Madonna bared it on the cover of Like a Prayer, and Janet showed hers on the sleeve of janet. But this year, so many artists including the Black Crowes, John Mellencamp, Ween, Material Issue, and INXS are displaying midriffs on their covers that we could start calling record stores navel academies. Says art director Rick Patrick, who designed Ween's Chocolate and Cheese cover, the band wanted its album to hark back to those saucy Ohio Players or Wild Cherry covers of the '70s. ''They're just having fun, and I think it helps sell albums.''
However, such calculations backfired for the Crowes, whose Amorica shows black pubes spilling out of a damsel's American flag bikini. The photo was a 1976 Hustler cover, but singer Chris Robinson says the image is now ''a little piece of Pop art, where we sarcastically make fun of what the moral structure of the U.S. has become: hypocritical and uptight.'' However, the hypocrites and the uptights responded with a middle-finger gesture of their own: Chains like Wal-Mart and Musicland are only stocking airbrushed versions of the cover.