List 'Em Carefully

The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

on July 25, 2017, 12:00pm
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screen shot 2013 08 29 at 2 14 03 pm The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

The word “outrageous” has many definitions, some positive and some negative. “Exceeding the limits of what is usual.” “Deficient in propriety or good taste.” “Something that doesn’t make any goddamn sense.” Alright, so we made up one of those, but you get the idea. So what makes a truly outrageous album cover? For our list, we simplified the criteria: It should be something that makes you scratch your head and say, “Huh?”

In fact, one of these records does that exact thing if you just say what’s printed on the front. Make no mistake; none of this is a question of good or bad (although some of these certainly fall into the latter category). Otherwise, we would have included plenty more albums from the ’80s. It’s more a question of the bizarre. The strange. The unexplainable.

Confused? Read on. Not that you’ll be any less confused when you finish. But hopefully you’ll be entertained. And, as always, list anything you think we missed in the comments section.

–Dan Caffrey
Senior Staff Writer

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50. Santigold – Santogold (2008)

santigold The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

While vomiting golden glitter is typically reserved for unicorns and kindergartners who just got out of art class, Santigold liked the concept proposed by designer Isabelle Lumpkin just fine. The singer told New York Magazine that her label was initially queasy about the shiny puke, but as long as they could see her face, they’d deal with it. –Erin Carson

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49. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012)

Spiritualized Huh cover

Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce has said that the Huh? image personifies how the medication he takes for his liver disease causes him to feel. That makes the artwork a bit melancholy, regardless of how outrageous it is. Good thing the album is so uplifting. –Dan Caffrey

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48. King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

king crimson in the court The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

What could possibly elicit such an expression from the Schizoid Man? It has to be ghastly, but we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that the cover was painted by computer programmer Barry Godber and named for a track off what wound up being a foundational record for prog rock. Godber never did another cover, and why would he? He probably got all his demons out in one go. –Erin Carson

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47. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (Clean Cover)

ritual The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

When certain retailers wouldn’t stock Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual due to the nudity depicted in frontman Perry Farrell’s cover artwork, the band opted to replace the original cover’s busyness and bodies with plenty of white space and the text from the First Amendment (also known as the “free speech” amendment). If that subtle jab wasn’t enough, the band printed the following on the album’s back cover:

“Hitler’s syphilis-ridden dreams almost came true. How could it happen? By taking control of the media. An entire country was led by a lunatic… We must protect our First Amendment, before sick dreams become law. Nobody made fun of Hitler??!”

The joke on censorship, of course, is that the sanitized “clean cover” is actually far more outrageous than the original artwork. Take that, Walmart! –Matt Melis

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46. The Mountain Goats – Nothing For Juice (1996)

nothingforjuice The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

John Darnielle might mention an antique fire alarm in one of the songs on this early album. He might talk about juice, too. Maybe he even sings of a fire alarm that causes orange juice to rain from the ceiling sprinklers. Or maybe he just got the image from MS clip art. Keep in mind that this was 1996. Clip art was very respectable back then. –Dan Caffrey

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45. Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris (2007)

Era+Vulgaris

Josh Homme says that the light bulbs on the cover of Era Vulgaris were inspired by cartoons being used to sell bad things to kids (cigarettes, sugary cereals, etc.). So the graphic designers invented a couple of characters (Bulby and Stumpy!) to sell a Queens of the Stone Age album. “But why light bulbs, Josh?” Well, he’s gone on record saying that they represent “…what you perceive to be a great idea that really is not that great of an idea.” Kind of like this album artwork. If an animated character was going to sell something to kids, you think they’d be a little cooler. Maybe an animal or a leprechaun. To be fair, this seems to have all been done in jest, plus one of the light bulbs is at least dressed like a pirate (that one’s Stumpy, in case you couldn’t tell). Still, that doesn’t make this thing any less frustrating to look at. –Dan Caffrey

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44. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant (2012)

