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Behind the Music: Iconic Album Cover Models Edition

Nirvana's Nevermind album turned 20 this past weekend, which tends to make folks who consider Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to be the groundbreaking album of all time feel extremely old. Besides some great music, Nevermind also boasted that other all-important feature that ensures an album's place in future coffee table books – a memorable album cover. The life and times of Spencer Elden, the aquatic naked baby on Nirvana's album, have been covered extensively amidst all the 20th anniversary super deluxe special box set release hype, so he's not included here. But despite this lack of Spencerness, we hope the following look at some famous album cover models will trigger some warm fuzzy trips down memory lane. [Note: Some of these covers are a little risqué.]

Blind Faith

Blind Faith was one of the earliest so-called "supergroups," consisting of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech, all of whom had impressive resumes that featured names like Cream, Traffic, and the Spencer Davis Group. Blind Faith recorded just one album together, and while hardcore fans probably remember it for its musicianship, the rest of the world will always recall it as the record with the naked pubescent girl on the cover.

Photographer Bob Seidemann, a personal friend of Eric Clapton, spotted a fresh-faced London schoolgirl named Sula Goschen on the London subway one day in 1969 and approached her about posing for an album cover. She was wary at first but ultimately agreed and arranged for Seidemann to come to her home to meet her parents. After chatting with her family, Seidemann decided that Sula was too old (at age 14!) and that her younger sister, 11-year-old Mariora, was the perfect subject. Egged on by her older sister ("He'll buy you a pony!"), Mariora assented and became a part of rock and roll infamy. Today, Mariora (at left) is in her early 50s and works as a certified massage therapist in London.

1984 – Van Halen

Van Halen's 1984, which included the number one hit single "Jump," was the band's last studio album featuring David Lee Roth as lead singer. Originally the band envisioned four dancing chrome women on the cover of their upcoming album and, thanks to a friend of a friend at Warner Brothers records, photographer/artist Margo Nahas was contacted. Nahas had done illustrations of chrome images in the past, but it was another illustration in her portfolio that caught the attention of Eddie and Alex Van Halen and changed the artistic direction of the cover – a portrait of a cigarette-smoking angel. Nahas, who had a fascination with both angels and devils, had taken the photo a few years earlier utilizing Carter Helm, the four-year-old son of her best friend, as her model. Carter didn't like having heaps of gel massaged into his hair, but he perked up when he was given a candy cigarette to pose with. (Yep, the butt he is holding as well as the packs on the table are of the chocolate-wrapped-in-paper variety of faux smokes.) Nahas painted in the angel wings and marble table top (Carter was actually sitting at a picnic table), but that blue sky was courtesy of Mother Nature in Malibu, California.

Country Life – Roxy Music

Although Roxy Music had been successful in their native England for several years, they didn't make a dent in the American charts until they released their fourth album, Country Life. Lead singer Bryan Ferry had ventured to Portugal in order to clear his mind and write songs for the album. He met two German models, Constanze Karoli (cousin of the late Can guitarist Michael Karoli) and Eveline Grunwald, at a club and struck up a friendship with them. After several days of socializing, he asked them if they'd be willing to pose for an album cover he had in mind. His idea was to portray the antithesis of Britain's stodgy Country Life magazine, which usually featured top-hatted men hunting foxes on the cover. The two women eagerly shopped for some lacy lingerie and then posed in a garden lit only by the headlights of the photographer's car. The resulting cover was a sensation throughout Europe, but the scantily clad duo ended up being replaced by extra pine needles on the U.S. version of the album.

Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones

Sticky Fingers was the first Stones album released in the 1970s and also the first on their new eponymous record label. The original cover art was extremely innovative for 1971, and pretty much unthinkable in today's era of CD packaging. The band enlisted Andy Warhol to act as art director, and he came up with the idea of a photo of a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch. Original pressings of Sticky Fingers had a working zipper on the cover that revealed white briefs underneath. That 3D version of the cover was replaced with a photograph after record stores complained that the zipper was scratching the covers of the other albums in standard sales bins.

