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Pickled Priest Cover Story #6: Art Me Up...Assessing the Album Covers of the Rolling Stones

Every once in a while, we decide to review an established band's (or artist's) entire catalog of albums to see if they've spent as much time over the years thinking about how they present their music as they have recording it. Today we shine a light on the Rolling Stones 26 studio albums and rank them from worst to best.



26 Hackney Diamonds (2023)

Grade: F-

One last chance to get it right. One final chance to go out with a classic album cover. One last chance to reassert the band as the creative force you once were. In the end, a major missed opportunity from an album art standpoint, especially painful considering the album was pretty fucking good. No, this isn't really their worst album cover, Blue & Lonesome is of course, but this is one of their most disappointing. Unlike Blue & Lonesome, this wasn't a dashed-off covers record. THIS was your swan song (well, who really knows, I wouldn't discount another record ten years from now, when Mick is 90 and Keith is still mysteriously functioning) and that's why it hurts to see some lame computer-generated BS graphic like this representing the band's last stand. A heart-shaped diamond getting stabbed by a knife? Tattoo you, maybe, but this won't tattoo me. Why didn't they ask graphic designers worldwide to submit ideas? Who wouldn't want a crack at this project? Yet, this shitty, cheap-looking attempt is what was settled upon. If a rank amateur like me can point out that the shards coming off the stabbed diamond (and why exactly?) are way, way too big. Totally unrealistic. We're stabbing a diamond (again, why?) not breaking a kitchen window. Fuck this, they should've put Charlie on the cover and called it a day. Now that would've closed out their esteemed career with a bigger bang. No satisfaction here, people. Stick your tongue out for real this time.

25 Blue & Lonesome (2016)

Grade: F

The band had a decent idea for what might end up being their last studio record—an album of quickly-recorded Chicago blues numbers—and it was a perfectly logical, albeit completely superfluous, career bookend for a band that formed based on a mutual love for the very same material. They've earned the latitude to indulge in whatever they please at this point (musically, at least). I should state that I've never been as enamored with their early covers albums as some seem to be, but they were a necessary step to the greatness that eventually followed. Regarding cover options for Blue & Lonesome, I could come up with several hundred viable ideas by sunset if asked, none of which would stoop to the laziness that is the blue version of their famous tongue logo used here, an approach that likely required less than four mouse clicks from a design intern to execute. I'm all for keeping the spirit of a "fast and loose" labor of love, but this is pushing it. The only explanation might be that this is a thinly veiled message to fans. Blue lips are usually a sign you're already dead, or very close to it, so perhaps they were trying to tell us something we've known for years.

24 Dirty Work (1986)

Grade: F

Legendary photographer Annie Liebowitz shot this ill-advised cover and the image magnifies everything that was wrong with the 80s in one color-blasted package. And, for that matter, it crystallizes everything wrong with the Stones during the same godforsaken era. Multiple pink blazers? Highlighter yellow slacks? A light blue corner wedge from a strip joint sectional? And what the holy fuck is Charlie Watts wearing!? He looks disconsolate! It's the Stones' own version of Seinfeld's "Puffy Shirt"! He looks like he's trying to slide right out of the frame but couldn't get out in time. Nothing says Dirty Work quite like five dudes decked-out like they're about to shoot a Miami Vice cameo. The photo has an overly-posed feel and makes the Stones look like bored tropical fish in a crowded aquarium. If you went to a carnival, chugged three Blue Slurpees and inhaled five towers of cotton candy, then went on the Tilt-a-Whirl, this is what you'd vomit up when the ride mercifully stuttered to a halt.

23 A Bigger Bang (2005)

Grade: D

Is this a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stones? That's my Bigger Bang theory. I don't know if the boys were intentionally trying to piggyback on the success of the bazillion-selling book series, in full swing at the time of recording, but this cover seems to capture the band mid-seance, perhaps trying to conjure their long-dormant creativity (eight years since their last record). If that was indeed the case, it kinda worked. The album was pretty good late-period Stones, which is a backhanded compliment to be sure. The cover, on the other hand, was a glaring (literally) miss, with Jagger ruining the shot with a goofy grin, like he just won a game of Dungeons & Dragons or something. The only cool thing in the whole design is that the bottom images of the band aren't a reflection of those on top, but an entirely different set. A small consolation in an otherwise dark, ill-conceived composition.

