Behind the Album Cover

February 13, 2018

 You’ve probably stared at a few of these covers while you listened to the music with your headphones on and grooved, man. If you ever thought there was more than meets the eye to these pieces of classic album artwork…you were right.

The one with the dancing witch and the dangling balls

Just about everybody bought a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in the late ‘70s, in spite of (or maybe because of) its bizarre album art. Singer Stevie Nicks dances around in dark robes, holding hands with drum Mick Fleetwood, who rests his foot on a stool and displays two wooden balls dangling in front of his crotch. What does it all mean? Well, Nicks is in character as Rhiannon, the mythical Welsh witch she came about in the band’s hit “Rhiannon.” Fleetwood’s little balls were his personal good luck charm. Years earlier, he saw them dangling off of an old-school chain-flush toilet in a bar and stole them, and adorned his drum kit with them.

The one with the guys in suits shaking hands, one of whom is on fire

In the ‘70s, Pink Floyd frequently employed a British design studio called Hipgnosis. Designers there thought the band’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here was about how the music industry chews up and spits out creative people, such as original Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 because of mental health concerns. Hipgnosis exploited that idea with a cover that depicted the phrase “I’ve been burnt,” which means “ripped off.” Thus the cover became an image of two guys in suits — businessmen — making a deal with one of them literally engulfed in flames.

The one with the angel and the naked woman

Abraxas, the second album by Santana, Carlos Santana’s band, features two of its most famous songs: “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman.” The album cover is a chaotic, collage of reds, pinks, blues, and greens…which we can’t public here because one of the two human figures in it is a topless woman. Santana simply took an entire painting, unaltered, and used it as the cover for Abraxas. It’s called Annunciation, and it was made in 1961 by German artist Mati Klarwein. Carlos Santana picked it because it “signifies the annunciation of this angel Gabriel to Mary,” which reflects the album’s spiritual themes.

The one with half of a jet

The rap-rock trio Beastie Boys burst onto the scene in 1986 with their album Licensed to Ill. The cover depicted the back half of a jet adorned with the band’s name — implying that they’re such huge stars as to have their own private plane. They didn’t — the group’s producer Rick Rubin had just read a book about Led Zeppelin and thought it was ridiculous and excessive that that band had its own jet. So he had an artist mock up a Beastie Boys jet as a joke to poke fun at rock n’ roll excess. Furthering the joke: When the gatefold is opened, the rest of the jet is shown crashed into the side of a mountain — the end result of rock n’ roll excess.