I remember back in 1979 buying Whitesnake’s new album Lovehunter and bringing it back home. My dear Dad wasn’t at all pleased and threatened to tear up the sleeve, accusing me of importing pornography into the household.
It’s just as well he didn’t look underneath my mattress although that’s a different story altogether!
As many of you will know, the controversial cover of Whitesnake’s second album featured an auburn-haired girl with her rather delightful bare backside exposed, straddling a large white snake.
A few years later, by which time I’d moved into student digs, I recall buying the band’s Come ‘An Get It album and wondering how on earth the artwork, which featured a highly suggestive image of a snake’s tongue inside a glass apple, had managed to fool the censors.
Whitesnake weren’t the only band to have racy album sleeves. The Scorpions were arguably even more notorious with their cover art.
Lovedrive featured a man and a bare-breasted woman sitting in the back of a car while the follow-up Animal Magnetism displayed the crudely double-entrendre image of a girl kneeling by a man accompanied by a dog with a ball in his mouth.
A few years earlier, the Scorpions’ Virgin Killer sleeve showed a pre-pubescent naked girl. It’s since being quite rightly banned though quite why it was allowed back then is baffling.
Album sleeves had the capacity to shock, to amuse, to baffle, to provoke, to horrify, to symbolise and musicians spent thousands of pounds on them.
I can still the sense of excitement ahead of buying a new album, wondering if it would be presented in a gatefold sleeve and would it contain a lyircs sheet.
My disappointment was invariably acute when a UFO album hit the shelves for most of them featured nothing more than a boring single sleeve. In contrast, bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis spent a small fortune on the packaging.
Storm Thorgeson was possibly the most famous album sleeve artists with his work for Pink Floyd producing some of the most iconic designs ever produced.
Dark Side of The Moon and its prism is arguably the most famous album sleeve ever made while the sleeve featuring an inflatable pig floating over Battersea Power Station is almost as well known
Led Zeppelin gambled on having no reference to themselves on their fourth album and refused to give it a name but the imagery of a tramp-like hunched figure is almost as iconic as the music inside.
Physical Grafitti featured some of the most intricate design work ever associated with an album while by the time they released In Through the Out Door, Zeppelin took their art work so seriously they hid it by wrapping every record in a brown paper bag.
AC/DC have never been the most subtle band in the world but their first album following the death of Bon Scott was breathtaking in its poignant starkness. Back In Black, with it’s jet-black background and inscribed lettering screamed a fitting tribute louder than any of their music could.
I could go on by mentioning some of my other favourite sleeves such as Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers with its “zipped jeans” and Rush’s Farewell to Kings.
Or my worst: Mechanix by UFO, Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits (hate the colours) and even Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (what a contrast to the music) but whether a sleeve is good, bad, tacky, scary or just plain boring, there is a common denominator.
Most belong to the decades when LP was king. CD didn’t spell the end of album sleeves with many bands including glossy booklets alongside the discs. The packaging of The Division Bell was as impressive as any of its predecessors.
But today downloading is king with cover design almost an irrelevant sideshow.
Album sleeves may never have persuaded anyone to buy a record but they made buying music a whole lot more interesting than it is today.