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Album Cover Deep Dives - Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix

Initial US Electric Ladyland Design

Tom |

Released two years before his death in 1970, ‘Electric Ladyland’ was only Jimi Hendrix’s third studio album of his career. It would go on to spend two weeks at the top spot on the US charts and provided Hendrix with fifty-third spot on the Rolling Stones’ Top 500 Albums of All Time. It wasn’t without its controversies, however, and when you look at its infamous album artwork, we're sure you’ll understand why.

Album artwork plays a significant role in the music industry, serving as a visual representation of an artist's creative vision and often becoming iconic in its own right.

One such album cover that continues to captivate audiences is Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland." The artwork's vibrant, psychedelic imagery has become synonymous with the album and its era. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating story behind the creation of the "Electric Ladyland" cover and the controversy it stirred, ultimately solidifying its place in rock music history.

Electric Ladyland banned cover
Electric Ladyland original Track Records label

To understand the origins of the "Electric Ladyland" artwork, we must first delve into Jimi Hendrix's creative process and his collaboration with artist Karl Ferris.

Hendrix envisioned the Electric Ladyland album cover as a visual representation of the music's psychedelic and experimental nature. Inspired by the burgeoning counterculture movement and the album's title track, which Hendrix described as an ode to a mythical utopia, he sought to convey a kaleidoscopic world that would immerse listeners.

Enter Karl Ferris, a British photographer known for his innovative use of colour and psychedelic aesthetics. Hendrix enlisted Ferris to bring his vision for Electric Ladyland to life. Ferris employed ground-breaking techniques, such as infrared photography and colour manipulation, to create ethereal and otherworldly images that would perfectly complement the music contained within the album.

Did you know?

First presses of the banned cover artwork have sold for up to £790 on Discogs

The "Electric Ladyland" UK release cover famously features a photograph of a group of naked women against a dark background. One of the models that was photographed as part of the shoot mentioned for an interview in the mid-1970s that they were “offered £5 if we went topless, and £10 if we were completely naked”. That’s either £110 or £220 respectively in today’s British economy.

At the time, Hendrix was signed to the UK label ‘Track Records’, and it was then-chief Chris Stamp who made the decision of sending their photographer, David Montgomery, to a local speak-easy in London to acquire the controversial shot for the upcoming album.

It turns out, however, that Hendrix had virtually no influence on how the Electric Ladyland cover art ended up - and that he in fact had previously requested that Linda Eastman (later known as Linda McCartney) provide the artwork.

US artwork design
Initial US label design

His initial vision had him and the other members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience sat with a group of children on the Central Park-based Alice in Wonderland statue.

Advances for this artwork were regularly ignored by Reprise Records (Hendrix’s U.S. label), and they settled on a much more tame design (shown above); depicting a red, yellow and black shot of Hendrix, mid-performance in London’s West End.

Hendrix was even known to have written an extensive letter to Reprise Records, apologising for failing to come up with his own design in the previously agreed-upon timeframe, and that anything other than this New York-inspired concept “wouldn’t really suit the style of the album”.

Upon the album's release in 1968, the UK release’s cover art immediately sparked controversy and faced many censorship challenges. The nudity depicted on the Electric Ladyland cover was deemed inappropriate and offensive by many distributors, leading to altered versions of the artwork in certain markets.

Shown below, one of these altered Electric Ladyland release versions came from Barclay Records of France (and the surrounding Benelux countries), where a profile shot of Hendrix was placed beneath the pointing finger of an outstretched arm.

Initial French cover design
Initial French label design

Hendrix offered his opinion on the infamous UK artwork on multiple occasions, even stating that “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”.

Despite the controversy and censorship it faced, the original UK Electric Ladyland cover has endured as an iconic piece of rock music history.

Its history has also contributed to its mystique and lasting impact. In retrospect, the controversy can be seen as having highlighted the clash between societal norms and the burgeoning artistic expressions of the time. It became a symbol of rebellion and a statement against the constraints of conservative ideals, further solidifying its place within the cultural zeitgeist.

The controversial nature of the artwork only added to its allure, cementing its status as an iconic and influential album cover. Decades later, the Electric Ladyland artwork continues to captivate audiences, serving as a visual representation of the ground-breaking music and cultural revolution that defined the majority of the 1960s.

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