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When Elvira met Tom Waits: 26-plus albums featuring celebrities as cover art

1. Weezer, Hurley (2010): Jorge Garcia
A charitable soul would say that Rivers Cuomo has spent the last few years trying to confound expectations. A less charitable one might conclude that the Weezer frontman is simply fucking with his audience. The band’s last album had a deliberately ridiculous title—Raditude—and cover art to match. Its new one, Hurley, features a close-up photograph of Lost actor Jorge Garcia. Did laziness lead to this half-assed (errr… unique?) artwork, or was it a desire to project an I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude? Perhaps the inevitable Cuomo autobiography will offer some insight.

2. Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (1991): Tuesday Weld
Recorded in the wake of a divorce, Matthew Sweet’s breakthrough album Girlfriend is simultaneously stunningly catchy and disarmingly sad, swinging from the headlong infatuation of the title track to the matter-of-fact melancholy of “Nothing Lasts.” For the cover, Sweet found the perfect corollary for that combination of beauty and fragility in a photo of a teenage Tuesday Weld, wrapping herself in a coat in front of an ominous sky. She looks lovely, happy, and safe from whatever looms behind her. But for Weld—who’d already seen her share of personal troubles at a young age—the image was an illusion, and by the time it appeared as an album cover, the moment had long since faded into the past.

3. Wings, Band On The Run (1973): James Coburn, Christopher Lee, and others
Paul McCartney proved he could even make paranoia sound cuddly on the title track to Wings’ third album, Band On The Run. The cover kept the cutesiness going, casting Paul and Linda McCartney and bandmate Denny Laine as escaped prisoners alongside actors James Coburn, Christopher Lee, and a few faces more familiar to UK fans than the rest of the world: singer-songwriter Kenny Lynch, interviewer Michael Parkinson, politician Clement Freud, and boxer John Conteh. They don’t look like a particularly dangerous bunch, leaving listeners to decide for themselves what kind of crime they might have committed together.

4. David Bowie, Pin Ups (1974): Twiggy
Perhaps tired of shouldering the burden of being the future of music, David Bowie decided to look back to the recent past with his 1974 album, Pin Ups. Covering ’60s hits by Pink Floyd, The Who, The Kinks, and others, Pin Ups tipped the hat to bands that inspired the young Bowie. But Bowie put his own spin on each, recording with most of his Spiders From Mars band and giving even a slight song like The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind” a dramatic space-opera sheen. In Twiggy, he found a fitting co-star for the album’s cover. The iconic model of the swinging London era, Twiggy had retired from the runway a few years earlier. Here, she looks like a glamorous, robotic version of her former self, a frozen-in-time emblem of ’60s London with mismatched skin tones and a stitched-on face. She looks a little sad about being reanimated by the strange man next to her.

5. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): 70-plus celebrities
If you include some Indian gurus, The Beatles themselves, and three variations on Shirley Temple, Peter Blake’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover collage features more than 70 celebrities, artists, and writers, including Mae West, Lenny Bruce, W.C. Fields, Edgar Allen Poe, Fred Astaire, Bob Dylan, Aldous Huxley, Dylan Thomas, Marilyn Monroe, William S. Burroughs, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, H.G. Wells, Stuart Sutcliffe, Marlon Brando, and Oscar Wilde, all posing with The Beatles in a funereal tableau. The images were chosen by Blake, his gallery owner Robert Fraser, and 75 percent of the Beatles: Ringo Starr opted to go along with whatever the rest of the team suggested. Lennon also suggested Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ, but they didn’t make the final cut. (A full map of the cover is available here.) The collage was a nightmare for EMI’s legal department, who had to contact all the living models to seek permission (West initially declined, saying “What would I be doing in a lonely-hearts’ club?” but relented after The Beatles personally sent her a letter.) The iconic cover has been parodied numerous times, with memorable ones coming from Frank Zappa, The Rutles, and The Simpsons.

6. Roxy Music, Siren (1975): Jerry Hall
Jerry Hall wasn’t yet a famous face (outside of the modeling industry, anyway) when she posed for the cover of Siren, but the tall, gregarious Texan became one in the years that followed, thanks in large part to that gig. Hall began dating Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry, then met Mick Jagger, with whom she had a 22-year relationship and four children. All the while, Hall kept modeling, commanding one of the highest rates in the business; later, she became a frequent guest on Late Night With David Letterman, where she told rambling, charming stories about jet-setting with rock stars. Not bad for a mermaid.