22 The Rolling Stones, Now! (1965)

Grade: D

They loved to shoot the Stones in shadow back in the early days in order to play up their image as the bad boy anti-Beatles, but this low-budget scrapbook-styled cover could've been made by a first-grade art class with a stack of photos, scissors, and some black construction paper. Completely thrown together to create a quick product to sell. The title was equally bad, hyping the band like some kind of vacuum cleaner you absolutely needed to have right here right now. In the end, the cover was something the Stones rarely were....forgettable.

Reader Note: The earliest Stones albums, similar to the first Beatles LPs, had different versions in the U.S. and U.K. In this article, we're sticking to the U.S. versions for the official ranking/grading. That said, we'll show you the British version for reference as merited.

21 Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

Grade: D

This pathetic attempt to match the ambition of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album cover was absolutely shameless. They even got Michael Cooper to snap the photograph, the same guy who shot Sgt. Pepper's iconic cover art.* Sadly, everything about this cover is in service to a gimmick. The props look like they were sourced from the set of 1960's sitcom, Lost in Space. The outfits, low-lighted by Jagger's outhouse-themed dunce cap, seem sourced from an 18th century rummage sale at Louis XV's castle. The cover photo, placed inside of a distracting and overly thick blue-and-white "cloud frame" in order to facilitate the lenticular image, shimmered with a 3D effect depending on the angle you looked at it. In itself, not a bad idea—it was the late-60s after all. If only the photo wasn't so embarrassingly campy, it could've worked. The photo was originally supposed to take up the whole cover, but that would've blown the budget, so we ended up with this laughable attempt at creative relevance. If there's one thing you don't want to convey in rock 'n' roll, it's desperation. And this reeks of it.

*Ironically, Cooper was basically the Stones "official" photographer throughout the 1960s, so I image they could've been a bit chuffed that he was also a part of such an iconic cover for their "rivals" in the Beatles.

20 Emotional Rescue (1980)

Grade: C-

Using "thermal" photography wasn't a bad idea here, and I give credit for trying something innovative, but the execution is questionable. I think it would've been cooler, pardon the pun, if they went with a color cover (similar to a weather radar) to better distinguish the intensity of the heat emanating off the subjects. Anything to bring it more to life. In the current state, it looks too washed out, with the faces indistinguishable (with the exception of Ronnie bottom-right). The shot at top-left looks like a monkey head (Jagger, I assume), which only reinforces the theory of evolution, but everything else is simply lacking the impact such an experiment likely promised on the drawing board.

19 Undercover (1983)

Grade: C-

Another day, another pricey gimmick. In this case, the Stones enlisted a sweatshop full of women to hand place stickers over the woman's private parts (as well as a few other randomly distributed stickers for good measure). What did you do at work today, honey? When you're the Stones, you can do whatever the fuck you want is basically the takeaway. Leverage is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. It should be noted that if you peeled off the stickers, you wouldn't see boobs or a hoo-ha underneath, rather other unrelated pictures (her breasts revealed a white poodle), so nice try you perv. The sticker idea isn't a horrible idea in theory, but visually it didn't turn out well in this case. For one, they could've used a better assortment of stickers. The "title sticker" is ugly, the snakeskin crotch triangle classless, and the paint-splattered faces (bottom-left) make the band look like the Psychedelic Furs. The television set shamelessly panders to MTV as well. Add an unpleasing teal velvet background (and maroon velvet stool) and the whole design has a very drab appearance. Needless to say, the once timeless Stones could not leave the 80s behind fast enough. This is further proof.

18 The Rolling Stones / England's Newest Hit Makers (1964)

Grade: C

It's hard to fault early-60's album covers because few knew exactly what to make of rock 'n' roll at the time, including the bands themselves. Album covers weren't usually very ambitious back in the day, often just a photograph of the band (usually in suits and ties) and maybe some basic graphics in the bargain. Such is the case with the Stones' debut. It's a self-titled record with a hastily added advertising slogan that was later adopted as the de facto title for many (although I refuse to call it that and only begrudgingly reference it here). In this case, that's the main reason it ranks so low. The phrase "England's Newest Hitmakers" (deserving of an exclamation point you'd think) ruins the integrity of the composition and lessens the impact of the otherwise stark photo, which was displayed much more effectively in the original UK version shown below. The intent was to boldly emerge into the world with dark mystery—no band name, no title. A bold decision for a brand new band to be sure and you can forgive a record label for balking at the idea. In hindsight, a no brainer. If they'd gone with the original in the U.S. I would've moved this further up the list.

