The Slits – THAT cover…

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. 500

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.


5 thoughts on “The Slits – THAT cover…

  1. I am born 62 like Ari and I was a young punk like she was.The time I started beeing interessted in girls started with the Slits.On the cut-cover, mud smeared they were the most beautiful female human beeings on earth.
    I diged that tribal feel and felt the deep groove of art they left in my consciousness.
    They truly were ahead of their time.
    Because I was very much into the Pistols and the Dammned, I didn’t liked the music on the spot but after a while I could deal with the reggea influence and I found my way into the whole album.
    And I learned a few days ago that Ari passed away. That was really sad news and maybe this made me write a comment here.
    The Slits they were something secial. I will not forget them. Cheers

  2. It came out, it was a great album and was widely loved. There was no drama. Where’s the mentions of Budgie and Dennis Bovell? And what’s ‘male gaze’ inferring? Only the internet manages to extract any spontaneity or mystery away from music… and ironically reduces the pic in question here to a pixellated mess in process I notice.

    1. Hi Bob, thanks for your comments. All the posts here are just our take on events, and some of them are subjective. We didn’t do a poll to find out if the Cut album artwork was in any way controversial, we just wrote about how we experienced it. What’s a blog for if you can’t write about things the way you see them? There’s no mention of Budgie or Dennis Bovell here, simply because they didn’t feature on the cover, it’s a post about the artwork not the music within. We don’t dispute that their contribution to the album was significant, neither do we dispute that the album was widely loved. The phrase “male gaze” is taken from a quote by Slits guitarist Viv Albertine so you could take the exact meaning up with her! We understand that phrase to mean the way men look at women when they find them attractive or sexual, and what the Slits were doing was challenging that.

  3. I ordered the CD of “Cut” as soon as it was issued in 1990, from a catalog, since I was somewhat familiar with the band from college radio ca. 1980-81. I loved their cover of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” from a punk covers compilation I’d owned since 1981. I had never seen the cover until it arrived in the mail. It was certainly surprising, and I vacillate over whether it’s subversive or exploitative. It seems right on the razor’s edge. Maybe the coating of mud was done to provide cognitive dissonance?

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