David-Byrne-St-Vincent-Love-This-Giant

The cover of Love This Giant reminds me of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, only with farmhouse and pitchfork swapped out in favor of creepy plastic surgery. Eyes will first dart to Annie Clark, who appears to have a wire coat hanger planted firmly in cheek. Creepier still is David Byrne’s cleft chin because … David Byrne doesn’t have a cleft chin! Let’s just hope all this was achieved through the magic of Photoshop. I hear that stuff can even make Kim Kardashian not look like a hobbit. –Matt Melis

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43. Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

cream - disraeli gears

We imagine Cream’s album art conversation with artist Martin Sharp going something like this:

Martin Sharp: I want the cover to capture the sound of the music, warm and florescent.

Eric Clapton: Yeah, man, warm and florescent. Bright.

Jack Bruce: Bright colors, flowers.

Ginger Baker: And our faces peering out like florescent, majestic mountains.

Clapton: Ginger, are you tripping?

Baker: Why, do you want some?

In fact, we believe this is how many psychedelic album covers were born. The ‘60s were magical. –Katrina Nattress

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42. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam (2007)

animal collective - strawberry jam

The title of Animal Collective’s seventh studio album came to Panda Bear while flying to a show in Greece. His complimentary meal came with a side of strawberry jam, and, entranced by its glistening contents, he told his bandmates he wanted the record to sound like the jam looked: “something that’s really sharp and synthetic and futuristic looking.” It was Avey Tare that created and photographed the less than appetizing cover art. Let’s hope the actual inspiration looked a little more yummy. –Katrina Nattress

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41. Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals (1998)

marilyn manson   mechanical animals The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Can shock rocker Marilyn Manson even register as outrageous anymore? I’m not sure, but in 1998, the cover of Mechanical Animals really freaked us out. I still blame Manson’s gray, anatomically bizarre alien bodysuit for both recurring nightmares and me failing my middle school anatomy class. –Matt Melis

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40. Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose

SCREWS ALBUM 1

Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this sophomore album from Tennessee trio turned quartet Those Darlins got picked on quite a bit. Mostly for coming across as bratty, juvenile, and simply put, a band undergoing severe public growing pains. “Good thing I cleaned my nostrils for this – would have been reeeeally embarrassing otherwise.” –Lior Phillips

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39. Queen – The Miracle

Queen-The_Miracle-Frontal

Ever wonder what a child conceived by Queen band members (left to right) John Deacon, Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, and Brian May would look like? Me neither. But apparently the child would have four chins, share five eyeballs, and give off the wicked impression that Deacon and Mercury were secretly aligned in a plot to squeeze Taylor out like a pimple. Crazy genetic questions aside, I’m more curious about what this Queen offspring would say to his barber. Facial hair would probably lead to a turf war. –Matt Melis

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38. Die Antwoord – Ten$ion (2012)

die antwoord - tension

Being that the South African “rap-rave” group is known for its bizarre songs and grotesque videos, a cover this gruesome isn’t that surprising for Die Antwoord. While the album fostered enough attention to grant them multiple festival slots in 2012, for most critics, the unsettling image of a winged Yolandi Visser gorging on a bloody heart was just as hard to stomach as the album. –Danielle Janota

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37. Green Day – Dookie (1994)

green day - dookie

We’ve had 23 years to try to decipher what exactly is going on in this, dare we say, outrageous album cover. From first glance, it’s simply a dog piloting a jet dropping bombs of dookie onto a town in a state of anarchy. Straightforward enough. But there’s so much more. You’ve got God up in his cloud, laughing his ass off. You’ve got other dogs pouring liquid dookie on the town’s citizens. You’ve got an ape holding a pile of dookie, contemplating whether he should throw it. Among the town’s citizens is a cat, a minotaur, a guy with a jack-o’-lantern head, Patti Smith, and Angus Young. Yes, there are stories and symbolism strewn throughout the chaotic cover, but we’re not here to talk about that right now. We’re here to applaud its absurdity. Bravo, Green Day, bravo. —Katrina Nattress

