Quiet Riot Metal Health was released on march 11th, 1983 and bolstered by the No. 5 hit “Cum On Feel the Noize” and the No. 31 hit title track “Metal Health”, the album holds the distinction of being the first heavy metal album ever to reach the top spot on the Billboard 200. Metal Health by Quiet Riot went on to sell more than ten million copies worldwide.
Stan Watts was an up-and-coming illustrator/photographer when art director Jay Vigon approached him about creating the cover for Quiet Riot’s Metal Health. Stan had done album cover art for Black Sabbath (1982’s Live Evil) as well as the poster for the 1981 horror flick The Howling. But even now, over three decades later, Metal Health is arguably his best-known project.
“Jay Vigon had me overto his place, and we talked about the attention grabbing concept we were after, which involved a straightjacket and some sort of iron maiden mask—not the band but the torture device,” recalls Watts.
“We wanted to create an icon that would represent the band,” explains Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali. “Bassist Rudy Sarzo suggested we do something like the book The Man in the Iron Mask (which is actually the final section of 19th-century author Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne). We figured we had a song called ‘Metal Health,’ and we thought maybe we could have a fan on the cover who’s gone insane.”
But who was that masked man? “A lot of people thought it was vocalist Kevin DuBrow wearing the mask,” Banali says. “But Kevin has brown eyes, and the one eye you can see peering through the mask is clearly blue.” Turns out it was Watts himself, who had hammered the mask out of aluminum, put Banali’s red leather motorcycle jacket on backward so it would look like a straightjacket, and posed for the camera while his wife took the shot.
Stan Watts Art – Black Sabbath Live Evil album cover and The Howling Movie Poster from 1981.
“I had a real low-tech approach to my work back then,” Watts says. “I mean, that’s a moving blanket in the background, not a padded cell. And there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to show emotion behind that mask, so it all had to be done with lighting and that one eye.” – Stan Watts
Watts then airbrushed the print to achieve the dramatic, high-contrast look often seen in the work of Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein, who had recently done a self-portrait for the cover of the Scorpions’ Blackout. The final touch was the addition of four pins—each depicting the face of a Quiet Riot member—to the front (or, uh, back) of the jacket.
But, of course, it’s the mask that everyone remembers most. “It was amazing how many kids would turn up at the shows wearing masks they made out of sheet metal in shop class or something,” Banali says with a laugh. “They’d take them off for us to sign, and their faces would be all cut up.” The mask became so iconic that DuBrow insisted on wearing one on the cover of Quiet Riot’s next record, Condition Critical. But it was Watts who held on to the original. “I actually loaned it to friends on Halloween for a few years,” he says. “That mask was quite popular.”
Quiet Riot – Bang Your Head (Metal Health) [Official Video]
*Based on the original interview appearing in Revolver Magazine December 2010.