#6. Ironic Innocents
Putting a child on your album cover is a no-lose proposition for rock bands. "We are sensitive souls who feel the universal pain that runs through all things," it screams! "Doesn't this child contrast with our rough-edged image in a way that's ironic?" it asks? "We try not to think about how much closer in age our groupies are to this child than to us," it adds, while staring off at nothing in particular.
Led Zeppelin put an additional mist of creepiness on their already creepy Stonehenge vibe by setting a horde of albino children loose on a formation of stone toilets:
Unlike Stonehenge, our descendants won't give one-third of a rat's ass about what this meant.
U2 got things started with a cute 6-year-old boy on the cover of their first album. To stress the point, they named the album Boy:
Bono wanted to call it Boy Face Hands to cover all the bases, but this was back when the rest of the band had veto power.
The trend both peaked and got a new ironic twist with Nirvana's Nevermind, which juxtaposed a baby with a clear symbol of the destructive adult world:
It was a brilliant album cover because of how unabashedly symbolic it was, and because fishing for babies in swimming pools is one of those things we've all done before, but are usually too ashamed to admit. OK, so it was regarded as a brilliant album cover mostly because of the greatness of the music inside. In all likelihood, it probably didn't matter what political cartoon the band decided to photograph for their cover, a fact that was immediately and completely lost on the designers of every alternative rock album cover from that day forward. Suddenly, innocent children in ironically adult circumstances were showing up on albums accompanied by guns and gas masks:
Cracked.com only supports giving children firearms in dire emergencies or when it would be super funny.
Because how else are you going to capture the essence of the band that sings that "Laid" song from American Pie besides giving a baby a gun?
Those covers are subtle when compared to the "ironic children" album covers of Korn, whose debut album showed a young girl on a swing and a threatening adult shadow, sending America a powerful message about the underreported problem of child abduction by crab-people:
The look worked out well for them, judging from their subsequent albums, which gradually built up the idea of "innocent children surrounded by threatening-looking things":
From one-trick pony to multiple-restraining-order pony.
Their peak was probably "animal-masked adult figures ripping the head off a sad boy's teddy bear":
It was all enough to make you miss the days when rock bands like U2 knew that the only badass thing you needed to contrast with the kid was your name, and the badass baby making music inside. Of course, by the time they released their first greatest hits album in 1998, U2 was no longer the most subtle band in the world:
You can almost hear Bono yelling "The children are too young to be soldiers!" in the background.
#5. Jesus Christ Pose
The image of Jesus Christ being crucified has stirred the souls of millions and inspired some of the most revered artists of all time to create masterpieces. It's also become shorthand among musicians as a way to signify that they are described as controversial somewhere on their Wikipedia page. If there's been even indirect criticism of your lyrics, according to the recording industry, you have earned the right to photographically nail yourself to a cross. This allows you to simultaneously frustrate your uptight critics while proving correct any whose main complaint is that you're a self-important jerkoff.
Not that you have to be an iconoclast like Ozzy or Marilyn Manson. Being in vaguely the same genre of rock music as them is good enough.
Perhaps "good" isn't the proper word to use there.
Or maybe you're just worried that naming your band Death SS isn't shocking enough on its own, and your lead singer already has a beard, soooo ...
Or you're a Spanish heavy metal band whose concept album about Jesus returning to the Spanish neighborhood Chamberi needs a cover, and you lack any sense of subtlety:
Or a complete grasp of Photoshop.
Perhaps the only artist who earned his persecution claim was Tupac, who had the common decency to release his nailed-to-a-cross album cover well after he was murdered and before he became the most widely rumored resurrectee since Elvis himself. Of course, all gravitas lent by the circumstances surrounding the album were somewhat undermined by the placement of the Parental Advisory warning over his crotch area, as if to suggest that his balls were hanging below the sash he was crucified in:
And while a disclaimer on Tupac's cover clearly states that it is not meant to be an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ, we can't help but wonder if Jesus held the in-poorer-taste copycat album covers against him:
This might piss him off more than the whole crucifixion.
#4. Nekkid Women With Guitars
Putting pictures of naked women on album covers has been the go-to method for sweetening album sales since record executives realized they could attend the photo shoots. The idea was apparently that the mere presence of a guitar would transform a photo shoot from "the set of a porno before Ron Jeremy shows up" to "classy and shit." Some women were willing to believe that lie harder than others:
More modest nude women have appeared covered by a cello, which we have to assume is the one-piece bathing costume of string instrument body coverings:
In rare instances, the model wouldn't even use the guitar to cover her boobs, although the executives apparently went to some pretty extreme measures to make that option untenable:
This is basically the worst possible situation in which to be caught wearing heels.
Modern women appear to be getting either smarter or less turned on by guitars, because these days, the only naked women covered by a guitar we were able to find from the past few years were Ana Popovic, a Serbian blues guitarist who does not look at all sold on the idea ...
