We know who wrote and performed the classic albums we love. Yet, when it comes to the people whose images grace their covers, little is known.
So, let’s dig a little into the history of who the people on album covers were, and where they are now.
The Cars – The Cars
The Cars‘ self titled debut album in 1978 featured a smiling woman gripping a steering wheel. The band members actually hated the cover, since their concept was rejected and replaced with this image. Guitarist Elliot Easton called the woman on the cover, “that big grinning face” and said he got “tired of that cover.”
But who exactly was this woman?
Her name was Natalia Medvedeva. She was a Russian model, actress, and singer who posed for Playboy. She later went on to marry Eduard Liminov, a controversial Bolshevik Revolutionary Leader. She herself was actively political, starting a daring appeal to end the siege on Russian parliament by Boris Yeltsin. She died at 44 in Moscow. Her time in L.A. is documented in her novel ‘Otel Kalifornia (Hotel California).
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
The fifth album cover (1973) was inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke novel, Childhood’s End. Originally the cover was a picture of a tennis racket, but the band thought the photographer was calling their music a ‘racket.’ So they fired him and had this cover made instead, in a photo shoot in Ireland. It was banned in parts of the Southern US, and sleeves were made to cover the children’s ‘exposed’ areas. The shoot took 10 days and only took place early in the mornings to get the lighting.
Who are the two children on the cover?
They are not anyone in the band’s children as some thought. They were UK siblings, Stefan and Samantha Gates. Stefan (who was 5 at the shoot) went on to be a BBC producer, an author of 6 novels, and a host of 14 shows in the UK including Cooking in the Danger Zone. He did a documentary called Stefan Gates’ Cover Story about the album cover for BBC. He revealed that he, unlike his sister, thought there was “something sinister” about the image, and never listened to the record! For the doc he finally listened, decades later. Apparently pleased that the music was in fact amazing, he said “a weight” had been lifted. Samantha is married with a daughter and lives in Cape Town, South Africa (Twitter profile below). And here’s Stefan in modern times doing what he loves, cooking.
Nirvana – Nevermind
Nevermind is an album that changed the industry when it was released in 1991. Kurt Cobain originally wanted a graphic birth image but this cover was insisted as the back-up plan. He and Dave Grohl were watching a documentary on water births when the idea was conceived. It also was inspired after the band observed reactions to Operation Desert Storm, and the cynical dissatisfaction with the world that Nirvana epitomized. It only took three shots to capture the image in a pool.
Who was the baby?
His name is Spencer Elden, and was the son of the photographer’s friend . Upverve.com reports his parents were only paid $200 for the picture. Elden later posed for Rolling Stone twice, recreating the iconic image, and earned $1000 for it those times. He is currently a sheet artist at a design college in Pasadena. According to spin.com, Spencer has since joked that he’s the world’s “biggest porn star” because so many people have seen him naked.
Van Halen – 1984
The band asked photographer Margo Nahas to create an image of four chrome women dancing. She declined, then brought this idea to them. It features a putti (naked cherub child, usually in Renaissance art) smoking a stolen cigarette. The band agreed to the image, but it created a bit of controversy. Like with Zeppelin’s album, their were special stickers created to cover up the cigarettes. It was also banned in parts of the UK.
Who was the baby?
It was not a baby photo of David Lee Roth, like some said it was. But it was a real child, not a painting. His name is Carter Helm. He was the son of the photographers friend, like Spencer Elden was. He was actually photographed holding a candy cigarette. He is currently in his late 30’s, lives in San Francisco and works as a marine insurance writer. He tells NME.com of his now iconic baby photo;
“It felt, and still feels pretty damn cool. But it did feel just a little weird when I realized that my image is potentially in the homes of millions of people.” – Helm
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Mardi Gras
Mari Gras (1972) was the seventh and final album made before CCR disbanded. Often called “Fogerty’s Revenge,” mocking the widely mixed reviews, the album was not received well by John Fogerty either. He said to Rolling Stone that as far as he was concerned, “Creedence made six albums.” Ouch.
But who was the strange girl on the cover?
Popspot.com was the only source that had a clue into who the little girl was. They claim, “Jake Rohrer, associate of the band, is quoted in Hank Rordowitz’s book Bad Moon Rising, as saying that the young girl on the cover holding a tambourine, was his mother’s “great aunt or “grandmother.” His sister, Mary Walsh, who also worked for the group, colorized the girl from an old family picture she developed in her darkroom.”
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
The concept of this 1975 album cover was industry related. The idea that one person in business transactions always wind up ‘getting burned’ inspired the picture of one business man shaking hands with another business man on fire. Did they actually light him on fire? Yes. The man wore a flame retardant suit, hood and wig, with the business suit on top. They had to switch places because the wind was blowing the flames into the man’s face, burning off his eyebrows and moustache. The band reportedly loved the final album so much they burst into applause when it was revealed at a meeting.
Who were the business men?
They’re names are Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers. They were actually professional stuntmen hired for the shoot. Ronnie (man on fire) was a very famous stuntman for decades and performed in the films Thelma and Louise, Spartacus, The Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon, and Star Trek: First Contact. In 2004, Rondell won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Stunt Awards. He is in his 70’s now, and is a father of two. For a full list of his impressive credits, check out his profile on IMDB. The video below profiles his career, and shows his love of stunt-work.
U2 – Boy
The same little boy appears on various U2 albums, but his most famous appearance is on U2’s debut 1980 album. The album’s concept was the transition from adolescence to manhood. The song “I Will Follow” is about the death of Bono‘s mother during that transitional time in his own life. Again, however, the image of a seemingly naked child was controversial in some regions.
Who is the boy?
His name is Peter Rowen, the son of Bono’s friend. He was also featured on Three, War and The Best of 1980-1990 among others. He is nearly 40 now and lives in Dublin with his daughter. His job? Interestingly enough, he is a photographer. Here is an interview with him at age 37, where he recalls Bono writing “Stay a child” on his copy of the album. “Good advice” he says. And The Irish Independent reported in 2010 that the “little boy” would be “turning the camera” on U2, touring with them as a photographer.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
This album came out during the aftermath or Nevermind (1993), and was expected to be similar in it’s sound. Billy Corgan actually admitted that at the time he was planning his own suicide, but thankfully didn’t go through with it. He was emotionally exhausted by the time the album was completed late and over budget. It actually lived up to the hype, and is still considered one of the greatest new rock albums ever. Corgan stepped in and made the album booklet himself, with pictures of strangers and his family.
So who were the two girls?
First of all they were not conjoined twins. Years later Corgan reached out online trying to find the “siamese dream girls.” Later he posted a strange piece of information: “Just found out the weirdest news: our bass player Nicole just admitted she is one of the girls on the cover of Siamese Dream.” One of their real names have since been revealed as Ali Laenger. Corgan finally met one of the girls, Ali, and TMZ relesed the photo. Is bassist Nicole Fiorentino the other ‘twin?’ It’s seemingly unlikely, based on her age. Mystery still surrounds the identity of the second girl.