Much better

On a side note, I do need to introduce the "Party of Five" dilemma that has plagued Stones album covers over the years. Bands with four members, like the Beatles, are much easier to accommodate on an album cover than those with five. It gets crowded very quickly with five. In much the same way that the life of a family gets more complicated when a third child is added to the mix (I speak from experience as a third child myself). It complicates everything: booking hotel rooms (two double beds and a cot!), reserving restaurant tables, going on family car trips, you name it. As the youngest member of our family, I was the one personally responsible for our added hassles, at least in the mind of my siblings. Hence, I was always the one jammed in the aisle at the end of a restaurant booth when the coveted "round table" was already taken. I was the one who ended up on the cot with the thin, lumpy mattress. I was the one relegated to the "hump seat" in the backseat due to my diminutive size. As you will see throughout the Stones career, there's usually one member (at least) getting the short end of the stick on their album covers. In this case, Bill Wyman finds himself vying for space between Keith and Charlie like he was the last one to be positioned for the shoot. Without him, everyone else would've been properly spaced. With him in the picture, everything looks a bit center-clustered and improvised. A feeling to which I can relate.

17 Voodoo Lounge (1994)

Grade: C

I probably should appreciate this one more because it's a significant deviation from any past Stones cover. Plus, it was the work of Keith's hand, which adds a personal artistic touch to the album (still the only cover credited to a band member, although they should've given Ron Wood a crack along the way, he being the best artist in the band by far). There's some gritty texture in the design and even some white space which I normally appreciate, but but but but just doesn't come together as a total composition. I don't love the combo of yellow and red either—here, there, or anywhere. Everything does sync up with the voodoo priest vibe, but it just seems like it was designed solely with a tour t-shirt in mind and not an album cover. Acceptable, but not impactful.

That said, I must say that the alternate cover used for the Voodoo Lounge Uncut version of the record is considerably better in my opinion. It just has more visual impact, mainly because it looks like some serious twerking is going on now. Let's get this party started!

16 Bridges to Babylon (1997)

Grade: C

Here's another budget buster that had to delight the record label. (You want what?!) In early versions of the album, the latticework, or brocade, backdrop of this Assyrian lion gave an expensive, multi-layered feel to the latest mediocre Stones album. The Stones still had the stones to ask for such things at this point, and I have to admit, it was a pretty cool idea. I'm not sure it has aged very well, especially since it is associated with sub-par Stones material, but at the time it was neat and even now I give partial credit for trying something different even if it won't rock your world for all eternity. The body of the lion, in my opinion, could use a little more definition and I absolutely have to know where he gets his mane done. Immaculate!

15 Aftermath (1966)

Grade: C+

Starting here, we're going to rattle off the rest of the "headshot" covers. All from the 1960s, of course, and ranking them in order of preference will be difficult, but here's how I see them. The US version of Aftermath is above, but the photo looks like it was taken during an earthquake, not in its aftermath, so that minor quibble drops it a bit lower in the pecking order. I'm also not in love with the large font used for the title (the band name not much better). I'd love to see it in a smaller size, perhaps stretched out across the top in a thinner font. The composition would've benefited from a little open space. As with all of the "headshot" covers, it's historically interesting to see the "young Stones," especially since we're now in the "shrunken apple" Stones era. It reminds you of a more innocent time just before their creative golden age. At the time, however, most of these covers weren't very interesting. I'm not going to dwell on it, but there are some dubious fashion statements going on here as well (Charlie excepted) which is a little distracting, especially Mick's Alexander Julian-esque print.

