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From David Bowie to Bob Dylan: The 10 worst album covers ever to befall great artists

By the dawn of the 1970s, privately pressed records were rearing their ugly heads. These self-published albums often came with the comical visual accompaniments that only someone who thought it was a good idea to call a flute record Svetlana Gruebbersolvik: My Lips Are for Blowing could conjure up. However, it is strangely both assuring and alarming in equal measure that even some of the greatest musicians of all time suffer from fashion disasters on the artwork front. 

In fact, some of the most odious professional artwork in recent history seems to have befallen the back catalogues of the best musicians of the modern era. There is a lesson in this for all aspiring creators: Always looking to push boundaries and being edgy opens up a few pitfalls. The stumbling blocks represented in the list below are enough for you to want nothing other than different iterations of The White Album from hereon. 

Whether it’s the sickening nonsense of a great artist picking up a paintbrush and brandishing it with the same sense of classiness as the decor of a sword owner’s apartment, or the sort of invention that could make a sphincter jealous of the scatological thoughts of a designer’s warped imagination, these are horrors that should never have housed music.

The 10 worst album covers for great musicians:

Hours – David Bowie 

Which spooky mind-bent pervert sailed across the Incorrect Sea on HMS Clownshoe to offer up this abomination? It’s a disordered mess akin to the beleaguered top shelf of Warwick Davis’ fridge. With David Bowie, the artwork takes the Dickensian route of either being the best of times or the worst of times, and he somehow gave this East 17-inspired death of the self (and taste) outing a run for its money with the cover for Reality a few years later.

One of the greatest aspects of Bowie’s celestial stardom was that despite being discreetly singular, he welcomed so many people into his oeuvre that he created his own little bohemian world. It is, without doubt, one of his greatest attributes as an artist that he wasn’t unhinged by his own sense of individualism and was happy to celebrate the artistic vision of others. But here, he was a little too liberated in letting others loose on early photoshop, and the result deserves to be cast into the sea. 

(Credit: Virgin)

Empire Burlesque – Bob Dylan

Dylan emerged from his rather crass-looking Born Again era covers into the garish light of ungodly design. The cover of Empire Burlesque is hell enough to make the Pope turn atheist on the off chance that his indiscretions might condemn him to a lifetime with the creator of this defecation on the face of decency. 

There is no finer symbolism for a man at ends with an era than Dylan’s artwork’s insistence to focus on the worst of everything that 1985 sadly had to offer. The album itself is amongst his worse, but even one of his many masterpieces would struggle to redeem this shambolic showing. It was a cover that offered up roughly the same level of assurance for the quality of music therein as a Prince Andrew interview. 

(Credit: Columbia)

Greatest Hits – Fleetwood Mac

It seems like a universal oversight that somehow fate decreed that some of the greatest pop-rock songs of all time could be served up with this ClipArt catastrophe. This is an antagonistic statement of war against decency. It’s a villainous incursion on the peaceful pastures of good taste. It is a monstrosity of graphic design that the Amish ought to use to picket for support. 

Tango in the Night fired a warning shot the year earlier in 1987, but while that might scrape by on a bit of shitty-shotty charm, there is not one single redeeming feature for 1988’s Greatest Hits. It is a level of ugliness that only a mother could love. 

(Credit: Warner)

Music From Big Pink – The Band

It’s good to have friends in high places. The Band may well have been brilliant, but knowing Dylan certainly helped get things going for them. However, first the good lord of folk giveth, then he taketh away. For Music From Big Pink, he seemingly temporarily regressed to a child-like state to paint them a cover that goes beyond bad and simply baffles a sane mind to the point that it could cause the nervous to fart. 

Someone sits playing the sitar in the foreground, but there is no sitar on the album. Thus, you simply have to assume that the instrument in question is Dylan’s best attempt at depicting a guitar. The trouble is that Dylan can paint—I’ve been to an exhibition of his works, in fact. Therefore, you have to wonder whether this ‘stick it on the fridge’ folly has some sort of unknowable symbolism behind it?

