Album Cover Art Wednesday: Brain Salad Surgery

ELP in their prime were bombastic, over the top, and pretentious. My younger self loved it but their music hasn't held up very well. I cringe now when I think of their version of Pictures At An Exhibition but you gotta give Keith Emerson credit for chutzpah. Brain Salad Surgery was their masterpiece and it's still eminently listenable.

Cover artist HR Giger is best known for his work on Alien. He died recently at the age of 74. The story of his work with ELP is a classic. Here's Giger's own account from his web site:

It was then that I received the news, from my friend H.H. Kunz, and from Gustav Zumsteg, who was then the Swiss manager of ELP, that ELP was interested in having a record cover done by me and that the group would be playing in two days at the Hallen Stadion. On this occasion an expert opinion about the design could be given. This was already my second contract for an album cover, and I began with enthusiasm on the work.

The title of the album was supposed to be Whip Some Skull On Ya

Translated it means fellatio and the obvious thing was to combine lips, penis and skulls. The graphic artist for ELP had the idea that the cover should be able to be opened up like a gate; not a good idea, as would later become apparent when they were stacked. This same graphic artist wanted to decorate himself in false feathers, in that he replaced my name with his as design-creator on the album. I was, at the time, very offended. I forgave him, however, since shortly thereafter he lost his life in an auto accident.

Back to the contract. Because I was, at this time, working on the aforementioned triptych, those elements flowed into the picture. The wished-for duplicate picture was created, as it were, overnight.

After the concert, Keith Emerson came with Zumsteg and Kunz. I was terribly excited, as I had never stood directly across from a pop-star, and the house, as it happened, was also full of people. Lake, Palmer and a photojournalist arrived later. I was ceremoniously showered with compliments on my work. Nevertheless, Keith suddenly informed me that the title of the album was now going to be Brain Salad Surgery. I was dismayed until he explained to me that this expression, likewise, connoted fellatio. After the group posed for the photographer, with the air of connoisseurs and meaningful gestures, the hubbub died down.

A part of the printing was, as wished, metallic, in contrast to the one received here in Switzerland. This one was possibly printed in a shop that specialized in pornography. There they have a tendency, for the embellishment of the thing, to apply too much red. The print came out "cow-shit-pile-brown."

A classic classic rock story. Here are Giger's originals for the cover side-by-side:


It's time for some music that will make you want to stab the nearest keyboard, Keith Emerson style. Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends:


2 thoughts on “Album Cover Art Wednesday: Brain Salad Surgery

  1. Oh,ah….hmmmmmm. I was too young to grasp the visual play in this particular album cover when it was released. Yowza. Where’s Tipper Gore when you need her? Heh.

  2. Well, they also airbrushed out the Geiger penis before printing the album cover
    (who has an autographed pic of Emerson with the World’s Most Dangerous Synthesizer)

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