Sadly, there was an easier way to make the cover better right under their noses, and that would've been to stick with the UK version for the American release. It had a pleasing Blue Note-esque lavender tint added, which made it look pretty cool. I love the way the lavender fades to black top-left which is a cool effect. And notice how Decca didn't jam the band name into that open space (like they surely would've in the US, lessening the visual impact in pursuit of commerce). I appreciate the British restraint. Putting the album title in the "black suit" area surrounded by the band is also an inspired idea, as is hyphenating the title, which you rarely see. This is dead space used wisely for maximum impact. Add in slightly whimsical, overlapping letters is smart graphic design as well. This cover would be in the Top 10 if the U.S. got this version. Alas, 16th is the best we can offer its inferior American counterpart.

14 12X5 (1964)

Grade: B-

The headmaster will see you now. This photo surely looks like a bunch of lads who were caught smoking a fag in the school loo, doesn't it? Mick looks positively mortified, Charlie respectful (of course), Brian defiant, Bill remorseful, and Keith, he doesn't seem too fazed at all of course. Only Mick's look seems atypical, really, but this is before he had that larger-than-life cocksure swagger we all take for granted now. The British version of the album doesn't have a title or band name at all, once again, but this time that seems like a mistake. I like American cover better with its opportune use of the lower-right dead space for a pleasing light-blue name and a shaded, antique font for the title. It effectively accentuates the fact that included are twelve new songs by the five shadowy young men pictured.

13 Out of Our Heads (1965)

Grade: B-

The origin of the selfie? It looks like Keith is concentrating on holding onto a selfie-stick if we didn't know better. I like that this photo mimics the typical selfie in that it fails to properly frame the entire group, cutting off some heads in the process. There's an aura of spontaneity to it that most covers fail to capture. The cover, which seems to capture the Stones all preening in front of a small mirror at the same time, was actually shot by famed photographer Gered Mankowitz, then a mere 18 years-old. Once again, the "Party of Five" concept returns, with Keith receiving the only full-facial treatment—and it's a striking shot of Richards in his youthful prime, at that. My favorite part of the whole cover is that "frontman" Mick is almost completely edited out of the shot. In a way, that jives with the album's title, the more I think of it. Maybe that's how they sold Mick on the concept. You know this would never happen to "full-ego Mick" who would come to fruition in a matter of months. I'm not in love with the title/name font and their positioning, so I would've requested a few different ideas from my design staff. And what's up with the asterisk, you say? Inexplicable yet ultimately harmless, an affectation thankfully relegated to the year 1965. I've never heard any rationale for it.

12 December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965)

Grade: B-

Another Mankowitz shot, but this time the product of a photoshoot with the band in the alley behind his studio. This pic was likely chosen because the group looks a little sinister (with the exception of Brian who looks like he's posing for his senior portrait) and the composition afforded ample room for the title and band name on the left side. The photo uses an "alternate perspective" view that was often used by the Blue Note label on their legendary 1960's album covers. I particularly like how the band is fully contained in the small opening, providing a concentrated place for the eye to focus. It gives off an almost street gang vibe if you didn't know better and that's not a bad thing for the band's image. Again, our odd man out, Bill Wyman, is having trouble finding a proper place in which to jam his fat head. Can we give him a spot in front for once!? To complete my thought on the composition, open space for graphics is one thing, proper execution is another. There's a lot of information included and I don't like how it got all shoved together with different sized fonts, upper and lower cases, and lack of spacing. Not to mention that goddamned asterisk, which rears its head once again! What the living fuck? It figures that the insufferable Red Hot Chili Peppers picked it up on waivers decades later as their band logo. Let them have it.

11 Goats Head Soup (1973)

Grade: B-

Anything the Stones decide to put on the cover of one of their albums will, in the end, gain elevated stature by association. It doesn't mean it's an automatic masterpiece, of course, but once your design gets chosen, you get the status that comes with it. The cover above, featuring Mick Jagger with his head veiled in yellow chiffon, was shot by frequent Stones' shutterbug David Bailey. In truth, it was Plan C for Goats Head Soup, after the first two options got the kibosh. The first one was famously a literal goat's head simmering in a soup pot (see directly below).

In retrospect, you can see why they went with another option, but let's face it, if they went with this, it would be as visually indelible as any Stones album and everyone would remember it for better or worse. Instead, we got each member of the Stones wrapped in a different color chiffon head wrap inspired by the one Katharine Hepburn sported in The African Queen (see below).

