40 Years Ago: Scorpions Court Controversy With ‘Virgin Killer’
Classic rock artists have often courted controversy -- both intentionally and unintentionally -- with the artwork that graces their album jackets, and German hard rockers the Scorpions generally had the good sense to offset overt sexuality with a comedic touch (see 1979's Lovedrive, for instance). Unfortunately, the group's 1976 LP, Virgin Killer, is another story, and its original cover art depicting a nude, provocatively posed 10-year-old girl has little competition as being the most scandalous album cover image of all time.
Though it was immediately banned and replaced with a group photo in several countries, the damage was done and the original artwork, once pressed in Europe and many points east, could never be taken back. Years later, band leader and rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker told Blasting-Zone, "We didn't actually have the idea. It was the record company. The record company guys were like, 'Even if we have to go to jail, there's no question that we'll release that.'"
The band's then-lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth seconded the label's role in a conversation with Classic Rock Revisited in 2006, adding, "Looking at that picture today makes me cringe. It was done in the worst possible taste. Back then I was too immature to see that. Shame on me -- I should have done everything in my power to stop it."
At least musically, the Scorpions were truly hitting their stride on this album, having just struck a balance with the previous year's pivotal In Trance album. To that end, Virgin Killer was very obviously styled as a sonic sequel to that successful template, almost a replica, in fact, but one where the band's inspired songwriting continued to deliver new golden nuggets for their fans.
The songwriting team of rhythm guitarist Schenker and singer Klaus Meine was now capable of delivering equally infectious hard rockers ("Backstage Queen," "Catch Your Train") and power ballads ("In Your Park," "Crying Days"), all of them reliably ignited to thrilling heights by Roth's inimitable lead guitar pyrotechnics.
Uli continued to contribute rather more challenging and darker fare in the title track, the Jimi Hendrix-indebted "Hell-Cat," lackadaisical "Yellow Raven," and the show-stopping six-string masterpiece "Polar Nights." He even insisted on singing lead vocals here and there), but he also wasn't averse to joining forces with Meine and Schenker, as evidenced on the album-opening "Pictured Life."
Virgin Killer's tracks, taken as a whole, probably fell just short of the high water marks achieved on In Trance, but questions about the music were soon lost in the hubbub surrounding the album's infamous cover art.
In his conversation with Blasting-Zone, Schenker tried to put some of the understandable concerns to rest, saying "[T]he girl, when we met her 15 years later, had no problem with the cover. Growing up in Europe, sexuality, of course not with children, was very normal. "
Schenker went on to explain Roth's earnest concept for the song, "The lyrics really say it all. Time is the virgin killer. A kid comes into the world very naive, they lose that naiveness and then go into this life losing all of this getting into trouble. That was the basic idea about all of it."
Be that as it may, the Scorpions obviously learned a harsh lesson with Virgin Killer and would show a little more judgement on subsequent albums like Taken By Force, Lovedrive and Love at First Sting, which continually pushed the erotic envelope without going completely overboard.
See Scorpions and Other Rockers With Sexy Nude Album Covers