Monday, 30 September 2013

Offensive Record Sleeves

If you do a Google search you will find numerous links to 'the worst album sleeves ever', some of which aren't so much bad as unintentionally comical and shoddily conceived. In my book, that makes them a damn sight better than the glut of clichéd, computer-generated fantasy artwork slapped on every neo-Prog and AOR release of the last ten years. These I find offensive. Soulless, unimaginative Roger Dean wannabes the lot of them! Other LP jackets are, I believe, tarred with the 'worst ever' brush rather unfairly. The Scorpions' Lovedrive LP always features in these lists, but to me it's blindingly obvious that the band, and sleeve artists, Hipgnosis, had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks when they thought up, and brilliantly executed, a design which is striking, provocative and, no doubt, helped to stimulate album sales into the bargain.

The same excuse can not be made for the original sleeve for Virgin Killer which bypassed provocative visual humour in favour of a thoroughly offensive, exploitative image. I won't reproduce the cover image on my blog if it's all the same to you as I don't particularly want to end up on a register for nonces. There are many sleeves from the 1970s which get cheap mileage from images of, and allusions to, 'jailbait', but I can't think of any as cynical, blatant or unpleasant as the Scorpions one. There seems to have been a strange and insidious cultural tolerance of the sexualisation of minors during the 1970s, which probably goes some way to explaining how scumbags like Jimmy Saville, Jonathan King and Gary Glitter were able to satisfy their prediliction for the underaged without being censured by their peers. There definitely seems to have been an element of amused tolerance in the Seventies' music industry: a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, roll of the eyes, "oh, what is he like!", chuckle, chuckle, let-him-get-on-with-it attitude. For those who weren't serial sexual predators of children the intervening years seem to have acted as an amnesty. People like Jimmy Page who, back in the Seventies, is said to have been in a relationship with the underage Lori Maddox who, rumour has it, lost her virginity to David Bowie at the age of thirteen. Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith anyone? I'm not suggesting a witch hunt, but Christ, haven't attitudes changed! Lostprophets frontman Ian Watkins' recent arrest on child sex charges would suggest that the days of turning a blind eye to the unhealthy sexual appetites of some rock stars is at an end.

Meanwhile, back in the Seventies, Silverhead achieved the seemingly impossible by coming up with cover artwork for 16 and Savaged that equalled the tastelessness of the album's title. It's a great album, with Michael Des Barres in fine voice, but without the excuse of social commentary, it seems that the band was using the subject of teenage rape as titillation.

There's a whiff of Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove about Scene Stealer's First Offence album sleeve, with its 'clever' (in prominent inverted commas) twist being that the schoolboy is the aggressor, not the victim. Not that the scantily-clad woman is likely to be ushering the boy into her boudoir to help him with his homework! It's pretty tacky however you interpret it: does the first offence of the title refer to child abuse or rape? You decide.

 Many sleeves that have provoked an outcry are best taken with a pinch of salt; you have to pick your battles. The image on the cover of W.A.S.P.'s Animal (F**k Like a Beast) single was one that I always found comical in its calculated bid to shock. It's hard to take offence at a man who, once upon a time, nearly blew his own bollocks off in the name of entertainment when his firework-stuffed codpiece backfired on stage.

Not all record sleeves that make for uncomfortable viewing do so because of allusions to sexual taboos. Alquin's Mountain Queen has a photograph on the rear sleeve of a fat man taking a beating while amused bystanders look on. The fact that this is clearly not a staged photograph makes it especially unsettling. How the image relates to the music contained on the album I've never managed to work out. Is it gratuitous or does it pick up in some way on a lyrical theme that I've managed to miss?

Despite the stiff competition (and this selection just scrapes the surface of what is out there), the album sleeve that I find most offensive adorns the 1978 reissue of the Stoney and Meatloaf LP that originally came out in 1971 with different, superior artwork. A lazy concept, shoddily executed, has resulted in the ugliest album sleeve I've ever clapped eyes on - it turns my stomach every time I see it. There's no justification for this vomit inducing portrayal of tepid, unappetising food, even if it has been arranged to resemble a pre-diet Mr Loaf. Perhaps the fact that the reissue leaves off some of the better tracks found on the original LP is what ties the lukewarm cover concept to the LP's half-baked contents.

Okay, you're right, Virgin Killer is worse.

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