Outrageous in their time or just plain silly, this opening salvo of five infamous album covers might present a compelling argument for rebuilding your vinyl collection in themselves; mild apologies for anything that might be considered un-PC today. Readers are warmly invited to suggest further titles to extend this piece.
The Slits - Cut
The Slits were a British female punk band formed in 1976. The music was raw and wild; a strange hybrid of punk and reggae but the songs spoke more of freedom and empowerment than sex. So in a sense the cover of the band’s 1979 debut, Cut, showing the trio warrior-like sporting loincloths, bare-breasted and covered in mud was something that you might expect a seedy male music exec to come up with rather than a bunch of forthright young women. Whoever’s idea the post-mud wrestling pose was, it didn’t go down well with absent drummer Palmolive who soon exited the band. However it is still a striking image today; proud, fierce, independent and, dare I mouth it, sexy too.
The Mothers of Invention - Weasels Ripped My Flesh
The nightmarish pop art that adorns the cover of The Mothers of Invention’s 1970 release, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, was the work of American illustrator Neon Park, who was also responsible for a great many Little Feat album sleeves. Frank Zappa showed Park the cover of a 1956 issue of Man’s Life depicting a man up to his waist in water being attacked by weasels and challenged him “to do worse than this”. Park responded with a parody of a Schick electric razor ad that, despite record exec nervousness, became an iconic album cover of the time. There is a redeeming humour and subversion to it that counters the squeamish element though the image still retains the power to shock. Either way it’s way better than the German version showing a metal baby caught in a rat trap!
Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Expect this to be weird. Only there was no need for a day-glo sticker to be added; this surreal and mostly disturbing album cover says it all, a perfect accompaniment to the experimentalism of the music therein. The image of the trout mask replica is as literal as it is absurd. Artist Cal Schenkel actually used a hollowed out carp’s head which the good Captain modeled for over two hours, including a break to play saxophone through the fish’s mouth, while Schenkel took photographs. The thought of it being a real studio shoot as opposed to a mere photo comp adds to the grotesque feeling you get when you stare at the cover. After a while the fish eyes start to follow you around the room at which point you make an exit and put on a Wild Man Fischer record to restore a semblance of normality.
Weird Al Yankovic - Off the Deep End
Any collection of outrageous album covers is scarcely complete without a nod to Weird Al Yankovic. The master parodist is at it again with this zenith of a take on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Here Weird Al is tempted by the bait of a donut rather than a dollar but the image of him naked in the water approaching the sugary treat with the single-mindedness of a shark is surely one you don’t easily dislodge.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
A reminder that nudity was not universally embraced in a retail context is evidenced by the cover to Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 double album, Electric Ladyland. Hendrix initially wanted it to feature a shot of the band by the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park, surrounded by children. Instead the record was released in the US with a blurred head shot of the artist while UK record buyers were treated to a bevy of naked ladies across both sides. The latter release on the independent Track label courted as much controversy as lust at the time and was personally disliked by Hendrix. My abiding memory as a spotty 15 year old, however, was that the dark haired beauty (on the second row, front of sleeve) resembled Janet Reeves, the girlfriend I craved but didn’t have. I wondered if she looked like this naked!
A version of this article first appeared on www.consequenceofsound.com