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36. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round

AP%20Round%20and%20Round

Clean up on aisle WTF. If you’ve just joined us, this is an animal locking lips with a human being. We want to think that this is a kind, young man in an embrace with a fellow person, wearing a fox mask. But unless the fox is coming around at night with a delicious pot roast, gently caressing you on the knee, and telling you that you’ve lost a lot of weight, this is madness. Of course, the cover is superbly illustrated, and this album from Ariel Pink is by far his most accessible body of work to date, but there is no need to kiss your spirit animal like this. –Lior Phillips

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35. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (2009)

embryonic The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

To be fair, Embryonic’s album art matches the actual album. The music is demented and formless while still sucking you in, kind of like the scene where Alex gets tortured with violent video footage and eye-drops in A Clockwork Orange. But none of that explains The Flaming Lips’ decision to include all that hair. It sort of resembles the body of a worm — tubular, then open at the front to expose a face. A fur worm. Look at it right before you go to bed, and you’ll have outrageous(!), if terrifying, dreams. –Dan Caffrey

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34. 311 – Universal Pulse (2011)

311 Universal Pulse

311 have always been about unity (hell, it’s the name of one of their earliest albums), so we get the inclusion of nature, space, and different environments on the cover of their tenth release. It’s the choice of wildlife that throws us off. Are we meant to believe that if baboons, bald eagles, and bighorn sheep all got along, then the world would be a better place? What about humans? Oh wait, there’s a small group of them riding camels through the desert. It’s there, we promise! Bottom right corner, past all the goofy lines. Those are energy waves, we think. You know, like a pulse. A universal pulse. A universal pulse that will bring us all together. The birds, the ovines, the primates, and of course, the tiny, tiny humans. –Dan Caffrey

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33. Empire Of The Sun – Ice On The Dune (2013)

empire of the sun ice on the dune The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Australian electronic duo Empire of the Sun seems to have a penchant for album covers that could pass as video game posters. For their second record, the artwork ties in with the release of a fictional story about a prophet and an emperor. But which one is which? The fancier dressed guy is probably the emperor, since emperors are usually rich, but each performer’s getup seems to be from a different run-of-the-mill RPG. Some people claim it’s inspired by the Dune series, but Frank Herbert’s confounding opus somehow has more visual coherence than this. –Erin Carson

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32. Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001)

Aerosmith - just push play cover

A lot of veteran bands make bold statements to prove that they’re still hip to the times. And according to Steven Tyler and Co., the “in” thing in 2001 was Marilyn Monroe fembots. Kinda makes you long for the days when Aerosmith designed more thoughtful album art — like a cow with a pierced teat and the band’s logo branded on its side. Eh, never mind. –Matt Melis

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31. Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me (1973)

Fleetwood_Mac-Mystery_To_Me

If you’re searching for the meaning behind 1973’s Mystery to Me, former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch said the cover symbolized that “…despite how much we stuff ourselves with knowledge, we’re still monkeys.” Monkeys who like strawberry shortcake, apparently. –Erin Carson

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30. Pantera – Metal Magic

pantera - metal magic

We all know that Dimebag Darrell is seated on a pearly throne in Heaven smiling down on us mere mortals. But we should take pause and reflect back on his band’s creative choices. Metal Magic was Pantera’s debut album. The sound is not quite fully realized, but its cover art is a true masterpiece. And by masterpiece, I mean it looks like an ink job that a tweaked-out biker would plaster on his saggy left calf at a discount flea market run by a tattoo artist who not only uses one of those middle school squiggle pens but also suffers from an early onset of Parkinson’s disease. RIP, Dimebag. I’ll be seeing you soon. –Dan Pfleegor

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29. The Mothers of Invention – Weasels Ripped My Flesh

1970 2 weaselsrippedmyflesh The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

