Sell the kids for food: 12 album covers depicting children in peril
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1. Nirvana, Nevermind
The baby grasping for a dollar bill on the cover of Nevermind is commonly seen as a metaphor for Nirvana leaving behind the innocence of Sub Pop and reaching for the cash (and possible danger) of a major label. But if you take the album’s iconic cover literally, it’s just a helpless infant floating along in what appears to be the deep end of a swimming pool, and looking like he’s about to be tricked by what must be a very sinister grown-up (or bored fisherman). Selling out is one thing; leaving youngsters unattended near bodies of water is a whole other level of personal irresponsibility.
2. Sebadoh, Bakesale
While we’re on the subject of ’90s rock and neglected babies, somebody should’ve really kept an eye on the kid digging around in the toilet on the cover of Sebadoh’s 1994 breakthrough Bakesale. Perhaps it’s a stretch to suggest that this youngster’s life is in peril, but really, we have no idea what’s in that toilet, and the whole “bakesale” concept indicates that whatever is in there might end up in his mouth. Dangerous? Perhaps. Gross? Undoubtedly.
3. Van Halen, 1984
There’s a whole subgenre of album covers depicting cigarette-smoking children—other notables include Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind, Bad Company’s Dangerous Age, and The Walkmen’s Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone—but Van Halen’s 1984 goes one step further by showing a baby angel having a smoke with two full packs within reach. The dangers of smoking for people of any age are self-evident, but it’s particularly dangerous for kids, whose development can be stunted by too many cigarettes. Presumably baby angels are impervious to the effects of smoking, but it’s still pretty unseemly.
4. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter IV
Surely there are some hardcore tattoo enthusiasts who would argue against the lil’ Lil Wayne on the cover of Tha Carter IV being in any sort of danger. There are no federal laws setting age restrictions for getting a tattoo, though many states forbid it for anyone under the age of 18, or at least require some form of parental consent. But certainly a child who appears as young as Wayne on this album cover faces possible emotional peril from being so tatted up, as well as potential financial hardship from all the tattoo-removal surgery that’s in his future.
5. James, Hey Ma
The cover of Hey Ma by British band James portrays every parent’s worst nightmare: a child with a gun. The artwork was so provocative upon the album’s release in 2008, it was banned from being used on billboards in England. Predictably, the cover’s designer, Darren Hughes, defended his work on the grounds of its ability to “raise the vital question” about gun culture. The band also held its ground, refusing to change the cover of Hey Ma in response to the uproar—that is, except for in the U.S., where Hey Ma was released with a similar cover minus the firearm.
6. Lemonheads, Hate Your Friends
If the cover of Hey Ma is alarming, Hate Your Friends is twice so, since it shows two kids carrying handguns, presumably in preparation for a duel at recess. But the Lemonheads didn’t catch nearly the amount of flack that James did—Hate Your Friends was the band’s first record, and a difficult album to track down before it was re-released five years later. By that time, the kids on the cover were approaching an age where shooting each other was more acceptable.
7. Paul Kantner And Grace Slick, Sunfighter
In 1967, Grace Slick proved herself to be a fan of literature that capitalizes on endangered children—namely Alice In Wonderland—with “White Rabbit,” one of her big hits as the singer of Jefferson Airplane. Four years later, she and her Airplane bandmate Paul Kantner released the album Sunfighter. Although the album doesn’t feature a drug-pushing caterpillar or a decapitation-happy queen, its cover does sport a harrowing image of a baby being hoisted above the ocean, a look of innocent oblivion on its cute, about-to-be-submerged face.
8. The Beatles, Yesterday And Today
In many ways, Yesterday And Today—an album assembled for the U.S. market from scraps of four other Beatles releases—was a bit of a butcher job. Maybe some synchronicity was at work when the record’s original artwork became known as The Butcher Cover. Taken from a shoot with photographer Robert Whitaker, the image of The Beatles dressed in butcher smocks, covered in meat and the pieces of dismembered baby dolls, caused immediate outrage in the U.S. upon release, after which the remaining covers were pasted over with an inoffensive photo. John Lennon and Paul McCartney defended the artwork; George Harrison later condemned it as “gross” and “stupid.”
9. Blue Meanies, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!
Depending on your personal level of tolerance for ’90s ska-punk, the frantic music of the Illinois band Blue Meanies is either explosive or explosively diarrheic. The group’s 1995 album, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!, took that explosiveness to another level: The disc’s cover is graced by a towheaded little waif straight out of The Little Rascals clutching a bundle of lit dynamite. When the guys in Blue Meanies say they’re going to make you skank, they mean it.
10. GBH, City Baby Attacked By Rats and City Baby’s Revenge
The snotty, snarling, spiky-haired British punk band GBH isn’t exactly known for conceptual music. And yet the group managed to weave a thematic thread (of sorts) between its first two full-lengths, 1982’s City Baby Attacked By Rats and 1984’s City Baby’s Revenge. The title tracks of each album trace the dramatic arc of, well, a baby attacked by rats who then gets his revenge. But the albums’ lurid, crudely cartoonish covers—which portray first a ravaged pram, then an infant armed for rodent combat—drive the point home. With a nail gun.
11. Stiff Little Fingers, Go For It
Michael Jackson dangled one of his children from a building in real life, but Stiff Little Fingers beat him to it by 21 years—figuratively speaking. The Irish punk band adorned the cover of its 1981 album Go For It with an image of a boy hanging on to the exterior of a skyscraper for dear life, with a strong wind apparently about to tear him off and send him plummeting to the street far below. It’s not clear whether the boy is dangling from the roof or just having a nice little climb up the side, but the name of the album, and its buoyant title track, are encouraging enough. Gravity, apparently, is something a little positive reinforcement can overcome.
12. Nada Surf, High/Low
The guys in Nada Surf are of the right age to have grown up watching Evel Knievel attempt all manner of insane motorcycle stunts—which may explain the cover of High/Low, the power-pop outfit’s 1996 debut. On it, a boy is jumping his bike off an ad hoc ramp and straight into a pond. Underscoring the group’s gleeful antipathy about adolescents, the video for the disc’s hit single, “Popular,” stars frontman Matthew Caws as a high-school teacher getting physically, almost psychotically upset with his teenage pupils.