Martha and the Vandellas, Heat Wave (1963)

Album Cover of the Week: Martha and the Vandellas, Heat Wave

Christmas is over, and we’re almost into that part of winter where you think it’s never going to end and you’re already tired of it being dark by 5pm. So let’s turn up the heat with this slice of vintage R&B — from 1963, it’s Heat Wave from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, first released on the Gordy Records division of Motown.

Martha and the Vandellas, Heat Wave (1963)

This is the biggest image scan I could find, although it’s not of the original album. That can be identified by the Gordy label that should be on the lower left.

Design-wise, Heat Wave is pretty uncomplicated but it’s very appealing all the same. The white dresses (and gloves!) of the ladies strike a brilliant contrast with the flames. Design and photography credit go to Bernard Yeszin, who worked a number of other Motown album covers in the early ’60s, for artists like Marvin Gaye and the Supremes.


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year with the Mom and Dads

Music from the Worst Album Covers — Merry Christmas & Happy New Year with the Mom and Dads

We’ve all seen at least one article showing the worst album covers of all-time. But what about the music inside? Should you judge an album by its horrible cover? Well in this series, we’re going to find out. Today we examine Merry Christmas & Happy New Year by The Mom and Dads.

I’ll say this much for the 1972 holiday album Merry Christmas & Happy New Year by the Mom and Dads — if ever there was a Christmas album that sounded exactly like you would expect it to, this is it. I’m not going to sit here and judge whether or not that’s a positive thing; I’m just throwing it out there as a heads up of sorts.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year with the Mom and Dads

Yes, that’s the actual group on the cover. We’ve got (l to r) Quentin Ratliff (saxophone), Harold Hendren (drums), Doris A. Crow (piano), and Leslie Welch (accordion) looking resplendent in their early ’70s finery. But in case this photo wasn’t enough to entice you into buying the album, check out the back cover!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year with the Mom and Dads

Boom! Matching purple vests for the win!

So just who are the Mom and Dads? Well, they got their start in the early ’50s and were based out of Spokane, Washington. They played on a part-time basis early on, and specialized in waltzes, polkas, country & western… you know, music for moms and dads. They did actually achieve some commercial success, believe it or not.

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The Pac-Man Christmas Story (1983)

The Best Bizarre Christmas Album Covers Ever, Part 2

I had to take a year off after the first gallery of odd Christmas album covers, but I’m back with a strange vengeance. Here’s another set of Yuletide records sure to leave you saying, “Ho ho huh?”

The Border Brass - Tijuana Christmas
The Border Brass — Tijuana Christmas (date unknown)

So outrageous it can’t possibly be offensive, right? From the back cover: Take the festive spirit of the Christmas season, spice well with the merry mariachi sounds & you have a wassail bowl full of the happiest holiday music ever!

Christmas at Home with Nina and Frederik
Nina and Frederik — Christmas at Home with Nina and Frederik (1960)

From the looks of Frederik, there’s only one of four things he wants to do this Christmas.

1. Sex you up.
2. Chop you into little pieces.
3. Sex you up and then chop you into little pieces.
4. Chop you into little pieces and then sex you up.

The Pac-Man Christmas Story (1983)
The Pac-Man Christmas Story (1983)

And behold, Pac-Man was visited that night by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pac-Man then consumed a power pellet and ate the ghost. Story over!

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Frank Zappa, Over-Nite Sensation (1973)

Album Cover of the Week: Frank Zappa, Over-Nite Sensation

It took a long time before I had the nerve to finally dive into the deep, deep well that is Frank Zappa’s discography. And for me, the album that hooked me to his delightful weirdness was 1973’s Over-Nite Sensation. It’s a bizarre mix of music that is by and large straightforward and experimental at the same time. Zappa truly was a colossal talent and is missed.

And just like the music therein, the cover of Over-Nite Sensation is absolutely packed with fun details. Because there are so many of them, I’ve included an extra-large foldout version of the cover. Click for a larger version.

Frank Zappa, Over-Nite Sensation (1973)

So we’ve got an electric hand reaching into a painting of Frank Zappa’s dressing room for a cigarette. There’s some sort of figure in white rising out of a crack in a table, and in the upper left on the wall is what looks like an old San Francisco 49ers logo. In the room are packages from McDonald’s and Bob’s Big Boy. There’s an old pair of underwear next to a rotten orange, some stage passes for Zappa and the Mothers.

Oh, and there’s a two-headed guy sitting on the bed about to… ah hell, I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s cool.

Anyway, the illustration credit goes to David McMacken, whose name is on the little plaque at the bottom of the painting. Some of McMacken’s other credits include Kansas’ Leftoverture, the Beach Boys’ Friends, and Journey’s Raised on Radio (logo design).

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The Monkees (1966) album cover

Album Cover of the Week: The Monkees (1966)

It was on this day, 46 years ago, that the so-called Prefab Four reached the top. For on November 12, 1966, the self-titled debut album from the Monkees hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. It stayed there for an amazing 13 weeks until it was knocked out of the top spot by… the second Monkees album.

So in recognition of the band’s achievement all those years ago — and not because it’s a terribly memorable cover by itself, here’s The Monkees (Colgems COS-101).

