45 Years Ago: The Rolling Stones Forced to Change ‘Beggars Banquet’ Cover
The Rolling Stones and controversy go together like fish and chips. In 1968, one of their best-known controversies kept their classic album ‘Beggars Banquet’ album off shelves for nearly six months in a protracted dispute over the legendary “toilet cover.”
As conceived by designer Michael Vosse, the original cover for ‘Beggars Banquet’ depicted graffiti on the wall of a bathroom that could charitably be described as dilapidated. Located at a Los Angeles-area Porsche dealership, the bathroom walls were defaced by actual Stones: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards scrawled the album credits and one-liners like “Wot no paper!” The photograph featured not just the walls but the top of an old, beaten-up toilet.
It’s possible that the toilet was the main source of the problem; just two years earlier, the cover of the Mamas and the Papas album ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’ was yanked off shelves by their label simply because a toilet sat next to the band in the cover photo. Whatever the reason, both the Stones’ U.S. and U.K. labels rejected the original “toilet cover” concept, delaying the album’s release.
“We really have tried to keep the album within the bounds of good taste,” said Jagger in 1968, as the controversy stretched on. “I mean, we haven’t shown the whole lavatory. That would have been rude. We’ve only shown the top half. Two people at the record company have told us that the sleeve is terribly offensive … We’ll get this album distributed somehow, even if I have to go down the end of Greek Street and Carlisle Street at two o’clock on Saturday morning and sell them myself.”
Originally slated for release in the summer of ’68, the cover controversy pushed the release of ‘Beggars Banquet’ until December. The original compromise cover adopted a wedding-invitation style; by the early ’80s, reissues began using the original cover design. By then, the sight of an offensive toilet had finally waned, and the Stones had discovered new and exciting ways to shock the public.