7. The Wedding Present, George Best (1987): George Best
During a decade when the United Kingdom was crowded with sexy young celebrities, Irish footballer George Best was at the top of the heap, fêted for his hip fashion sense and his athletic prowess, which led Manchester United to a phenomenal run of success in the late ’60s. By the time Leeds indie-rockers The Wedding Present named their 1987 debut album after him (with his blessing), Best had made and lost a couple of fortunes, and had become as famous for his drunken hijinks and philandering as for his skills on the pitch. Still, Best remained beloved enough that when he died in 2005, his funeral was broadcast live on BBC One, and his name was affixed to everything from airports to commemorative Fabergé eggs. So now sports-averse rockophiles can fly into Belfast and say, “Hey, that’s that dude from the Wedding Present album!”

8. The Residents, The Third Reich ’N Roll (1976): Dick Clark
One of many conceptually tricky albums from the mysterious Residents, The Third Reich ’N Roll makes the comparison between Nazi propaganda and youth culture—hardly a new observation, but hilariously pointed in the group’s painful deconstructions of ’60s pop standards. To drive the idea even further into listeners’ minds, the masked noisemakers decorated the album cover with a gregarious-looking Dick Clark dressed in full Nazi regalia and wielding a carrot like a field marshal’s baton; Nazi Dick is also surrounded by little dancing Hitlers, some of them in drag. This was all very amusing until an export of the record hit West Germany, a country that was (and still is) a bit touchy about the idea of using Nazi imagery to crack wise. While The Third Reich ’N Roll caused nary a stir in the U.S. (The Residents being even less-known then than they are now), it was a minor scandal in Germany, where it couldn’t be released until the cover art was altered and all references to Nazism were covered with “CENSORED” stamps.

9. Antony And The Johnsons, I Am A Bird Now (2005): Candy Darling
Death and sexual ambiguity take turns in the spotlight of Antony And The Johnson’s I Am A Bird Now, so it’s easy to imagine the group tacking up the image used for Bird’s cover as inspiration for its darkly glamorous second album. Shot by photographer Peter Hujar in 1974, “Candy On Her Deathbed” captures Andy Warhol muse Candy Darling shortly before her death of leukemia at age 29. Born James Slattery, Darling reinvented herself in the mode of the Hollywood icons she idolized, and as evidenced by Hujar’s photo, she stayed committed to that image to the end. It isn’t hard to imagine the band’s “Bird Gerhl” singing her up to heaven in a nitrate flicker of dry-ice clouds.

10. Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978): Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez
Denatured pop-culture imagery has always been a hallmark of Akron, Ohio’s prophets of devolution, which explains as well as anything why they chose a beaming illustration of a Puerto Rican golf star for the cover of their first album. (The cratered, lunar-looking sphere behind him is actually a golf ball.) Due to legal worries on Warner Bros.’ part, the image was airbrushed to mask identifying features, but Rodriguez’s trademark straw hat remains unaltered.

11. Tom Waits, Small Change (1976): Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson
Five years before getting her big break as the vampy host of Movie Macabre, Cassandra “Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark” Peterson traded her signature low-cut gown for a pair of pasties, posing as a stripper on the cover of Tom Waits’ gonzo-jazz classic Small Change. Or did she? While Peterson’s involvement in the photo shoot is a well-traveled piece of Waits trivia, her official line—relayed to The A.V. Club in a 2009 interview—is “I’ve stared at it really, really hard, and I’m pretty sure it’s me.” (Using a similar investigative tack, a generation of vinyl junkies would likely agree.) The actress blames her foggy memory on a wild ride through the ’70s, which was fitting, as the music contained within Small Change suggests no one involved in the record’s creation can accurately recall their contributions to Waits’ bleary-eyed nocturnal narratives.

12. Unwound, Fake Train (1993): Tom Jones
The three members of Unwound aren’t what you’d call slackers; after all, the ’90s post-hardcore outfit worked harder, toured harder, and rocked harder than any of its peers this side of Fugazi. But there was definitely some Generation-X irony behind Unwound’s choice of cover art for its 1993 debut album, Fake Train. Rather than generating its own image, the band simply took the sleeve from a copy of Tom Jones’ 1970 album Tom—which features the Welsh crooner looking especially smarmy—and defaced it using some text and photos clipped out of magazines and newspapers. The churning, noisy contents of Fake Train, of course, couldn’t have been farther from Jones’ own music.

13. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978): Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, etc.
The Rolling Stones clearly didn’t take a hint from The Beatles’ difficulties in getting permission from all the people whose likenesses graced Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; graphic designer Peter Corriston assembled the cutout art for Some Girls without getting any such permission. Not that the likenesses of Monroe, Welch, Ball, Fawcett, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and more are particularly clear—their faces have been snipped out of photos, painted with red lips and blonde hair, and framed with hairstyles in a vintage wig ad, side by side with members of the band—but clearly they or their estates resented the imposition, and the album cover had to be pulled and replaced after a series of threatened lawsuits. Apparently that didn’t bother the Stones much, though—they used Corriston as their cover artist for their next three albums, and he won a Grammy for the third in the series, Tattoo You.

14. Charles Bronson, Youth Attack! (1997): Charles Bronson
Charles Bronson isn’t the only actor whose name has been hijacked by a hardcore band (see also: Jean Seberg and Yaphet Kotto). But Illinois’ short-lived, massively influential power-violence outfit Charles Bronson did it best. Not only did the band purloin Bronson’s good name, the cover of its lone full-length, 1997’s Youth Attack!, features an image swiped from Bronson’s 1974 cult flick Mr. Majestyk—in which the craggy-faced action hero plays a peaceful watermelon farmer swept up in a maelstrom of mobster violence. Which, if you think about it, is almost exactly what Youth Attack! sounds like.


15. Bill Evans, Moon Beams (1962): Nico
It’s widely known that Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico was a model before starting her recording career in earnest in 1965. So it makes sense that in ’62, three years prior to that debut single, “I’m Not Sayin’,” she made her first appearance on an album as a cover model. Jazz pianist Bill Evans turned Moon Beams, a record of simmering ballads, into an elegy to his late bassist, Scott LaFaro, who died in a car accident at age 25 a year earlier. Even before Nico recorded a note of her own mournful, often morose music, she set the tone for Evans’ album by striking a pose that looks equally romantic and deathlike.

16. Lou Reed And John Cale, Songs For Drella (1990): Andy Warhol
Given that Andy Warhol is one of the masters of iconography, it only makes sense that Lou Reed and John Cale would superimpose Warhol’s ghostly image over their own on the cover of their 1990 album, Songs For Drella. Of course, Reed and Cale had more than graphic design in mind. Songs For Drella was the duo’s first collaboration since they acrimoniously parted ways after their stint together in The Velvet Underground, but Warhol’s death brought the former bandmates together to pay tribute to his life in song, given that his vision of art-rock oblivion catalyzed VU in the first place.

17. Sugar Ray, Lemonade And Brownies (1995): Nicole Eggert
The band Sugar Ray was an absolute nonentity when it made its 1995 debut album, Lemonade And Brownies. The band wouldn’t hit it big until its sophomore album, Floored, came out in ’97. So why did Nicole Eggert, formerly of Charles In Charge and Baywatch, decide to pose nude in a degrading pose on the cover of some nobody’s lousy jock-rock album? Well, seeing as how 1995 was also the year Eggert starred in the made-for-cable flick Amanda And The Alien, we can assume she did it for the money. And hey, at least she was able to talk them into hiding half her face.

18. Nektar, Magic Is A Child (1977): Brooke Shields
Magic Is A Child, the hobbit-friendly 1977 album by the German-English progressive-rock band Nektar, is all about the fairy-tale wonder and whimsy locked within the youthful human imagination. Accordingly, Brooke Shields was only 12 when she posed for the cover of the album, though she’s in an adult-ish pose, lifting up her flimsy, high-riding nightdress. Then again, Magic Is A Child is one of the young Shields’ least-risqué projects, seeing as how she’d already posed nude at age 10 for famed photographer Richard Prince, and would appear sans clothes in 1978’s controversial Pretty Baby.

19. Atrocity, Werk 80 II (2008): Dita Von Teese
Oddly enough, burlesque dancer, fetish model, softcore actress, and all-around embodiment of a certain naughty feminine ideal Dita Von Teese never lent her considerable assets to any albums by her husband Marilyn Manson, although she did turn up in his video for “Mobscene.” Appearing on the cover of 2008’s Werk 80 II—a collection of ’80s songs given the extreme metal treatment by German band Atrocity—the year after their divorce was her way of showing Manson what he’d missed. Teese’s desire to prove that she’d moved on probably worked out for Atrocity: Odds are that way more people were drawn to the photo of Teese in a skintight bustier and black stockings than the band’s chugging rendition of A-Ha’s “The Sun Always Shines On TV.” 

