From David Bowie to The Beatles: 15 infamous album covers that were banned
There have always been artists willing to push the boundaries some do it on stage with their performances, some do it with their lyrics or their outlandish solos. Others use their album artwork to push the envelope.
Below we’re looking back at 15 infamous album covers that were banned from public consumption. From David Bowie to Alice Cooper and Guns ‘N’ Roses to Kanye West some artists have always found a way of upsetting the middle of the road.
From nudity to silly pranks, there have been countless album covers that have upset retailers and publishers and seen themselves. Naturally, the banning of the albums often contributed to their cult status making them more desirable than ever.
Below you’ll find the 15 most infamous album covers of all time.
15 albums that were banned by censors
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
The front cover of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs seemed innocent enough until the gatefold image created by Belgian Painter Guy Peellaert was rightfully labelled “the dog’s bollocks.”
The art saw Bowie with the body of a dog and his penis on full show. It was just a freaky image before but now the nudity had put censors on red alert. The hindquarters were quickly airbrushed for a Barbie-like smooth groin and it returned to sale.
Alice Cooper – Love It to Death
Alice Cooper wasn’t quite the dark Lord of costume design we know him to be when he released his third album Love It to Death but with the success of lead single ‘I’m Eighteen’ the singer was becoming the face of America’s rock scene.
The record almost didn’t have the huge impact it did after Cooper decided to use an image which saw the rocker use his thumb as a mock penis. Scandalous? Not really. Silly? 100%. Still it saw Cooper’s entire right arm airburshed out.
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
A rare entry on this list that looking back from 2020 seems more controversial now than it did in 1969. Rumours are that Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood’s supergroup Blind Faith didn’t have a name until they saw Bob Seidemann’s art piece “Blind Faith”.
The cover sees an 11-year-old model Mariora Goschen shirtless holding her counterpoint in the universe, gleaming technology, in her hand, it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Add to this that Goschen was promised but never received a horse as payment and the decision to pull this cover and replace it with an image of the band seems like a good one.
The Beatles – Yesterday and Today
One of the most well known stories surrounding The Beatles saw Capitol Records pull 750,000 copies of the album out of the market after The Beatles cover for Yesterday and Today was deemed too provocative for the US market.
Many believe it was this exact ability to overreact that The Beatles were trying to highlight with their image of decapitated toy dolls and slabs of meat. Others say they were protesting the Vietnam War and others still suggest it was just a joke. Either way, it all feels a bit benign these days.
Roger Waters – The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Another entry in the “I can’t believe the banned it” list sees Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters first solo album be quickly banned for the image of an illustrated butt-crack.
The cartoon shows a leggy blonde, naked except for a backpack, trying to hitch hike. It offend US censors and saw Waters slap a classic black box across her behind. It passed the test and Waters’ established his solo career.
Prince – Lovesexy
Back in 1988, Prince’s new album Lovesexy was pulled from the shelves after the photograph of the singe ron the front of the album was deemed too sexy for stores.
It sees the singer sitting on a flower and although he’s covering his modesty, US censors were none too pleased. It was removed from shops and some covered it in black wrapping.
Nirvana – In Utero
The cover of the follow-up to Nevermind, which itself struggled with censors after it featured the penis of a baby, may have included the image of a naked woman but it was a song title which saw it banned from K-Mart and Walmart in the US.
The stores were upset with the song ‘Rape Me’ suggesting the song’s title was too provocative. Cobain eventually relented and changed the name of the song ‘Waiff Me’ on some albums.
Tad – 8-Way Santa
Tad’s 1991 album was a marvellous piece of found-art. The group had picked up the image of a shirtless man cupping the breast of his female partner in a thrift store but it wouldn’t last long as the cover of their album 8-Way Santa
Tad would realise soon enough that the couple were not happy with the use of their image. One of them had become a born-again Christian and the pair sued Sub-Pop. The label relented and changed the cover.
Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual
The 1990 album from Jane’s Addiction is a photograph of a diorama made by the band’s lead singer Perry Farrell. The album’s cover is in reference to the threesome Farrell sings about in ‘Three Days’.
The nudity of the illustration made a lot of retailers uncomfortable and so the band also offered a plain white cover which was emblazoned with the text of the First Amendment.
Poison – Open Up and Say…Ahh!
Another entry of the softer side of the censors but the band’s striking image of a demoniic girl sticking out her tongue left a lot of big wigs with a knot in their stomach.
Whether it was because of the ongoing Satanic Panic that was sweeping the world or indeed because it was deemed too provocative for retailers. The final product saw most of the image covered up.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
The album that turned Guns N’ Roses into a rock behemoth was named after the Robert Williams painting that was originally the focal point of the front cover. But the image was deemed too dangerous for sale.
It sees the image of a robotic rapist about to be dealt with by a bigger predator. It was quickly lambasted with complaints that the group changed it to the five skulls we all know today. Axl Rose had originally wanted an image of the exploding space shuttle Challenger.
The Mamas and the Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
The simple and quite frankly baffling reason for The Mamas and the Papas 1966 album being banned is that it featured a toilet on the album artwork.
It saw the band crammed into a bathtub and the image of a toilet in the corner of the album cover. It was enough to anger censors and see the band place a text box over the lavatory befor eit was eventually airbrushed out entirely.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
This may be one of the only entries in this list that was propelled by the artist himself. West deliberately told artist George Condo that he wnated to have an album cover that would get banned.
Condo provided the perfect image when he illustrated West being straddled by a naked woman with winfs but no arms and a polka-dot tail. When the record got banned, West also provided a cover with a ballerina on it.
Van Halen – Balance
A photoshopped image of conjoined twins was enough to upset the censors back in 1995 as the album artwork for Van Halen’s Balance was banned for the disturbing image.
Although we can’t argue with that, the image is hardly ban-worthy but it wa enough for some areas to completely airbrush the artowrk to include only one twin.
The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
In 1968 The Rolling Stones suffered the same fate as The Mamas and the Papas as their original artwork for their album Beggars Banquet was routinely rejected by their record company.
The photo was of a toilet wall full of graffiti that could be found in a Porsche dealerhsip in Los Angeles. It was replaced with an all white cover with illustrative font, made to look like an invitation. The album was delayed and the original artwork wouldn’t resurface until the eighties.