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Everyone is told to never judge a book by its cover, for the contents inside might surprise you. That rule does not apply to awkward album art. More often than not the album with a gasp-inducing cover will produce gasp-inducing songs. From coming off insincere to just missing the mark completely, bad album artwork will never die and has become something of a fascination with music fans. Horizon lines? Forget those. Coherent theme? Yeah right. Wardrobe that makes you look like a normal human? You’re in the wrong business. After an extensive search and a lot of eye bleach, here is the final “cream of the crop”; please enjoy these awkward album covers.
Songs of Innocence by U2
Vinyl albums tend to get a bad rap as a product of the only era of music when bad album covers truly existed, but the first on our list might be the first digital album to produce frowns from everyone who saw it when they logged into their iTunes. The look on Bono’s face is that of someone who just googled “how to hug a torso” and is trying their absolute hardest to not screw it up. I’m assuming this picture took upwards of 40 takes, all requested by Bono who couldn’t seem to “FEEL the hug” each time. Either that or this is a still from Bono whisking this shirtless orphan into an over-the-shoulder type carry to safety because he thought the young man was forced to hold some lights after being taken from his country at a young age.
If I Ever Kiss It... He Can Kiss It Goodbye! by Swamp Dogg
Off top I’d like to point out that each mouth on this cover seems to be that of Swamp Dogg, the mustache hair over the upper lip tips it off. Unless it isn’t Swamp Dogg’s mouth, and he had a mouth stand in for this, which would be considered the most baller move ever. It's like Swamp Dogg thought to himself “man, no one knows what part of your body you use when you kiss. Moreover, no one knows what that body part looks like in each individual stage of kissing. Its time to change lives damnit.” Mr. Dogg does get positive points for the suit, but the collection of lips and mustache hairs floating around his body cement this as an all time awkward album cover.
The Best of Tom Jones by Tom Jones
Just by glancing at this cover, I thought this was an early “Greatest Hits” album Tom Jones shuttled out before he was considered a true top crooner. Imagine my astonishment when I learned that this album came out in 1998. NOBODY in 1998 was still messing with leather pants, unbuttoned yellow fringe button downs, and a chest the color of uncooked hamburger meat (except for Hulk Hogan, but he gets an all time pass for everything). What makes this an awkward cover is two things: the way Tom Jones’ face seems to say “can I please go home now” and the junior muffin top his pants are supporting. You’d think that with a photo shoot emphasizing his male prowess he could have knocked out 10 crunches before the cameras started flicking.
Sorry for Party Rocking by LMFAO
In case some weren’t aware, the two dudes in LMFAO are uncle and nephew. This album cover made me ask a lot of questions as to whether I’m being a fun enough uncle to my nephews. Based on this cover I am failing miserably. I’ve thought of all the things he and I have done together, never did the image “the same chicks” pop into my head. The entire ethos of LMFAO is this picture: we’re not going to apologize for family parties in which we share women. I know I seem hung up on the uncle-nephew thing, and while not being outright-in-your-face-awkward this image might pop into your head the next time you attend a small family member’s soccer game or school play.
Satan is Real by The Louvin Brothers
This album was actually re-issued in in 2011 and got an 8.5 on Pitchfork, so the content is considered above average, something that is rare for badly covered albums. I tend to give religious vinyl albums a pass on the awkward album cover thing; it's easy to pick on people doing their best in a medium that isn’t suited for them (that medium being religious people in graphic design) but this one has to be added to the awkward album list. My biggest issue with this cover is that the Louvin Brothers are in hell, while singing, for the Devil. Most people who bought this album already believed in the Devil, but I bet they didn’t believe the Louvin Brothers did two shows a night for him in Hell.
The Tattoo on my Chest by Luke Baldwin
Awkward album covers exist in every genre, usually at the expense of some goofy clothes or bad graphic design but every now and then permanent body art is involved. When someone thinks of the words “country music” and “chest tattoo,” rarely does the image of a rabbit holding a rose in its mouth generate in that person’s brain. To Luke’s credit the image does look like it was taken in the nicest apartment of someone he knew. Luke himself is haunting, the look of “I shouldn’t have trusted that fart” paired with the unbuttoned-while-still-tucked-in shirt pushes this awkward album cover into horror movie territory.
Songs from the Crystal Cave by Steven Seagal
When it’s your debut album, you make a good cover. When you’re Steven Seagal and it's your debut album, you make this cover. It was 2005 and Seagal was looking to capitalize on the success of the FOUR MOVIES HE HAD MADE so far that year and what better way for a martial artist to do that than release an album. It took me a second to notice he is holding the guitar the same way you’d hold a rifle but that was because his dazzling blue ring was hypnotizing me into a false sense of security. According to reviews this album sounds like “outsider county meets world music meets Aikido.” A combination of sounds and martial arts that surely flow as awkwardly as the time in between takes for this cover must have been.
Oral Fixation by Shakira
This is your classic “where to start” situation. Do you focus on the fact that there is a baby on the cover of an album named after oral fixations? The “Adam and Eve” theme at play between Shakira and the baby? Did they audition babies based on which seemed to look the most compatible sexually with Shakira? Is Shakira blaming Eve for eating the Snake’s apple in the Garden of Eden? I’m sure most of those could be answered if we gave this album a listen, but when an awkward album cover makes you wary of being a put on a government list for owning it people tend not to give it a shot.
Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights by Pat Cooper
This probably started as a small, inside joke between Pat and his buddy. But what probably started out as “Man wouldn’t it be funny if you had pizza sauce on your shirt on the cover?” evidently turned into “Look like you’re getting up from going down on that spaghetti.” Props rarely stand out as awkward but the giant fake spaghetti that Pat is using to wash his groin just seems forced. If this cover were made today people would be upset at the food waste aspect of it, but delighted the spaghetti wasn’t assigned a gender and we are free to assume anything about the nature of it and Pat’s relationship.
Spotlight on Steve by Whitey Gleason and the Jubilee Quartet
Awkward and confusing are a perfect pair. What’s awkward about this cover is the looks from the men not under the spotlight. Their gazes range from “not a fan,” to “where am I supposed to look again?” to “oh you just wait Steve.” What’s confusing is the direction of this album based on the title and artist. Evidently Steve is the guy in the spotlight, but I’m lost because the is named after Whitney Gleason. So Whitney Gleason must be the guy in the back looking like he is going to kill Steve for taking his shine. Part of me wants to investigate men named “Steve” who were murdered the year this album came out, and if any of their known associates were named Whitney. Blending confusion and bad lighting Gleason was able to produce a truly timeless awkward album cover.