FM96 Top 10 Iconic Album Covers
- #1 Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers
- #2 The Ramones Self-Titled
- #3 Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy
- #4 Rage Against the Machine Self-Titled
- #5 Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon
- #6 Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill
- #7 Sex Pistols Nevermind The Bollocks
- #8 Van Halen 1984
- #9 The Clash London Calling
- #10 Nirvana Nevermind
#1 Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Sticky Fingers came out April 23rd, 1971 in the UK. If you have this album in your vinyl collection, and you have a working zipper on it, don’t let it go because it’s a collectible! It grabs your attention right away, as you wonder, “who’s crotch am I staring at?”
The crotch does NOT belong to Mick Jagger, as some may think. Mick Jagger had written to Andy Warhol personally about designing the cover for Sticky Fingers:
To say the least…Warhol did the opposite. From the New York Post:
Warhol ignored this, creating one of the most complex and memorable album covers in rock history for “Sticky Fingers,” the 1971 album that took the Stones from stars to legends.
The cover of “Sticky Fingers” is a straight-up crotch shot. The initial release featured a real zipper on the cover — when you pulled it down, you saw the model’s underwear. Given that Jagger was regarded as the sexiest man in rock, it was commonly assumed to be his crotch. But the true identity of the well-endowed cover model has been a mystery for more than 40 years.
It all began when Warhol arranged to photograph several men from the waist down. After the photo shoots, he never told anyone the identity of the man on the cover, or even whether the jeans model and the underwear model were the same person.
Glenn O’Brien was the editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine. He says that Warhol photographed several men for the cover and he is “100 percent certain” that the inside photo — the one of a man in underwear — is him.
“I knew it was me because it was my underwear!” he tells The Post. “[Warhol] just said it was for a Rolling Stones album cover. I was a huge fan, so I was pleased, and also I got paid $100. Not bad for 20 minutes’ work.”
The shoot took place at 33 Union Square West, which housed Interview’s office and Warhol’s Factory. During the session, a few visitors got an eyeful of rock history.
Makeup artist Corey Tippin is convinced it’s him that’s featured on the famed cover.
“There was an architect’s office next door,” O’Brien recalls. “I have my jeans down around my ankles…Andy is kneeling in front of me with his Polaroid, and Fred [Hughes, Warhol’s business manager] is making rude remarks, like, ‘Can’t you make it any bigger?’ The door opens, and these guys walk in in suits, and they’re dumbfounded. And one of them said, ‘Um, this isn’t the architect’s office?’”
Not only did Warhol never tell anyone the identity of the cover model, but O’Brien thinks it’s possible he didn’t even know.
“He probably took these Polaroids, put them on the table, and picked ones he liked. I don’t think it mattered to him [who it was],” says O’Brien. “I don’t know if the fact that I was chosen means I was the best endowed or what.”
As for the jeans pic, O’Brien believes it was Corey Tippin, a makeup artist who was part of the Warhol scene. Tippin didn’t know what the shoot was for, and received $75.
“I knew [Warhol] wanted it to be kind of an erotic photograph. Andy wanted a bulgy crotch,” Tippin says. “[To me,] it had nothing to do with rock ’n’ roll…Those of us in the gay world related to it as a gay iconic image.”
Tippin was also never told the identity of the jeans model on the cover, but is convinced it’s him: “I know my anatomy.”
The cover received some odd tweaks internationally. In Russia, an image of a Soviet Army belt buckle was added to the jeans; in Spain, the jeans photo was replaced by a picture of a woman’s fingers emerging from a can of blood.
Though the “Sticky Fingers” crotch mystery may never be definitively solved, Tippin’s OK with that. “The fact that Andy never authenticated who the model was…I think it’s funny. I think it’s mysterious,” he says. “Though had I known it was for a Stones album cover, I probably would have asked for more than $75.”
#2 The Ramones (Self-Titled)
This week in 1976, the Ramones unleashed their debut album, with some simple yet memorable cover art: four guys in leather jackets and jeans leaning against a brick wall, one belly button showing.
