The album cover: a canvas for great art and a thought-provoking visual message to accompany the music inside.
Or, perhaps, a place for another kind of provoking. Violence, shocking imagery and exposed flesh are all a good way of getting your cover banned: whether they did it for the art, or for the publicity, who knows - but here's 30 of the most famous banned album covers ever.
Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses were always an uncompromising band, but even for them, putting a robotic rapist on the front of the cover was a bit much. Stores complained and it was replaced with the famous cross and skulls image. It could have been worse though: Axl's first idea was a picture of the Challenger Space Shuttle exploding.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye commissioned five covers for his epic, overblown opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but this one - a portrait by George Condo which depicted Kanye being straddled by a armless winged female was, unsurprisingly, banned by American stores. Kanye later said that he wanted a cover that would be banned; if anyone knows how to create controversy and receive the attendant column inches, it's Mr West.
Roger Waters - The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Roger Waters concept record about a picking up a hitchhiker and dreaming of committing adultery with her, meant that this cover was actually pretty artistically justified. However, Gerald Scrafe's image, featuring the model and softcore pornography actress Linzi Drew, attracted the ire of feminist groups and stores - later versions were issued with a black box over the offending flesh.
The Beautiful South - Welcome To The Beautiful South
Hardly a group that you would associate with controversy; nonetheless The Beautiful South's Welcome To... had a cover featuring a woman with a gun in her mouth. Woolworths refused to stock the album - the band themselves said that this was presumably to "prevent the hoards of impressionable young fans from blowing their heads off in a gun-gobbling frenzy, or taking up smoking". The brilliant replacement cover saw the same design, but with a teddy bear and a stuffed toy rabbit instead.
U2 - Negativland
An experimental band from San Francisco, Negativland ran into serious problems with this cover, which U2's label Island Records sued for, accusing them of deliberately trying to mislead their fans into buying an unrelated record. They just might have got away with it had the music on the record not been cover versions of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, which featured samples of the original. For their part, U2 later said they felt their label had been far too heavy-handed and that they agreed with the artistic intent behind the release. Either way: banned.
The Beatles - Yesterday and Today
One of the more startling inclusions on this list is this early Beatles album, released only in North America and Japan. The image had originally been taken as part of a conceptual art piece that the fab four had been invited to take part in - they were used for promotion for Paperback Writer but were never intended for an album cover - though Capitol Records boss Alan W. Livingston claimed that Paul McCartney pushed for it. Either way, the cover - completely incongruous to the Beatles' image at the time, caused outrage - 750,000 copies were recalled and all the early profits wiped out.
The Mamas & The Papas - If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
The fact that this cover was pulled because the toilet in the photo was considered 'indecent' is of secondary concern. The first question must be, why on earth did they think that the band squeezed into a bath would be a good cover? It was probably a good thing that this was banned, purely on the grounds of good taste.
Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking
One of two entries for Jane's Addiction, apparently something is shocking, and that's nude female conjoined twins sitting on a sideways rocking chair with their heads on fire. Nine major US stores refused to stock the album as delivered, so it had to be issued with a brown paper sleeve.
Brujeria - Matando Güeros
The debut album from grindcore band Brujeria was, presumably, designed to elicit a certain shock value. Well, the album cover of a severed head certainly did that, leading to it being banned in many places. Mind you, even if they'd had a fluffy bunny on the cover, the fact that the record contained such works as Chinga Tu Madre ("Fuck Your Mother") and Molestando Niños Muertos ("Molesting Dead Children") means that we're fairly sure it would have been banned anyway.
Scorpions - Lovedrive
Designed by the legendary cover artist Storm Thorgerson, this cover was banned by many American outlets. Thorgerson himself said that it was, "Not exactly the most politically correct scene you've ever seen. I thought it was funny, but women read a different inflection into it now." Naturally, it did have one fan, as it was named the best album sleeve of 1979 by Playboy magazine.
Slayer - Christ Illusion
Slayer have never been a band to avoid controversy and after guitarist Kerry King requested that artist Larry Carroll produce an image of Christ in "a sea of despair", he got his wish; the final version featured Christ with a missing eye and amputated hands, in a sea of blood and severed heads. Astonishingly, the more conservative areas of America did not appreciate the artistic direction and the album was released in many areas with an alternative cover.
Ministry - Dark Side of the Spoon
Banned by old faithful Kmart, although compared to many on this list, this is fairly tame. Presumably the naked flesh and the words "I will be god" stray dangerously into the territories of nudity and religion, the two classic areas of outrage.
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet
Jon Bon Jovi claimed that he pulled the plug on the original cover for Slippery When Wet, the album that catapulted Bon Jovi to global fame, due to the fact he hated the pink border. However, it's believed that record label bosses got scared after shops suggested that they wouldn't stock the fruity image of a wet-shirt-wearing model. A new cover was chosen but, interestingly, Japan went with the original image.
Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Widely considered one of the most iconic record sleeves of all time, the risqué cover for Sticky Fingers was actually banned in Spain, replaced by a "can of fingers" cover which was arguably more disturbing.
