The David Lee Roth Fetish Photo Shoot That Almost Sank Van Halen

By Jacob Shelton
Left: Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen at the Cobo Hall on July 4, 1980. (Photo by Michael Marks/Getty Images) Right: Detail of a Helmut Newton portrait of David Lee Roth, for sale at Backstage Auctions (backstageauction

The budding hypersexual persona of frontman David Lee Roth in 1979 would seem the perfect subject for edgy fashion photographer Helmut Newton. Maybe so -- but there were three other guys in Van Halen who didn't want the bondage-themed photos on their album cover.

When fans went into record stores in March 1980 to buy Van Halen’s third album Women And Children First they found an album cover showing the four members of the group jammed together and grinning in black and white like the American Beatles. They were four friends having the time of their lives.

All was not as it seemed in the world of Van Halen. The dynamic inside the band was growing more volatile as their stars continued to rise, and the photo on the cover was actually a last minute addition following a disastrous photo shoot that almost pushed the group to the breaking point.

A month before the album cover was shot, another series of photos were taken by Helmut Newton, one of the most iconic fashion photographers of the 20th century. Only a few of the photos from Newton’s photoshoot of the band have surfaced, and one of them is an extremely lurid BDSM themed shot of singer David Lee Roth. 

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