Avant-garde artists John Lennon and Yoko Ono were known to constantly push the envelope in everything they did, and their first album together, “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins,” was no different: the couple went literally all out and appeared in the nude on its cover!
Lennon and Ono were introduced to one another in November 1966 through Indica Gallery owner John Dunbar. Lennon was married to Cynthia Lennon at the time, but when she went on a holiday with her friends, he invited Ono over to their home where he was said to have played to her some of his tapes. This ultimately led to the recording of “Two Virgins” that same night in his home’s studio.
“Two Virgins” was released under the Beatles-founded label Apple Records first in the US on November 11, 1968, and then in the UK on the 29th the same month. With a total running time of almost 30 minutes, Lennon described the album as “saying whatever you want it to say. It is just us expressing ourselves like a child does, you know, however he feels like then. What we’re saying is make your own music. This is Unfinished Music.”
The photos used for the album were taken using a time-delay camera and shot in early October also in 1968. The couple did frontal nudity for the front cover, while the back cover featured the couple’s, well, nude backs. The explicit nature of the photos, not surprisingly, caused difficulty in the distribution of the albums. EMI pressed the record but refused to produce the cover as it is. In the end, Technik printed the covers while Apple solved the problem with the packaging. “Two Virgins” was distributed by Track (UK) and Tetragammaton (US) in brown paper bags to hide the cover. Quotes from the second chapter of the book of Genesis were printed on the back.
But going nude, for Lennon, “just seemed natural for us. We’re all naked really.”
“Two Virgins” varied greatly from most albums released then and maybe until today. It consisted mostly of, but not limited to, strange repetitive sound effects, ad-libs, and snippets of conversations between Lennon and Ono. Perhaps it’s this out-of-the-box treatment that caused the album to fail to make it to the UK music charts, although it did in the US but only peaking at 124th place. According to reports, critics as well as fans of Lennon disliked the album. You could say, then, that “Two Virgins” is something that only a select few would appreciate!
In May 1969, Lennon and Ono released a follow-up to “Two Virgins,” that is, “Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions”. The cover this time, however, was more than decent!
All information in this article were sourced from the Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins page on Wikipedia, where further reading may also be done.
Like this article? Check out more stories from our Today in History series in the Lomography magazine!