That famous bulge, by the way, belonged to Joe Dallesandro, who had been working as a street hustler since his teens when he happened to meet Andy Warhol. Dallesandro became one of Warhol's factory superstars and appeared in several of the artist's underground films. That particular photograph wasn't posed specifically for the album cover; it just happened to be among a series of pictures Warhol had snapped of Joe in a pair of tight-fitting jeans. Today Dallesandro (at left), who identifies as bisexual, manages a hotel in Hollywood with his third wife.

Candy-O – The Cars

Dave Robinson, the drummer for the Cars, was also the band's artistic director. He was a great fan of the famous pin-up posters drawn by Alberto Vargas; when it came time to design the cover for the band's Candy-O album, Robinson contacted the 83-year-old artist and convinced him to come out of retirement. (As it turned out, Vargas' great-niece was a big Cars fan and she urged him to agree to the project.) Vargas needed a photo from which to work, so a leggy model named Nancy Beth was chosen to pose on the hood of a 1972 365 GTC/4 Ferrari at a dealership in Beverly Hills. Beth had second thoughts about appearing semi-nude in record stores at the last minute, however, so another model, Candy Moore, stepped in and loaned her face to the mix. The resulting cover was completely hand-drawn, with no air-brushing, but Elektra execs did insist on a do-over after the first drawing was submitted. They wanted the model to be, er, less anatomically detailed, which is why the girl on the cover appears to have been born without nipples.

Honey – The Ohio Players

The Ohio Players were well known not only for their funky bass-heavy songs, but also for their provocative album covers. Their 1975 album Honey achieved particular infamy not only for the nude model on the cover drenched with actual honey, but also for the rumors that surrounded the photo shoot. Did she actually become stuck to the floor when the honey hardened? Was she stabbed to death by the band, with her final screams dubbed into the intro of the number one hit "Lover Rollercoaster"?

The answer to both questions is a very emphatic NO. Ester Cordet (at left), the cover model, was a Playmate of the Month in October 1974. At the time of the album cover shoot, she was working as a flight attendant for Pacific Southwest Airlines. She is currently alive and well and has been married for many years to motivational guru Robert Ringer.

Breakfast in America – Supertramp

She wasn't scantily clad, but she was still a female used to sell an album. Supertramp had decided at their inception that they would not appear on their album covers – they wanted to remain "imageless," and according to keyboardist Rick Davies, "We wanted to be around a long time, and we didn't want people watching us getting older." After the tracks for Breakfast in America were in the can, their album designer suggested a cover featuring Cheerios cereal pieces rolling down a mountain in a flood of milk. The band rejected that idea and suggested an image of the Statue of Liberty holding a glass of orange juice.

The designer came up with a compromise – a diner waitress with an upraised tray. He chose Kate Murtagh from a catalog that featured character models, and she was dubbed "Libby" as a nod to the band's original Statue of Liberty concept. Ms. Murtagh (at left) still works in TV and film as a character actress.

Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin

Aubrey Powell, part of the legendary creative team known as Hipgnosis, was hired by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and manager Peter Grant to come up with a cover concept for the band's fifth album. He envisioned a scene from a science fiction novel called Childhood's End, which involved a multitude of nude children running off the end of the world. Even though the final album cover appears to feature dozens of kids, it was simply a multiple-exposure photo manipulation of just two tots – five-year-old Stefan Gates and his older sister Samantha.

The pair (far left) was flown to Northern Ireland's Giant Causeway where they crawled naked over the rocks both at dawn and dusk in order to catch a variety of photographic light. Today UK TV viewers know Stefan Gates (near left) as the host of BBC2's Cooking in the Danger Zone. His sister is now a screenwriter living with her husband and daughter in Cape Town, South Africa.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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