Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The five most misleading album covers in my record collection

One thing I really like about buying vinyl records – they’re often cheap enough that I can afford to take a gamble on a band I’ve never heard of just because I like their cover art. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is often possible to judge an album by its cover, especially when you’re dealing with psych-rock, prog or funk. Sometimes, though, I fall victim to the old bait-and-switch. It’s uniquely disheartening to discover that the insane record sleeve I’ve so graciously invited into my home is nothing but a façade for garden-variety garbage. After thumbing through my collection, I’ve called a few of the worst offenders on the carpet.

Brick – Good High
Is that not one of the greatest album covers of the 1970s? Just looking at that beaming dude and his illicit candy bar is enough to get your toes tapping. You have to assume that this is going to be one tripped-out funk record, or at least something with a cool reggae influence. Instead, it’s a fairly standard proto-disco funk disc, boasting a few nice breaks and a lot of filler. It’s not an awful album by any means – the much-sampled “Dazz” is pretty hot – but the chasm between my expectations and reality has seldom been deeper.

Dreams – Imagine My Surprise
You have to figure a band cool enough to commission cover art by Gahan Wilson – the macabre cartooning icon who’s like a bridge between Charles Addams and Gary Larson – is going to bring something to the table, right? Especially since they were apparently fine with Wilson drawing them pajama-clad and on the verge of being swallowed by a giant vagina monster? Sadly, what’s inside is undistinguished horn rock that could charitably be called “a poor man’s Chicago.” Dreams bassist Will Lee did go on to a lifelong gig with David Letterman’s house band. I guess that’s something.

Don Ralke – Bongo Madness
Look at that cover. Look at how much fun those folks are having. Maybe their little bongo party hasn’t spilled over into full-scale madness yet, but it’s in the mail, that’s for sure. It’s just too bad that the accompanying record inspires exactly none of the emotions on display in that image. Oh, there’s bongo, to be sure, but the madness is regrettably hard to come by. These tepid easy-listening grooves are more like Bongo Mildness.

Casiopea – Eyes of the Mind
OK, you’ve got your astrological band name, your eyeball-and-spacescape cover art and your pretentious album title. Then you flip the jacket over and find that not only was the album released in 1981, but the band is also entirely Japanese. Is there any conceivable way that this is not some bizarre lost classic of prog rock? Well, yeah. Apparently the other option is that Casiopea is an elevator jazz combo that churned out the blandest Muzak knock-offs this side of my neighborhood Pamida store.

Barrabas – Watch Out
I have no recollection of buying this record. I assume it was a trophy from one of my psychedelic shopping sprees at Reckless Records in Chicago that got filed away before I got around to putting it on the turntable. Whatever the case, I was hyped when I pulled Watch Out out of my stacks a few months back. The Biblically inspired band name coupled with a nude snake-woman teasing her hair in an oppressively purple dressing room carried the promise of something dark, trippy and deeply psychedelic. But no worries, Barrabas – you guys go on ahead with your watered-down Euro-disco. Oh heavens no, your undeniably killer album cover is in no way tainted by the sub-roller-rink jams you’ve seen fit to preserve in vinyl. Whatever gave you that idea? Say, what’s Spanish for “infinitely forgettable”?


  1. awesome. I'm kind of awestruck by that Casipoea live performance and some of the comments on the youtube clip: "they are singing with the instruments!"

    also, slow that barrabas song down, have a guy intone over it in a reverbed out vocal track, and you've got the next chillwave blog bust.

  2. Yeah, the comments on the YouTube clips for all of these artists (save Bongo Madness, which has none) were so effusive that I wondered if I w.as missing something. Then I re-listened to the tracks and decided that no, no I wasn't.

  3. So about that Dreams record... Great you picked up on Will Lee being in the band, but the drummer and 2/3 of horn section section were jazz-funk ICONS. Maybe not your bag, fair enough, but "Poor man's Chicago" is kind of a laugh given that the drummer (Billy Cobham) not only played with Miles Davis, did loads of jazz session work, but also has been a bandleader from the 70s till now and been sampled loads of times. Sax & trumpet were the Brecker Brothers. if you don't know them, look at your liner notes or google them--proper legends. That said the album might still be lame--but these guys could all play circles around Chicago.

    Still dig your writing, even when I disagree with you.

    1. I stand corrected, humbled, and intrigued, and will investigate further. Thanks for taking a deep dive into my archives!