The nightmarish pop art that adorns the cover of The Mothers of Invention’s 1970 release, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, was the work of American illustrator Neon Park, who was also responsible for a great many Little Feat album sleeves. Frank Zappa showed Park the cover of a 1956 issue of Man’s Life depicting a man up to his waist in water being attacked by weasels and challenged him “to do worse than this.” Park responded with a parody of a Schick electric razor ad that, despite record exec nervousness, became an iconic album cover of the time. There is a redeeming humor and subversion to it that counters the squeamish element, though the image still retains the power to shock. Either way, it’s way better than the German version showing a metal baby caught in a rat trap! –Tony Hardy

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28. Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011)

Lady Gaga Born This Way

Half motorcycle, half angry woman — the metaphor gets a little muddy on Lady Gaga’s sophomore album. It also may have ripped off a dream sequence in the fifth A Nightmare on Elm Street film. Unsurprisingly, the image’s reception from both fans and critics was rather tepid. Not that it hurt sales. Born This Way still sold 1.1 million album in its first week. –Erin Carson

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27. Insane Clown Posse – The Tempest (2007)

icp - the tempest

What, no more demented clown mascot? As an album, The Tempest may liken a thunder storm to a roller coaster ride, but the sub-Pen & Pixel photoshopped cover requires some suspension of disbelief. Anyone that’s ever had a trip to an amusement park or county fair cut short knows how quickly things get shut down before there’s even a hint of lightning that epic. –Frank Mojica

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26. The Bee Gees – Life In A Tin Can (1973)

bee gees life in a tin can1 The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Though not one of their more successful albums, it’s hard to overlook the Gibb brothers’ overly literal approach to the artwork of Life in a Tin Can. Imagine if you popped open a soda and saw a trio of Lilliputian Gibb brothers staring up at you, smiling in hopes that you won’t drink them. What would you do? Seriously, what would you do? –Erin Carson

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25. Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty (1998)

beastie boys - hello nasty

Hello Nasty is a late-‘90s classic. Songs like “Body Movin’”, “Intergalactic”, and “Three MC’s and One DJ” are bound to make you get nasty on the dance floor, but the nastiest aspect of this album is its art. If you think sardines smell bad, just think about peeling away that tin and finding Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA in there instead … on the sun. –Katrina Nattress

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24. The Beatles – Yesterday And Today (1966)

beatles yesterday today butcher The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Paul McCartney: “Our comment on the war.”

John Lennon: “…as relevant as Vietnam.”

George Harrison: “Sometimes we all did stupid things thinking it was cool and hip when it was naive and dumb; and that was one of them.”

And that’s why he’ll always be the best Beatle. –Dan Caffrey

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23. Beck – Mellow Gold (1994)

beck mellow gold 1024x1021 The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers
What is this thing? That’s not a rhetorical question either. If you know, please enlighten. I’ve been looking at this Beck album cover since I was 11, and I’m no closer to figuring it out. My best guess, though, is that it’s some kind of dino cyborg sent back in time from the year 1996 to warn me not to one day play “Loser” or that track with the line “Like a giant dildo crushing the sun” in the car with my parents while on the way to tennis practice. Yeah, mission failed, future dude. –Matt Melis

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22. Aphex Twin – Windowlicker

aphex_twin_window_licker_WAP105_1

Classic two-bagger: one bag on her head and another on your own, just in case her bag falls off. –Dan Pfleegor

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21. Cocorosie – Noah’s Ark

Cocorosie Noah_s_Ark

Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady’s work as CocoRosie flits at the intersection of the grotesque and the innocent, their often childlike voices dipping into bizarre, surreal, and generally odd themes. So, yeah: That’s a fridge-ready drawing of three sexually interlocked unicorns, the middle one with a rainbow exploding from its horn, the bottom vomiting multi-colored droplets. Duh. –Adam Kivel

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20. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974)

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs

RCA Records felt that the 1974 album’s original cover, painted by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, was too shocking for commercial release because it clearly depicted the Bowie-dog’s genitalia. How funny, since the most disturbing part of the image might actually be, oh, I don’t know, the entire thing. –Danielle Janota

