Carly's singer-songwriter contemporaries certainly took a more ascetic approach to album art. Has there ever been a frumpier album cover than Tapestry? Carole King is pictured knitting, and even her nearby cat looks bored by this predictable attempt at illustrating the album's title. Meanwhile, Joni Mitchell pursued her reputation as the Queen of Artistic Integrity by featuring her own paintings on her album covers. The cover of Playing Possum was startling in this context, and so too was Carly's insistence that it was fine for her to pose this way if it was her choice, her call and under her control.
One could also say the cover suits an album that features so many songs about sex - or songs about "the body at play" as one critic delicately put it - but the songs on Playing Possum are exotically ("Look Me in the Eyes"), languorously ("More and More"), and at times broodingly ("After the Storm", "Slave") sensual. There are giddy ("Waterfall") and flirtatious ("Are You Ticklish") moments too, but anyone looking for the raunchiness suggested by the cover was likely to be disappointed, and in fact it probably hurt more than helped sales. Some stores refused to stock the album, while others would not display it.
To a world that had yet to encounter Madonna or Prince, the sight of Carly, in her black teddy and knee-high boots, strutting across an album cover, was positively avant garde in its frankness. After all, she was - famously - a married woman and a new mother as well. No wonder, then, that the back cover (below) featured a less powerful pose, and one that assured the viewer that a sense of humour and proportion were still very much intact.
In subsequent years, Playing Possum has regularly featured in rankings of the best-ever album covers, and this makes it all the more maddening that when Elektra Records finally released the album on CD in the 1990s, the cover was so carelessly printed that the top of her head was cut off (see the image below). That is no way to treat a landmark album, and especially one that, initially at least, was greeted with as much dismay as appreciation.