Banned in the USA: Blind Faith

Blind Faith is a 1969 self-titled album by the English supergroup Blind Faith. The band consisted of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. Supergroups such as Cream and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had already achieved remarkable success in the late ’60s rock era by bringing together musicians from popular bands. A very controversial album cover is one thing that separates Blind Faith from most of the other commercially successful supergroup projects.

The album achieved instant notoriety because the UK version of the cover featured a photograph of a topless girl holding a phallic airplane sculpture. In anticipation of being banned as obscene, an alternate cover was used for the U.S. release (above right). In the UK and Europe, the album was distributed in a paper wrapper.

There are several conflicting stories and myths related to the album cover. Rumors persist that the model was an underage groupie and that the plane sculpture is a hood ornament from the car of one of the band members.

The truth is that the cover was created by professional photographer Bob Seidemann. Seidemann was a personal friend and of Eric Clapton and is known for his work with legendary rock artists like Janis Joplin. The girl who posed for the photograph was a paid model who did the work with parental consent. The photograph is in every way a legitimate work of art. Recent releases have used the banned cover and the past controversy has been forgotten.

Posted by: Scott

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Banned in the USA: Below the Belt by Boxer

Most of the album covers featured in our Banned in the USA articles were either censored or redesigned for the U.S. market due to nudity. Another example of this is the 1975 debut album by the U.K. rock band Boxer. The album featured a nude photograph of model Stephanie Marrian, with a hand wearing a boxing glove strategically placed to cover her genitals (below).

The cover was photographed by Alex Henderson and the graphic design is credited to Richard Evans. In the 1970s, Evans worked as a graphic designer for Hipgnosis and created covers for artists such as The Doors, Robert Plant, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, The Who and Van Morrison.

Virgin Records completely redesigned the cover of Below the Belt for the U.S. market. Instead of the nude woman, it featured a photo of the band below a version of the belt graphic used on the U.K. cover (above right). Recent reissues of the album feature the original cover. After almost four decades, the nudity seems quite tame. Most online retailers publish the image without censoring it all.

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Banned in the USA: Nirvana’s Nevermind

According to an article on The Hollywood Reporter website, Facebook has removed the the cover art for the 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana’s album Nevermind from the band’s Facebook page.

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Twenty years later, Nirvana is still managing to cause controversy.

The band, whose Nevermind album made waves when it was released in 1991 because of its cover art which featured a naked baby boy floating in a pool, has run into censorship yet again, this time on its Facebook page.

After product shots of the album (which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall) were uploaded to Nirvana’s Facebook page, the social networking company removed the photo citing a violation of its Terms of Use.

When the cover was originally released, many U.S. retailers refused to display it on their shelves. It was banned in Saudi Arabia and several other countries. So, it looks as if things have not changed in two decades — at least as far as Facebook is concerned.

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Banned in the USA: Ideas for Songs by Destroyer

destro-ideasf_06.jpgIdeas for Songs by Canadian indie rock band Destroyer was originally released on cassette tape on 1997. The cover art for the cassette featured a painting by the late artist Sylvia Sleigh, titled Imperial Nude: Paul Rosano.

Sleigh was a highly acclaimed realist painter who emerged onto the fine art scene in the 1970s with a series of works that reverse stereotypical artistic themes by featuring naked men in poses usually associated with women. The painting used on the Destroyer cover is one of the most notable of the series.

The album was recently made available on LP and digital download with a beautiful reproduction of the Sleigh painting. It is ironic that a painting of a nude woman reclining on a sofa would hardly get noticed in 2011, while Sleigh’s painting is censored on iTunes with a large pink dot over the subject’s genitals (above right). Amazon.com has chosen to display an uncensored version of the cover on their website.

I generally try to take a neutral position when it comes to censoring nudes on album covers. In this case, I find it somewhat offensive that an important work of fine art has been defaced with an ugly pink dot. I wonder if they would do the same thing to Michelanglo’s David.