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19. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

captain beefheart

Expect this to be weird. Only there was no need for a day-glo sticker to be added; this surreal and mostly disturbing album cover says it all, a perfect accompaniment to the experimentalism of the music therein. The image of the trout mask replica is as literal as it is absurd. Artist Cal Schenkel actually used a hollowed-out carp’s head, which the good Captain modeled for over two hours, including a break to play saxophone through the fish’s mouth, while Schenkel took photographs. The thought of it being a real studio shoot as opposed to a mere photo comp adds to the grotesque feeling you get when you stare at the cover. After a while, the fish eyes start to follow you around the room at which point you make an exit and put on a Wild Man Fischer record to restore some semblance of normality. –Tony Hardy

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18. The Cranberries – Bury The Hatchet (1999)

bury the hatchet The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

So much for privacy. The eye in the sky seems better suited to Queensryche’s dystopian prog rock than The Cranberries’ coffeehouse angst. The image is brought to you by the late Storm Thorgerson, a graphic artist who worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and, more recently, the Mars Volta and Muse. Dude had a thing for free-floating body parts and the desert. –Erin Carson

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17. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Live It Up (1990)

csnliveitup The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Nothing says live it up like roasting hot dogs on the moon. And letting a bunch of little men climb up the skewers. And they’re construction workers? And then one hot dog snaps off and floats away? And we thought Daylight Again was weird. We’ll blame it on the ’90s. –Erin Carson

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16. Ted Nugent – Scream Dream (1980)

screamdream1 The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

The Nuge should talk to Lady Gaga, as they both love to strip down and cybernetically fuse themselves with foreign objects. –Erin Carson

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15. Wasnatch – Front to Back

wasmatch - front to back

Toot toot. Nuff said. –Dan Pfleegor

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14. Death Grips – No Love Deep Web

death grips vinyl The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

It’s safe to assume the words “shocking” and “confrontational” were among those involved in deciding the album “art” for Death GripsNo Love Deep Web. An LP whose composition is every bit as in your face as the photograph on the front. Quite the feat when that photo features a semi-erect penis with the album’s title etched across it in black sharpie. –Kevin McMahon

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13. Boned – Up at the Crack (2004)

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Wisecrack all you want, but deep down you just wish you’d thought of it first. —Matt Melis

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12. Diplo – Revolution (2013)

Diplo-Revolution-EP

As much as you’d love to hate this cover for accommodating a stupidly popular dance craze, there’s just something about a wall of twerkers forming a historical sign of strength and unity that makes it so hard to look away. –Danielle Janota

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11. Detroit Grand Pubahs – Galactic Ass Creatures from Uranus

DetroitGrandPubahs_Galactic-Ass

The enigmatic duo Detroit Grand Pubahs made a career splicing their raw techno beats with comedic absurdity, but nothing was quite as outrageous as the cover for their second full-length studio release. With a title seemingly pulled from the worst sci-fi B-movie of the 1960’s, the artwork for Galactic Ass Creatures from Uranus certainly wouldn’t have been complete without a pair of 100-foot-long legs shooting lasers from her asshole-turned-eyeball. –Derek Staples

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10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito (2013)

yeah yeah yeahs - mosquitos

When I was in high school, I had to endure quite a few horror stories, as well as graphic footage and images, intended to shock the students out of engaging in pre-marital sex or driving drunk, reckless, or even inexperienced. It’s inevitable that the cover to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Mosquito, which re-imagines the naked baby from Nevermind as a CGI Garbage Pail Kid, will be used to scare people out of dropping acid. –Frank Mojica

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09. Action Bronson – Saaab Stories (2013)

action bronson saab stories The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

This photograph may look like a still from behind-the-scenes footage of a porn with a racist title, but it’s actually the artwork to Action Bronson’s debut EP. During a time when hip-hop is questioned and criticized more than ever for its attitudes towards women, Bronson cemented his stance with a cover as full-on absurd as its contents. –Frank Mojica