The Monkees (1966) album cover

The photo of the Monkees — Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones — was taken by Bernard Yeszin, whose work also appeared on a number of other records from the 1960s. Perhaps my favorite of his is Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave, which I’ll have to cover some other time.

Johnny & The Hurricanes, Stormsville (1960)

Album Cover of the Week: Johnny & The Hurricanes, Stormsville

I have no real reason for this pick other than the fact that Hurricane Sandy — aka Frankenstorm — is barreling up the East Coast as I write this. But as it turns out it’s a pretty cool piece of cover art in its own right. Here’s Johnny & The Hurricanes with their 1960 Warwick Records release, Stormsville.

Johnny & The Hurricanes, Stormsville (1960)

This is a fairly standard rock cover from the late ’50s/early ’60s period, featuring the band posing in the middle of rocking out. I dig the all upper-case band typeface, complete with hurricane wind lines.

Now for a little bit of history — the band was formed in Toledo, Ohio in 1957 and was led by saxophonist Johnny Paris, who you see front and center on this cover. Their big taste of success was with “Red River Rock,” which topped the U.S. charts at #5 in 1959. That track is not on Stormsville, by the way, but it does have “Reveille Rock,” which hit #25.

To my ears, the music of Johnny & The Hurricanes is fun and spirited, although not terribly distinctive. But for fans of vintage, pre-Beatles rock and roll, this should be right up your alley.

Stevie Wonder - Where I'm Coming From

Album Cover of the Week: Stevie Wonder, Where I’m Coming From

I last showcased an album cover from the great Stevie Wonder when I wrote about Innervisions in 2009. Today I want to go back to the beginning. Not of Wonder’s career, but of his string of all-time classic albums in the 1970s. For today we look at Where I’m Coming From, released on Motown’s Tamla label on April 12, 1971.

Stevie Wonder - Where I'm Coming From

A few things strike me right away about this cover. First is the very bold use of “WONDER” with its many pictures of Stevie. This was the first album where Wonder really was able to assert full creative control over his music, and I think this cover speaks to that.

The second thing is the title — Where I’m Coming From. It’s an unmistakable declaration that this album was intended not to generate profit for Berry Gordy but to let America and the world know what was on Stevie Wonder’s mind in 1971. Lablemate Marvin Gaye would make the same artistic progression just a few weeks later when his landmark What’s Going On album was released.

One odd aspect to this cover — on the original issue at least — was the Wonder Mobile gimmick. Buyers could punch the “WONDER” letters out of the cover and hang them up as a mobile.

I have no information on the album credits for photography or graphic design, so if you do please let me know in the comments.

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The Best Musical Comedy Songs (Bettie Page album cover)

Four Classic Bettie Page Album Covers — Two Old, Two New

If my Tumblr feed is any indication, Bettie Page is one of the most loved and photographed women in history. And so it’s only natural that she’d show up on album covers as well. Here’s a cheesecake-filled selection.

The Best Musical Comedy Songs (Bettie Page album cover)

The Best Musical Comedy Songs (Halo Records, 1957)

This is a shot from the famous 1954 “Jungle Bettie” session with photographer Bunny Yeager.

DLR Band (Bettie Page album cover)

David Lee Roth, DLR Band (Wawazat!! Records, 1998)

Never one for subtlety, David Lee Roth‘s 1998 solo album pretty much summed up what he thought was best about America. This also appears to be from the same Yeager photo session as the first cover.

Ain't Misbehavin': Fats Waller's Hits and Jazz (Bettie Page album cover)

Ain’t Misbehavin’: Fats Waller’s Hits and Jazz (Halo Records, 1957)

Here’s another lovely 1957 gem from Halo Records. I’m not enough of a Pageophile to know the lineage of this boudoir shot. This same photo of Bettie in her black lingerie was used for a 1955 release of Bizet’s Carmen by the London Concert Orchestra, but with most of the lingerie (not to mention the bit of nipple on her right) cropped out.

Lords Of Acid - Do What You Wanna Do (Bettie Page album cover)

Lords of Acid, “Do What You Wanna Do” (1995, American Recordings)

Here’s another classic Bettie photo from the ’50s by Bunny Yeager. This one cranks up the humor element by putting Page in a slinky devil’s costume. I’m not totally certain of the year but I think it’s from 1954.

The Haunted Mansion Halloween album cover

A Gallery of 6 Spooky Halloween Album Covers, Part 2

I hope you enjoyed my first bone-chilling assortment of Halloween album covers, because here comes the next one!

The Haunted Mansion Halloween album cover

The Haunted Mansion (1970) – Disneyland Records

Alfred Hitchcock - Ghost Stories For Young People

Alfred Hitchcock, Ghost Stories for Young People (1962) – Wonderland Records

Famous Monsters Speak (1963) - Wonderland Records

Famous Monsters Speak (1963) – Wonderland Records

Frankie Stein And His Ghouls - Shock! Terror! Fear!

Frankie Stein and His Ghouls – Shock! Terror! Fear! (1965) – Power Records

Hallowe'en Spooky Sounds

Hallowe’en Spooky Sounds (1962) – Sounds Records

J. Robert Elliot ‎– Halloween Horrors: The Sounds Of Halloween (And Other Useful Effects)

J. Robert Elliot – Halloween Horrors: The Sounds of Halloween (And Other Useful Effects) (1977) – A&M Records