For the past five years or so, record collecting has become my new, sometimes expensive hobby. At least this weekend I went trolling for vinyl at a flea market in South Jersey, where I got three classic records for a mere four bucks. One great advantage of LPs is their large size, which many have used over the years as a canvas for some truly wonderful art. Of course, there are also some famously awful album covers out there. The most famous tend not to be classic albums, but there are in fact some great albums with equally bad covers. Here are, to me, the albums with the biggest contrasts between the greatness in the grooves and the crapitude of the cover.
Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed
This is a timeless nugget from the Stones' glory years, containing such memorable tunes as "Gimme Shelter," "Midnight Rambler,"and "You Can't Always Get What You Want," along with two of my all-time fave Stones deep cuts: "You Got the Silver" and "Monkey Man." The former's got a rare Keith vocal and sublime slide guitar, the latter a searing turn by Jagger and the latter some of sickest open-tuning this side of Robert Johnson. However, the cover just sucks. There are a lot of jumbled elements to it, and none of them interesting. Who in the hell wants to picture the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World as birthday cake topping?
Louvin Brothers, Satan is Real
On this record the Louvin Brothers reach country gospel perfection with eerie close harmonies that can't be beat. If they see fit to give me a church funeral, I'd certainly want "I'm Ready to Go Home" to accompany my casket out the door. However, this cover features a cardboard cut-out of Satan that's more silly than scary. At least it's good for a laugh.
Revolver is the best Beatles record, hands down. It's full of amazing experimentation like "Tomorrow Never Knows," sitting side by side with beautiful pop songs like "Good Day Sunshine." It manages to combine all the great elements that band could muster, but without the pretentiousness of Sgt. Pepper or clunker songs like "Ob-La-Di" or "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" to prevent perfection. I have to honestly say I took awhile to pick up this album because I thought the cover was so awful. The rendering of the Beatles by Klaus Voorman look like a piece of teenage fan art drawn in a math class notebook, and doesn't really resemble the Beatles that much.
Steely Dan, Can't Buy a Thrill
The Dan's debut is a real pleasure and full of standards like "Dirty Work" and "Reeling in the Years," but the cover looks like a bad acid trip barfed all over it.
Led Zeppelin IV
Such a great record, arguably Zep's best, and certainly it's most well-known. The cover is just wretched, though. For a record full of the most mystically grandiose rock music ever recorded, including one inspired by The Lord of the Rings ("The Battle of Evermore"), they chose a peeling wall with an old painting of a man gathering sticks on it. It's too clumsy to be a knowing contrast to the music, and certainly not worthy to grace such an epic album.
Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
"Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Caroline No," among others, is associated with a trip to the petting zoo.