40 years after it was released in April 1981, the man behind the infamous artwork for Whitesnake's Come An' Get It album has spoken about the design, and about that tongue.
The album was the follow-up to 1980’s double Live… In The Heart Of The City, which had been a big hit in Europe, and with the classic Don't Break My Heart Again lined up as lead single, it was time to go global. Part of that plan? The artwork.
Writing on his blog, artist Malcolm Horton reveals how the band didn’t like any of the cover ideas that EMI had come up with, and that his name had been mentioned (Horton was a friend of Black Sabbath's Bill Ward, had been commissioned to paint a mural for John Bonham, and went on to produce paintings for Alvin Lee, Ian Paice, Ozzy Osbourne and George Harrison).
"I got stuck in and came up with some preliminary sketches based on the idea of temptation, seduction, Adam and Eve with the apple," writes Horton. "I was taken to meet up with David Coverdale at his home. I was feeling excited but nervous, hoping he would like my ideas. Luckily he did and said 'you’ve got the job' or something like that.
"I chose to paint and airbrush the artwork on a 24″ x 24″ canvas. This was double the size it would be for the album sleeve in order to get the best definition when it was reduced for print. There was no Photoshop in those days!"
Horton also writes about the artwork's most controversial element, the once-you-see-it-you-can't-unsee-it tongue. "One thing I always get asked about is the snakes mouth," he says. "At the time it just felt right to give it – how should I say – 'a sexual element'. I felt some apprehension at first to how it would be received and if it would be acceptable. Thankfully it worked and gave the piece an edge."
On several subsequent releases of Come A' Get It, the snake’s mouth has been airbrushed with a solid red.
Later that year Horton went on to design the artwork for then-Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden's second solo album Look At Me, but there's still some unfinished business to attend to.
"The one thing that has always bothered me though is that the actual Come An’ Get It artwork went missing," says Horton. "To this day nobody knows where it went and who has got it. I would love to know what happened to my work. If you are reading this and have any clues get in touch."