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A look at some of the most memorable — and fashionable — covers to grace record store shelves.
Like music videos, album covers are essential components of fashion history, marketing not only the singers, but also mirroring — and in some cases creating — the looks of the day. In 1958, Chuck Berry played with the return of the zoot suit as he flashed a smile and strummed his guitar on the cover of his album, “After School Session.” In the Sixties, the influence of psychedelic fashion took hold as artists like The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix began singing in their corduroy bell-bottoms about the virtues of getting stoned.
But usually, Rock star fashion was about sex. Andy Warhol shot the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers,” which was basically the world’s most visible erection bulging through a pair of jeans. The gold zipper on the cover was a metaphor for the promise of the music inside: open this up and you can hear about — if not actually taste — the forbidden fruit. The clothes featured in Diana Ross’ self-titled disco opus in 1978 (shot by Francesco Scavullo) were relatively unremarkable, but what made the cover a fashion statement was the sexiness of the photo and the shot’s layout. The front of the jacket was the singer’s face and torso, while the back was a foldout of her well-toned legs in a pair of jeans. Diana Ross from the front and the back.
Equally provocative was Steven Meisel’s 1984 photograph of Madonna for the cover of “Like a Virgin.” The portrait showed the singer lying on a bed in a white lace wedding dress and a belt whose buckle read “boy toy”, capturing the sexual energy percolating beneath the priggish surface of the Reagan years and turning lace gloves into one of the year’s must-have accessories.
Even more to the point were the artists who skipped the ephemeral fashion gestures of their eras and opted just to go naked. Paradoxically, that was the grandest gesture there was. In its day, the most shocking album cover of all was Blind Faith’s 1969 self-titled debut. It featured a nude Lolita-like nymphette holding a phallic looking model airplane that even a Humbert Humbert couldn’t have conjured. It took only a few weeks before a public outcry caused Atlantic Records to pull the cover, sending Blind Faith’s sales, along with the jet, into the stratosphere.
After appearing on the cover of 1983’s “Nightclubbing” in a black power suit, Grace Jones opted to go naked the next time around. For “Island Life”, the diva bared her warrior-like bod and proved for all time that androgyny is not synonymous with sexlessness. And then there were John and Yoko, who, literally, turned their backs on the camera for “Two Virgins,” baring their butts for all the world to see. Their cover was censored, too.
The perennial interest in the naked has always been a preventative against going out of fashion. After all, an album or CD cover of a woman wearing this year’s favorite designer frock always runs the risk of looking like an artifact five years down the road. But a woman in her birthday suit…well, that just never seems to go out of style.