Why Black Sabbath’s ‘Born Again’ Cover Art Was Deliberately Awful

Sven Mandel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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In the history of heavy metal album covers, nothing is more divisive than the art for Black Sabbath’s Born Again.

Adorned with a weird orange devil-baby on a sky-blue background, the visual component of the 1983 album demands just as much of an opinion as the as the music contained therein.

Born Again and the subsequent comedy of errors that happened during its touring cycle have become a thing of legend. While the music and concert stage props have been discussed ad-nauseum, the weird devil baby on the cover of the album is more of a mystery.

In 2004, a user on the black-sabbath.com website named Joe brought up the similarities between the cover of Born Again and Depeche Mode’s “New Life” single. Joe’s curiosity led to a correspondence with Steve Joule, designer of the infamous Born Again artwork.

Hold on tight, because Steve Joule has one hell of a story:

“OK let’s put this baby to rest once and for all. The Black Sabbath ‘Born Again’ album sleeve was designed under extraordinary circumstances; basically what had happened was that Sharon and Ozzy had split very acrimoniously from her father’s (Don Arden) management and record label. He subsequently decided that he would wreak his revenge by making Black Sabbath (whom he managed) the best heavy metal band in the world, which, of course they are but back then in the early ’80’s they weren’t quite the International megastars that they had been in the ’70’s.

“His plans included recruiting Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, getting Bill Ward back in on drums and stealing as many of Sharon and Ozzy’s team as possible and as I was designing Ozzy’s sleeves at the time I, of course, got asked to submit some rough designs. As I didn’t want to lose my gig with the Osbourne’s I thought the best thing to do would be to put some ridiculous and obvious designs down on paper, submit them and then get the beers in with the rejection fee, but oh no, life ain’t that easy.

“In all I think there were four rough ideas that were given to the management and band to peruse (unfortunately I no longer have the roughs as I would love to see just how bad the other three were as sadly my booze and drug-addled brain no longer remembers that far back), anyway one of the ideas was of course the baby and the first image of a baby that I found was from the front cover of a 1968 magazine called ‘Mind Alive’ that my parents have bought me as a child in order to further my education, so, in reality, I say blame my parents for the whole sorry mess. I then took some black and white photocopies of the image (the picture is credited to ‘Rizzoli Press’) that I overexposed, stuck the horns, nails, fangs into the equation, used the most outrageous color combination that acid could buy, bastardized a bit of the Olde English typeface and sat back, shook my head and chuckled.

“The story goes that at the meeting Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were present but no Ian Gillan or Bill Ward. Tony loved it and Geezer, so I’m reliably informed, looked at it and in his best Brummie accent said, “It’s shit. but it’s fucking great!” Don not only loved it but had already decided that a Born Again baby costume was to be made for a suitable midget who was going to wear it and be part of the now infamous ‘Born Again Tour’. So suddenly I find myself having to do the bloody thing.

“I was also offered a ridiculous amount of money (about twice as much as I was being paid for an Ozzy sleeve design) if I could deliver finished artwork for front, back and inner sleeve by a certain date. As the dreaded day drew nearer and nearer I kept putting off doing it again and again until finally the day before I sprang into action with the help of a neighbor, (Steve ‘Fingers’ Barrett) a bottle of Jack Daniels and the filthiest speed that money could buy on the streets of South East London and we bashed the whole thing out in a night, including hand lettering all the lyrics, delivered it the next day whereupon I received my financial reward. But that wasn’t the end of it, oh no, when Gillan finally got to see a finished sleeve he hated it with a vengeance and hence the now famous quote “I looked at the cover and puked!” Not wanting to sound bitchy but over the years I’ve said the same thing about most of Gillan’s album sleeves. He also allegedly threw a box of 25 copies of the album out of his window. Gillan might have hated it but Max Cavelera (Sepultura, Soulfly) and Glen Benton (Deicide) have both gone on record saying that it is their favorite album sleeve.

“Another story that I’ve heard told about the sleeve, and this might just be evil, malicious gossip, but as soon as the first set of printers proofs were delivered to the Jet offices one was put on a bike and sent to Sharon to piss her off as she was in hospital having her and Ozzy’s firstborn Aimee and ever since the baby on the cover has been known as Aimee, fact or lie. you decide. And there you have it I can honestly put my hand on me old John Thomas and say that Depeche Mode played no part in it’s creation, in fact the first time that I saw the Depeche sleeve was when a friend of mine emailed the black-sabbath.com address to me and I took a look. And that my friend is the story of the Black Sabbath ‘Born Again’ sleeve as told by Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule. Thank you and good night!”

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