The Cover Uncovered: The story behind The Rolling Stones album ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’
This week, on our journey to find the facts behind the album artwork of some of music’s seminal albums, we take a turn toward The Rolling Stones’ The Satanic Majesties Request. The record arrived just in time to turn those patient smiles of parents listening to The Beatles firmly into unforgiving frowns as Mick Jagger and the band turned the tide of popular music.
It’s said that one proposed cover for the record—a photograph of Jagger naked on a cross—was scrapped by the record company for being “in bad taste”. However, initial LP and reel-to-reel releases of the album featured a three-dimensional image of the band on the cover by photographer Michael Cooper. When viewed in a certain way, the lenticular image shows the band members’ faces turning towards each other with the exception of Jagger, whose hands appear crossed in front of him.
Looking closely on its cover, one can see the faces of each of the four Beatles, reportedly a response to the Beatles’ inclusion of a doll wearing a “Welcome the Rolling Stones” sweater on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. Later editions replaced the glued-on three-dimensional image with a photograph, due to high production costs.
A limited edition LP version in the 1980s reprinted the original 3D cover design; immediately following the reissue, the master materials for reprinting the 3D cover were intentionally destroyed. The 3D album cover was featured, although shrunk down, for the Japanese SHM-CD release in 2010.
The original cover design called for the lenticular image to take up the entire front cover, but finding this to be prohibitively expensive it was decided to reduce the size of the photo and surround it with the blue-and-white graphic design. But let’s dig a little deeper into the design of the album, shall we? The entire cover design is elaborate, one with a dense photo collage filling most of the inside cover (along with a maze) designed by Michael Cooper and a painting by Tony Meeuwissen on the back, one depicting the four elements in Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. In some editions, the blue-and-white wisps on the front cover are used in a red-and-white version on the paper inner sleeve.
The inner-cover collage has dozens of images, all taken from reproductions of old master paintings (Ingres, Poussin, da Vinci, among others), Indian mandalas and portraits, astronomy (including a large image of the planet Saturn), flowers, world maps, and more. One neat little note is that the maze on the inside cover of the UK and US releases cannot be completed: a wall at about a half radius in from the lower-left corner means one can never arrive at the goal labelled “It’s Here” in the centre of the maze.
It was the first of four Stones albums to feature a novelty cover; the others were the zipper on Sticky Fingers (1971), the cut-out faces on Some Girls (1978), and the stickers on Undercover (1983). At some point, around 1997, rumours were first heard that the album existed as a promo version including a silk padding. A pink padded version was presented by photo accompanied by a letter from the Decca Copyright Department, but it was shown that the letter does not match the album it was intended to authenticate making it almost entirely certain that this was a forgery.
The surrounding folklore of such albums is why we get up in the morning, it’s why we want these albums and why physical records will always champion digital releases – despite the convenience. Vive Le Vinyl.
See the full album details and cover, below.
Released: 8 December 1967 Recorded: 9 February – 23 October 1967 Studio: Olympic Studios-Studio A Label: Decca (UK) London (US) Producer: The Rolling Stones