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That Time John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Controversial ‘Two Virgins’ Album Was Seized by Police

John Lennon Two Virgins Seized by Police
New York Daily News Archive, Getty Images

It’s arguably the most controversial album cover in rock ‘n’ roll history, and if authorities in New Jersey had their way, every last one of them would have been destroyed.

On Jan. 2, 1969, more than 30,000 copies of John Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins were seized by police at Newark Airport on the grounds that its cover photograph was pornographic.

The album, which had been released the previous November, featured a picture John and Yoko stark naked on the cover which, even by today’s looser standards, is still not necessarily the most effective way of getting product onto the shelves. As such, it was distributed in a plain brown wrapper with a cutout where the couple’s faces were. The photo — which you can see here in its “not safe for work” form — was taken in the basement of Ringo Starr‘s house, where Lennon was living with Yoko after leaving his first wife, Cynthia.

Lennon said of the photo, “We were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture, so I took it myself with a delayed-action shutter. The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy. If we can make society accept these kind of things without offense, without sniggering, then we shall be achieving our purpose.”

Two Virgins was the beginning of the avant-garde music that Lennon would dabble in throughout the rest of his career. Recorded at Lennon’s home studio in one night (May 19, 1968), it featured tape loops, feedback, sound effects and improvisations in a manner similar to Revolution 9, which the Beatles would begin recording nearly two weeks later. According to Lennon, the title stemmed from their belief that he and Yoko were “two innocents, lost in a world gone mad,” and that they made love for the first time in the morning after Two Virgins was recorded.

The record only reached No. 124 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

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