Puritans were some of the earliest European settlers in North America, and despite the sexual revolution and half a century of rock & roll, the U.S.A. still has a strong tradition of bluenose moralizing.
Many musicians have tried to push the limits of society in their album packaging — only to find out that sometimes society pushes back. Here are 18 of the most notable censored album covers: The reasons for their bowdlerization include squeamishness about toilets, nudity, and general freakiness.
1. The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’ (1966)
The original cover for the Mamas and the Papas’ debut album: all four band members crammed into a bathtub (with Michelle Phillips stretched out over the other three). But because it was taken in an actual bathroom, the photo also included a toilet, which was taboo. The toilet was first obscured with a text box, and later cropped out entirely.
2. The Beatles, ‘Yesterday and Today’ (1966)
Times have changed: this image of the Beatles in white smocks, posing with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls now seems like the mildest form of provocation. (The Fab Four may have been protesting the Vietnam War, may have been complaining about how their American record company shuffled and repackaged their albums for the USA market, or may have been indulging in some dark humor.) But in the States, the backlash against the cover was so strong, Capitol had to recall 750,000 copies and replace the image with an anodyne photo of the band around a steamer trunk.
3. Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968)
Toilets were still taboo in 1968 — enough so that the Stones’ record company rejected the cover photo of a bathroom wall full of graffiti (at a Porsche dealership in Los Angeles), ultimately replacing it with a plain white cover with italic black print in the mode of a formal invitation. The album was delayed for months as a result, and the original art didn’t surface until the Eighties.
4. Blind Faith, ‘Blind Faith’ (1969)
The Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood supergroup had no name until they saw the cover art for their album, which photographer Bob Seidemann called “Blind Faith”: an 11-year-old girl with her shirt off, her innocence in counterpoint to the technological toy in her hands. (Model Mariora Goschen says that she was promised a horse for posing for the cover, and had to settle for 40 pounds sterling.) In the United States, the image of a topless tween provoked outrage (although not as much as it probably would today), so the record company also offered a version with a picture of the band.
5. Alice Cooper, ‘Love It to Death’ (1971)
Alice Cooper (the band and the singer) broke through with their third album, featuring “I’m Eighteen.” But they got flak for a juvenile stunt in the album photo: Cooper wrapped his cape around him and poked his right thumb out, making it look to a casual viewer like his schlong was hanging out. For his trouble, he had his entire right arm airbrushed out.