There have always been artists willing to push the socially acceptable boundaries of music’s mainstream. Some do it on stage with their peacocking performances, some do it with their lyrics or their outlandish solos and others use their album artwork to push the envelope. With Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones did all three at once. It quickly saw the record banned from sale until a big change was made and it was all down to a ludicrous disagreement about their album cover.
Having a provocative or controversial album cover has often been the sign of a band who has a serious intent to impose their artistic will. It’s also a sign of an artist unwilling to bend or conform to the masses. Put simply, it’s the sign of a good record. With The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet the band had all that as well as a tracklisting that included ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, ‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘No Expectations’, to provide one of their definitive career moments. But for a while it didn’t look like their original vision would see the light.
Of course, the ability to upset the apple cart of western society has never been challenging. From nudity to silly pranks, there have been countless album covers that have upset retailers and publishers and seen themselves thrown on the rubbish pile of the industry. Naturally, yet contrary to established beliefs, the banning of the albums often contributed to their cult status making them more desirable than ever. But for The Rolling Stones, the reason for their ban was simply ridiculous.
In 1968 The Rolling Stones suffered the same fate as The Mamas and the Papas before them as the original artwork for their album Beggars Banquet was routinely rejected by their record company as it featured, dare we say it, a lavatory. It delayed the band’s release of the album as they argued with their record company about the validity of their artistic drive.
“We really have tried to keep the album within the bounds of good taste,” said frontman Mick Jagger in 1968, as they continued to fight for their image. “I mean, we haven’t shown the whole lavatory. That would have been rude. We’ve only shown the top half. Two people at the record company have told us that the sleeve is terribly offensive.” The singer continued: “We’ll get this album distributed somehow, even if I have to go down the end of Greek Street and Carlisle Street at two o’clock on Saturday morning and sell them myself.”
The photo in question was of a toilet wall full of graffiti that could be found in a Porsche dealership in Los Angeles. It was scrawled on by genuine Rolling Stones too as Keith Richards and Mick Jagger took up the pen themselves to deface the toilet. The fact the image was so offensive may seem incredibly silly in 2020 but in 1968 it was clearly too offensive for release.
The album was eventually delayed and the original artwork wouldn’t resurface until the eighties where it was gobbled up as a collector’s item. It was replaced with an all-white cover with illustrative font, made to look like an invitation. You can see both covers below.