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08. Black Dice – Broken Ear Record (2005)

Black Dice Broken Ear Record

Sure, it’s called Broken Ear Record, but looking long enough at this technicolor, beaded, porn-collage from Rhode Island noiseniks Black Dice and you might break a cornea or two. Much like their music, this one pushes the borders of the socially acceptable while also indulging in some mischievous, childlike glee. –Adam Kivel

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07. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)

pharcyde - bizarre ride ii the pharcyde

The Pharcyde have made their place in hip-hop history by skewing classic west coast gangsta rap and giving it a little comical flare. So it’s no wonder the eccentric emcees decided to use a cartoon cover for their debut album, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. And look at how much fun they’re having on that roller coaster! But wait, what is that they’re about to head into? Is … is that a … is that a toothed vagina? Why yes, it appears it is. –Katrina Nattress

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06. Ludacris – Chicken And Beer (2003)

ludacris chicken The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Some album covers tell it like is, and you’d think that’s the case with this one. But look closer. If Ludacris has all that chicken around him, then why is he about to eat a woman’s leg? If he eats her leg, then there’s no room for chicken! Speaking of poultry, why does that cartoon chicken look so damn sexy? By making the woman into a meal and the bird into a sex object, is Luda subverting our perceptions of sexuality and fast food? Like any good outrageous album cover, Chicken and Beer raises plenty of questions and gleefully refuses to answer any of them. –Dan Caffrey

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05. Weezer – Hurley (2010)

weezer hurley The 50 Most Outrageous Album Covers

Cropped from a photo Rivers Cuomo took with Jorge Garcia during a stint on Lopez Tonight, the Hurley cover should inspire some especially outlandish Lost theories. Or at least jealousy, because Hurley and everyone else on the island were spared the pains of past-prime Weezer albums like this one. –Frank Mojica

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04. Millie Jackson – Back to the S**t!

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This 1989 album would have gone straight to No. 2 on the charts if Millie hadn’t swallowed her vocal chords, got them lodged in her rectum, and was now clearly singing out her ass. I always like to think in situations as demanding of my attention as this one, not what the absolute crap is happening in front of my eyes, but what the absolute crap was the photographer prompting? “Millie, darling, won’t you be a doll and take one of the shoes off? Yes! The light is hitting your poo face perfectly now 3…2…1 and releeease.” –Lior Phillips

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03. Project Pat – Ghetty Green

P.P.G.G.front

Project Pat is down for his crown, man. The once notorious but now straight-up most huggable member of Three 6 Mafia — as well as older brother to group founder Juicy J — always knew how to stack the green. In this case, Pat is seen making a cashback withdrawal from a local convenience store. On the one hand, he is committing armed robbery, which is a felony. But on the bright side, he’s found a clever way to avoid those pesky gas station ATM fees. –Dan Pfleegor

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02. Trick Daddy – www.thug.com (1998)

Trick Daddy - www.Thug.com

Remember what the web used to look like? Perhaps not, but thankfully Trick Daddy has preserved the eyesore that was the Internet of the ’90s. Does thug.com have frames and animated gifs? Is there a MIDI of “Stroke It Gently” auto-playing in the background? Is Trick’s grill clickable, and will it take me to an Easter egg, or perhaps a guestbook? Tragically, we’ll never know, because thug.com is no longer his official website. –Frank Mojica

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01. Big Bear – Doin Thangs

big bear - doin thangs

If you ever need a quick and easy way to explain cognitive dissonance to somebody, just make them look at Big Bear’s cover, a meme before memes fully became a cultural thing. It’s nearly impossible to explain what the hell is happening here, why these bears have smoking jackets, exactly what thangs Big Bear is doin’, whether Big Bear is the dude or a crew comprised of him and the four bears on this cover. But then, what of the two bears pushed into the background? Were they the Michelle Williams of Big Bear? –Dominick Mayer

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