18 album covers that were banned or censored
Rock music has always courted controversy, and so has the packaging that surrounds it. Album covers might not have the impact they once did in this age of streaming and playlists, but they still play a big part in any band’s aesthetic, and sometimes this involves images of sex, nudity, violence, horror, copyrighted material and other content that some people find objectionable.
Plenty of album covers have proven controversial but not all of these have invoked the censors’ ire. This, though, is a collection of album artwork and covers that have at some point been banned, changed, covered up, removed from sale or otherwise censored. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses’ debut initially featured a robotic rapist and his victim, with the robot about to meet his own justice from a flying metal monster. The imagery came from a painting by acclaimed psychedelic artist Robert Williams but was replaced by the band’s iconic Celtic cross design when stores refused to stock it. As a compromise, the original artwork was placed inside the sleeve.
Metallica – Kill ’Em All
Would Metallica have had the same impact if their debut album was called Metal Up Your Ass and featured a dagger-wielding hand emerging from a toilet? That was the band’s plan, but title and cover were both vetoed by their label – although they still exist in the form of Metallica’s 1982 demo.
Slayer – Christ Illusion
The graphic imagery featuring a mutilated Christ surrounded by severed heads led to some retailers refusing to stock the album, and it being recalled across the whole of India. An alternative cover featuring the Slayer logo and removing most of the detail was later issued.
Cannibal Corpse – Butchered At Birth
Where to start with Cannibal Corpse?! All their albums were banned in Germany until the mid-’90s due to graphic artwork and content, and some were banned or restricted in other territories including Russia and Canada at different times. We’ll go with Butchered At Birth due to the sneaky trick of distributing early pressings covered in butcher’s paper stamped with the logo and title in red ink. Metal as fuck.
Alice Cooper – Love It To Death
Alice Cooper was still establishing himself as the king of shock rock, but his band’s third album fell foul of the censors even before the staged executions and songs about necrophilia. The reason was far more juvenile: on the original cover Alice poked a thumb through his cape to make it look like his, uh, snake was poking out. He had his entire arm airbrushed out for his trouble.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
This was also covered in paper – this time brown – when the majority of U.S. record store chains disagreed with the title and refused to stock it. Perry Farrell said that the image of nude female conjoined twins sitting on a rocking chair with their heads on fire came to him in a dream. He’d probably had too much cheese for supper.
Brujeria – Matando Gueros
The masked death metal supergroup had their debut album banned from multiple markets due to its violent content and the cover – which featured a shot of a real severed head taken from a Mexican newspaper. Undeterred, the band adopted the head as their mascot, dubbing it Coco Loco.
TAD – 8-Way Santa
The grunge band’s second full-length was originally a shot of a couple found in a thrift store, featuring a shirtless guy cupping his partner’s breast. The couple were less than impressed and sued the band, leading to a new cover of TAD standing in front of some presumably less litigious cows.
Nirvana – In Utero
The mannequin on the front and foetus-filled collage on the back were fine, but Wal-Mart had an issue with the title of the track Rape Me and was subsequently changed to ‘Waif Me’ for the major retail chains. As an aside, label DGC wanted the baby’s penis covered up on Nevermind. They relented when Kurt Cobain insisted he’d only do so with a sticker that read, ‘If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.’
Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist
It wasn’t initially the cover that got the San Francisco punks in trouble but a poster distributed in the sleeve, which featured Alien creator H.R. Giger’s painting Penis Landscape. Frontman Jello Biafra was taken to court for distributing harmful matter to minors and, while he was not convicted, his Alternative Tentacles label was brought to near bankruptcy. The four Shriners pictured on the cover also brought a suit against the band for good measure.
Tool – Undertow
It wasn’t the cover in this case but pics in the liner notes of a thin nude man and large women – as well as band members with pins in their heads – that led to the album being pulled from some chains. They reluctantly released an alternate version with a barcode and a handwritten note saying that they loathed censorship (with ‘we want your money’ crossed out), offering to send the original artwork to anyone who wanted it for free.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mother’s Milk
Mother’s Milk features small pictures of the band members positioned in front of a proportionally much larger nude woman. Frontman Anthony Kiedis is in front of one breast and a rose covers the other, but some chains refused to stock the album because there was still too much nudity on display. Cue a revamped version with larger versions of the band covering more of the model’s skin.
Black Label Society – Sonic Brew
The Johnny Walker whisky company issued a cease and desist order after Black Label Society’s debut album came out with the cover based on the brand’s Black Label whisky. It was later reissued with a design featuring the band’s skull logo.
Dead Infection – A Chapter Of Accidents
There’s plenty of repulsive stuff in the extreme metal underground, but few covers were as repulsive as the one chosen by Polish goregrind merchants Dead Infection. The shot of a bloated, rotting head was heavily censored on release to show just the band logo and title.
Steel Panther – Balls Out
The album was actually left unscathed but advertising posters had to be removed in the UK after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the Balls Out artwork to be “overtly sexual”. It added that, given the ad’s placement in a range of public locations, it was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and was unsuitable to seen by children.
CKY – Volume 1
CKY’s debut album was initially going to be called Camp Kill Yourself after their original name, and the cover featured a painting depicting the infamous public suicide of U.S. politician R. Budd Dwyer. Their label deemed this too offensive however and the band were forced to change the cover to a live shot of guitarist Chad Ginsburg instead.
Ministry – Dark Side Of The Spoon
A nude obese woman in a dunce’s cap sitting facing a blackboard on which repeated lines of ‘I will be God’ are written. That’s probably what Al Jourgensen calls a quiet Wednesday, but the cover of one of Ministry’s druggiest albums proved too much for Kmart, who refused to stock Dark Side Of The Spoon.
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi’s breakthrough album was originally meant to feature a woman’s torso with the album name on a wet yellow T‑shirt. Apparently this wasn’t even acceptable in the ’80s, so the label insisted they change it to a cover featuring the title spelled out on a wet black bin bag. Obviously.
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