Inspired by a Facebook post from the magazine’s creator – and frequent writer – Glenn, I delved into my collection of CDs and records, trying to find what I believe to be the worst covers of the albums I own. It was an interesting challenge, though I suppose ‘challenge’ isn’t the best word. None of these are awful to the extent that I wanted to burn them immediately (a low bar), but it’s fair to say they’re all bland, irrelevant to the music inside or just ugly. So, without further ado, some obscure albums I own, and obscurer album covers.
Hypnotic Eye – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (2014)
Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker’s last offering before frontman Petty’s tragic death in 2017. It was their only release to reach the top spot on the Billboard 200, and is a straight-forward blues rock album, though by no means generic. The cover, though, is a mess. It’s bland, and its attempted humour at using an optical illusion on the front falls short of anything interesting. Who would know this was a blues record? I’m also cheating a little by including this entry for its shockingly awful back cover and inner sleeve, too. God almighty, Tom.
INXS – Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992)
Welcome to Wherever You Are marked a time when the ‘90s finally hit INXS, and they were gearing toward grungier, alternative rock. The result is a mixed bag, but it has its moments – it was the first Australian album to on the UK album chart at number one since Back in Black. The cover, however, is of the Artane Boys Band from Ireland. Which has no relevance, whatsoever. An alternative cover was used for the LP version – but remains just as perplexing. it doesn’t invoke feelings of swaggering, sensual rock ‘n roll. It invokes images of when your mum took you round the village fair and the only thing keeping you from dozing off was an enormously loud pair of bagpipes.
Styx – Pieces of Eight (1978)
I love Styx. They’re an underrated group as a whole, and one of the few prog rock acts I ever paid much attention to. Pieces of Eight is also a great album, with the iconic rocker ‘Renegade’, and ode to the working class, ‘Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)’. The cover was designed by British art group, Hipgnosis (who, among other classics, did T.Rex’s Electric Warrior, Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy and Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd). It seems to be of the same woman superimposed over herself in various angles. And I have no idea why. Co-vocalist and keyboardist for the band, Dennis DeYoung, even said that he initially hated it. What does it mean? It’s not ‘proggy’ and ‘conceptual’. It’s ‘confusing’ and ‘a bit s**t’.
AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video (1988)
To be fair, this one isn’t grotesque, but that’s not really a high bar. I can somewhat forgive this one because Blow Up Your Video is about as far from Back in Black as AC/DC have ever been, but it still looks like a poor attempt at photoshop that in no way stood the test of time. High Voltage, Back in Black, For Those About to Rock – the hardcore Aussie rockers have put out some brilliant, iconic covers. This just isn’t one of them.
Status Quo – Thirsty Work (1994)
Status Quo do generic, formulaic twelve-bar boogie very well. That’s their thing, and sort of what I love about them. AC/DC’s even less complex cousin. So it makes some sense that their album covers would be a dull, no-nonsense affair, too. But Thirsty Work is especially bland. I actually quite like the Quo’s ‘80s years, much as longtime fans of the band hate it. Thirsty Work is hardly seen as a defining record. But how you can blame those same fans when this is the cover? It’s so beige, the last thing I want to do is take a drink of that water. I’d simply rather die of dehydration.
Steel Panther – Balls Out (2011)
I know this one is deliberate, but it doesn’t ease the pain of the sting any more. It’s not a bad cover in how its been shot, or not fitting the music. It’s just tasteless. And yes, yes, I’m aware that’s Steel Panther all over – a band behind such hits as ‘Gloryhole’ and ‘Supersonic Sex Machine’ are hardly subtle – but I felt sleazy just buying the album that boasted this cover. It’s comically dire, and reminds me of the hilarious, initial Smell the Glove cover from This Is Spinal Tap (‘a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck and a leash…’)
INXS – Shabooh Shoobah (1982)
The album when INXS first showed signs of moving away from their initial new wave sound to something rockier – though it would be a few albums yet before they made any dent internationally. It’s not a bad album, but the cover is one I’ve never understood. A half-naked man (presumably frontman Michael Hutchence given how susceptible he was to taking his shirt off whenever the opportunity arose) holding a petrified dog. Why? God knows. It’s a boring cover, and a bit unpleasant. It’s not even some horribly vibrant, luminescent vomit green. It’s depressingly black. Like me mood when I stare at it for too long.
The Beach Boys – Made In U.S.A. (1988)
The Beach Boys – Made In U.S.A. (1986) – The Beach Boys have released many greatest hits packaged over the years; none of which have had great covers. Their individual album art is fairly awful, but the cheesy, simplistic covers suit the music they make. Made In U.S.A. remains one of the more obscure ‘Best Of’ collections, having since gone out of print. Thank God. Whilst a hearty selection of the Californian sound, the cover looks like something out of a 1980s new wave act’s debut. Not at all the sort of thing you’d expect from, well, the Beach Boys.
The Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet (1968)
A polarizing entry? Probably. What’s more controversial, perhaps, is the fact that I don’t actually like Beggar’s Banquet all that much. I adore ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and dig ‘Street Fighting Man’, but the rest of the blues rock does nothing for me – especially when compared to the group’s follow-up, Let It Bleed (perhaps their best). The original cover of Beggar’s Banquet was banned for the fact it was a picture of a squalid toilet. I know, I know, I hate censoring in art as much as anyone. And censoring the Stones is tantamount to sonic sacrilege. But also, look at it. It’s a toilet. It’s ugly. The sleek regality of its replacement is so much nicer – though perhaps less fitting to the album’s sound.
Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry (1981)
What a surprise, another stinker from Hipgnosis. What exactly is this one about? High n’ Dry is one of Def Leppard’s best albums; before glam hit and they were no-nonsense, no-flairs youthful rebellion. What’s rock ‘n roll about someone mid-dive, set against the dark image of countless men staring up? The colours don’t match, it has no real thematic bearing and I’ve quite honestly always hated it. Is it a joke about being high and dry, just before you get wet? I don’t know. I don’t really care.
Status Quo – Heavy Traffic (2002)
Again, not a bad album, even if it does tread the same musical water as Status Quo’s twenty-four prior releases at this point. The cover is the band members running away from an elephant that’s apparently escaped the nearest zoo. A bad pun on the title, perhaps? Nothing of the record screams a circus animal on the run, and the content inside isn’t even that heavy either, by Quo standards. It’s laughable, but somehow not in a funny way. In that regard, it’s quite impressive.
George Harrison – Cloud Nine (1987)
Cloud Nine – Look, Cloud Nine is one of Beatle Harrison’s best-selling albums. It re-established him as a serious artist. It was produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame, and includes the hits, ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ and ‘When We Was Fab’. The whole track listing is pretty sublime. So why then does it look like the photographer told George to dress like a dad on a beach holiday that day, and badly paste him against a stock Window desktop wallpaper? It makes the album feel so cheap. Embarassing for any musician, downright pathetic for the man behind ‘Something’.
Dishonourable Mention: You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish – REO Speedwagon (1978)
REO Speedwagon’s seventh studio album, and their first to make the top 40. I had to include it simply for how bad its title is, and how brain-numbingly ugly the cover is. I know, it’s a pun. Here’s an idea. Never use a pun for an album title. Or at least make it good. Case in point, Speedwagon’s ninth studio release, Hi Infidelity, which features the immortal ‘Keep On Loving You’. …Fish may have ‘Roll with the Changes’, one of the best feelgood rock tracks of all time, but the cover – and title – are about as bad as it gets.