6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying

If cooler heads hadn't prevailed, history might remember all of these differently.
6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying

Some album covers are so iconic that you can immediately picture them in your mind, even if you've only seen them as tiny icons on your Spotify playlist (you'd recognize that Nirvana baby anywhere). Well, we've told you before how some of the most recognizable album covers in music history narrowly avoided being disgusting, confusing, and otherwise traumatizing images that might have ruined the band's legacy (or at least gotten them banned from Walmart).

So if cooler heads hadn't prevailed, history might remember all of these differently ...

Kanye West Was Going to Have Sex With a Winged Woman

The Album Cover We Saw:

Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

The Cover We Almost Saw:

Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

He didn't let her finish.

Time.com has called Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy "his most mature work," which might explain why, for the front cover, he went with a sober painting of some Olive Oyl lookalike dressed in a tutu. It's simple, elegant, and ... boring. This would be fine for a late-era Eric Clapton album or something, but we're talking about Yeezy here. Where's the gold-plated cheetah eating a Kanye West-brand Candye Bar? Why isn't there a cutout of Kanye's face on Elvis' body with James Brown's actual feet stapled to the jewel case? WHERE'S THE CRAZY, WEST?

And then you see the original cover. Behold, a nude phoenix with a polka-dotted tail and a severe case of gingivitis straddling a similarly nude, crazy-eyed Kanye(?) with either a beer or a bowling pin in his hand.

Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

Which is, like, the 974th craziest sentence ever written about him.

For some reason, big market stores like Walmart allegedly threatened to ban the record if it was released in that form. Naturally, Kanye was appalled when he found out his record label was neutering his vision: "Banned in the USA!!! They don't want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!" he tweeted, comparing the cover to the baby nudity on Nirvana's Nevermind and pining for the free-spirited culture of the '70s. He also said:

kanyewest Kanye West I wanna sell albums but not at the expense of my true creativity. 3 hours ago kanyewest Kanye West In all honesty ... I really do

"Target, on the other hand, they get me."

Which, of course, is complete bullshit. The guy who painted the cover said Kanye specifically asked for something that would be banned, while his record company clarified that they were prepared to stand behind him if he had his heart set on the drunken demon fucking the firebird with the gross teeth. But, apparently, he didn't. It's almost like he just wanted the publicity or something.

Both Metallica and Pantera Wanted to Put Metal in Someone's Butt

The Album Covers We Saw:

Megaforce, East West

The Covers We Almost Saw:

Megaforce, East West

"I impale butts and I cannot lie."

Heavy metal bands have a long and storied history of disturbingly graphic album covers, because otherwise how would you know their members are total badasses? Certainly not through all the screaming. For example, Metallica's debut album, the delicately titled Kill 'Em All, features a hand gripping a blood-spattered hammer, while Pantera's Far Beyond Driven shows a human skull being impaled with a drill bit. You know, typical metal shit.

This only makes it that much more baffling when we see that, somehow, both covers originally featured anal impalement. How ... how is this a thing? We can't even say one cover influenced the other, because both are unpublished. Apparently, the thought process of the average metal band is just naturally prone to arriving at "let's show some ass violence" at some point.

When Metallica hit the scene, they thought the best way to get their name out there was to literally stuff it straight up your butthole. James Hetfield and company intended to name their debut Metal Up Your Ass, and the matching artwork depicted a sharp metal object being hoisted out of a toilet, presumably to pierce the inside of some unlucky listener's butt regions at a later date.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying

Probably around the time St. Anger was released.

But sometimes an implied rectal assassination just isn't as satisfying as a disturbingly graphic portrait, so Pantera upped the ante a few years later with a cover that shed new, filthy light on the title Far Beyond Driven. It turns out that same drill bit from the classic album cover was first used as something of a medieval colonoscopy tool on a poor young woman's derriere. So, uh, we hope they cleaned it after that.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying
Emrys2/Wiki Commons

Or at least gave her a free T-shirt.

Luckily, some wise, respectably squeamish executives stepped in to have the art changed to more normal levels of violence and the bands' legacies remained untainted by assholes (for a while, anyway).

U2 Wanted to Put a Dick on a Cover

The Album Cover We Saw:

dDrnln /U3

The Cover We Almost Saw:


Suddenly "Achtung, baby" sounds a lot dirtier.

The final album cover for U2's Achtung Baby looks like all the members of the band (Bono, the Edge, uh ... Pancho? We feel like there's a Pancho) couldn't decide on what they wanted the image to be, so rather than breaking up what was turning out to be quite a profitable endeavor, they threw all the ideas in there and called it a day. Which is probably for the best, because if they'd settled on one picture, we probably would have ended up with something a lot less interesting, like that other cover photo that was apparently taken while the band was waiting around in an airport terminal. Or, you know, some dude's penis.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"We wanted to switch it up from the vagina that's usually there."

Some of the many images taken for Achtung Baby's collage did get serious consideration as front cover material -- including that one of U2 bassist Adam "Pancho" Clayton dressed in nothing but a wristwatch. We're not sure how he ended up like that, but the coloring suggests roofies may have been involved. At one point the band even thought about naming the album Adam or 69, the latter of which suggests that maybe there's an alternate shot where Clayton isn't unaccompanied.

In the end, they went with the collage idea and included a considerably shrunken version of the band member's member as one of the miniatures, but label heads intervened and vanished the picture to the back of the booklet. Even that proved too much for the U.S., where Clayton's junk was slashed with a big black X.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying


Eventually the penis was axed altogether. Man, U2, what happened to you? You used to be all about the penis.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying

Chumbawamba Showed the Glorious (Disgusting) Miracle of Childbirth

The Album Cover We Saw:

One Little Indian/London Records

The Cover We Almost Saw:

One Little Indian/London Records

Pissing, shitting, and crying the night away.