The original concept for the cover was a Beatles tribute inspired by the Meet the Beatles cover and it didn’t go well. After spending $2000 on ONE photograph (how much it cost to record a third of the album) they ditched the idea.
Punk magazine staff member, Roberta Bayley took the photo which is #58 on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest album covers list.
The brick wall was in a community garden around the corner from CBGBs. She had no clue at the time that Johnny’s middle finger made the cut! He slipped it in holding while onto his belt loops.
From Rolling Stone:
Johnny didn’t expect his middle finger to make it to the cover shot.
A number of factors make the Ramones cover so iconic, but Johnny Ramone’s finger is certainly a major one. The guitarist can be seen slyly slipping fans the bird while his hands are in his belt loops. “I never thought they would use that one,” he said later. “I was really trying to sneak it in. I felt like I got one over on everybody. But I guess they just expected it from us.” Although glad he got away with it, Johnny also voiced disappointment that not enough people noticed — or were outraged by — his “secret” obscene message.
Please also note: During this cover shoot, Dee Dee Ramone stepped in dog poop and had to spend a considerable amount of time flicking it off his shoe with a stick.
#3 Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
There’s more than one Led Zeppelin album with an iconic cover, but this weekend, let’s take a closer look at Houses of the Holy featuring some naked, blond-haired children crawling up a weird landscape.
We first learned about Stefan and Sam gates leading up to the 2007 Zeppelin reunion concert at the 02 Arena. According to The Daily Mail, Stefan was actually a TV host on BBC2’s Cooking in the Danger Zone and was five years old at the time of the photo-shoot on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland:
“I’ve heard people saying they put wigs on several children. But there was only me and my sister and that’s our real hair.
“I used to love being naked when I was that age so I didn’t mind. I’d whip off my clothes at the drop of a hat and run around having a great time, so I was in my element.
“My sister was older so she was probably a bit more self-conscious.”
Although you can see six different children on the album cover, Stefan and Sam are the only children that were used in the shoot:
“The cover art was the brainchild of Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson of legendary album-sleeve designers Hipgnosis. They took several multiple-exposure shots of Stefan and Sam to create the image of more children clambering over the rocks.
There is endless debate among rock fans over the significance of the image.
Powell has claimed he was inspired by the science-fiction book Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke, in which children climb off the end of the world.
Imagine telling your kids, “Yeah, that’s me on Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy cover!”
#4 Rage Against the Machine - Self-Titled
We know Rage Against the Machine as a politically charged band, and this album cover is no exception. This image features a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, burning himself to death in protest of the Vietnamese President in 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem (he opposed Buddhism).
Diffuser explains a little more:
In 1955 the French left Indochina, leaving a man named Ngo Dinh Diem in charge of the south. A referendum was held to determine whether the country would return to monarchy or form a republic, which was Diem’s choice. Diem won, collecting 150,000 more votes than there were registered voters, and named himself president of the newly formed Vietnam.
Now, the Vietnamese population was as much as 80% Buddhist, but Diem was a Roman Catholic. As he built his dictatorship, his government became increasingly biased toward Catholics and discriminatory toward Buddhists. Catholics were given the plum government jobs and military promotions, for example. When weapons were distributed for defense against the Viet Cong, they were given to Catholics. U.S. aid went disproportionately to Catholic villages, too.
This led to what historians have deemed “the Buddhist Crisis.” The problem came to a boil in 1963 when Buddhists were prohibited from flying flags in honor of the Buddha’s birthday. A protest led to the death of nine civilians at the hands of the military, which Diem’s government blamed on the Viet Cong. The Buddhists responded with a list of five demands, among which were religious equality, compensation for the 9 victims, and a commitment to hold the murderers responsible.
Diem responded by banning demonstrations, which led to more demonstrations. On June 3, 1963, protesters were tear gassed, leading to 65 injuries. One week later, a Buddhist monk known as Thích Quảng Đức pushed the crisis past the point of no return.
