Red Hot Chili Peppers' Mother's Milk album cover features a topless model, with miniature versions of the band members lying on her arms and leaning against her breasts. It's even more ridiculous when considering that the model herself was offended by certain versions of the cover that featured her nipples exposed, and successfully sued the band for $50,000.
The band's Abbey Road E.P. features the band doing an Abbey Road Crossing only wearing their infamous wang-covering gym socks.
The Black Crowes's third album Amorica shares its cover image with the bicentennial issue of Hustler Magazine. Before you jump to conclusions, no, there is no nudity. It's a close-up of a woman's bikini-clad crotch. In honor of America's bicentennial, she's wearing an American flag-print bikini. Oh, and there's some pubic hair sticking out from underneath the swimsuit, but who cares about a little pubic hair, right? Turns out, the religious right was pretty bored that week, and launched a boycott of any retailers that carried the album, resulting in Walmart and Target refusing to sell it. Eventually an edited version was released: everything except the bikini was blacked out. Yes, even the woman.
What makes this really interesting is that the band predicted there would be controversy with the cover, but not from the pubic hair. They expected people to be offended by showing an American flag in a sexual context, and were utterly shocked when nobody even mentioned that aspect.
Cannibal Corpse (who gave us those wonderful images) are the most infamous user in the genre. It's notorious enough to the point that pretty much every release of theirs (except the Minimalistic Cover Art ones like Kill) has two covers: the normal cover, and the censored cover you'll find in stores at some countries like Austrialia (or in the Rock Band song selection screen).
Grindcore, which already is death metal Up to Eleven, brings us (probably the most NSFW link on the page!) Kutschurft.◊ The name is Dutch for "cunt scabies", and that's what you get to see, too.
Carcass' first album, Reek Of Putrefaction, has a collage of autopsy photos as its cover. It is so bad that it is sold in a white plastic bag.
Marilyn Manson, but not as often as you think. Only Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) really fit, with the first one being a 100% naked, painted over (according to interviews, his junk is tucked between his legs) with white body paint Marilyn Manson... with big, fake, nippleless (though, there exists a pic of nippled) breasts. The second is Manson, crucified, but in a much more historically accurate way, and missing his lower jaw. They also tried to make their first album a nude picture of Marilyn Manson as a kid (one of those embarrassing pics parents take when you're five type things), but the executives ruled it pornographic, much to the annoyed amusement of Manson. Also, a few of the singles are this as well. Lunchbox is this◊ (NSFW), Get Your Gunncontains child abuse◊, Disposable Teensis a crucified baby◊, but otherwise, the covers (and he has a LOT of singles) are a lot tamer than the music videos.
X Japan's album Vanishing Vision has (Photoshopped, but still extremely disturbing) cover art of a woman with a slashed-open chest being raped. What makes it even worse is its irrelevance to almost all of the album.
The Alien Sex Fiend single "Smells Like" sports a banned cover that had a little too much Toilet Humour going on. It's a closeup image of a turd on a piano with spiders and flies crawling around it. The spiders and flies are rubber. The turd is, as far as anyone can tell, legit.
Dimmu Borgir has some strange cover art. Whether it's a faceless goat-thingy, another goat-thing with exposed breasts or a headless, limbless and naked angel wrapped in barbed wire... it's not pretty.
The original release of the Dutch prog rock album Atlantis by Earth and Fire featured an appalling cover design that depicts lots of blobby naked people floating around, apparently drawn in crayon. A later CD release wisely substituted a photo of the band.
Another music example, defining music loosely: the cover of Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. So bad, it was wrapped in brown paper on initial release. They aren't even attractive nudes... which was kinda the point. Stripping away glamour and artifice in favor of honesty about the body was not only a hippie ideal, but something Yoko had done with her films for a long time, and John thought of nudity as representing innocence.
"The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy. If we can make society accept these kind of things without offense, without sniggering, then we shall be achieving our purpose."
Taken Up to Eleven with the cover of the infamousThe Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends"blood vinyl edition"◊, which is a variant of the Two Virgins cover that features the heads of the band and all collaborators on the album (Including Yoko and her and John's son, Sean Lennon) being pasted onto copies of John and Yoko's bodies.
