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Originally from his 1960 album, That’s My Story, this song is also on this 1970s Fantasy Records “two-fer” reissue.
Country music is pretty popular here at Hymie’s, but our first choice is rarely Johnny Cash. Our opinion really took a turn after reading his autobiography, in which we felt the country music legend came off as a boorish, self-serving boob. We’d say its all about the California condors, but if anyone here were judged on a single incident of stupidity we’d all be in real trouble.
And, as with so much other music, we’ve found approaching his albums from a new angle has improved our impression. It’s always interesting to re-visit records you didn’t enjoy in the past — your new reaction may surprise you.
More and more we’ve come to enjoy Johnny Cash’s records not for their rebellious themes, but for his consistently clever and dark sense of humor. “A Backstage Pass,” from his forgotten run at Mercury Records, is a great example. And of course, many of his early hits offer a humorous approach to hard luck through storytelling.
Recently, a friend loaned us copies of several of his 90s American Recordings albums, which we have enjoyed. At the time we’d thought the label’s model was gimmicky — taking a star whose career had long been floundering and having them cover pop songs still strikes us as tawdry — but the records undeniably resonated with a large audience. Too bad the same didn’t happen for Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, which is a great album, too.
One can see how they re-framed Cash, (who was hardly a genuine outlaw in the sense that, say, Merle Haggard was) for generation X. And for whatever reason, we weren’t as tired of hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as our parents were. Fortunately, the sextenarian’s songwriting acumen was still sharp, and the original songs from his American Recordings run are ripe with his delightfully dark sense of humor.
Our favorite song from the period was not one of the Rick Rubin productions, but a song from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack (a favorite disc which we have recently posted here). With its humorous approach to metaphysics, “In Your Mind” presages Cash’s appearance on The Simpsons as a coyote who serves as Homer’s spirit guide during a peyote trip. Ry Cooder produced the song, lending it his own irreverent approach.
When we found “In Your Mind” to post it this morning, we realized it recalled an older tune that’s likely far less known but a favorite of ours. “Let It Ride” is a single by country music songwriter Dick Feller from 1975. Feller had written a hit for Johnny Cash which made country music’s top ten three years earlier (“Any Old Wind that Blows”) and also a #1 hit for Jerry Reed (“Lord Mr. Ford”). His songs have a similar sense of humor, and his success led to his debut as a singer shortly after the release of “Lord Mr. Ford.” His first album, like those of many Nashville songwriters, played off his previous role and had him covering the tunes he’d written for others.
Never as famous as other country storytellers like Cash and poor, unlucky Tom T. Hall, Feller wrote some of the funniest songs of the seventies. Our favorite is “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer.” Like Roger Miller, he lamented that nobody took him seriously when he wrote serious songs, such as “Some Days Are Diamonds,” which was a gigantic success for John Denver in 1981. If you ever come across a Dick Feller record give it a listen — you’ll probably laugh and maybe feel a little misty, too.
“Let It Ride” is a great gamblers’ tune, which captures the misplaced hopes of placing another bet. And “In Your Mind” sounds a lot like it. We’re not suggesting Cash and Cooder stole anything from Feller, just that they’re similar approaches to the mysteries of the unknown.
In record stores around the world, today is International Clash Day, at least according to the fans behind this website. Here at Hymies we’re more than happy to listen to the Clash a little more than usual and plan to do exactly that today.
Incidentally, Mick Jones visited Hymies Records one summer day about eight years ago. He was just as you’d expect him to be — cheerful, friendly and gracious. And while we said “Mick Jones doesn’t pay for his records here,” he insisted.
A while back we posted an excerpt from Keith Richards’ autobiography because we saw something familiar in his portrayal of the blues aficionados of 60s London. Here, from a more recent musical autobiography, is a less caustic characterization of record collecting, and how it can provide inspiration to a young would-be.
Jeff Tweedy describes the Clash as a “gateway drug” in his endearing new memoir. He discovered them before he ever heard them, reading reviews in Rolling Stone and Cream while his mother shopped. “I will say that today, reviews aren’t quite the same as they were back in the early ages of rock journalism,” he writes in Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). “Reviews back then devoted way more ink to trying to describe what music sounded like. That was their main purpose. It’s why people read them, because it was the only way to decide if you wanted to spend your money on a particular record. There were no streaming services where you could hear any song ever created practically for free. In the late seventies/early eighties, you judged an album by its cover art, word of mouth from your friends, or if you were a nine-year-old without a lot of musically adventurous peers, you based your record buying decisions on what you read in rock magazines while your mother was buying groceries.”
Tweedy praises Lester Bangs’ 1977 essay on the Clash (“Six Days on the Road to the Promised Land”) with such passion that we imagine his eyes were as watery as our own the first time we heard “Fatal Wound.” But earlier he admits when he first saw the Clash in Rolling Stone, “there was no name recognition” because bands like them were not played on the radio in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois. “The only thing that registered was how incredible they looked.” He quotes Tom Carson’s 1980 review of London Calling: “[The album] sonds like a series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to keep moving.”