(Credit: Capitol)

Midnite Vultures – Beck

Granted, there is a purposeful irreverence to this garish neon bastard, but that’s no excuse when it infiltrates your dreams. Which crouching pervert and spooky goon cooked up this cacophony of trauma. It’s enough to give someone who worked at Claire’s Accessories in the early 2000s a dose of PTSD. 

Emerging in 2000, the album is somewhat of a cracker, but the bile-coloured backdrop meant you never sported it proudly in your Walkman Rolodex. Further adding to this sombre incident is that the inside sleeve has an infinite aura of cool about it. It’s a shame, a low down, dirty, old shame.

(Credit: Geffen)

Human Touch – Bruce Springsteen

The title is awful, the track ‘Real Men’ – about taking your girl to see Rambo – is the sort of thing The Simpsons might parody, but the pièce de resistance of this shower of piss is a cover so artless that it almost serves ‘The Boss’ right for being misunderstood so often. 

It’s like something a Brian McBride character might come up with. Presumably, early drafts featured a pickup truck somewhere in the background before it was decided to shelve that and copy the strange Springsteen discography tradition of zooming in on his pocket. If someone in your neighbourhood put this album out, you’d keep a wary watchful eye over them. I believe Joe Exotic enjoys a similar style for his music.

(Credit: Columbia)

Mosquito – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Who let the Beck artist loose again? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs saw the offensive colour scheme for Midnite Vultures and thought, ‘How about applying that to a daemon child being stung up the arse by a luminescent mosquito, and emblazoning that image with lettering that conjures the memory of being sick after a shot of apple sours’. 

There are loads of metal albums from 1989 with covers like this, but for a classic indie band making a comeback, this snapshot of an eight-year-old’s fever dream is as pleasant to the eye as a massage from Wolverine is to the back. It might arrest your attention, but so does roadkill, it doesn’t mean you should take a picture of it.  

(Credit: Interscope)

Live It Up – Crosby, Stills & Nash

This is the Greek economy of artworks—all puzzling and incorrect. ‘Hot Dogs’ on the moon must have been uttered at one point in a meeting, and the only critique that suggestion received was, ‘Yeah, but spear them on swords’. How this happened is unknown and troubling, but in a period when the trio had strived for sobriety, this abstract proclamation of daftness had some people thinking, ‘You ought to get back on the drugs lads’.

However, the truth is, the hot dogs might’ve gotten away with it as some sort of kooky misfire, but the Crosby, Stills and Nash graphic is almost as inexcusable as the off-kilter Live It Up lettering. The whole thing proves about as manageable for the psyche as Dr Frankenstein’s first draft. No wonder the album was their first not to reach gold or platinum. 

(Credit: Atlantic)

The Miracle – Queen 

Like the biblical portent that comes before The Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, this anti-Miracle is the Four Faces of artistic indecency. Like a panorama attempt gone awry, the merged faces of the Queen members is a nightmarish façade more tasteless than a bag of poached nought. 

This was a Chornobyl moment for modern album art. It was 1989, and with one single glance, you knew that things had been pushed too far. Queen are not renowned for their refinement, but even Helen Keller was able to call this out as showing a lack of artistic restraint. 

(Credit: Capitol)

Dirty Work – The Rolling Stones

Strike a light and burn my savings; for a man of style and taste, this is a skeleton under the floorboards. Like models for The Bad Taste Shop, these colourful prats lounge around with a complete indifference for the many retinas that they are forcing unbearable strain upon. 

With Stranger Things reviving elements of mid-1980s fashion, this 1986 mind-wallop of clown clothing should stand as a cautionary tale. Let’s just hope for the small mercy that the sofa in the shot was not cigarette proof, and Keith Richards burned the turquoise catastrophe to kingdom come after the ash dropped from a lengthy draw.

(Credit: Rolling Stones Records)

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