Humph, care for some goat's head soup?

It doesn't get any more rock 'n' roll than that, does it? The fact that Mick's yellow face covering actually makes him look eerily like Ms. Hepburn is an unexpected, somewhat unsettling, coincidence. Overall, what we're left with is an original, but not very compelling concept, likely chosen so the band could get the process behind them. It's not a horrible cover, but if a similar cover was on another band's album it wouldn't be very memorable at all.

10 It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974)

Grade: B-

Ambitious yes, but is it effective? To me, it looks like the cover has been left in a record store window too long and the sunlight has faded the fine details over time. Maybe that's what Belgian artist Guy Peellaert* intended, but striving for something that brings to mind a ten-year-old tattoo doesn't seem like a wise decision. It also doesn't hide the fact that the piece isn't visually cohesive. Sure, it strives for fine art, but in the process it doesn't paint a convincing scene. He clearly assembled the work from different character studies and then put them together on one canvas at the end. It doesn't seem like the attendees of this coronation are all aware they're at the same event. Even the Stones look like they were beamed into the shot seconds before (and Mick looks all out of proportion considering his diminutive stature). The ambition and scope of the project mandated that the image speak for itself, with no title or band name included, which is appropriate. It's just too bad the end product doesn't work. I suppose it helps matters that the album associated with this cover is also a bit of a letdown. Grand plans unrealized all around.

*Peellaert also did the art for David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, another wildly overrated album cover, most famous for its controversial depiction of dog genitalia on the back cover.

09 Black and Blue (1976)

Grade: B-

This is about as accurate a view of the mid-70s Stones dynamic as you can get. Keith looks stoned out of his mind and he seems to be relaying some half-baked idea to Mick, who seems like he's had quite enough, thank you. The title even hints that everything has been quite a battle lately in the Stones camp. Wyman, as always, is forced to find a hole for his noggin, seemingly intent on getting onto the main cover at all costs (the rest of the band is on the reverse side). In this case, the cover would've been much better if he was also relegated to the flip-side. Other than the Wyman photo bomb, there's a certain honesty in the photo that tells it like it is courtesy of the camera of fashion photographer Yashuro Wakabayashi. Nothing special, nothing offensive.

08 Between the Buttons (1967)

Grade: B

Another photo of the band by Gered Mankowitz, his last cover for the Stones, and it's one of his best. Of note is that it's outdoors and not in front of a black backdrop. Now that's progress! The photo gives you the feeling of a band on the run, caught in motion on the way to or from somewhere. The photo uses a gauzy Vaseline smear on the lens much like a Guy Maddin film (circa the brilliant The Saddest Music in the World) which is cool and I have to think Keith didn't mind being blurred a bit. I'm pretty sure he didn't give a shit about stuff like that anyway. The rest of the band's personalities show in the photo, each capturing a different disposition, which is what a good photo can do—bring out the real people behind the faces. Bill, of course, is again sticking his face into the photo from the rear, Brian is goofing off, Jagger looks irritated (his trademarked resting bitch face), Keith is cool as always, and our sweet Charlie, dapper as always, looks fabulous in his blue shirt/tie combo that adds some needed color to the shot, and matches the early morning sky (5:30 a.m. to be exact!) at the same time. Notice the unintended glow from his overcoat's buttons reflecting back at the camera lens. Which came first, the buttons or the title? Add in the title and band name in button-like graphics and you have yourself a pretty darn good cover, if not a masterpiece.

07 Steel Wheels (1989)

Grade: B+

The designer for Steel Wheels, Mark Norton, benefited from getting the album cover assignment after Dirty Work, the Stones cover art Hindenburg. He had nowhere to go but up after that unmitigated disaster. The Stones wisely went back to basics for their next album and wanted a cover that was the opposite of pink blazers and yellow pants. They succeeded. At the time, the cover didn't strike me as anything special, but the more I have lived with it, the more I have come to respect its design approach. Instead of some predictable image (locomotive or farm implement) or band photograph, Norton went more abstract, choosing a repeating forward-motion pattern of interlocking Rollerblade-esque wheels. It implies movement without using anything specific to do so, which is cool. Did they ever make a wallpaper with this pattern? It might work in my guest bathroom. The cover for Steel Wheels stands out because it's unlike anything else in the Stones cover art history. And that's a good thing.