Few other bands have inspired people in the way the Clash did, and we think Tweedy is right that no other band sparked better writing. He goes on to lament that as a ten-year-old in southern Illinois, he’d be lucky to even find one of their records. “Punk rock was an exotic event happening somewhere else in the world. It was like reading about a civil war or a revolution somewhere.”
And then he shares this endearing story that anyone who grew up trying to sneak records into their parents’ suburban rambler can identify with.
I eventually found the album, in a Target of all places. I was there with my mom — as with her grocery outings, I was a constant companion — and I’d flip through records while she did her shopping. They had a copy of London Calling with a big sticker on the front that read PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT, STRONG LANGUAGE, or something to that effect. This was before Tipper Gore and the PMRC, so I don’t know if it was the label or the store that put it on there. Either way, I had to get it off. In reality, my mom probably would have bought me a record with an EXPLICIT CONTENT warning on the front, but I wasn’t going to push my luck.
I tried scratching off the sticker with my fingernail. It didn’t go so well. I only got about a third of it off. And then we had to leave. So I hid the record in a different section and hoped it would be there the next time we came back.
We returned two weeks later and London Calling was still there. I went to work on it, holding it under my arm and casually peeling off tiny pieces with my thumbnail while I flipped through records, real casual-like. This time I got another third of it off before we had to go. Those stickers were surprisingly resilient.
A month or two passed before we returned. I was convinced my copy of London Calling would be gone, but it was still where I left it, behind the card divider for Z. This time I finally got all of the sticker off. I took the record up to my mom and asked her, as nonchalantly as I could manage, “Hey, can I please get this.”
She shrugged. “Sure, fine.” Without even a glance.
Of course, some time later mom overheard “Death or Glory” coming from ten-year-old Tweedy’s room and the line “He who fucks nuns will later join the church” catches her ear.
“Are you trying to kill me, Jeff?”
I had no idea how to respond, I had no idea what she was talking about. Eventually she was forced to repeat the lyric she had overhead. In an angry whisper she repeated the offending line. To which I replied, “Oh my god, I had no idea that’s what they were saying! What does that even mean?” And that was that. She waved me back to my room. I wasn’t lying, either, I still don’t know what it means.
We highly recommend you take a look at Jeff Tweedy’s book, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). And that you take out your copy of London Calling, whether or not it has a sticker or just thumb-marks like his, and play it loud.
Of course, one of the most famous is these is the so-called “Gigi cover.” Early copies of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma depict a copy of the cast album. The picture is also a unique example of the droste effect (a repeating picture within a picture) because the band members change places with each iteration.
More often than not the albums which appear on albums are on shelves in the background. We like the idea of a passing glimpse at the collection of a favorite artist. It’s no surprise to us that Leontyne Price’s shelves are far tidier than Roland Kirk’s.
We’ll bet it would have been a lot of fun to go record shopping with Roland Kirk or Leontyne Price. And Andre Previn, who incidentally composed the Gigi score seen in the Pink Floyd album above, can have any record he finds at Hymie’s on the house.
Take a close look at Santana’s Amigos and you’ll see a blue monkey holding a copy of their debut album — the monkey’s got good taste!
Another common way for records to appear on the covers of other records is when the performer poses in a record shop. Ernest Tubb is seen beaming before a rack of albums from his label-mates in his own record shop on the cover of this 1960 album. There are now two Ernest Tubbs’ Record Shop locations in Nashville, Tennessee — at the Music Valley Village location you can also see the Green Hornet, a 1964 Silver Eagle touring bus used by Tubb himself. It travelled over three million miles before being restored for display!
And Tom Petty is seen inside an un-named record shop on the cover of Hard Promises. To Petty’s left you can see the same sort of spinning 45 rack we have here in our shop — we would like very much to know where this shop is so we can go there and straighten up those singles!
Petty’s choice of setting is fitting, for Hard Promises was of course the album over which Petty fought MCA’s policy of “superstar pricing” (charging an extra dollar for top-selling artist). Olivia Newton John and Steely Dan gave in, but Petty was next in line and considered either not delivering the album to the label or titling it the standard price, $8.98, to protest the increase. As if we needed another reason to think Petty was a good dude.
Another album which fittingly features a record store on the cover is Entroducing…DJ Shadow, a highly influential (and enjoyable) album built around innovative samples. In the documentary Scratch, he returns to the record shop where he found most of the albums sampled on his 1996 debut album. He’d gone there for years before they let him look through the basement where albums were stacked everywhere under bare bulbs.
“Just being in here is a humbling experience for me,” he explains. “Because you’re looking through all these records and it’s sort of like a big pile of broken dreams.”
Dragons are one of the most universally cool things in the world, and like all such things — for instance spaceships or girls on roller skates — they appear on album covers a lot more often than they do in real life. For the life of us we can’t imagine why a band that’s actually called Dragon wouldn’t put one on all their album covers.
Our favorite album about a dragon is the one where Spider-Man saves the Earth from Draco, King of the Dragon-Men. Our second favorite is “Perci the Dragon” by folk singer Ken Lyon.