50 Years Ago: Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland’ Album Cover Gets Banned
In November 1968, a handful of British record stores banned the Jimi Hendrix Experience's new album from their shelves due to its cover art. The unusual thing is, Hendrix probably hated the Electric Ladyland photograph in question even more than those retailers did.
Saying the unflattering image of 19 naked women, which you can see here in all its NSFW glory, had "nothing to do with him," Hendrix immediately made it pretty clear that his U.K. label, Track Records, was behind the artwork. "Folks in Britain are kicking against the cover. Man, I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have put this picture on the sleeve myself, but it wasn’t my decision. It’s mostly all bullshit."
According to John Perry's Electric Ladyland book, while Hendrix was otherwise occupied overseas, label boss Chris Stamp sent a photographer to a local speakeasy and offered the girls £5 to appear topless (or 10 to go fully nude) for the photo shoot.
Nobody involved seemed particularly impressed with the final results. As one of the models, Reine Sutcliffe, told Melody Maker, "It makes us look like a load of old tarts. It’s rotten. Everyone looked great, but the picture makes us look old and tired. We were trying to look too sexy, but it didn’t work out."
See Jimi Hendrix's Album Cover Sketch
The idea, of course, was to generate publicity, but as Perry points out, the ban was limited to "a few provincial record ships in York, Hull and Bristol," and their decision sparked only minor coverage in the country's tabloid papers. Besides, Electric Ladyland was one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year and needed no help selling in large numbers.
The incident prompted Hendrix to write an extremely passionate and detailed letter – complete with sketches like the one above – to his American record label, explaining exactly how he wanted the Electric Ladyland art to look when they released it. They rejected his request, instead choosing the now famous red and yellow close-up of the guitarist's face for the cover, and relegating most of the photographs he sent them to the inside panels.
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