On the record: My fave album covers
A Weekly humor column by Jim Pfiffer, Elmira NY
I’m glad that vinyl record albums are regaining popularity. I grew up listening to music on records. They were an essential part of my life, like family, education, sports and reform school.
Records are simple to operate. No moving parts. No rewinding. No batteries. No apps or subscriptions. You set the needle in the groove and soon you’re groovin’ between 33 1/3 and 45 rpms.
Unfortunately, vinyl records are fragile and easily damaged. You can ruin the acoustics with fingerprints, dust flecks, and half a cup of Genesee Cream Ale spilled on my Doors' "Strange Days” album by an intoxicated gal who was trying to “Love Me Two Times.”
You handle records like you would a 5,000-year-old glass museum piece. Gently slip the record out of the cardboard sleeve. Slide it out of the inner paper sleeve. Take a shot of whisky to calm your nerves before you execute the most important final step: grasp it by the edges and hold it gingerly between your palms, like you were indicating the size of the fish that got away. Never EVER touch the playing surface, which is so fragile you can warp it by just giving it a dirty look.
All my records were pocked with scratches, gouges, scars, chips and drink glass rings. Often, during one of our many parties, my records became coasters for the “Four Bs”: bottles, bongs and bare bottoms.
My Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” 45 was so badly scratched that, when I played it backwards, it said, “I buried Jimmy Hoffa.”
Deep scratches made the needle bounce about, so I Scotch-taped a stack of pennies atop the needle to force it deeper into the groove. Such were my high-tech repairs. My records had a shelf life of a few weeks.
But the album covers lasted years, and they too, were an important part of my youth.
They made great work surfaces. You could put an open double album cover on your lap and use a credit card to remove stems and seeds from various vegetable matter.
Shortly after the vegetable matter was consumed, you could stare deeply at the album artwork, which featured cool photos of the bands, psychedelic drawings, iconic illustrations and freaky things that didn’t make sense. Like Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” cover, showing naked children crawling over a mystical rock formation towards a glowing light. Looked like a stairway to hell.
Here are some of my favorite and unusual album covers:
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Beatles: A colorful and dazzling illustration of modern art (especially if you had just done a dazzling doobie). It featured the Fab Four amid a crowd of 58 celebrities, from Mae West and Lenny Bruce to Aldous Huxley and my main man W.C. “My little chickadee” Fields. The art won a Best Album Cover Grammy in 1967. I suspect that it was designed by artists enjoying “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.”
“Bloodshot,” J. Geils Band: The record was bright red, to match the album title. Because I grew up on Elmira’s Southside, one of songs, hit home with these bust-a-move lyrics: “Do you want Dance? (yeah). Movin’, groovin’, slip and slide (yeah). Come on baby don’t you hide (yeah). Do the Southside Shuffle all night long!”
“Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd: An elegant prism radiating the color spectrum across a black background. One of the most popular albums of all time. Made the Floyds mucho “Money.” I don’t know what a “pink Floyd” is, but I sure would like to party with one.
“Sticky Fingers,” Rolling Stones: Gotta love an album cover that boasts a real zipper on a photo of a pair of tight jeans, holding back what looks like an angry pepperoni trying to get out of its confines while yelling “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” Add in the sticky digits and you have a cover that would make Freud’s cigar go limp.
“Santana,” Santana (lion drawing): At first glance you see a marvelously detailed black pen drawing of a roaring lion face. Look closer and you see nine tiny faces hidden in the drawing. The feline’s chin is a hula skirt worn by a “Black Magic Woman” hula dancer. One time I looked so long and so closely at the drawing that I saw God. He wasn’t happy with me.
“Diamond Dogs,” David Bowie: This album cover because it still freaks me out. It’s a creepy air brush drawing of Bowie’s androgenous head and face on the body of a furless and gaunt Doberman. It still brings him “Fame” in his music’s “Golden Years.”
“Big Bambu,” Cheech and Chong: I know every word of this hilarious hippie pot-smoking album by heart. My friends and I played it so many times we wore out the grooves. It was released during the summer of the Flood of 1972, that we spent shoveling flood mud while repeating the album’s best lines – “Dave’s not here,” and telling each other to SHUT UP! ala “Sister Mary Elephant.” Best of all, the album included a double-album-size rolling paper. No, we never used it. If we did, we would still be shoveling mud and looking for Dave.
“You can tune a piano, but you can’t Tuna Fish,” REO Speedwagon: A great play-on-words album title made better by a photo of a fish with a tuning fork sticking out of its mouth. The REOs weren’t on the wagon, and whatever kind of speed they were snorting, sure fueled their creative juices. I hope you enjoyed my records reminiscence. Share yours in the “comments” section. And now, I bid you goodbye because it’s “Time for Me to Fly.”
Jim Pfiffer’s humor column posts every Sunday on the Jim Pfiffer Facebook page, Hidden Landmarks TV Facebook page, West Elmira Neighborhood, TwinTiersLife.com and TwinTiersLiving.com. Jim lives in Elmira with his wife, Shelley, and many pets. He is a retired humor columnist with the Elmira Star-Gazette newspaper and a regular swell guy. Contact him at email@example.com.