for Walmart and K-Mart, which wouldn't stock In Utero because of it. Or more precisely, the title was too provocative — when the band changed it on the back cover to "Waif Me," without changing the music, the album was approved for the stores' racks.
What image did Pantera select for the cover of their seventh studio album to show their view of the modern world? Why, a drill penetrating an anus, of course. It was quickly replaced with a drill boring into a person's forehead — savory only in comparison.
This cover art — Photoshop-assisted conjoined twins on a teeter-totter — was just plain disturbing. Which is presumably what the band was aiming for, but enough people were weirded out that some territories offered a version with one twin airbrushed out.
The original title was Ghetto Dope, and the original cover featured a man smoking a crack pipe. To secure wider distribution, Master P truncated the title and concocted a new cover that was an ugly digital collage, heavy on the flames.
West told artist George Condo that he wanted to have an album cover that would get banned. Condo provided a painting of a naked West being straddled by a naked woman, who had wings but no arms, plus a polka-dot tail. Mission accomplished: when some retailers wouldn't accept the cover art, West substituted an image of a ballerina instead.
For her debut album, Ferreira rejected her record company's advice that she pick a conventionally styled photograph of herself, opting instead of a Gaspar Noé photograph of herself in the shower, looking wary and vulnerable. To make it more palatable for the likes of the iTunes Store, her label also released a version that strategically cropped out her nipple.