Greatest Album Covers of All Time – From 1967 to 2021
Album cover art in the past was a unique experience. It was not only about the music, but the artwork was also part of the journey. The covers were full-sized,…Stories
In the realm of music history, the debut album “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” by The Mamas and the Papas is notable not only for its harmonious tracks but also for the controversy surrounding its cover art. Released in 1966, the album’s cover featured the band members cozily clustered in a bathtub with a bathroom backdrop, including a toilet, which was considered indecent exposure at the time by certain retailers and authorities.
The inclusion of the toilet in the photograph led to the album being censored and pulled from store shelves, prompting the record company to reissue the album with the toilet covered by a label listing the record’s hit tracks.
This act of censorship highlighted the disparity between prevailing social norms and the evolving counterculture of the 1960s, reflected in the music and image of The Mamas and the Papas. Despite the initial pushback, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” quickly carved out a place in American pop culture and music history.
The album “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” crafted by the notable folk rock group The Mamas & The Papas, emerged as a groundbreaking record in the music scene of the 1960s. Grounded in the folk rock and sunshine pop genres, it was characterized by its harmonious melodies and rich lyrical content.
Members John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, and Michelle Phillips came together to produce an album that reflected the zeitgeist of the Californian dream. “California Dreamin'”, one of the standout tracks, encapsulates the longing and whimsy associated with the Golden State. Alongside “California Dreamin'”, “Monday, Monday” fortified the album’s reputation, captivating audiences with its catchy tune and became a timeless classic.
The album’s origin story is as fascinating as its content. Prior to recording the album, the band members spent considerable time rehearsing in the Virgin Islands. This period of dedication laid the foundation for what would become a significant contribution to the sunshine pop movement.
Despite its warm reception, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” faced censorship issues pertaining to its cover art. Guy Webster, who was the photographer behind the album cover, explained that it all went south because of a simple decision to take the photo in a bathroom.
I think it was Cass who pulled out the grass from tinfoil and lit it with all the windows and doors closed. We all got really stoned. I couldn’t even get my lens cap off. I said, ‘We gotta shoot something.’
The apartment had a 1920s-era bathroom with all of this funky tile. I put them in the bathtub, set up my tripod and my big two-and-a-quarter camera, and shot the cover for If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears with my wide-angle lens.Guy Webster – Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster; Text by Harvey Kubernik and Kenneth Kubernik
As Guy and the band would soon find out, there was something that the corporate folks didn’t about the photo everyone settled on for the cover art. And that something was as simple as a toilet.
There was a toilet in the corner and I left it in. That was a big mistake. You can’t put a toilet on the cover of anything and sell it at Sears or one of those chain stores. They will not allow it.
So Lou [Adler] came up with the great idea to put a little sticker on the shrink-wrap that read ‘including ‘California Dreaming’. And the covered the toilet.
It became one of the most controversial album covers of its day, which pleased us to no end. I became famous overnight. The Mamas and the Papas blew up, and I guess I blew up with them.Guy Webster – Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster; Text by Harvey Kubernik and Kenneth Kubernik
The presence of a toilet in media was considered indecent in the conservative cultural climate of the ’60s. The push to censor the toilet from “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” album cover reflects the period’s societal norms, where such a mundane fixture was viewed as unsuitable for the public eye.
Although today nearly anything passes under the disguise of art, in those days, things were obviously way more strict.
Several censored versions of the album were released after the original withdrawn sleeve was taken off the market. The first censored version included a scroll covering the toilet, reading “Includes California Dreamin'”. The example below was printed by RCA Victor, although Dunhill, the original publisher for the US market, had an identical version.
On the next censored version, two additional songs from the album are shown on the scroll: “Monday, Monday” and “I Call Your Name”. There was also an older version of this without the “Gold Record Award” stamp on the left.
Finally, there was this infamous version that basically covered everything in photo but the band members themselves. If you want to see all the diferent variations, including those printed in Europe, check out Discogs.com.
As a result of its rarity and the iconic status of The Mamas and the Papas, the original uncensored pressing of the album can fetch high prices at auction nowadays. Collectors and fans are often willing to pay good price for this piece of 1960s counterculture memorabilia.
So it is not uncommon for these albums to sell for hundreds of dollars, depending on their condition and provenance. The combination of the band’s enduring legacy, the album’s critical acclaim, and the intrigue surrounding the censored artwork contribute to its high value in the collectors’ market.
“The Mamas & the Papas” delivered a monumental record that not only charted remarkably but also left an enduring mark on the landscape of music with its signature sound intermixing folk rock, sunshine pop, and pop rock.
Upon its release, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” achieved significant commercial success. The album was propelled by the popularity of singles like “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreamin'”, which captured the essence of the 60s California vibe. “Monday, Monday” even clinched the No.1 spot on the US Chart. Moreover, the album itself was awarded a Gold Record Award, establishing The Mamas & the Papas as serious contenders in the music world.