This has been an exciting week at Hymie’s Vintage Records, and before we return to our regular programming Laura and I want to thank all of you. It must have been one of you who told the nice people at Rolling Stone about us.
After we finished moving the shop into our new building this spring, our neighbor Jim told me to stop thanking him or he wouldn’t help me anymore. Its hard to stop, because we couldn’t have done it all alone, and we certainly couldn’t have done it all so well. Being recognized as one of the very best record shops in the country was a genuine shock to us. I guess this is the reward everyone worked together for, and we plan on enjoying it.
And now back to our regularly scheduled record blog blogging:
Waiting for you in our the arrivals bins are a couple of blues reissues on the Pearl label (A subsidiary of Delmark) which feature artwork by George Hansen. The music is jumpin’ and great, and the records just look cool. This and the inclusion of Newbury Comics (A great shop where I bought my favorite Roland Kirk album more than a decade ago) in Rolling Stone‘s 25 best record stores in the US list inspired me to think about the occasional relationship forged between comic books and albums. All of the sudden we had a new TOP TEN LIST!
TOP TEN COMIC BOOK-INSPIRED RECORD JACKETS!
#10 Hellbound Train by Savoy Brown
or then again
Shakedown Street by the Grateful Dead
Amazing but true: Just as I was set to finish this post, forever ranking Savoy Brown’s Hellbound Train as the tenth best comic book-inspired record jacket, a friend called. While I was talking to her, I thought I should find some upbeat music to listen to with the kids after they wake up (Fact: Many of these posts are written during naptime). Off the shelf came Shakedown Street and the list was changed. I’ve never thought Hellbound Train was a genuine British blues standard, but a lot of people do. David Ansell’s comic art inside the gatefold is creepy and actually captures the spirit of a hellbound train a lot better than the over-long and bland title track.
Shakedown Street is just great stuff. The R. Crumb-styled cover art is by Gilbert Shelton. He is the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic which is as good as it sounds.
#9 Tales from the Who
Original copies of this bootleg produced by The Mark of Quality have become pretty scarce, but it still turns up often enough – I saw a copy at The Record Show at the Lyndale Avenue VFW in August. If you’re a Who fan* who really wants to hear it the CD is pretty easy to find – That’s where I got the picture above. The album contains a Quadrophenia-era live broadcast (From The King Buscuit Flower Hour) but also features rockin’ renditions of classics like “My Generation” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
*I think Who fans should be called “Who-villians”. Laura says “Who-pers”.
#8 “Weird Al” Yankovic
An epic, if sprawling work of art, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s debut is certainly the best album of 1983 and possibly the best of the 80s. Few records delved so deeply into the issues that divide us (“Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung”, “The Check’s in the Mail”, etc) or carry such remarkable insight into the anxieties which are overwhelming our lives as in “Another One Rides the Bus”. “Stop Dragging My Car Around” is one of popular music’s most heartfelt pleas for help, and the intimacy and sincerity of “I Love Rocky Road” cannot be overstated. Its famous cover was produced by Brazilian artist Rogerio, and contrary to common misconception not by Mad Magazine‘s legendary Jack Davis.
#7 Everybody Love a Nut by Johnny Cash and Songs Mother Never Sang by Homer and Jethro
These are two of the many records to which Jack Davis lent his pen. Songs My Mother Never Sang is not the only Homer and Jethro jacket he drew, but probably the funniest and the most evocative of his work for Mad. Others include an otherwise unappealing and forgotten album by Sailcat and a great design for Spike Jones’ suitably zany Thank You, Music Lovers. I read once that although his work was seldom sloppy, Davis worked incredibly fast. Maybe that’s why he was able to create so many different LP jackets.
#6 Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin by The Ramones
The Ramones have produced more than their share of amusing record covers, including two consecutive albums with cartoons on the jacket. Rocket to Russia featured the band in front of CBGB’s on the cover and a cartoon of a pinhead riding – What else? – a rocket to Russia on the back.
[Irresistibly fun fact: The lead off track "Cretin Hop" is not about a cretin. Its about Cretin Avenue in St. Paul!]
Their next album featured a cartoon of the band by John Holmstrom that is largely indistinguishable from photographs. Holmstrom is also the artist who created Bosko and Jo, characters you may remember if you read Bananas Magazine.