06 Exile on Main Street (1972)

Grade: A

Designed by John Van Hamersveld using pictures from The Americans, a book of photos by Robert Frank, the "Exile on Main St" cover story has been told in comprehensive detail many times. No need to do it again here. One look at this cover, even if you didn't know the band, would cause you to do a double-take. You may be inclined to check out the brilliantly hand-scribbled title/band name first, but soon thereafter your eye is drawn to the legendary photograph of "Three Ball Charlie," easily the most iconic photo on the entire cover. All those years spent stretching out his cheeks had come to down to this moment—presumably his fifteen minutes of fame (little did he know his time in the limelight would last forever via a legendary album cover).* Question the sanity of such a pursuit all you want, but are you on the cover of a classic Stones album? I didn't think so. His photo was so important to the cover that the label pulled his image for use in magazine and billboard ads for the album. The rest of the cover should not be underestimated, as there is so much to pore over it turned into the perfect companion as the double-length LP blasted from your speakers. This is what album covers are there for, people. To have and to hold, from release day forth. The collective images may give the record a slapped-together feel—very punk, very ahead of its time—but there's no denying the visual impact of its classic black, white, and red palate. It's the perfect representation of the raw and ramshackle rock included within. Long may we all be exiled.

I would've put the 3-ball in the corner pocket.

*"Three Ball Charlie" was a circus sideshow performer from Nebraska who gained local fame in the 1930s by jamming three balls in his mouth at once—a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a pool ball. In the photo above, it appears it's two tennis balls with a pool ball, which is even more impressive.

05 Beggars Banquet (1968)

Grade: A

Two years earlier, the Mamas and the Papas put a toilet on the cover of their album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, and all hell broke loose. Two years later the Stones went the same basic route for Beggars Banquet (not even the whole bowl this time!) and there was hell to pay yet again. Has nobody read Everybody Poops? For a time, the toilet cover was replaced with the "wedding invitation" cover below (which wasn't a bad idea either), but the original has long been reinstated, so we're going with that one as the official US release. On their previous album, the Stones tried to compete with the Beatles on Their Satanic Majesties Request. It ended horribly, as noted earlier. This time, nothing of the sort. Instead, we got a total shift in the other direction, which started perhaps the greatest four album run of all time. It's pleasing that that run started with a photo of a disgusting shitter that made the typical filling station toilet look like a spa at the Ritz. People were offended, of course. It's amazing what people can get their shorts in a bunch over. If it's not the toilet, it's the graffiti. And, let's face it, the graffiti (done by Mick and Keith) is pretty tame compared to some atrocities I've seen over the years, "God Rolls His Own," "Peter is a faggot," and a loose sketch of a naked woman are the only things even remotely controversial. Still, this is how we wanted our Rolling Stones from now on—down & dirty & nasty. Not dressed up as wizards on the set of Romper Room. The glory days were upon us.

04 Let It Bleed (1969)

Grade: A

This is such an attractive cover and it had a sense of humor to boot. Lots of black, white, and red augmented by pops of color on top of the cake. Great use of white space (or in this case "off-white" space), too. Keith's designer friend Robert Brownjohn did the honors (although he subbed out the cake bake) based on the simple concept of the record changer, a device present on most home hi-fi systems (including ours) back in the day. You could stack up five records and one by one they'd drop down and play a side of music (the original CD changer). Instead, Brownjohn stacked up an ornate dish, the Let it Bleed master tape, a clock face, a pizza, a bike tire, and a gaudy cake top. And, to top it off, literally, mini figures of the Stones playing ankle-deep in white icing. The concept originated because the record was going to be called Automatic Changer for a while, but it was eventually replaced with Let it Bleed. The cover was so good, however, the band kept the cover originally submitted. They repaid the designer by destroying the whole shebang on the back cover.

