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5 Controversial Album Covers

TIME recently wrote about controversial album covers for National Record Store Day and we realized that most of the covers involved scandalous analogue photographs! Obviously, the line between art and tart is thin. Curious? See the notrious list, with infamous musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, here.

Rockstars will be rockstars. They’ll put whatever they want on their albums, regardless of the strict rules of polite society. Unless, of course, stores refuse to sell the records and take them off the shelves. In that case, rockstars will be starless. Wook Kim of TIME listed down the controversial covers that made conservative squares cringe!

Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)

THE CONTROVERSY: One score and one year ago, a rock trio from Aberdeen, Washington, released their first “official” album, Nevermind, collection of 12 — okay, 13 — songs that would come to be regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The now-iconic album cover featured a three-month old infant — the new son of the photographer’s friend — swimming towards a dollar bill hooked on some fishing line. The label was okay with the anti-capitalism message, but had concerns about the prominent display of baby genitalia.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS: According to band biographer Michael Azerrad (Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana), the label wanted to use a different image. Lead singer Kurt Cobain agreed to only one compromise: a strategically placed sticker that would read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” The original album art went out untouched.

Vampire Weekend, Contra (2010)

THE CONTROVERSY: The much-anticipated second album from indie darlings Vampire Weekend, Contra was a hit both commercially (debuting atop the Billboard Hot 200) and critically (eventually landing on many best-of-the-year lists). The album cover image was taken from a discarded Polaroid discovered by Vampire songwriter Rostam Batmanglij — the band was quite taken by the enigmatic look of the blonde-tressed subject. A few month after Contra’s release, the band was named in a $2 million lawsuit filed by the girl in the photo, Ann Kirsten Kennis.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS: The legal proceedings took a strange turn after Tod Brody, the individual who claimed he took the Polaroid in 1983 and sold the rights to Vampire Weekend for $5,000, disappeared when he, in turn, was sued by the band. In August 2011, Kennis dropped her suit after receiving an undisclosed settlement from the band and label. (Brody, whose whereabout were recently discovered, still faces legal action from all parties.)

Prince, Lovesexy (1988)

THE CONTROVERSY: In late 1987, Prince fans awaited the release of his widely talked-about and deliciously funk-heavy Black Album. Only a few records went out before the artist, in true Prince fashion, abandoned the project and recalled all the albums — with the circulating copies becoming much sought-after bootlegs. A few months later, Prince released Lovesexy, which features a nude picture of the Purple One (shot by fashion photographer/video director Jean-Baptiste Mondino) reclining on a floral arrangement — with a distinctly phallic stamen pointed at his chest.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS: More than a few retailers objected to the images and would only sell the album wrapped in — you guessed it — black. (The “real” Black Album got an official release in 1994.)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland U.K. Version (1968)

THE CONTROVERSY: The double-disc Electric Ladyland — featuring such guitar-rock staples “Crosstown Traffic,” “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and a searing cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” — was the third and last album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jimi Hendrix himself had a definite concept of what he wanted on the cover: a picture of the band surrounded by children (taken by the future Linda McCartney, whose photos are featured inside). The labels had different ideas: Reprise, in the U.S., used a blurry picture of the rock star taken by Karl Ferris; Track, in the U.K., opted for a photo of 19 naked women sitting against a black backdrop.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS: The U.K. version, released a month after the album went on sale in the States, generated a bit of controversy, but never to the degree that caused the labels to recall or remove inventory. The Hendrix estate has stated that the U.S. album, with the Ferris pic, should be considered the “official” version.

The Strokes, Is This It (2001)

THE CONTROVERSY: The dazzling debut album from the Strokes earned raves for its effervescent pop sensibility and its raw, seemingly unprocessed sound. The album cover featured a photo of a woman’s leather-glove-encased hand (a sly nod to Spinal Tap?) resting on her bare bottom. The photographer was Colin Lane and the model was his then-girlfriend, who had just emerged from a shower.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS: When early copies of the album appeared in the U.K., retailers grumbled but stocked them in shelves. Perhaps sensing a stronger backlash from retailers in the U.S., the band replaced the stylish derriere with a more abstract image that showed the spiraling trajectories of subatomic particle collisions.

The oxymoron of the story? Sex sells but fame comes at a price.

Read Shock and Awe: Top 10 Controversial Album Covers by Wook Kim in full on TIME.

written by denisesanjose

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