"Unconditional" refers to a legal clause in her record contract that forfeits human rights.
... and Liz Phair's famously nude-seeming album cover, where if you look at her right leg, you can tell she's actually wearing a dress:
It probably didn't help the sleazy record executives of the world when they let the rock band Boned tip their hand about what the guitar actually symbolized:
#3. Progressive Rock and Metal's Fantastical Creatures
At their best (and worst), progressive rock and metal bring fantasy to life like no other music. So while it might seem strange that supposedly "prog-ressive" musicians would define their albums with imagery off the side of '80s arcade cabinets and Trapper Keepers, there was at least a topical tie-in.
Naming your prog rock band is as easy as opening Tobin's Spirit Guide.
And yes, it's strange that the titular Gryphon is seated in the position of a movie character who is rocking back and forth in the shower after something horrible has happened to him, but it's not going to haunt your dreams unless you spend too much time thinking about it. The same can't be said for the album covers that resulted when prog rock bands went off prompter and started creating their own mythological creatures:
At times, the prog rockers seemed to be in a race to see who could come up with the tackiest thing ever conceived on drugs:
The world may not have needed to see what Epcot Center would look like if it fucked an armadillo tank, but not all prog rock album covers were so pointless. Asia's Aqua album forever changed the black light stoner art industry ...
... and there was an entire suite of albums that doubled as warnings about the very real dangers of dropping acid inside a bird sanctuary:
Not even once.
And in case you ever wondered what it's like to be the type of high that God never intended the human mind to return from, it's like being a baby ...
... with wings that are connected to a sunfish with spindly bird legs, floating through a red sky while the moon hovers about 30 feet above Earth.
#2. X-Rays (But Only of the Head and Neck)
X-rays make as much sense for album covers as any other gimmicky photographic format. We're sure there's a few album covers out there that are photographic negatives, too. What makes this trend so strange is how little variety there is from one to the next. For instance, here's three separate albums from three unrelated artists that all use the same X-ray:
The one on the right shook it around a little bit to make it look like he was rocking. So, y'know ... good show.
We suppose skulls and attached neck vertebrae say "spooky and luminous and sciencey and stuff," while scans of other body parts just remind people of the pictures the doctor showed them after they tripped over a cat:
Does that dude have three rows of teeth?
But if you're going to use an X-ray to summarize your album titled Bridge Over the X-Stream, why not have an axe sticking out of the neck part or something? We're not medical experts, but that guy who's taking the Bridge over the X-Stream appears to be doing just fine. Our guess would be that it's a routine dental X-ray if the skeleton in question didn't have such perfect teeth. The skeleton on the Sweet Savage album Killing Time is a little blurrier, and his face appears to be made out of cigarette smoke, but otherwise, he's no worse for wear:
"It is my medical opinion that you are wearing Kool Moe Dee glasses under your face."
But that's as ugly as it gets, for the most part. Which is baffling, until you see how badly things can go when you try just a little bit too hard. For instance, we bet the doctor freaked out when he saw this one:
Sammy, you are either the best or the worst hit man ever.
The only way people have figured out to make their album X-rays more distinctive is by including some object clearly associated with them. For instance, John Lennon's glasses, or those weird DJ headlamps the guys from Orbital wear:
Stay classy, Yoko.
As cigarette smoking has shown, nothing screams rock and roll like needlessly increasing your statistical likelihood of getting cancer.
#1. The Sign Says "Fire Your Graphic Designer"
OK, we'll give Pearl Jam the benefit of the doubt on the Yield cover. It's the title of the album, and there's something off about the photograph of a yield sign out in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps the image of a lone car forever trying to yield to nothing suited the album's existential angst. Or perhaps it was a semen joke, like the band's name.
When the band that's named the logical equivalent of Man Chowder is the high point of an album cover trend, you know you might be in trouble. And you are. What could any of these covers possibly mean? Well, besides "merge left," "slight curve ahead" and "straight up now tell me," respectively.
There is simply no excuse for the number of times these signs have popped up in circumstances where they have no discernible meaning, other than "Hey, here are some recognizable shapes and colors":
Other covers fail by going too literal:
You're right, that is another way to go. And there was probably another, less retarded way to visually communicate that.
We're certain the Dirty Beatniks were trying to say something about the modern human condition and how we're all confused and stuff, but the message you come away with is "Driving in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area can be a pain in the ass."
The trend gets more confusing when you consider how often nonsensical road signs are used in the genre of Southern rock:
Nothing says freedom like a sign telling you what to do.
We've never met Blip Pilot or the Skinny Rider, so we have no guesses as to who they buried there.
For more just really terrible album sleeves, check out The 19 Most Hilariously Failed Attempts at Sexy Album Covers and The 15 Worst Album Covers of All-Time.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 4 Least Anticipated Albums of September 2012.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see Christina's Kool Mo Dee sunglasses.
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