It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when The Scorpions were just as scandalous as you can get. In 1976 the German rock band released “Virgin Killer,” an album that celebrates sex, drugs, and violence all under the guise of being an anti-establishment statement. Despite its sleazy subject matter and provocative cover (a naked, young girl), Virgin Killer went platinum and peaked at number 8 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart in 1987. We investigate what made this so controversial album so popular over 45 years later. The Virgin Killer cover was a scandal in its day, but now it looks tame compared to current music videos. Do you remember the first time you saw this album cover and what your initial reaction was?
The image is shocking even today, but in 1976 it caused a lot of controversies. The Scorpions were banned from performing at some clubs, and the album was banned in several countries. Because of this, the band’s label placed stickers on future copies explaining that it was an anti-sex-crime statement. The image itself has been seen as symbolic, or representative of “decadent Western sexual mores.” The album was banned in the United Kingdom and Norway, and the record company in Norway actually had to pay out $50,000 in damages after a woman sued them for using her picture without permission. The Scorpions received death threats and there even was a murder threat against Rudolf Schenker. In fact, when the band played a concert in London, a man tried to stab Schenker through the heart with an ice pick.
When asked about his image’s controversial nature, Schenker responded by saying “I’m not trying to look like a transvestite or shock people.” But you have to admit that this is one of the most shocking album covers ever…so it had to have been a purposeful move, right? This album was released right in the middle of the glam metal era, which you could argue is barely distinguishable from punk rock anyway. If you’re not familiar with the term glam metal, think of bands like Poison, Winger, Cinderella, and Mötley Crüe. This genre of rock music focuses on the flamboyant image and overt sexuality of its performers. The Scorpions were one of the first bands to use this style, but by 1976 it was already starting to get stale in Germany. They decided at that point that they needed a bit of controversy to bring themselves back into the limelight and make them stand out from their peers.
Rock critics have also credited the Scorpions with starting the “hair metal” trend which has become more and more popular with time. The whole premise of the album was controversial, as well. The lyrics were graphic, and the song “Virgin Killer” actually warns about the dangers of young teenage sexuality. These themes were more likely to be found in punk music at this point in history. Another song on the album, “He’s A Woman–She’s A Man,” is about a transvestite who wants to murder his father. Despite all of this controversy, this album turned out to be a huge success for The Scorpions. It was their first time topping the charts in Germany and went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide. The artwork of this album was done by H. R. Giger, who is best known for his movie work on “Alien” and “Species,” but also created album art for AC/DC (“Back in Black” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”), Emerson Lake and Palmer (“Brain Salad Surgery”), and many more.
Because of the controversy surrounding this album, today it’s revered as a classic in many countries, including Germany. It was remastered in 2017 with bonus live tracks. The track “Virgin Killer” is considered one of the band’s best songs ever recorded. In fact, in 2014 the band’s record label released a special edition of the 1976 album with the original artwork on the front newly remastered. The album is also known for its controversial parent-baiting cover and even won a “Best Album Package” Grammy in 1977. So how did it win such a prestigious award if it was so offensive, to begin with? Despite all of the protests surrounding it, Virgin Killer was well-received by critics and fans alike. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine even put it on their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. When you look back at music history from this point in time, you can see why this album was so shocking…but it’s still considered a great album to this day. So is it just the controversy that makes us remember it fondly?
The band was actually going for controversy by making such a graphic cover, but there is also something to be said about the artistry of the album itself. Rock critic Martin Popoff, who included “Virgin Killer” on his list of “25 Heavy Metal Albums from the Seventies that Changed Our World,” called Giger a “master of erotic horror.” He also called the cover iconic and refers to The Scorpions as “master manipulators of fashion” for finishing off their career as glam metal pioneers. Though the artwork was controversial in its day, it’s now one of the most iconic album covers of all time, as well as a stunning piece of art. If that’s not enough to make you want to listen to this album, then we don’t know what will.
The song itself was written by the band’s lead singer, Klaus Meine. Here’s what he had to say about the message behind their lyrics: “During that time, Virgin Killer became a big success in Germany and got us on the cover of many magazines. Everybody chased us and wanted us as an opening act to bring lots of fans into their place. And we grew too fast for our own good, we lost our roots…we lost it all…because nobody could stop us anymore…Everybody just followed you because you were so successful.” The album features tons of musicians, including Klaus Dinger (ex-Neu), guitarist Rudolf Schenker, rhythm guitarist Rudolph Schenker, Tom “Toms” Beck, drummer Jurgen Rosenthal and bassist Francis Buchholz. At the time of the album’s release, The Scorpions were at the top of their game and have been considered one of the best hard rock bands ever since. Their influence on the music industry around the world is still going on today. Because this classic album is now more than four decades old, people are still discovering it for themselves and adding their own thoughts to all of this controversy.