Ice-T - Gangsta Rap
This 2006 album featured a truly tasteful cover depicting the rapper and his wife, Coco Austin, naked in bed. Some shops refused to stock it unless censored - personally, we're more offended by the budget 6th form design standard. When was the last time anyone used the mock picture frame default setting?
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
Another entry from legendary designer Storm Thorgerson and, like Sticky Fingers, another sleeve regularly voted in lists of the best-ever album covers. Nonetheless, the images of naked children, however artful, were too much for parts of Southern America, where the album was either banned or unavailable for several years, even with a wraparound sleeve which obscured some of the offending areas.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother's Milk
This cover, for the Chili Peppers' breakthrough record, Mother's Milk, was banned by several national US record store chains, who believed that the model, Dawn Alane was flashing a little too much flesh, even though well positioned band members prevented anything too explicit. A new cover, featuring larger band members, was subsequently released to keep the stores happy.
Aerosmith - Nine Lives
A rarity on this list, in that the band were unaware that there was anything controversial about the sleeve they selected. The original cover featured an image taken from Hindu imagery which was altered to put a cat's head on Lord Krishna. Many Hindus found the change offensive; the record company immediately apologised and revised it.
Poison - Open Up & Say...Ahh!
Banned by several stores, this is tame by today's standards, but in 1988, a she-devil with a long tongue was very much a no-no. They should have just got Gene Simmons to be the model instead and claimed it was simply a portrait.
Def Leppard - Pyromania
An image of a burning building in the cross-hairs of gun sight was always going to be controversial, even prior to 9/11, but the band refused to change it, despite many stores choosing not to stock it. Nonetheless, it still sold over 10 million copies in the US, so it clearly didn't do them too much harm.
Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
Surprisingly for an artist of Hendrix's stature, his wishes for the cover of Electric Ladyland were completely ignored. Reprise Records in the US used the well-known blurred photo of his head, while Track Records in the UK used this image of nineteen nude women, which was banned by a handful of record stores. Hendrix felt embarrassed by the provocative cover but was unable to change it, saying simply: “Folks in Britain are kicking against the cover. Man, I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have put this picture on the sleeve myself, but it wasn’t my decision."
Blind Faith - Blind Faith
The hugely controversial cover for Eric Clapton's Blind Faith's debut album featured an 11-year-old girl holding a model spacecraft, which some deemed to be phallic. The photographer Bob Seidemann said that the message he was trying to create was a representation of mankind's achievements - represented by a spaceship - taken forth into the universe by a young girl or, in his words, "the space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life". While this may have been a noble artistic vision, the end result was undeniably creepy - and many US stores agreed, refusing to stock the record.
Snog - Third Mall From The Sun
A record lampooning the advertising tactics of major corporations, this one fell foul of McDonald's lawyers for obvious reasons. Australia's Mushroom Records were threatened with legal action and were spooked enough to release the band from their contract. The label that eventually did release it then found that major stores had pulled it after they themselves were given legal advice not to stock it. Other countries went with it, presumably due to different legal limits on free speech. And they say major multinationals don't have a sense of humour.
Jane's Addiction - Ritual De Lo Habitual
The second Jane's Addiction album to fall foul of America's morality, but they at least planned ahead with this one, creating a clean cover in anticipation of stores refusing to stock the main cover. However, the 'clean' cover merely had the band name, album name and the text of the First Amendment. Very clever.
Bow Wow Wow - See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy
A truly controversial cover as the band decided to use an image of themselves arrnaged in the style of Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Unfortunately, performing the role of the naked woman was lead singer Annabella Lwin, who happened to be only 15. An investigation by Scotland Yard followed and the image was prevented from use on UK and US releases. Interestingly, despite the furore, it was used the following year on a US EP without incident.
The Black Crowes - Amorica
Despite being released as late as 1994, this album was banned from some American stores due to the appearance of pubic hair above the top of the patriotic thong. However, it didn't stop it selling 500,000 copies: God bless America.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
John Lennon said that this cover, for his and Yoko's experimental album, "just seemed natural for us. We're all naked really." The authorities didn't see it as quite so natural though, many copies of the album were impounded as obscene; it had to be sold in a brown paper bag to get into shops.
Great White - Hooked
A truly Spinal Tap cover for this record from Great White; it went out as shown here for the initial run, but was quickly changed following complaints, with the model partially submerged. It might have helped reduce the flesh on display; it didn't make it any classier.
Tin Machine - Tin Machine II
The genitalia of the statues on display in this cover was too much for America - their version of this record had to be airbrushed. Bowie commented that "even Canada has the original cover". His idea for fans to send off to the label to get the offending section of the artwork sent separately in order to paste them on was quickly shot down as, apparently, "sending genitals through the mail [was] a serious offense." The spoilsports.
Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra
Surprisingly, Limp Bizkit's choice of three semi-naked ladies being attacked by a giant snake was deemed 'inappropriate' by US stores Target and Best Buy, who refused to stock it and scuppered the band's hopes for a big comeback album. Which was a shame for them, but probably for the best for the rest of the world.