Hive Five: Banned Album Art Breakdown

Handsome Furs Photo: Liam Maloney

This week, Canadian hyper-prog band Handsome Furs drop Sound Kapital, the latest candidate for the exclusive banned album art club. The cover features a naked woman posing beneath a highway overpass, amidst contrasting shadows and light — artistic, but very NSFW. Banned art work has the ability to get your music left in the stock room at certain stores, dissected by journalists and fans about “meaning” outside the actual tunes, and, obviously, freaking out prudes while drumming up a little controversy. Here’s the five big offenses, as seen over the years of questionable artwork.

1. Photograph a Naked Underage Girl

Blind Faith, Blind Faith (1969): 40 years later, this one’s still NSFW. Shot by photographer Bob Seidemann, the image of a nude pubescent girl cradling a model spaceship proved too much for U.S. record execs, who insisted on releasing Blind Faith’s first and only studio album with a tamer cover. Seidemann later said the photo was meant to evoke Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, but even in the Bible Belt, that explanation probably didn’t fly. [View here.]

2. Be an Underage Girl, Allow Yourself to be Photographed Naked

The Slits, Cut (1979): When the ladies down at the local nudie bar get topless and coat themselves in mud, it’s called degrading. When U.K. reggae-punk innovators the Slits do it, it’s ironic female empowerment. Singer Ari Up was just 17 when the band released its stunning debut, which might explain why she fielded questions about the sleeve photo until the end of her life. [View here.]

3. Cartoonishly Depict Sexual Violence

Guns ‘N Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987): Although the robotic rapist on this album’s original cover is about to get its comeuppance, complements of the benevolent orange monster descending from the heavens, retailers initially refused to stock G’NR’s 1987 debut. Geffen dutifully replaced Robert Williams’ explicit painting with the band’s now-familiar skulls-on-a-cross logo, and the record went on to sell millions of copies. Somewhere, there’s a lesson about compromise and reward, but it seems to have been lost on Axl. [View here.]

4. Inadvertently Predict and Make Light of a National Tragedy

The Coup, Party Music (2001): Radical Cali rappers the Coup might have had trouble with this cover, which shows the duo blowing up the World Trade Center, even if the album hadn’t been due out weeks after 9/11. Prophetic group leader Boots Riley conceived of the photo months before the attacks, but that didn’t stop critics from branding him a terrorist sympathizer. [View here.]

5. Baffle and Titillate with a Dubiously Symbolic Sex Painting

Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010): According to George Condon, who was commissioned to do a series of paintings in connection with the album, Yeezy picked this image knowing full well it would be banned. There was just one problem: The company most likely to ban, Wal-Mart, never actually rejected the cover. That didn’t stop the media-baiting MC from playing the victim and Tweeting, “Yoooo they banned my album cover!!!!! Banned in the USA!!!” [View here.]

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