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August 5, 2022

Found Photographs of the Rolling Stones at a Photo Shoot for One of Their Most Iconic Albums, ‘Sticky Fingers’

Sticky Fingers promotional photo session by Peter Webb in 1971.

In April 1971 the Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers, which is arguably the band’s greatest ever studio album, given that tracks such as “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” have become stone-cold rock classics. But equally memorable was the controversial LP cover – it showed a denim jeans-clad crotch, with what appeared to be a semi-erect penis underneath, and had a real, working zipper embedded on the cover cardboard. The zipper could then be pulled down to reveal another crotch underneath that was wearing white underwear.

The creation of the iconic album cover involved legendary pop art guru Andy Warhol and the design genius of US-born art director Craig Braun and his company, the Sound Packaging Corporation. Braun was known as a designer of sophisticated album packages, starting out with the 1967 Velvet Underground & Nico album cover, which was adorned with Warhol’s famous banana print – this could be peeled away from the album cover to reveal a suggestive pink banana underneath. Braun explains, “I started working with Andy [Warhol] about ’66 or ’67. Then I got involved with the Stones cover because their contract was up.”

What’s behind the zipper on this Rolling Stones cover – Sticky Fingers? A good story, of course.

At a party in 1970, Warhol met Stones singer Mick Jagger and suggested to him the idea of a real zipper on an album cover. The idea appealed to Jagger, but the group had already hired photographer Peter Webb for the cover of their new LP, Sticky Fingers. At the time the Stones wanted to get rid of their label Decca. They wanted to be in total control and set up their own label, Rolling Stones Records. Sticky Fingers would be the first album on that label.

Jagger discussed the idea of the zipper with the other band members. They were also enthusiastic. Photographer Webb was sidelined without knowing it. Warhol set to work and snapped a close-up shot of a well-endowed crotch in a pair of jeans. Or better still, as a model he probably used one of his protégés from his studio The Factory, Jed Johnson. On the day of the photo shoot, there was some discussion about whether Johnson was sufficiently aroused (which, according to Warhol, was necessary to get the desired visual effect). Graphic designer Craig Braun took the idea further with a genuine zipper. Brilliant idea, a real zipper, but Braun ran into all kinds of problems and cursed Warhol. For starters, the zipper damaged the grooves of the vinyl. Not really beneficial if you’re a record fan. Braun decided that an extra cardboard sleeve should be added. This became an image of writer Glenn O’Brien’s underpants who also used to frequent the Factory. It turned out that the record covers were dented by the zipper during distribution. Braun's solution? The zipper had to be pulled down enabling the tab of the zipper to fall into the center hole of the vinyl. The album was eventually released as a limited edition with the real zipper and later replaced by a faded photo of the jeans without a real zipper.

Between Warhol and Jagger things gradually got increasingly difficult. At first Warhol claimed that it was him who had made the famous logo with the tongue for the Rolling Stones, but this turned out to be untrue. It was actually the work of one of his ‘disciples’ from The Factory, John Pasch. And when he also claimed that he had had a sexual relationship with Mick Jagger, Jagger was done with him. "Warhol is a sick voyeur," Jagger described him in the 1972 music film Cocksucker Blues. The Stones also had their fair share of business conflicts themselves.

Photographer Peter Webb was surprised to see that Warhol had made the cover for Sticky Fingers and that only one of his photos had been used as an insert. That wasn’t the deal, according to Webb, and he filed a claim against the Rolling Stones. It took him thirty years before he was proven right and still earned some money from the album.

Disaster then strikes, Webbʼs negatives go missing soon after the 1971 shoot. Then, out of nowhere, they are discovered again after almost 40 years. The collection of photographs was only discovered after Webb’s brother-in-law, Bill Pierce, also a photographer, found the negatives in a dust-covered box in his attic. “After they were found I walked around with this huge smile on my face for days,” said Webb. “Who would have thought 40 years later the Rolling Stones would still be touring?”

(Photos by © Peter Webb)


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