From the Nirvana baby to U2's Boy
Will Butler
16:59 27th July 2015

The strangest type of fame is album cover fame. Not the kind of fame for designing or photographing an iconic record cover, but being a widely unknown face that exists in countless people's homes. 

From the mysterious smoking man on the Arctic Monkeys' debut to the Nirvana baby, these are faces we have engrained into our brains but don't really know, who are these people? how did they end up on an album cover? and what are they doing now? Fear not friends, Gigwise is here to answer all your queries.

Here are 15 album covers and the stories behind the people on them.

  • Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not: The most infamous unknown face in modern music, the smoking gentleman probably had no idea he'd become an icon for noughties Indie when that photo was taken. 19-year-old friend of the band, Chris McClure was given money for a night out in exchange for this photo. These days, McClure fronts the Sheffield band The Violet May.

  • Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dreams: There is a lot of confusion around this album cover. The image of two girls pressed together has been confirmed to have been taken specifically for the 1993 album so when Billy Corgan tweeted that the girl was the band's bassist Nicole Fiorentino it would mean she would have been 14 when the picture was taken - it just didn't add up. After a rigorous search, the girl on the left was never found but the other was named as designer and model, Ali Laenger.

  • Nirvana - Nevermind: Spencer Elden was only 3 months old when his photographer father tossed him into a swimming pool for the sake of artwork. Bad parenting? Sure, but this photo was significant enough to become synonymous with a whole era of music. Ad Spencer turned out alright, the 24 year old is now a street artist and student at the Art Center College of Design in California.

  • Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly: Maybe the best important record of the last 15 years, the third full-length from the Compton rapper has a cover that summarises the profundity of the whole record briefly but adequately. In an interview, K.Dot explains that the group in front of the White House were people from his neighbourhood, friends and family, standing above a prostrated judge, representative of these Compton inhabitants rising above society's negative perceptions and constraints.

  • Blink-182 - Enema of the State: The nurse that made many teenage boys feel like men in the late 90s was in fact Penthouse model Janine Lindemulder. She also featured in the band's video for 'What's My Age Again?'. Since then Janine has married and divorced Jesse James and been in and out of prison for tax evasion.

  • Vampire Weekend - Contra: The New-York found this old Polaroid from 1983 in the possession of photographer Tom Brody. The lady in the yellow polo is model Ann Kirsten Kennis who appeared in a number of L’Oréal adverts back in the day. More recently, 53 year old Kennis sued Vampire Weekend and the photographer for $2 million for using the image without her permission.

  • U2 - War: Peter Rowen modelled for both U2 albums, Boy and War. He is the son of Bono's friend whom the frontman would often visit, the picture was taken in exchange for Mars bars. These days, 38-year-old Rowen is a professional photographer in Dublin. He's told stories of how the covers got him phone calls from girls all over the world and how he can't go to a U2 concert without being recognised in the crowd.

  • Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine: The front cover shows a negative shot of buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc who immolated himself in 1963 to protest a prohibition installed against the buddhist flag. There is no greater image to represent standing up for one's own beliefs and, when you put all the noise and dreadlocks aside, that's the crux of Rage's self-titled record.

  • Notorious B.I.G - Ready To Die: Originally thought to be Biggie himself, the child on the front of the seminal 1994 release was in fact a model from an agency who was paid $150 for two hours work. The boy is now a man called Keithroy Yearwood who lives in the Bronx. He gave up telling people he was the star baby because noone believed him.

  • Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan: A picture of Bob Dylan and his then-muse Suze Rotolo. Rotolo was the songwriter's girlfriend between 1961 and 1964. The relationship crumbled as Dylan's fame grew in the mid-60s. Rotolo was the inspiration behind some of the great Dylan love songs like "Tomorrow Is a Long Time", "One Too Many Mornings", and "Boots of Spanish Leather"

  • Dinosaur Jr - Green Mind: The whereabouts of the smoking girl off of this iconic piece of grunge remains unknown. The cover's photographer, Joseph Szabo, writes of the day he took the photo "One day as I was photographing at Jones Beach (NY) I saw "Priscilla" in front of me and my immediate reaction was to make a photo(s) before the moment changed. I took a few photos, looked down and when I looked up she was gone!"

  • DJ Shadow - Endtroducing: DJ Shadow's masterpiece shows Solesides members Chiefs Xcel and Lyrics Born rifling through crates in a record shop in California. Shadow was also part of the Solesides label which became Quannum Projects and is still active today.

  • Mogwai - Come On Die Young: Inspired by the Captain Howdy / Pazuzu demon from The Exorcist, the scary face that fronts the second release from the Scottish post-rockers is in fact their very own bassist, Dominic Aitchison.

  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away: The fifteenth album from Nick Cave, Push The Sky away features a cover image of Cave pushing open a window shutter to illuminate his naked wife, Susie Bick. The cover shot was taken in the couple's own bedroom.

  • Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron: The standard cover of Q's third full-length features a picture of his daughter, Joy, the motivation behind all of the west-coast rapper's work - "The oxymoron in this album is that I'm doing all this bad to do good for my daughter". She also happens to be the first voice you hear on the entire record, who said gangsta-rap didn't have a heart?


Photo: Artwork