20-21. Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing (2008) and More Songs About Nothing (2010): the Seinfeld cast
Washington D.C. rapper Wale loves Seinfeld so much that he’s devoted two entire albums to it: 2008’s The Mixtape About Nothing and 2010’s More Songs About Nothing, which both feature liberal samples of dialogue and sounds from the show. (And in return, star Julia Louis-Dreyfus is such a fan, she even dropped in to do a brief skit on Mixtape.) Along with casting himself as a metaphorical Soup Nazi in “The Soup”—where soup equals respect, and there’s none for you—Wale Photoshopped himself next to Seinfeld’s iconic foursome, first putting his sneakers up against Kramer’s signature high-water trousers on Mixtape, then joining the cast in silhouette on More. Like George Costanza says, it’s not a lie as long as you believe it.

22. 30 Seconds To Mars, This Is War (2009): Conan O’Brien, Bam Margera, Kat Von D
For its third studio album, This Is War, 30 Seconds To Mars—which arguably already has a celebrity to put on every one of its covers, in frontman/actor Jared Leto—asked fans to submit photos of themselves, after which the band would select 2,000 favorites to adorn a series of limited-edition CDs. Among the entries, according to Leto: self-portraits submitted by tattoo artist and Miami Ink star Kat Von D, Jackass crew member Bam Margera, and most surprising of all, two from Conan O’Brien, one of which reportedly ended up in Ben Stiller’s hands. Of course, given their extremely limited run, the only way to get a Kat Von D, Bam Margera, or Conan edition at this point would be to find one on eBay, where even the non-famous-people editions have gone for thousands of dollars. Conan cover or no, that’s obviously way too much to pay for a 30 Seconds To Mars CD.

23. Fishbone, It’s A Wonderful Life (1987): Donna Reed
It’s no particular surprise that Donna Reed is on the cover of Fishbone’s It’s A Wonderful Life; the four-song EP leads off with the eponymous song, which evokes Frank Capra’s 1946 movie of the same name, starring Reed and James Stewart. The song’s lyrics even talk about interacting with an angel who teaches the singer that it is, in fact, a wonderful life, though that angel seems to be a slightly rougher breed than the one Stewart meets in the film. But the song’s sped-up funk-punk bounce is far more raucous and manic than anything in Capra’s movie, which may explain why the art director chose a still image where Reed looks like she’s frowning in distaste.

24. Bryan Ferry, Olympia (forthcoming): Kate Moss
Jerry Hall achieved stardom after posing for Roxy Music, but for his planned October 2010 release, Olympia, Roxy frontman Bryan Ferry turned to an established star. That’s Kate Moss lounging provocatively on a cover said to be inspired by Edouard Manet’s painting of the same name, though apart from the casual vanity of both subjects, it’s hard to see much connection. Nonetheless, Ferry still knows how to catch the eye. Moss’ lips practically glow, and the rest of her fades out just at the point that modesty demands.

25-plus. Muslimgauze, various records: Khomeini, Arafat, etc.
Fiery political passion and a fierce defense of the Middle East against interference by Israel and the West was behind every record Bryn Jones ever made as Muslimgauze. But since his music was free of lyrics, he had to express his feelings largely through the titles of songs and albums. Occasionally, he seemed to make a point with his often-controversial album covers: 1987’s Abu Nidal pictured the scowling face of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who reappeared on the cover of 1996’s Fatah Guerilla as a sticker on the side of a rifle. Sarin Israel Nes Ziona, recorded in 1999 but released in 2002 after Jones’ death, showed a smiling Saddam Hussein adorning the face of a wristwatch. But curiously, Jones wasn’t responsible for most of this art. Obsessed with the music itself, the insanely prolific Jones rarely cared about what was on the covers of his albums, which almost all ended up being chosen by his record labels. He made a notable exception in 1993. Infuriated by the Oslo Accords, he asked that the cover of his new album that year feature a close-up of PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands. The title of the album? Betrayal.

26-plus. The Smiths’ entire catalog: James Dean, etc.
The Smiths’ cover art was as much a part of the band’s aesthetic as its music: Morrissey took great pains in finding “cover stars” for every sleeve, often adding a single color to old photographs. Perhaps the most striking cover is that of playwright Shelagh Delaney, who graces the sleeve of Louder Than Bombs, but picking through the Smiths’ catalog will unearth excellent photos of James Dean (for the “Bigmouth Strikes Again” single), Truman Capote (on the single of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”), and Terence Stamp—who actually insisted that his sleeve be recalled. (It was replaced with a photo of Morrissey in the same pose.) And what do The Smiths and The Rolling Stones have in common? Both used photos of Andy Warhol model Joe Dallesandro on album covers: It’s Dallesandro’s belly on The Smiths and his crotch on Sticky Fingers.