Banned Record Covers: Rolling Stones "sticky Fingers"

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Brian Jones died firstly and then, was the Altamont concert where a fan stabbed to death by Hells Angels. These upheavals didn’t take the edge off the band. Mick Taylor joined the group and under their newly-formed label, “Rolling Stones Records” (tongue and lips logo designed by John Pasche) the Stones released in April of 1971 the album “Sticky Fingers”. This and its follow-up “Exile on Main Street” are according to most of their fans their finest albums.

One year earlier the pop art godfather Andy Warhol, at a New York meeting with Mick Jagger mentioned that it might be amusing to put a real zip on an album cover. Warhol’s project idea found its place on the cover of “Sticky Fingers” which came on the market featuring a waist-down frontal shot of a male figure in tight jeans, equipped with a working zipper.

An extra piece of card was inserted under the front cover to ensure the workings of the zip won’t scratch the vinyl. On it, another male figure just in his underpants appears photographed almost from the same distance and angle.

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However, when the first pressings were shipped distributors realized that the extra card was not that effective. Stacking the albums on top of each other, caused damage on track 3, side 2 (Sister Morphine).

Warhol’s project idea carried out by the photographer Billy Name and the designer Craig Braun (also worked on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”) who had also suggested releasing the album in a transparent plastic jacket with heat- sensitive liquid crystals inside “so you could make your own little Joshua Light Show” but Jagger rejected his idea. Craig later came up with an ingenious but simple solution about the vinyl damage from the zip. Pulling down the zipper before shipping any damage would only occur to the central label.

A greater problem occurred with various department stores that initially refused to stock the album as it was found to be lewd due to the tightness of the jeans which left little things to the imagination.

Initially many fans of the group assumed that the model on the cover was Jagger himself. However people involved at the photo shot claim that Warhol used several men photographed for the project. Among the candidates are Joe Dallesandro, Corey Tippin (a Factory artist and designer) and Jed Johnson, Warhol’s lover at the time. Jed denied any involvement although his twin brother said after Jed’s death in 1996 that there is a possibility.

Sticky Fingers released in Spain on May of the same year but the original cover of the album was banned. The dictator General Franco and censors deemed the cover too “sexually explicit”. It was replaced by the alternative “can fingers”, designed by John Pasche and photographed by Phil Jude the outcome was three severed fingers in an opened tin full of blood (!) a far more shocking and gory design than the original in my opinion.

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“Sister Morphine” had to go as well for its drug references  and it was replaced by the Chuck Berry‘s composition “Let it Rock” from the Brown Sugar single. On the other hand censorship missed the drug references in Dead Flowers: “Well, when youre sitting back/ In your rose pink cadillac/ Making bets on Kentucky derby day/ Ill be in my basement room/ With a needle and a spoon/ And another girl to take my pain away” Did they find amusing the country rhythm and lost the meaning? Who knows?

In 1992 the Russian release of the album features a colorized photo presenting a hammer and sickle inscribed in a star on a buckling belt and any text was written in Cyrillic lettering.

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