The Rolling Stones' 15-date Zip Code Tour arrives at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Wednesday, and if you can forgive the septuagenarian rock legends for not being able to convincingly strut across the stage any longer, the giant gig promises to be one of the best shows of the summer.
Without a new album to promote, the Stones are primed to dig deep into their massive back catalog on this tour, the name of which references the iconic album art of recently reissued 1971 classic Sticky Fingers. For instance, that album's classic closer, "Moonlight Mile," was unearthed for the first time since 1999 at a gig last month in L.A.
Does Sticky Fingers' black-and-white photo of skin-tight jeans on a well-endowed male make it the greatest Rolling Stones sleeve of all-time? Perhaps there's an underdog angling for the top spot? Travel with us through the past half-century as we rank the artwork for all 22 of the group's studio albums from worst to first.
22. Steel Wheels, 1989 The Stones' 19th album was heralded as a return to form upon its release, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard charts in its first week. We hope that no one bought Steel Wheels based on the cover art alone, though, because it looks like a bad clip art job by a shifty tire shop. The sleeve for the band's last Top 40 hit to date, this record's "Rock and a Hard Place," sports a much more attractive design.
21. Bridges to Babylon, 1997 Just like the blue Assyrian lion adorning the cover of this record, the Stones were out in the desert musically for their second-most-recent LP. The Halloween-ish font is out of place and that giant cat inexplicable, and the busy slipcase the CD came in only made things worse. The band did much better with an animal theme on the 2012 compilation GRRR!.
20. Voodoo Lounge, 1994 Is that an anteater dressed up as a banana? That would be as reasonable as any other guess. The '90s weren't a great time for legacy acts and their album artwork (see Broken Arrow and Lucky Town) and Voodoo Lounge doesn't do much to help that. This remake of the cover using socks is pretty cool, though.
19. Tattoo You, 1981 This record is a compilation of '70s outtakes dressed up as a new studio album, so while the first part of this 1981 Keith Richards quote is accurate, the second half is a curious argument: "The covers are getting worse, but the music keeps getting better."
18. Aftermath, 1966 Most of the simple band portraits that adorned the Stones' early LPs still stand the test of time, but the maroon-tinted Aftermath cover isn't quite as artsy as it thinks it is. Plus, I once got docked a grade for hyphenating a word on my science project poster board, so it's only fair that the Stones get counted off for the same offense.
17. Emotional Rescue, 1980 The four shots on the cover of this album were achieved with a thermo camera, which turns heat emissions into images. It was a cool concept, but it didn't make for the most attractive album art.
16. Undercover, 1983 Undercover found the Stones trying a little too hard to fit in amongst the MTV generation, musically and artistically. The fact that you could peel off all those stickers on the original vinyl release made for a nice play on the title, though. Thirteen-year-olds across the world were surely disappointed that peeling off the triangle and rectangle in the middle only revealed other shapes.
15. A Bigger Bang, 2005 Artists sometimes go back to basics musically to regain long-lost fans, but on the Stones last studio effort, they turned back the clock 40 years in the art department. The straightforward cover for A Bigger Bang recalls the group's '60s album art in the best ways, but it's worth noting that the mirror image of the band doesn't match the shot above it.
14. Dirty Work, 1986 I'm in the vast minority in that I actually like the Dirty Work art. Pitchfork included this picture in its "Worst Record Covers of All-Time" list in 2005, saying that "No cover goes so far to completely tarnish the reputation of a Valhalla-ensconced band." The placement of Keith Richards' knee in relation to Mick Jagger's groin perfectly illustrates the way The Glimmer Twins felt about each other in the '80s.
13. The Rolling Stones, 1964 Twenty-two years and 1 million miles away from Dirty Work, the no-frills cover of the Stones' debut release finds the twenty-something lads lined up in a fashion that certainly inspired the "Flying V" from The Mighty Ducks. I'll take Bill Wyman as my lead puck-handler any day.
12. Goats Head Soup, 1973 This sleeve marked the first time that any Stone appeared on the cover without all his bandmates. The ever-androgynous Jagger is here by himself, foreshadowing the solo career he'd embark on in the '80s.
11. Beggars Banquet, 1968 The elegant, cursive-laden cover requesting listeners' presence at the Beggars Banquet wasn't what the band wanted to adorn the album that gave us "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Street Fighting Man." No, they wanted the much-less inviting image of a graffitied bathroom, but the record company refused to release it as such. The Stones got their wish in 2002, when it was re-issued with the no-longer-controversial "toilet" cover.
10. It's Only Rock 'N Roll, 1974 This album art may appear too busy in your iTunes library, so you almost need a posterized version to fully appreciate this illustration. The band is shown walking down a staircase like true rock 'n' roll stars (Jagger is wearing a blazer with nothing underneath, while Mick Taylor looks like a Howard Hughes wannabe), lovingly gazed upon by 100 women.
9. Exile on Main St., 1972 The cover for the Stones' double album looks better than it sounds: a collection of photos of circus freaks. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a collage, but rather an actual picture taken by photographer Robert Frank in 1950. Most notable, of course, is the guy with three round objects stuffed into his mouth.
8. Some Girls, 1978 This record's silly artwork, designed as a lingerie ad featuring the Stones in drag and the likenesses of several celebrities, landed the band in hot water with Farrah Fawcett, Lucille Ball, and the estate of Marilyn Monroe, among others. The face of every celebrity, save for George Harrison, was removed on future editions.
7. The Rolling Stones No. 2, 1965 Like its predecessor, the Stones' sophomore release featured way more covers than original compositions. The album's artwork is also similar to that of the debut in its simplicity - just five musicians, dressed for a wedding and posing in a poorly lit room.
6. Let It Bleed, 1969 The Stones are often literal with their album artwork, so it's no surprise that this sleeve was made while the record was still called Automatic Changer. The needle is playing the Let It Bleed vinyl, while a pizza, tire, and cake are cued up next.
5. Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967 The Stones' psychedelic album found them at their most Spinal Tap - self-indulgent, in and out of jail and chasing pop music trends. The album's cover reflects this, clearly aping the artwork for The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had been released just six months prior. As with the best song here, "She's a Rainbow," it's hard to tell how serious they are. That doesn't mean it's not a classic, though.
4. Out of Our Heads, 1965 The classic cover for the Stones' third album finds the quintet squeezed into the frame between two dumpsters, likely full of Steel Wheels and Bridges to Babylon sleeves. It's the band's first album art to include either the band's name or the title of the record, which undoubtedly helped sales.
3. Between the Buttons, 1967 The photograph that adorns the front of the first great Stones album is one of the best ever captured of the group. Jagger looks like he's freezing, Wyman gives the camera a characteristic blank stare and Charlie Watts epitomizes effortless cool. It's warped at the edges, adding an air of mystery to the iconic shot.
2. Sticky Fingers, 1971 A much better experiment with interactive album art than Undercover 12 years later, the original pressing of Sticky Fingers features a functional zipper and belt buckle. VH1 named it the best album cover of all-time in 2003, but it's not quite as great as ...
1. Black and Blue, 1976 How ironic that the least essential of the Stones' '70s studio efforts features their greatest album artwork. One look at the cover and you might wonder why they left off two-fifths of the band and one-third of Jagger's face, but unfolding the sleeve reveals a landscape shot of the whole band. Jagger out-blank-stares Wyman while showing off those pouty lips, a mischevious-looking and (probably) drugged-out Richards whispers something in the singer's ear as new recruit Ron Wood stares him down and the clear skies and crystal waters of Florida's Sanibel Island create the bluest shade of blue you've ever seen.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS