Packaging – Future Legend

by Terence P. Keegan / Medialine News

July 2001

It’s hardly noticeable on the cover illustration of the Virgin CD reissue of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, where Bowie is depicted as the naked half-dog, half-man star of a post-apocalyptic Coney Island-style freakshow. A smaller reproduction of the original vinyl gatefold illustration, the CD cover essentially splits the upper man half and the lower dog half at the booklet’s fold, so that the animal’s nether regions are only visible upon opening of the jewel case.

But in 1974, the mutant Bowie was emasculated with an airbrush by worried RCA execs on the eve of Diamond Dogs’ release to retailers, and the genitals never made it onto the covers of later vinyl pressings.

“It’s not the same as the 12-inch,” deadpans Richard Fiore, when asked to compare the CD reissue with the vinyl edition as it was originally envisioned. Fiore was RCA’s production manager throughout the ’70s, and recalled the Diamond Dogs incident for Medialine recently. The cover painting came from Guy Peellaert, a Belgian artist who at the time had published a book of fantastic portraits of contemporary rock stars titled Rock Dreams, and who went on to design a cover for The Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll. The Diamond Dogs painting captures the decadent, glam-freak element Bowie had become known for in his live appearances and previous recorded work, and fuses it with an Orwellian pollution and gloom (resonating with album songs such as “1984” and “Big Brother”).

AGI completed manufacture of the gatefold sleeve, which had full-color printing on both sides. Fiore said that upon his receipt of the test cover, he noticed the dog-man’s genitals resting casually on its thigh, and placed a call to RCA label management to simply notify them of the cover’s content and ask their opinion. “Go with it” was the management’s reply, according to Fiore, who now serves as BMG Direct’s senior director of production.

While Fiore notes that he had no personal objections to the material, the radio and retail climate was highly conservative; the Beatles’ infamous “butcher cover” fiasco of 1966 had made every label think twice about what radio stations and record retailers would and would not except.

Accordingly, RCA eventually reconsidered its decision to “go with the genitals” – but not before ordering a complete run of anatomically correct covers for Diamond Dogs’ first pressing. Bowie himself had signed off on the cover, Fiore said, and the records were in the middle of being pressed when he received the call from management directing him to scrap the covers and replace them with a run of new covers that obscure the penis in airbrushed shadow.

For his records, Fiore kept possession of the test package, complete with his preproduction notes. Apparently, several other employees saved a few of the Dogs covers from being destroyed as well.

While the incident cost RCA thousands of dollars in scrapped LP sleeves, the few surviving original covers fetch thousands today, sans record, amongst vinyl collectors. Copies are so scarce that specialty shops were, until recently, likely to dismiss the original cover’s existence as rumor.

Diamond Dogs is one of Bowie’s most popular and acclaimed albums, containing the hit title track single as well as “Rebel Rebel.” It peaked at No. 1 in the U.K. and remained on the country’s chart for 32 weeks; in the U.S., it reached No. 25 and stayed on the chart for 10 weeks. In its recent review of top album covers, Q magazine interviewed both Bowie and Peellaert about their memories of the cover. “The only problem with the project is that they removed the prick,” Peellaert commented. “I thought it was very sad.”

Bowie however told Q that his concession to the airbrushing was indeed based on the fact that he, like RCA, believed “no record store would carry it” with the genitals intact. “I let them do a reprint rather than lose the album completely.”

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