Posted by: zeefritz

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Banned in the USA: Jane’s Addiction

Ritual de lo Habitual is the second studio album from the alternative rock band Jane’s Addiction. It was released under the Warner Bros. Records label in August 1990. The cover artwork, by the band’s frontman Perry Farrell, depicts male and female nudity, and relates to the song Three Days.

The inspiration behind that song was Xiola Blue, who died in 1987 of a heroin overdose. The song, written prior to Blue’s death, is a reference to a three day “haze of sex and drugs” in Los Angeles enjoyed by Farrell, his girlfriend Casey Niccoli, and Blue who was in town at the time for her father’s funeral.

Posted by: Scott Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual

Buy Now Warner Bros. reportedly weren’t thrilled when initially presented with Farrell’s original artwork. Farrell insisted and the record label went with it. But conservative groups, some record chains, and political pressure in the USA eventually forced the band to reconsider.

A record store owner in Royal Oak, Michigan was even arrested for “indecency” by displaying a poster of the album cover in his front window. A compromise was made between the band and Warner Bros. that allowed this version and a “Censored Version” to both be produced. In the “Amendment Version”, the band opted for minimal text on a plain white background, simply quoting the free speech guarantee within the First Amendment. Interestingly enough, the back cover also contains what I can only think is an early pre-internet fore-runner of Godwin’s law.

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And lastly, on an interesting side note: ‘Three Days’, a 10 minute and 46 second long three part song, contains a guitar solo by Dave Navarro which was ranked as number 100 by Guitar World in their 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.

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Banned in the USA: La Femme

la-femme-mosiac.jpgI recently stumbled on a review of a forthcoming EP by a French surf music band called La Femme. The cover for Le Podium #1 (below) features a nude woman with a large black square covering her exposed genitals. Text on the square reads, “This is not La Femme actaul cover because it got censured.”

I assumed that this was a clever publicity stunt. Then, I did a little online research and found the uncensored cover for the EP. It was located on the band’s Bandcamp page as the cover art for one of the four tracks available for download. I assume that the cover was not replaced with the censored version in error.

I have written about nudity being censored on album covers several times. This is the first time that I actually agree that a cover needed to be censored. Who would use a graphic close up photograph of a vagina as cover art for an EP of retro surf music? I could imagine it being appropriate for an album of protest songs or something a bit more serious.

I think many people will like the band’s sound. I have posted the first track, Sur La Planche, below. It reminds me of some of the early New Wave bands from the late 1970s. The EP is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2010 and can be purchased now from Bandcamp.

Posted by: zeefritz

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Banned in the USA: Willie Nelson

Since country music legend Willie Nelson was arrested this morning for allegedly possessing six ounces of marijuana, I thought it would be a good time to write about the cover art for his 2005 album Countryman.

In case you haven’t heard, Nelson was arrested at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas as his tour bus was traveling from California to Austin. He was booked into the Hudspeth County Jail on a $2,500 bond and a released. Nelson has a worked for the legalization of marijuana for several years and is a defiant advocate for use of the drug.

While not surprising in anyway considering Nelson’s history and position regarding pot, the cover art for Countryman was controversial. Nelson’s first reggae album, it was released on  August 2, 2005 by the Lost Highway label with an illustration of a marijuana leaf designed by art director Craig Allen.

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As is often the case with controversial cover art, an alternate cover was also created for the album. On the alternate cover, the marijuana leaf has been replaced with a palm tree. Those who shop exclusively at large chain stores may not even be aware that the marijuana-themed cover exists. The palm tree seems to have been created to look somewhat sad and lonely.

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XTC’s Skylarking to be reissued with original banned cover

Andy Partridge’s Ape House record label has announced the reissue of XTC’s 1986 album Skylarking as a vinyl double LP. The album is scheduled to be released on November 23, 2010.