Best known as the band that gets knocked down and then gets up again, Chumbawamba seems, at first glance, about as punk as your little sister singing Billy Idol at her grade school recital. In fact, if the only way you procure music these days is by downloading it from the Web, the cover for 1994's Anarchy might have you thinking you'd accidentally purchased a Martha Stewart audiobook. If you're old enough to know what a "record store" is, though, you're already remembering seeing the original cover: an up close and very personal image of a mother's proud vagina shooting out her sticky little bundle of joy.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

And if you're that old, that's probably ALL you remember.

Many stores refused to sell the album because of that cover, while others repackaged it in plain sleeves. All because the band wanted to depict the most natural, beautiful event human beings are capable of creating, showing that amid all the chaos this world constantly brings down upon us, there is still purity and innocence. Or they just wanted to put a stretched-out vagina on their album cover. Either way, can't blame them for trying.

Since then, the cover has been quietly replaced on most online retailers with a painting of some nice flowers (not even vagina-looking ones). While the original artwork is now little more than a collector's item for people who are oddly obsessed with one-hit wonders and/or pictures of other people giving birth, Chumbawamba got the last laugh when they released the uber-successful Tubthumper a few years later with a big ol' smiling baby boy on the cover.

EMI/Universal Records

Apparently, being photographed as soon as you come out can lead to deformities.

The Beatles' White Album Was Nearly a Bad Cartoon

The Album Cover We Saw:

Apple Records

The Cover We Almost Saw:

Ooow A DOLL'S HOUSE D MONO ict STEREO ahesithar 25 more alternate white album mixes
Apple Records

"Dammit, John, did you have to bring the Magic Yoko Ball? It's scaring the bunnies."

The Beatles' self-titled "White Album" is a classic not only because it contains some of the best songs the group ever wrote ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Helter Skelter") and some of the weirdest ("Why Don't We Do It in the Road," "Let's Let Yoko Fill These 9 Minutes"), but also because the completely barren album cover -- a stark detour from their previous album, the blindingly colorful Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- presented a grand statement: marketing is for losers.

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Hey, it's us. Buy our shit. Fuck you, bye."

But that wasn't the original plan. The White Album was going to have not only a cover, but a name. The Fab Four wanted to call the album A Doll's House (a reference to a play from the 19th century, not Ringo's Barbie collection) and fill the cover with a psychedelic rendering of the group as ... marionettes? Conquistadors? Wildlife enthusiasts? Really, really stoned cartoon characters? Whatever it was supposed to be, we think "nothing" was a huge improvement.

But when British prog band Family released a similarly titled album, Music in a Doll's House, the Beatles decided to do the cool thing and let the other band call dibs on the name: After all, they could put literally nothing on a cover and it'd sell. So that's exactly what they did. They kept this minimalist (lazy) approach when they realized that the planned cover image for a subsequent album, Everest, involved getting off their asses and taking a plane ... so they changed the name to the street outside their studio (Abbey Road) and shot the cover there instead.

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying
Apple Records

It was almost called "Studio Bathroom," but Ringo stank the place up.

The White Album cover turned out to be hugely iconic, influencing everyone from Metallica to Weezer (multiple times). But the Beatles weren't the only British Invasion group with a fickle temperament ...

Who's Next Was Intended to Be a Collage of Extra-Large Naked Ladies

The Album Cover We Saw:

Who's next

The Cover We Almost Saw:

6 Classic Album Covers That Were Originally Horrifying

A young Freddie Mercury saw this and immediately started taking notes.

Now here's a case where the final cover is already fairly edgy stuff, compared to the rest of this list. Who's Next famously featured all four band members having just urinated on a monolith possibly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey (they either hated the film or loved it so much that they literally couldn't contain themselves over it). Others believe the public urination is a comment on their competition with Led Zeppelin (who liked putting sci-fi allusions in their work, the dorks), and that the phrase "Who's Next" suggested they were aiming their wieners at some other band now.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Or any fan that insisted on asking them "Who's on first?" like no one had ever done that before.

But the subliminal debauchery of that cover is a tasteful postcard you could send to your grandmother when compared to the original. Ethan Russell, the photographer who captured the photo used for the actual album cover, remembers being around the recording studio when a collage of "extremely fat naked women" was submitted for consideration by another photographer. According to Russell, the collage was only rejected because "Jimi Hendrix had already done something almost identical, only the women in that instance were not fat" (as we in fact covered here). So, were it not for Electric Ladyland, the world would have been treated to this bounty of plentiful women with Pete Townshend's face tactfully looming over their vaginas.

Another cover they seriously considered? God among drummers Keith Moon showing us his underwear.

WHO'S NEXT The who's nest is Bor. A vantic Trw vigke. WWYO' et Foaled Acasin Aset a natiel tot begining in lte Joly. Not buid fot ork Wn't Cict Folot

Oddly enough, it's the same as Ariana Grande's, except the color.

So, yeah, "pissing on a monolith" seems pretty restrained now.

Jacob loves these album covers but hates his co-workers. His blog, Letters to My Coworkers, Whom I Hate, is chock-full of angry letters to those bastards. He spreads that hate onto Twitter as well.

Related Reading: Speaking of baffling album choices, these concept albums botched their own concept. Some of these classic rap albums were so bad they ruined rap forever. And did you know Neil Young once had an album canned for being too depressing?

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