The cover of Roxy Music’s fourth album Country Life features two scantily clad models posing awkwardly before bright lights in front of a mass of shapeless foliage. One covers her breasts with her hands; the other holds a hand over her crotch. Apart from the band name, there is no other type on the cover. In the US, the album was sold in green shrink-wrap. Elsewhere, to protect potential buyers from the ‘shocking’ nature of the poses, the women were removed altogether, leaving just the foliage.
Incredibly, The Word magazine have recently declared this unremarkable album cover the ‘best ever’. In my opinion, it is not even the best Roxy Music cover. The Roxy Music ethos was never better packaged than by the cover of their self-titled debut – model Kari-Ann Moller in a portrait that recalled Playboy centerfolds of the 50s. The cover was a perfect wrapping for the band’s music – a future-retro blend of 50s rock and space age sounds.
The Word magazine’s other nominations for ‘best sleeve ever’ are less contentious, and include Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (one of my own favourites), Bjork’s Post and the cover of Lost Horizons by Lemon Jelly.
I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book or magazine proclaiming to feature the ‘best ever album covers’ without feeling disappointed. There are always important sleeves missing, or more often, inclusions that inspire ridicule rather than admiration. One volume recently released by a prestigious European publisher of art books manages to skip the post-punk period (in fact, most of the 80s) altogether, jumping from David Bowie and Led Zeppelin to Nirvana and Primal Scream – no Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Vaughan Oliver or Martyn Atkins.
Of course, it is much easier, and a lot more fun, finding bad album covers. The Zonicweb site features a Museum of Bad Album Covers where you can actually vote for your ‘favourite’ bad cover. Current stinkers include albums by Queen, Van Halen, Millie Jackson and the Scorpions, as well as this rather grotesque curio.
However, the best place on the net to view awful sleeve art is BizarreRecords.com. The covers are grouped in categories such as ‘Nice Ladies’, ‘Men of Faith’, ‘Dorks’ and ‘Sounds in Space’. You won’t find Roxy Music, Joy Division or Bjork here, but you’ll find albums by such memorable artists as The Singing Curry Family, The Ministers Quarter and site favourite Joyce.
And which album cover did The Word magazine deem to be the ‘worst sleeve ever’? It’s this shocker from Queen (also rated ‘highly’ at the Museum of Bad Album Covers), the cover to their late 80s effort The Miracle.
It’s really quite frightening, I reckon. As though someone tried to clone the individual band members, spilled the DNA samples into one dish by mistake, and ended up with just one hideous Queen monster. One can only assume that the monster, having been brought to life by a bolt of lightning and lashings of Bohemian Rhapsody, then ate the Art Director that designed this atrocity.