03 Some Girls (1978)

Grade: A

The sheer variety of covers on this list is pretty amazing. Not everything works, but the Stones were always open to new ideas and certainly had the clout to push the creative envelop as they saw fit. This Some Girls cover is admittedly busy, but that's by design. It's supposed to be an ad for wigs that you might find in the back of an old woman's magazine. Art director Peter Corriston, the same guy who did Led Zep's Physical Graffiti, used the die-cutting skills employed on that cover and made this one come alive with alternate faces in place of the original models—you might see the Stones themselves sporting a new wig or even famous actresses for a while until legal action forced their removal (buzzkills!). Exchanging some of the wig names for song titles is also clever. Sometimes the Stones songs make for pretty funny potential wig types: "Respectable," "Shattered, "Beast of Burden" (ouch!), and best-seller "Far Away Eyes" all work. Of course, "When the Whip Comes Down" is pushing it, but that's an outlier. A perfect record cover that you can enjoy every time you play the record. I never put the cover down when it's on the turntable. As the patron saint of album art intended.*

*St. Arthur of the Perpetual Gatefold

02 Tattoo You (1981)

Grade: A+

When I bought the reissue of Tattoo You on vinyl earlier this year it was like going back in time. For the second moment of my life I was faced with a decision to buy a copy of the album and I am happy to report that it felt like the first time, it felt like the very first time. The thrill of holding it in my hands remained, the desire to closely examine it was still fresh. I think I had underestimated the visual power of the cover over the years. Once again, I was taken in by the perfectly executed design concept. And, no surprise, the same guy who did Some Girls, Peter Corriston, was responsible for this one, too.* Let's look at it in detail from the outside in. First the sharp black border with the thin white trim—a perfect start. The brilliant saturation of "Stones Red" in the background (red that will not fade like the typical tattoo) is particularly powerful in contrast with the black and white palate found elsewhere. It really jumps off the cover. The thin white letters with light black accent shadowing are nicely spaced and sized in order to not take away from the cover's focal point. Everything so far is crisp, clean, and visually appealing and I wouldn't change a thing. Then the main event; a beautified Jagger sporting a beyond-complicated neck and face masterwork (Post Malone, listen up, the face tattoo must be exhaustively planned out). A large face tattoo is a big risk for anyone, but the chosen design makes him look even more exotic, more intriguing. Almost like a supernatural being. It's a stunning image that's hard to look away from. The tattoo is densely applied, all sharp lines and geometric precision, but there's restraint where there needs to be. The forehead, nose, and upper lip remain untouched, likely to enhance the impact of the rest of the work. If I could guarantee it would come out the same way, I'd walk into a parlor right now and yell, "Give me the Tattoo You!"

*Credit where credit is not due, of course. He also was responsible for Emotional Rescue and Undercover, two covers we're not so keen on.

01 Sticky Fingers (1971)

Grade: A+

My love of this cover has nothing to do with the fact Andy Warhol did the design. That said, I imagine that if the original is out there somewhere it would be worth about $300M by now, if not more. (Is there even an original?) To me, this is rock 'n' roll in a 12.3" x 12.3" nutshell. It may be a little sexist to say that, especially since the image is a man's crotch, but all I mean to say is that rock 'n' roll is about sex to its very core and this conveys that in no uncertain terms. If this was a woman's crotch, I'd feel the same way. And if you want sex, you've got it. Feel free to give it a blow job. The crotch, complete with the outline of a penis, famously does not belong to a "member" of the Rolling Stones. Mick's "boy," according to Keith's book, wouldn't leave an "impression" anyway. The working zipper, Mick's idea, was made possible by art director Craig Braun and it caused all sorts of headaches for just about everyone involved, from the record label to the manufacturers to the retailers to the people buying the record. The zipper had to be added manually and when zipped, it could damage the vinyl of the actual record and the records next to it in the packing box. A solution was devised which involved unzipping the fly so it would, at worst, damage the label and not the vinyl itself. Oh, and the jeans opened up (with the help of a perforated belt) to reveal tighty-whities underneath. Jesus H. Christ, what do you have to do to see a dick around here?! Oh, I can't end this commentary without applauding the ink pad-stamped band name and album title. A perfectly gritty way to top off the whole affair. The whole thing screams sex. It screams rock and roll. It's not just the best Stones cover, it may be thee best album cover ever in terms of nailing the concept, working with the title, and mirroring the sound of the band in question. Perfection.


Another cover story in the books. Until then, gotta get rolling.


The Priest


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