Type O Negative's original cover for ''The Origin of the Feces'' is a photo of Peter Steele's anus. Brazil has a variant◊, for musician Tom Zé's 1968 album Todos os Olhos (though it does look like a marble in a mouth instead of... ya know. It is an actual marble, by the waynote "third eye" is a Brazilian slang for the anus).
The self-titled ''Blind Faith'' album and the Scorpions' ''Virgin Killer'' manage to take the "random naked people" style one horrible step further by using underage nude models. (Blind Faith took it even farther by having the 11-year-old model hold a very phallic chrome spaceship model.)
Blind Faith is interesting in that the planned model was legal-age... but then she declined at the last minute. The model they used was her kid sister, who volunteered when her older sister ditched.
The Virgin Killer cover art, in particular, is so controversial that in late 2008, it caused the album's Wikipedia article to be temporarily blocked in the UK, then subsequently reversed thanks to political backlash and the Streisand Effect.
In addition to the aforementioned Virgin Killer, some other Scorpions album covers feature nudity and/or are sexually suggestive, in particular In Trance, Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism, Love at First Sting, and Pure Instinct. Then there are Fly to the Rainbow◊ and Moment of Glory◊, which are embarrassing for entirely different reasons. (According to this interview, former lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth dislikes the covers of both Fly to the Rainbow and Virgin Killer.)
There's also an alternative Lovedrive cover which falls into the "embarrassing for entirely different reasons" category—it's a phallic scorpion.
Ween's cover◊ for their digital-only album Craters of the Sac is a close-up of a scrotum. (NSFW)
Paul McCartney took the cover photo/self-portrait for his 2001 album Driving Rain himself. With a digital watch-cam. In grainy black and white. In a restroom. At the time, there were a lot of people questioning his taste and thinking the cover was even worse than it looked.
Neil Young did the same thing for Silver & Gold, using a Gameboy Camera and Printer, but his looks more oddly mosaic.
Good luck looking at The Beatles the same way ever again after seeing the original cover◊ of Yesterday and Today. While the photo was originally taken for a conceptual art piece, Paul McCartney did choose it for the album, but he was overruled.
Australian grindcore band Blood Duster's debut album Yeest has for its cover a photo of the face of a (still living) person in the final stages of syphilis.
The Dwarves. Any album by The Dwarves. Some album covers include: a topless woman in a Mexican wrestling mask holding a skateboard, naked women covered in blood, naked women holding a midget on a crucifix...
The Dwarves Come Clean features some (still fairly off-color) self-parody: Two naked women covered in soap bubbles, next to a naked midget using a sponge as Hand-or-Object Underwear.
Anarchy◊ was also sold in brown paper packaging. (NSFW!) It's a baby being born! To be more specific, only the head is out and it's covered in blood, but it's in profile, and could have been even grosser.
Their album What You See Is What You Get has a cover depicting a completely SFW photo of a dog... until you open it, and fold out the booklet, and it's revealed to be cropped from a photo of mating dogs.
Just about everything involving Passenger of Shit, a musician that can be best described as "Anal Cunt goes electronica". Don't even dare to do the Google Image Search (even with Safe Search on!). Just don't.
Due to the way their logo is drawn, Anal Cunt counts as well... and, y'know, their name.
The cover of the Japanese electronic music duo capsule's "Sugarless Girl" album is a picture of a voluptuous naked woman covering herself.
The LP release of Keith Moon's solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, showed Moon riding in a car on the cover. The window through which Moon is seen is cut through on the sleeve, so that the art varies depending on how the inner sleeve is inserted. Either he's looking out through the window while clutching a cane, or he's, appropriately enough, mooning the camera.
Venetian Snares' album Horse and Goat had to be sold with a reversible cover, with a close-up of a girl's face on the front and the real cover on the back. The first two manufacturers they went to wouldn't even print it. Not surprising, considering that the cover was done by Trevor Brown. (The intended cover shows the full image of the girl - she's wearing only a shirt, exposing her genitals, and she looks very young.)
Lords of Acid used a few of these on their albums. Yes, more often than not they tend to be re-released with censored covers. Voodoo-U depicts a lesbian she-devil orgy, whereas Deep Chills, in its attempt to parody the cover of Cheap Thrills, is probably even worse, with an image for each song on the album.
Taken to entirely new levels by Heavenly, who in their later releases subtituted more traditional power metal album covers for lesbian fantasy softcore pornography.
