It’s difficult to imagine the shitstorm of controversy that would greet the release of an album cover like Ike & Tina Turner’s Outta Season if it dropped today. That visual of Ike in white face, about to bite into a big red slice of watermelon would undoubtedly be banned by WalMart and all the big box chains, while inspiring hand-wringing editorials in several major newspapers. Consequently, most modern artists are PR-savvy enough to shy away from controversial imagery, which is kind of a shame. I can’t say I love this cover art, but it sure demands your attention. It’s been suggested that this was Ike and Tina’s (she eats her watermelon on the back of this gatefold) comment on a world full of white musicians who were busy ripping off black music. But when I look at it I see a visual representation of just how ridiculous stereotypes really are. Ike Turner has become a bit of a stereotype himself over the last few decades – he’s either a wife-beating madman or the inventor of rock and roll, depending on which circles you’re hanging out in.
Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry’s 1981 solo debut album Koo Koo came in a rather eye-catching sleeve. It features a photograph of Harry, which was then painted over by the artist H.R. Giger, who added the metal skewers through her face. Giger is perhaps best known for his Academy Award-winning design work on the movie Alien, and has also created album art for bands such as Emerson Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery) and Dead Kennedys (Frankenchrist). His work is an eerie combination of machinery and the human body that has been labeled biomechanical art. “I try to come close to my imagination,” he told Shadowplay magazine in 1985, “I have something in my head and I try to work it out — like a kind of exorcism… I think most of the images in my paintings are evil, but you can’t say that I’m evil. It’s just that evil is much, much more interesting than paradise.”