The album will also include the original cover art that was banned by Virgin Records. Here is the story from the Ape House website:

The fantastic sounding forthcoming double vinyl release of XTC’s SKYLARKING album is being pressed up right now and will soon be in your hands. You know of course that it’s cover will be the original one? No, not the last minute drawing of the elysian type couple tooting on their flutes, nice as it was, I mean the ORIGINAL cover, the one that Virgin banned. Quick version goes like this. XTC had sleeve shoot with naked male and female models. Took mock up of sleeve to big store chains in London. They went all coy and said they would refuse to stock it, Virgin said that can’t be sleeve. XTC had to find a last minute replacement. IE: the one you’re familiar with. Till now.

Source: Ape House News

I guess there’s no point in speculating as to why the original cover was banned. From an artistic viewpoint, it is interesting. However, I can’t imagine why anyone would expect a retail store to display it on their shelves. A retail store is not an art gallery.

Posted by: zeefritz

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Banned in the USA: Kanye West

ylenno-unfin1_04.jpgIt looks like Kanye West is getting quite a bit of publicity from his claim over the weekend that the cover for his forthcoming album was banned. It is one of the hottest stories on music and entertainment blogs today.

In his numerous tweets about the album cover yesterday, West complained that there were album covers in the 1970s that featured nudity. However, West doesn’t seem to realize that most of those album covers were either censored at the request of retailers by placing them in plain brown wrappers or by having stickers placed on the offending parts of the cover.

Two Virgins: Untitled Music No. 1, the 1968 experimental album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (above right) is an excellent example. While the album cover that features Lennon and Ono in full frontal nudity is commonly displayed online today, it was not displayed in retail stores when it was released.

In fact, entire shipments of the album were seized by authorities as obscene material in several US jurisdictions. It was one of several album covers by Lennon and The Beatles that were censored over the years. There is very little risk of Kanye West having the same experience as Lennon and Ono.

West’s record label has clarified that the album cover was not banned. They simply suggested that it be changed in order to prevent retailers like Walmart from refusing to display the album face out on store shelves.

I think that West should use the cover and place it in a brown wrapper similar to the one used for the classic Two Virgins album. It could look something like the image below. It would also be a fitting tribute to John Lennon and the countless other artists who have had their album covers censored in the past.

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Banned in the USA: Some Time in New York City by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

When his album with wife Yoko Ono Some Time in New York City was released in 1972, John Lennon had already experienced the censorship of two album covers by retailers. The first was The Beatles album Yesterday and Today which was puled from shelves and given a new cover when retailers complained about the use of raw meat on the original cover. The second was the cover for the 1968 Lennon and Ono album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, which featured a photograph of the couple in full frontal nudity. The Two Virgins album was ruled to be obscene material in several jusridictions and copies were impounded.

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The album cover was mocked up to look like the frontpage of the New York Times, with outrageous headlines and photos. This is a concept that has been imitated many times over the years, most notably by Guns N’ Roses for their 1990 album Lies. The Guns N’ Rose cover was also censored, with two objectionable headlines changed.

Some Time is New York City has a cover that was obviously intended to be censored. There are several elements that made it shocking for its time, the most controversal being a fake photo of Richard Nixon dancing naked with Mao Zedong. The album cover also featured the title of the song Woman is the Nigger of the World and a cartoon image of a bare breasted woman being eviserated.

As could have been expected, many retailers censored the objectionable portions of the album cover by pasting stickers on it. Unfortunately, many of them used stickers that could not be removed and the covers were permanently damaged.

In an interview with Playboy magazine that is recounted in David Sheff’s book All We are Saying, Lennon expressed his outrage over his album covers being censored:

You see how they banned the picture here. [He points to a gold seal pasted onto a corner of the album.] Yoko made this beautiful poster. Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon dancing naked together, you see? And the stupid retailers stuck a gold sticker over it that you can’t even steam off. At least you could steam off that Beatles cover. So you see the kind of pressure Yoko and I were getting, not only on a personal level, and the public level, and the court case, and the fucking government, and this, that, and the other, but every time we tried to express ourselves, they would ban it, would cover it up, would censor it.

The cover shown below is from the new remastered version of the album that was released to commemorate what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday.

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