Outcries from outraged record store proprietors refusing to display the album forced their hand into censoring their own cover art. Later issues of the cover brick up the pie slice, stick a bunch of soldiers outside the window and place a tear in Moms eye. Guess which version is more collectible.
Christian Metal (stop snickering...) band Barnabas actually had a pretty hard-rocking sound for the early 1980s - kinda like Judas Priest meets AC/DC. So of course this◊ was the cover of their first album (recommence snickering).
Mala Madre by the Chilean rock and folk singer-songwriter Camila Moreno. She appears naked under transparent clothing. Her breasts and genitals are visible.
NOFX's Heavy Petting Zoo album and Eating Lamb12-inch EP. The former depicts a man fondling a sheep, and the latter depicts him and the sheep going 69.
This isn't really a cover, but the disc of tool's Ænima album had a picture of a naked contortionist (taken from behind) - it could still prove awkward if you, say, put the disc itself in a CD wallet and let someone flip through. This is from a picture that appeared in the album artwork. The album's lyrics do not have any sexual meaning. Their Undertow album's liner notes also contained some offensive pictures that do not relate to the songs.
Admittedly, "Stinkfist" from Ænima was about, well, fisting.
The original cover to Big Blacks Headache featured a stomach-turning close-up of the victim of a close-range gunshot wound to the head. It was replaced by a less offensive (but still sinfully ugly) cover.
It should be noted that one of these is a spoof of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights, which along with much of that band's catalogue is itself a perfect example of this trope.
The cover of this (NSFW) Nashville Pussy record was censored via huge, pink stickers. Not only did the stickers cover the lower half of the front cover image, but the title (replacing it with simply "Let Them Eat..." because no one would make that connection) and the entire track list on the back (one of those tracks was nominated for a Grammy.) Once the album was purchased, the stickers would come off along with the saran wrap, so it was at least a very tidy method.
Some versions of the aforementioned Scorpions' Lovedrive album used a similar technique, covering the album with opaque red shrink wrap.
The great funk band Ohio Players became notorious for the depictions of naked or scantily-clad women on their album covers, which has overshadowed the actual music in terms of their historical reputation.
Dutch singer Connie Stuart did a parody of this with "Hoezenpoes", describing the life of a classical music album "cover pussy".
The cover of Load by Metallica features a photograph titled Semen and Blood III. That said, if you didn't know what materials were used in the artwork, you'd just think it was some sort of abstract painting.
Wolf Alice's official debut EP "Blush" makes you do precisely what the title says. The band wanted to invoke a feeling of awkwardness, one that would make awkward teenagers even more awkward. So how else could they do better than having a female's body from the waist up, with the head obscured. Oh, and did I mention that she's naked, with breasts unashamedly on display? (it goes without saying NSFW.)
The Slits' Cut famously features the three female members of the band note male drummer Budgie doesn't appear anywhere in the artwork dressed only in topless loincloths and covered in mud. It was clearly intended to make them look tribal and confrontational instead of sexy though, and in that sense it did fit the content of the album.
The cover art for the Lady Sovereign single "Love Me or Hate Me" features Lady Sovereign Flipping the Bird.
Although it's not technically vulgar, when Geoff Tate's version of Queensrÿche revealed the cover art for Frequency Unknown - a fist with a pair of rings bearing the letters "F" and "U" - most fans were not amused. It really didn't help that Queensrÿche has a long-standing reputation as "the thinking man's metal band."
Much milder than some of these examples, but Kevin Rowland's 1999 solo album My Beauty◊ drew ire for its cover, a picture of Rowland in drag.
It's worth giving this one context. Experimental/industrial/alternative hip-hop group Death Grips promised two albums in 2012: the first one was The Money Store, which was released in April. The second album, No Love, was promised for a release in the Fall, with the band canceling an entire tour to work on it. However, on September 30th, the band revealed via their (now-defunct) Twitter account that their label, Epic Records, didn't want them to release the album, now titled No Love Deep Web, in 2012, pushing it back for a 2013 release. The band then put the full album up for streaming on their website, their Soundcloud, and their YouTube account, with their website also hosting the album for free download. Complementing this outburst against Epic was the album's cover: a picture of one of the band member's erect penis against a bathroom wall, with the album's name sharpied onto it.
The album finally got a retail release through Harvest in November 2013 (looks like Epic got what they wanted after all), complete with black paper over the cover stating that it "Contains graphic imagery that may be offensive to some people."
