What was it about the cover to The Slits 1979 debut album “Cut” that managed to upset so many people? Why were they naked? And what was the story behind it?
The Slits were already a Palmolive short when they made the album “Cut”, which is why the still controversial cover features just three members of the band. Ari, Viv and Tessa.
Shot by NME staff photographer Pennie Smith, the cover shows the three remaining members naked but for token loin cloths, and a generous coating of Surrey mud.
Some saw the cover as a sell out; a tit fest, a naked glamour shoot dressed up as something more substantial. On the other hand, it was also argued that if you could see beyond the fact that they were naked, then the mud made them appear more warrior-like and amazonian. The band’s previous behaviour embraced both rule-breaking, controversy, and attention seeking – so which was it?
Shot in the garden of Ridge Farm recording studio in Surrey, where the album was being made, Ari explained the idea behind the shoot in a 2004 interview with Fred Mills for Blurt magazine:
“We were supposed to have an album cover [idea] but we didn’t think of anything. They were coming to take pictures, and we were in the country and there was lots of mud everywhere. We were feeling kind of tribal, so – ‘Fuck it! Let’s just roll around in the mud!’”
And Viv Albertine, in an interview with Caroline Sullivan in 2013, says “The album cover was shot in the rose garden. We wanted a warrior stance, to be a tribe. We were egging each other on, and the next thing you know we were sitting in the mud, smearing it over each other. We knew, since we had no clothes on, that we had to look confrontational and hard. We didn’t want to be inviting the male gaze.”
The Slits had, of course, insisted on complete creative control with their record company Island, and that also included the sleeve art.
Ari Up “ We wouldn’t have been able to have the Cut album cover if we didn’t have that. We got a real fight with that cover. The A&R people didn’t want it”.
And asked by Will Parkhouse for The Quietus in 2009 what they thought of the cover in hindsight:
Ari Up: I think it was really, really the right thing. It expresses the way we still are, the way we feel, the way we sound and the way we visualise life.
Tessa Pollitt: It could be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I like that about lyrics as well – it’s going to get misunderstood, but then some people are going to get it. It has ambiguity.
Ari Up: I like in the way that it offended the feminist rights women, for instance. We were just doing a thing spontaneously, naturally.
To think that three naked 20 year old girls were never going to attract the “male gaze” might have been naive, but an LP cover that still generates arguments nearly 40 years later, you have to admit, that IS very Punk Rock.