Top 10 Album Covers Featuring Motorcycles

Jon Langston
by Jon Langston

Motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll. Ever since The King threw his leg over his ’56 Harley-Davidson and the Black Rebels rolled into Carbonville, the combination of motorcycles and rock have been as combustible as gas and spark.

Early moto-rock lived for the most part on the fringes of pop music, in the pomped-up rockabilly of guys like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. In the ’60s, clean-cut Beach Boy-knockoff bands such as The Kickstands and The Hondells flirted with the mainstream using a tasty blend of surf rock and motorsickle lyrics on tracks like “ Death Valley Run.” Parents, for some reason, didn’t find these pretty harmonies and catchy melodies about drag racing and outrunning cops nearly as offensive as the pretty harmonies and catchy melodies sung by British lads in daring moptops. “Da Do Run Run” was the theme of the day; motorcycles and rock cruised alongside Gidget and Frankie Avalon, and life was all Incense and Peppermints.

Then, as everybody knows, the stupid hippies went and screwed everything up.

Despite their roots in hot rod culture, choppers – lionized in films like Born Losers, The Wild Angels and, of course, Easy Rider – became an unwitting icon of the Woodstock generation. But even by the time these counterculture flicks successfully frightened the living crap out of the establishment and made the chopper a symbol of everything wrong with America, FM radio had begun to nudge the bubblegum out of rock ‘n’ roll. Long-playing “record albums” – large, flat discs made of “vinyl” that one would spin on a “record player” – allowed musicians to pop the three-minute bubble and explore darker, more adult themes like sex, drugs and civil rights. Songs (and hair) got longer and dirtier, and rock (and bikes) got louder and faster.

Vietnam, equal rights, peace and love – rock ‘n’ roll was the soundtrack to an era in discord, and Captain America and his stars-and-stripes motif embodied the authority-questioning, pot-smoking hippie culture parents hated. “Build Me Up, Buttercup” had segued into “Born to be Wild,” and by the time the ’70s arrived, everything was all In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Ever since, motorcycles have ridden on the edge of the mainstream. It’s not hard to understand the bond: cool, sleek, hard and fast, the two art forms share many of the same qualities. Danger. Rebellion. Leather. Hell, volume – everyone knows, the louder they are, the better both sound. They’ve got a lot in common, motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll, and as a result they’re forever inextricable. Mods and rockers, biker gangs and heavy metal, Prince and Purple Rain – well, you get the picture.

Submitted for your approval: The top 10 motorcycle-related rock ‘n’ roll album covers. We can’t wait to read your comments; bonus points for identifying the bikes.

#10 – Bon Jovi, Lay Your Hands On Me

Ladies, please! No open flames. The ultimate ’80s hair-metal sex symbol reclines in skin-tight pants (ouch!) and a pucker to match, slouching suggestively in the saddle of a tassled road pig, practically begging you to lay your hands on his shrink-wrapped leather thighs. Even though this ’88 Heritage Softail (on permanent display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio) was featured in a video and a number of posters, it was more than just a set piece. In the heyday of the band’s popularity, the Harley apparently helped the singer escape the limelight. “I’d started feeling like part of a machine I didn’t want to be part of,” he said in 2006. “I’d ride cross-country for a month at a time with two pairs of jeans, a few T-shirts and a couple of credit cards.” Yep, he seems to get it.

#9 – Merle Haggard, Motorcycle Cowboy

In his Motorcycle Cowboy video, Merle straddles a Harley and sings about marrying his “stringy-haired blonde biker babe” as bikers circle the happy couple. Merle’s body of work stands with country music’s best. Heck, I could probably write the rest of this blurb using just Hag song titles. Here goes: “Why Am I Drinkin’? I Must Have Done Something Bad. I Must’ve Been Drunk, but I Don’t Want To Sober Up Tonight and there’s No Reason To Quit. I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am, a Big Butter and Egg Man. I’m Goin’ Back To The Barroom Again, go thru those Swinging Doors into A Bar In Bakersfield, get a Misery and Gin and Drink Up And Be Somebody with my Bar Room Buddies. Me and The Farmer’s Daughter will Chase Each Other Around the Room. I know It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad). Mama Tried, but I Can’t Break The Habit. So I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.” Shazam.

#8 – Vanilla Ice, Cool As Ice Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

“Johnny Van Owen, a freewheeling, motorcycle-riding rapper, drifts from town to town with his crew. … He meets a girl named Kathy… a role [that] was initially offered to Gwyneth Paltrow. Her father forbade her from accepting it, due to the script’s sexual content…. The film was developed as a vehicle for Vanilla Ice, and was commercially and critically unsuccessful.”

Full disclosure: I never saw Cool As Ice, so the above information is liberally cribbed from Wikipedia. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can all look back today with gratitude that we haven’t heard much from this clown again. Turns out, the movie features our hero doing some rather (ahem) remarkable stunt riding on a gawdawful yellow sportbike. This hilarious and insightful two-minute clip pretty much sums it up.

#7 – Lady GaGa, Born this Way

This cover received a fair amount of backlash when it came out, and it’s no wonder – it’s freakin’ hideous. But Gaga does what she does best and took this concept even further, morphing into a motorcycle onstage during the song “ Heavy Metal Lover.” Turns out, it’s neither heavy, nor is it particularly metal; as you can see in this photo from SplashNews, that contraption isn’t much more than a mobility scooter stolen from an old-age home, decked out to look like a chopper trike. As for the gratuitous butt-shot, look closer – Gaga’s pants have split. You’re welcome.

#6 – Brigitte Bardot, Harley Davidson

On this 1967 track, the legendary actress/chanteuse teams with renowned French composer Serge Gainsbourg – with sexy results! If you’ve never taken the next two minutes and 38 seconds it takes to watch this totally hot and completely SFW video of Brigitte Bardot, comely in black leather, gazing delicately into a soft-focus lens and purring in French about her fine, fine motorcycle, let me spell it out for you: “I don’t need anyone on a Harley-Davidson/I press the starter, and here is where I leave the earth/Maybe I’ll go to heaven/But at top speed on a train from hell.” Oh, it gets better: “When I feel the road and the vibrations of my machine/It builds up desires in me/In the small of my back.” Tres bien! I’ll tell you what: if the Establishment had gotten its collective panties in a wad about this video as much as it did about Easy Rider, the chopper might be a sex symbol of instead of a hippie icon. Oh, wait …

#5 – Cheap Trick, In Color

… In which our heroes Robin Zander and Tom Petersson write the book on looking dead sexy in the saddle (take that, Jon Bon Jovi!). Cheap Trick’s second record made them superstars in Japan, setting the stage for 1978’s Live At Budokan, which blew up their careers worldwide. Someone so loves this album that he/she recorded the entire vinyl LP and posted it on YouTube. Search the world over; you won’t find more perfect power pop. Can you identify the Harleys? By the way, In Color’s also-classic back cover is an upside-down, black-and-white photo of notorious nerds drummer Bun E. Carlos and guitarist Rick Nielsen riding mopeds, a shot that spawned an army of hipsters.

#4 – Janis Joplin, Greatest Hits

This immortal 1973 album, its cover image snapped at the infamous Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, was released three years after Joplin’s death and cemented her status as Rock’s First Lady. This Sportster chop she’s sitting on reportedly belonged to either Big Brother or one of his Holding Company. Pearl performed and partied as hard as any of the guys in the male-dominated world of hard rock, and as a result she became an unlikely icon for the burgeoning women’s rights movement. Whether Janis was the proverbial “reluctant” icon is open for debate – although everyone knows the fate that awaits rock’s reluctant icons, and that same fate definitely befell Janis Joplin. There’s no indication of Janis ever being a motorcyclist herself, although images show her riding on the back of bikes and reports have her in at least two crashes, in 1964 and in 1970.

#3 Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell

Bat Out of Hell is a bombastic, operatic and melodramatic musical razz on Bruce Springsteen – and has sold more copies than 99% of the Boss’ catalog can claim. Full of silly puns and Wagnerian grandiosity, it touches on all the Boss’ favorite themes – adolescent angst, awkward teenage love and driving. And, in this case, riding. The title track has been referred to many times by composer Jim Steinman as the ultimate “motorcycle crash song.” In its beginning, our protagonist is “speeding down the highway on a black phantom bike.” By the end of the song he’s been thrown off his bike and his organs exposed: “And the last thing I see is my heart still beating/Breaking out of my body and flying away/Like a bat out of hell.” The motorcycle sound in the middle of the song is producer Todd Rundgren on electric guitar. In this odd clip, our man Meat admits he doesn’t ride motorcycles, but enjoys sitting on them because it makes him feel “out.” Funny; that’s the same reaction I get when listening to this album.

#2 – Motley Crue, Girls Girls Girls

LA’s bad boys of hard rock nailed it when they decided to accompany this ode to strippers with Harleys, and carried the theme through on the classic Girls Girls Girls video. Opening with a leg shot and a kick start, no other rock anthem more lasciviously embodies the bond between chicks, bikes and rock. The intro rev is the sound of singer Vince Neil’s own Harley, and the closing run through the gears is (reputedly) bassist Nikki Sixx’s Hog roaring down Franklin Canyon near Hollywood. Both bikes are prominently featured in the video and on the album cover. Here’s a story: A few years back, I was sitting aboard a Champion Trikes’ Gold Wing conversion at a stoplight on the Sunset Strip, slouching to remain incognito, when this song came on the radio. I sat up straight and smiled, cranked it up through the GL’s quad speakers – and people stared. Approvingly! For a four and a half glorious minutes, I actually felt cool aboard a trike. That, friends, is the power of rock ‘n’ roll.

#1 – Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

Number One on our list and in your hearts, the bike Prince famously used to woo Apollonia into skinny-dipping has been a subject of heated online debate since Al Gore invented the internet. Due to a widely circulated – but dated and completely unverifiable – forum post by a guy named Tom Summers, Prince-ophiles subscribe to the theory that the bike is a 1981 CB400A. The post states, in part: “I did the bike back in 1984. It is a Honda 400 automatic. [It] had Comstar wheels. … The fairing is a Kutter. … The three seats are one-off, with hot pink velour inserts custom made [by] Drag Specialties; the sissy bar was a standard Drag Spec item. The handlebars are the 6 bend variety. …One of the bikes … is on display at Paisley Park Studios in [Minnesota[. … Any other questions?? I’d be more than happy to answer…..Tom.” There the post’s trail runs cold. So all we have to say is, “That’s not Lake Minnetonka!”

There are dozens of other album covers that feature motorcycles; check out our gallery here. Any we’ve forgotten?

Jon Langston
Jon Langston

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