There are three censored versions of the cover. One replaces the penis with a black bar. Another simply pixellates it, resulting in a Textless Album Cover save for the Parental Advisory label. The final is a completely alternate image that shows shoes worn by a man and the words "SUCK MY DICK" imprinted onto the socks.
The cover to Sky FerreirasNight Time, My Time is an artistic photograph of the artist nude in the shower from the waist up. Digital prints zoom in the picture so her nipples aren't seen.
Basement Jaxx's Remedy depicts a quite abstract picture of several naked bodies lying together in really close positions.
The Image Song single accompanying Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, "Love Deterrence", features Paz, who looks like a young teenager. Her school uniform is printed separately on a piece of acetate, which slides out, revealing her in her underwear. It's undeniably funny, but obviously rooted in some upsetting sexual politics, and just try explaining it to your mother.
Miley Cyrus's 2013 album Bangerz, which has several alternative covers all featuring Miley on a deliberately uncool1980s-style backdrop that does not fit either the music or her image. At least one of the covers features her in a heavily filtered shot surrounded by roses, with a square crop around the edge that doesn't even go up the edge of the artwork, looking like a crappy Internet signature from the 90s.
The early synth album Moog Plays the Beatles by Marty Gold has a pair of naked clay figurines (a man and a woman) on the cover. Not surprisingly, the iTunes download version has their naughty bits covered by a sticker.
The UK cover of Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix features a group of nude women. This was done without Hendrix' permission, mind you. It doesn't help that the photograph is very grainy-looking and unflattering.
While David Bowie's album covers tended to avoid anything too raunchy, there were a couple examples that tried to push envelopes and ended up being censored:
The cover of Diamond Dogs shows a painting depicting Bowie as a man-dog hybrid and a pair of similar individuals. One provocative detail on the cover was Bowie's dog half baring its genitals, which were airbrushed out on some copies, to Bowie's distaste.
Tin Machine II features a row of nude male statues, whose genitals were digitally scratched out on the American release, again to Bowie's distaste. At one point he considered setting up a mail-order offer for American buyers to receive stickers of the genitals as a way to manually de-censor the cover, only to drop this after learning that sending depictions of genitals through the mail was a serious legal offense.
Dum Dum Girls' Blissed Out has a cover featuring three nude women standing in front of fir trees. According to lead singer Dee Dee Penny, it's an image she found online while looking for potential album artwork, and was originally from a German soft-core pornography film; Because Blissed Out was a limited-run, cassette-only compilation, she figured it was the only way she'd get away with using it as an album cover. It's also been interpreted as a Shout-Out to Roxy Music's Country Life, which featured half-naked women in a very similar setting, but the band have never mentioned that being a motivation for choosing the photo.
Autre Ne Veut's cover for their Body EP appears to be a close-up of a certain female part, though the artist has stated in interviews that it is in fact a closeup of oiled hands.
Several of John Zorn's album covers are controversial, especially those recorded with his bands Naked City and Painkiller.
"Torture Garden" (1990) by Naked City shows a nude Asian woman with a whip.
"Heretic" (1992) by Naked City shows women photographed from the back in S&M outfits.
"Leng Tch'e" (1992) by Naked City shows an image of a real life Chinese slow slicing torture executio method practiced upon a man in 1905.
Radio (1993) by Naked City features a man in bondage costume holding on to a chain.
"Guts Of A Virgin" (1991) by Painkiller features an old black-and-white autopsy photo of a woman whose stomach is cut open. The cover art was censored in the UK at the time.
"Buried Secrets" (1992) by Painkiller shows two handcuffed hands digging up a human skull.
"Rituals: Live in Japan" (1991) by Painkiller shows a woman hitting a man in an S&M bondage situation.
"Execution Ground" (1994) by Painkiller has a picture of a lynched black man hanging from a tree.
The original cover of Music for Children (1998) featured a disturbing girl doll with breasts.
"Filmworks XXI: Belle de Nature/The New Rijksmuseum" (2008) features a shot of a nude woman lying on her back in the grass.
