10 Hidden Images on Album Covers
By Rudie Obias
Sometimes, there's more to an album cover than meets the eye.
1. The Rolling Stones // Their Satanic Majesties Request
When The Rolling Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967, it immediately drew comparisons to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released earlier in the same year. Both records feature psychedelic music and very colorful album art, but Their Satanic Majesties Request actually features images of all four of the Beatles hidden in the foreground. It is believed that this was a response to The Beatles' album, which featured a Shirley Temple doll wearing a sweater that reads, "Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys."
Fun fact: Photographer Michael Cooper shot both covers for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
2. The Beastie Boys // Licensed To Ill
The Beastie Boys' debut album, Licensed to Ill, features a jet plane with the serial number "3MTA3" on its tail. If you look at the album cover in a mirror, the reverse image now reads, "EATME," or "Eat Me."
3. Kate Bush // Aerial
The cover of Aerial, Kate Bush's eighth studio album, appears to feature a mountain range with its reflection in the sea. However, if you look closely, it's actually a waveform of a blackbird's song on top of a photograph of a sunrise. The waveform is a reference to the final track on Aerial's second disc (about 37:28 into disc two or 3:18 into track nine), which features a blackbird's chirping.
4. Def Leppard // Retro Active
Def Leppard's Retro Active features a 19th century woman sitting at a dressing table staring at a mirror. If you look at the cover at a distance, you can see a skull made up of the woman and her reflection. Artist Charles Allan Gilbert's 1892 painting All is Vanity was Def Leppard's inspiration for the album cover.
5. Santana // Santana
At first glance, Santana's debut record looks like it only features a ferocious lion. However, if you take a closer look, you can see that it also features nine smaller faces that make up the lion's head. Additionally, the lion's chin can also be seen as a hula skirt, only to reveal a hula girl at the album cover's center.
According to the album cover designer, Lee Conklin, "I knew that I was making art for future generations and so even though Bill [Graham, band manager] usually liked posters in colour, I detailed this one in pen-and-ink…the challenge has always been to subvert the poster form to whatever my muse insists on and then to convert my psychedelic experiences to any medium I’m working in. I made it my mission to translate my psychedelic experience into paper."
6. Supertramp // Breakfast in America
The album cover for Supertramp's Breakfast in America features a waitress named Libby posing as the Statue of Liberty with a menu and a glass of orange juice on a tray. In the background, what at first glance appears to be the Manhattan skyline is actually cereal boxes, salt and pepper shakes, cutlery, mugs, and various kitchen items made up to look like New York City. Supertramp won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package for Breakfast in America in 1980.
7. Black Lips // 200 Million Thousand
Aside from the band's name and the title of the record, 200 Million Thousand from Black Lips seemingly only features black and white lines on its album cover. However, if you stare at the cover long enough, you'll start to make up the faint outlines of a man's face wearing a gold teeth grill. On the back of the album, you can see the same image, but without the optical illusion.
8. Harry Nilsson & John Lennon // Pussy Cats
Recording artist Harry Nilsson teamed up with John Lennon to produce Pussy Cats in 1974. The album cover features a rug under a table with two block letters—"D" and "S"—flanking it. If you sound out the puzzle, it reads, "D-rug-S" or specifically, "Drugs under the table." This was an inside joke during Lennon's "Lost Weekend" era, a drunken and drug-fueled 18 month period between 1973 and 1975.
9. The Velvet Underground // White Light/White Heat
In 1968, The Velvet Underground released White Light/White Heat with a seemingly all-black album cover. If you take a closer look, though, you can see a faint image of a skull tattoo on Andy Warhol collaborator Joe Spencer's arm.
"After the first album came out, Lou (Reed) said he would like me to be responsible for the album art for the second album,” explained Billy Name, photographer and former manager of Andy Warhol's Factory. “I said 'why don’t you look through my negatives, see if you find something you like,' and he found this one and pointed to it. It turned out it was a tattoo on Joe Spencer’s arm, his bicep. So I had to blow it up from a 35 millimeter negative, so it came out pretty grainy. So we decided to do a black on black.”
The darkened image is really hard to spot unless you know what you're looking for or you place the album cover under a black light. Re-issues featured a more pronounced tattoo image.
10. The Beatles // Revolver
German artist Klaus Voormann created the artwork for The Beatles' Revolver. While the album cover features many different versions of The Beatles drawn in pencil and in various photographs, Voormann placed an image of himself and his name inside of George Harrison's hair, which is located on the right-side of the album cover.