When faced with a shelf of records, our eyes are immediately drawn to what’s most visually pleasing. Whether it’s a muted tonal vision or a vibrant, eye-catching design, we base our decisions on what’s immediately presented in front of us. The best album covers of all time have given pop culture some of its most iconic imagery (think Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon or the best David Bowie album covers’s Aladdin Sane), but what’s even better than an artistic masterpiece? A horrendously brash design disaster. Here, then, are ten of the worst album covers in history. Brace yourselves…
10: Millie Jackson: ‘Back To The Shit!’ (1989)
Millie Jackson threw it all to the wall for her 21st album. Pushing the boundaries of traditional R&B artistry further than anyone had done before, Back To The Shit!’s blasé statement earns its place on this list of the worst album covers – not necessarily for its visual insanity, but for its outrageous and outspoken presence in history.
9: The Louvin Brothers: ‘Satan Is Real’ (1959)
If we can take one thing away from this list of the worst album covers, it’s that anything remotely religious will have an absurdly bad artwork. This one from The Louvin Brothers is no exception. With matching white suits and Satan himself peering over their shoulders, it’s a perfect example of a record you’d find in the charity shop sin-bin. To be honest, that’s where it deserves to stay.
8: Chumbawamba: ‘Tubthumper’ (1997)
We can all agree that Tubthumper’s title track is a drunken go-to, but if it weren’t for Chumbawumba’s sole hit, we could have been spared from stumbling across this artistic abomination. Featuring a baby fitted with grandma’s dentures, it looks like something you’d find buried in the bottom of your crazy neighbour’s skip. Surely there was a better alternative? Images of a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink and a cider drink, perhaps? One-hit wonders or not, nothing can excuse the catastrophic cover that encapsulates this somewhat memorable release.
7: Slim Goodbody: ‘The Inside Story’ (1981)
In a skin-tight suit replicating displays often found lurking in the corner of a science classroom, this cover truly is the stuff of nightmares. The Inside Story was a one-off release from American educational hero Slim Goodbody (also known by his real name, John Burstein). Despite the record’s educational backbone, there’s nothing that can save this release from sitting among the worst album covers of all time. It’s an image that hasn’t gotten any less creepy with time…
6: REO Speedwagon: ‘You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish’ (1978)
Both the title and the artwork earn this artwork its place among the worst album covers. But which is worse, the awful dad-joke title that sounds like something plucked from a joke book, or the fishy imagery that accompanies it? While the album brought REO Speedwagon into the Top 40 for the first time, it’s hard to look past either and convince yourself the music is worth a go.
5: Ted Nugent: ‘Scream Dream’ (1980)
Ted Nugent is a repeat offender when it comes to producing awful album covers. Following on from the equally bizarre portrait that graced 1977’s Cat Scratch Fever, Scream Dream sees Nugent wearingly nothing but a Flintstones-inspired loincloth. The long, unruly hair and gratuitous semi-nudity were nothing new for his heavy-metal-worshipping audience. As for his guitar arms, who knows…
4: The Faith Tones: ‘Jesus Use Me’ (1964)
From the big, bouffant hairstyles synonymous with many of the best female singers of the 60s, to the interesting choice of title, there’s a lot to unpack from this questionable cover. The trouble is knowing where to start. Leaving virtually no historical footprint behind them, The Faith Tones’ story is a mystified conspiracy played out over the internet. Endless forums have created their own tales of the cryptic trio’s fate, but our guess is that they were summoned by the Devil for their questionable choice of artwork. Oh, and that title, of course…
3: Freddie Gage: ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ (70s)
Another album summoned from the depths of the confessional box is Freddie Gage’s All My Friends Are Dead. From a distance, it would be easy to consider this gang leader turned preacher’s artwork solely on the basis of its – once again – dreadful title. But it’s upon closer inspection that the severity of its artistic sin is realised. Kneeling before a gravestone with his Bible in hand, it’s a prime example of a shocking decision that should really have been left in the planning stage.
2: The Handsome Beasts: ‘Beastiality’ (1981)
There are many things we don’t need to see in life, and a naked man snuggling up to a pig is definitely one of them. Almost as visually intrusive as The Handsome Beasts’ later album 04 (Google that one… if you’re brave enough), Beastiality raises more questions than it answers. The main one, however, is simply “Why?” We’ll never get to the bottom of that one, as lead singer Garry Dalloway passed away in 2006. But, aptly titled and fitting with The Handsome Beasts’ brand, Beastiality remains one of the NWOBHM group’s most popular albums to date.
1: NOFX: ‘Heavy Petting Zoo’ (1996)
The heavyweight champion of worst album covers is this one, by American punk rockers NOFX. Everything about this artwork is so incredibly wrong, from the lettering painted above the barn door, to the man and sheep engaging in some form of peculiar bonding act. Song titles such as Release The Hostages and Bleeding Heart Disease somewhat explain the offensive choice of both artwork and title… but not entirely so.
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