Iron Maiden is usually renowned for their quite awesome hand-painted album covers, most of them made by artist Derek Riggs. So why are they listed on this page? Because two of their covers, both of which opted for a different visual style and didn't have Riggs involved in their creation, didn't turn out too well. The first was the cover of 1995's The X Factorwhich used clay models◊ (making it very graphic and unnerving), and the second, more egregious example was 2003's Dance of Death which used downright poor-quality CGI◊ that looks like it was made using The Sims 2 engine (or worse yet, rendered in Poser). Apparently the Dance of Death cover was only supposed to be a mock-up, and was never intended to be used as the final product, but for some reason, it was.
Most pornogrind covers are this.
The cover of Sex & Violins by Rednex depicts the band's heads floating in a bucket filled with pee—and we see some legs near the bucket and a stream of it coming down the middle. For its American release, it was substituted with a cover depicting wavy, somewhat phallic-looking cacti.
Muzak by Saturnia is literally a picture of a nipple.
One of the Japanese covers for the soundtrack to Muramasa: The Demon Blade has one of Oodako's tentacles covering Momohime's otherwise exposed crotch and her breasts almost falling out of her kimono. Another cover shows Yuzuruha sitting in a seductive pose, lifting her kimono with her foot barely acting as a Scenery Censor, a third has Torahime naked in a Boobs-and-Butt Pose with one arm covering her breasts and her buttocks obscured by her flesh turning transparent, and a forth is of a naked Momohime seen from behind with her shoulders, back, and butt covered in tattoos, glaring over her shoulder while drawing a sword.
The originally intended artwork to Rob Zombie's remix album Mondo Sex Head depicted a bottomless Sheri Moon Zombie from behind. After stores refused to carry the album, a new design featuring a kitten was used, and the photo of Sheri Moon was only used for the vinyl edition - Rob Zombie described the use of the alternate cover as replacing an "ass shot" with a "pussy shot".
The Smiths' debut single "Hand In Glove" featured an image of a naked man from behind, a licensed photograph by homoerotic photographer Jim French which was originally published long before the single's release. Morrissey chose the cover art and was deliberately courting controversy with the sleeve. Later on, The Smiths were trying to get vocalist Sandie Shaw to cover some of their material, and at one point they sent her a copy of the "Hand In Glove" single: She did cover the song, but the artwork didn't leave a good initial impression, as she reportedly exclaimed to her husband "he's started sending me pictures of naked men with their bums showing!".
Synthwave artist Perturbator has a bad tendency to have these types of covers for his EPs and albums, especially due to them being based off of 80's slasher movies. Practically all of them have some sort of a scantily clad woman on there somewhere, sometimes with satanic imagery in tow; for example, The Uncanny Valley's sole figure is a nude succubus.
The Sex Pistols' only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, was the subject of a public obscenity case regarding the word "bollocks" which was later thrown out. When God Save the Queen was released as a single, it caused even more controversy when the cover art featured a defaced depiction of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Seer by the Swans is an example of a Contemptible Back Cover. The front cover, which shows a stylized wolf head, isn't likely to cause offense. The back cover, which shows the wolf's butthole, on the other hand...
While not featuring any nudity, New Killer America, the debut album by the short-lived Nu Metal band Skrape more than makes up for it by giving us this lovely image of a busted toe◊. Their second (and final) album Up the Dose thankfully features much more subdued imagery.
The self-titled debut album by Moby Grape featured a group photo of the band, with drummer Don Stevenson Flipping the Bird to the camera. Initial pressings of the album featured the undoctored photo, but the offending digit was airbrushed out for later pressings.
The original release of 8-Way Santa by Tad featured an extremely 70s found photo of a shirtless man groping a woman in her underwear. Later pressings substituted a photo of the band, not because the original was too risque, but because the people depicted on the cover threatened to sue.
The original back cover for Hawkwind's PXR5 was censored not for reasons of sex or violence, but safety. The picture showed a British electrical plug - the self-wiring kind, from the days before plugs came pre-fitted to appliances - with the wires attached to the wrong terminals. A spoof health warning beneath the picture read "This Wiring Could Seriously Damage Your Health". Soon after that, record stores were forced to sell the album with a blank sticker covering the image, and reissues omitted it, although the front cover still included elements from it. The Cherry Red CD reissue restores the original image - slightly cropped and without the health warning, but still showing the Earth wire attached to the Live pin.
The album art for Mr.Kitty's ETERNITY features an image of JonBenét Ramsey, a child pageant star whose 1996 murder has remained unsolved, edited to have a cat's face.