#5 Chastisment by the Last Poets
Ten years ago when I first brought this record home (From St Paul’s Cheapo in its good ole east-side of Snelling days) my friend Ben sat on my couch and stared at this jacket for no less than twenty minutes. He was pretty stoned, but there really is a lot going on here. Jim Dyson’s cover art depicts an army of jackals worshiping a sacred cow and the Last Poets as avenging angels. I can’t say I entirely understand the image, and I’ve never bothered to learn what the arabic text says (I’m pretty sure that if Glenn Beck saw this he’d tell us to be enraged), but its better than the blatantly racist artwork on some records, like Miles Davis’ Live/Evil.
Sometimes referred to as “In the Beginning”, this obscure masterpiece is the only full-length album recorded by San Francisco punk group Hickey and it successfully manages to capture than manic brilliance of their various self-released singles. Probe Records issued Hickey in 1995 and it came with a black and white booklet which included comics depicting the events of the side-long “In the Beginning”.
Hickey’s various 7″ EPs all contained expressive, often hilarious comics and elaborate text. Several of them offered an hour’s worth of reading material and six minutes of music. Hickey was issued on CD as well, but I have never seen one so I don’t know if it contains the same comics inside.
It would take a post as long as today’s top ten list to provide a fair introduction to the music of Hickey, one of my favorite groups. Perhaps someday in the future. Meanwhile, this link will take you to a memorial site for Matty Luv, who sang their songs and created the artwork shown here. The memorial site features more of his bizarre, expressive drawings.
A few honorable mentions before we get into the final three: New Birth’s Behold the Mighty Army is undeniably modeled after the covers of Marvel classics like Conan and Man-Thing, but its not a comic. Another similar example is one of Charlie Parker’s 10″ records on Dial, which combines a comic of a bird and of Bird’s hat with a photograph. Also not included are records with painted likenesses, even cartoonish painted likenesses, of the artist.
Tiny Tim’s cheerful tune “Comic Strip Man” was issued as a promotional single with a picture sleeve (left) depicting the singer as a superhero. Here’s the song itself:
Another comic book-inspired record not included is the Blue Magoo’s Electric Comic Book. I have never seen a copy that has the “comic” intact, and with the exception of their rendition of the Looney Tunes theme I’ve never cared much for the album itself.
#3 Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die! by Jethro Tull
Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die! tells the story of Ray Lomas, “last of the old rockers”. Lomas tries to adapt to hte 70s but finds the only sympathy he gets (In “From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser”) is from other outdated losers. After being burned by his “bird”, the old greaser takes off on his motorcycle complaining, “Women–All they want are washing machines, pills and nylon bedspreads”.
Naturally, he crashes (“going 120″) and is laid up in the hospital – By the time Lomas recovers he finds that fashions have changed to again favor his greaser stylings. At the end, we’re promised “Next week–Ray becomes a pop star!”
A recent CD reissue of this Tull classic added two outtakes, which one can imagine fitting well into the story. One, “Strip Cartoon” (Which was previously issued on the fantastic 20 Years of Jethro Tull boxed set) seems particularly apt for today’s post:
Of course, we could have a lot of fun looking at the top ten songs about comic books, but if we start on that we’ll never get to the end of this list…!
#2 Who Will Save the World? by the (Mighty) Groundhogs
Like Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, Who Will Save the World? folds out into a newspaper, in this case the comics section. Whether its simplistic anti-pollution story by DC Comics legend Neal Adams is really relevant to the record is questionable, but there’s no doubt its cool. Adams’ work on Superman and Batman during the 70s was seminal, and his political activism on behalf of comic artists (Particularly Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster) earned him near unparalleled respect in the field.
#1 Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Undeniably the most iconographic and beloved cartoon record cover rock and roll has ever produced, Cheap Thrills is also a classic album.
The artwork for Cheap Thrills was created by underground comics legend R. Crumb. In addition to creating a variety of beloved characters like Fritz the Cat and the Keep on Truckin’ guys, Crumb is one of the world’s most enthusiastic collectors of 78s. In fact, he has issued a few CDs of tracks from his famous collection.
Columbia Records refused the band’s original plan for a naked front cover and Crumb was commissioned to create artwork for the back of a jacket that would feature a portrait of Janis. She was a fan of underground comics and insisted the artwork be shifted to the front, which explains the back of Cheap Thrills which contains nothing but a black and white portrait of Joplin smiling (and clothed).