Classic Album Covers : Licensed To Ill - Beastie Boys

Licensed to Ill was the debut album by the Beastie Boys, released in 1986

This is a really shocking cover, not because of 9/11 (which, obviously, happened 15 years after the album was released), but because private jets and fatal plane crashes are the heads and tails of rock ‘n’ roll’s fateful coin. Think Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Denver, Ricky Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan to name but a few

The Beastie Boys tapped into this idea with a gatefold sleeve whose glamorous  front unfolds to a charred and smoking back.

Producer Rick Rubin said the idea came from reading about Led Zeppelin’s  luxurious private jet, The Starship (which had a long bar, video screens, plush chairs, bedrooms with fake fireplaces, showers and even an organ). “The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I  wanted us to have a Beastie Boys’ jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow  distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger-than-life rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle,  the excesses and the destruction.”

Hence the front cover looks safe enough - the tail plane of a luxury executive rock n’ roll jet - but when the cover is viewed as a whole, the plane has crashed into a mountain

Steve Byram, an art director at CBS, came up with the concept. he contacted an old school friend called David Gamboli, who had taken teh unlikely name of World B. Omes, who specialised in collage. Omes assembled the Beastie Boys jet from photographic  elements,  then drew over and hand-colored it with water soluble crayons.


- The plane’s identification number on the tail – 3MTA3 – reads “Eat Me” if you hold the cover up to a mirror

- According to Rick Rubin, if you look at the cover sideways, it looks like a penis with pubic hair

- The Beastie Boys logo was designed by Stacey Drummond, anothe art director at CBS. It is meant to resemble the Harley-Davidson logo

- American Airlines wrote to record company Def Jam complaining that they felt the plane looked uncannily like one of theirs. They took no further action

Perhaps the last word should belong to Steve Byram: “I think it’s really cool, and it did realise my intention to reflect the screwed-up persona of the band.”


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March 22, 2012

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