Quảng Đức took his vows at age 15, when he was still known by his birth name, Lâm Văn Túc. Over the course of the next 50 years, he was responsible for the construction of 31 temples throughout the country. That’s quite a legacy, but on June 10 Quảng Đức sat down on a street corner and created his true legacy. Prior to that incident, the monk wrote a note:
Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.
The episode was handled with more media savvy than one might expect for a bunch of Vietnamese Buddhist monks circa 1963. They contacted American journalists the prior day, drawing their attention to an important event that would occur outside of Saigon’s Cambodian embassy. Among those who turned up were photographer Malcolm Browne and New York Times reporter David Halberstam. A procession of 350 Buddhists accompanied a car carrying Quảng Đức, two other monks, a cushion, and five gallons of gasoline.
The monk emerged from the car and sat quietly on the cushion, fingering his prayer beads and chanting “Homage to Infinite Light,” or “Homage to Amitābha Buddha,” while one of his fellow monks doused him in gasoline. He then dropped a lit match into his own lap, but beyond that he never moved. Halberstam wrote:
I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
Malcolm Browne snapped photos, though the incident was caught on film, too. President Kennedy said of Browne’s photograph, “no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” One photo from the series earned Browne both a Pulitzer prize and the World Press Photo of the Year award.
And there was EVERYTHING Rage Against the Machine wanted people to know about their band and their values: commitment, compassion, defiance, and history.
#5 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
#6 Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill
Here’s a quote from producer, Rick Rubin in the book 100 Best Album Covers:
At the time, I had just read Hammer of the Gods, a wild biography about Led Zeppelin‘s rock excesses. In the book there is a photograph of the Led Zeppelin private jet and the idea of this cover came from that. The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys’ jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger than life rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
You may remember that Boeing 720 airliner, the Starship. On the contrary, airplanes had also become associated with tragedy. 1959…The Day the Music Died…Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. An airplane could represent BOTH excess and sadness.
“What better way to announce a young band than to crash their jet into the side of a mountain?”
How very ‘Mad Magazine’ of the Beastie Boys to also include a fold-in cartoon – if you open the cover and look at both the front and back as the same image, you’ll notice the plane’s tail number, 3MTA3 actually spells ‘Eat Me’ backwards and the plan becomes a huge blunt.
And…according to Rick Rubin, if you look at the cover sideways, it looks like a penis with pubic hair too.
#8 Van Halen - 1984
What an interesting way to use the image of a child, stealing darts? The adorable little blond-kid on the cover of 1984 is sneaking cigarettes out of an open carton. Graphic artist Margo Nahas insists the kid was holding candy cigarettes for the shoot. The UK cover had a removable sticker marked with Roman numerals that was placed right over the hand holding the cigarettes during a no-smoking campaign.
#10 Nirvana - Nevermind
Kurt Cobain gets the credit for this idea, from Diffuser:
He had seen a late night television show on underwater birthing, and wanted a photograph of a baby’s head right as it began to exit the vagina — he went as far as to sketch out the image in his journal. Yet when Kurt tried to license the gory and bloody photograph, he was rebuffed. The naked baby photo was the back-up plan.
Robert Fisher’s version in 100 Greatest Album Covers makes no reference to Cobain trying to license an image:
I researched photographs of underwater births but found them way too graphic for an album cover. Although the shock value was good, Geffen would never have approved it. I found a picture of a baby swimming underwater that I liked. I showed Kurt the baby picture and he liked it but felt it needed something more.
The cost to license the picture was prohibitive, so Geffen hired Kirk Weddle to shoot a similar photo. “The band hadn’t exploded yet, they were below my radar when I did the shoot,” he told Digital Photography School. Geffen paid the photographer $1,000 for his services.
Weddle set up shop at a swimming school in Pasadena and had a bunch of parents bring their babies down. One of those parents was Rick Elden, who by some accounts was a friend of sleeve designer Fisher, and by others was a friend of photographer Weddle. Elden’s son, Spencer, picks up the story: