Black Sabbath / Depeche Mode Connection?

This past week, I got an email asking me something I had never seen before. It was in relation to the Born Again cover art. They had asked me if I knew anything, because the cover art for Black Sabbath’s Born Again and the Depeche mode single “New Life”. Let’s get right to the pictures – here they are side by side..

They look amazingly similar, don’t they? Born Again was released in the summer of 1983. The New Life CD single by Depeche Mode was released at some point in 1981. I contacted the webmaster of what appeared to be a popular Depeche Mode site (here), and asked them. They hadn’t seen the Black Sabbath cover art at all, so my email was a surprise to them. They posted about it on their forums, no one seems to really know there what the connection is. Here’s what I know about the situation (as copied from my post in that forum).

At the time, Sabbath was managed by Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s father). Don apparently wasn’t terribly keen on Sabbath (as the rumours go), and just (again, as the rumours go) slapped together any piece of crap and sent it to Sabbath, figuring they wouldn’t like it, and wouldn’t use it. That is what ended up being used! Again, as rumours go, Tony Iommi liked it, and wanted to use it.  The album title “Born Again” is how Sabbath viewed themselves. At the time, it was Sabbath being “Born Again” as a band; a fresh start. Didn’t last, but that’s what they were saying in the interviews at the time. I really do not believe it has anything to do with Depeche Mode, at least in terms of lyrics, as was suggested above. 

Yes, the Sabbath cover art is credited to Steve Joule. Whether Steve was influenced by the DM cover, or where he blatantly stole from it, or whether it was a horrendously huge coincidence, or if there’s another image that both folks used, I do not know.

That’s about the extent of what I know of this cover image (except there’s a good story in Garry Sharpe Young’s Sabbath book on how Sabbath actually tried to have a live version of the baby cover art on stage – thankfully that idea went away quickly). I’ve placed a few inquiries about this, but as of yet haven’t heard anything. If there’s anyone reading this that has concrete information as to where Depeche Mode got the image from, or knows how to contact Steve Joule, I’d appreciate hearing from you about it. In the meantime, we’ll definitely have to go with the fact that the two images seem to be related in some way, but as to how – who knows?

UPDATE: I got a resolution to this story, I was contacted by Steve Joule, the guy who did the cover art for Born Again. His story (with some more pictures) about all this is below:

In late September of 2004, I received an email from Steve Joule, who designed the Born Again cover.  He cleared up the story as to the similarity of the cover art.  Here’s what Steve had to say:

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 fathers (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 Ozzys 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 has 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 colour combination that acid could buy, bastardised 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 neighbour, (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 where upon 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 favourite 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 Ozzys first born 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, infact 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!