Graham Reid | | 10 min read
In the course of compiling the on-going series 10 Shameful Record Covers I'm Proud to Own I realised there were many albums in discount bins wrapped in unpromising covers but which were actually rather good.
So with the caveat that you shouldn't pay more than $10 for any of these -- and ignoring greatest hits packages -- here are cheap albums worth the small outlay.
Richies: Spring Surprise
Someone had to rescue this oddball cover and this surprisingly good German trio -- who pose with Sheriff von Bruckhausen on the back cover -- from the $5 bin.
This is where buying blind by the cover is as sensible as listening to a single and thinking you might like everything else.
Richies -- on this album from '91 -- owe a massive debt to the Ramones but take the contract further into observatons about German reunification (God Take Me Out of This Life) but keep their ear on Phil Spector (Queen of the Danube), their heroes (You Don't Know, complete with Joey sneer and rousing if cynical chorus), acknowledgement of American pop culture (Surfin' and Roddin' With Jan and Dean, the wistful song of lost innocence on Bangles Show), motorcycle riding senile delinquents (Hell's Grannies) . . .
The album is dedicated to Dennis Wilson. Among the acknowledgements they list the Dickies and Eric Idle. And that makes sense too.
At one level they a loving homage to the Ramones' version of US punk, at another maybe a parody of it. But -- like the Rutles -- done with love, affection, passion and gratitude.
Best $5 you could spend in a discount bin. Can't wait to stumble on their earlier Winter Wonderland . . .
Shawn Phillips: Rumplestiltskin's Resolve
The great Phillips deserved a much better cover than this which looks like a fancy dress version of the Stones' Beggar's Banquet.
Phillips -- whose exceptional voice has appeared at Elsewhere here -- had been close to Donovan in the mid Sixties and played sitar on some of his songs, appeared at the Isle of Wight festival and is apparently on the Beatles' Lovely Rita.
A true itinerant, he was born in Texas, made his reputation in London and LA and today lives in South Africa. At the time of this writing he is 70 and still writing and recording.
But his key albums -- Collaboration, Faces and Bright White in the early Seventies -- were his most high-profile period . . . and this one from '75 largely went past people. Did me until I found it for $5 and figured (on the strength of previous triumphs) it would be worth the outlay, despite the bawdy ballads-type cover.
Again, Phillips unleashes his remarkable range on songs which start soft then soar, and a significant ingredient here is keyboard player Peter Robinson who shoves some jazzy figures alongside that weaving vocal line.
Not quite the unmitigated disaster the cover suggests, but then again this is one of those "prior knowledge" purchases.
Sugar Puff Demons: Falling From Grace
With a band name designed to scare nervous eight year olds and a cover shot which is just little too try-hard, this psychobilly group from England's northeast seemed to make life difficult for themselves, especially given they aren't bad at all in a frantic, gloom laden and low fi way..
They also have the requiste shock titles: Family in a Suitcase, Burn the Church, Stan Likes Making Babies, Nice Day for a Homocide, Burke and Hare . . .
They also have interesting variations of demon head logos and in their day -- this album was from '89 -- they boasted pretty fancy quifs and serious leather.
They styled their music deathabilly (fair enough) but you can safely bet the Andy Summers on guitar and vocals here wasn't the same one who was in The Police.
I don't think they were even that big in Gateshead, let alone anywhere else. Pity though, fans of Hasil Adkins and cheap rockabilly would find plenty here for their $4.
Jack Schechtman: Jack Schechtman
This one isn't so much a shameless cover but one of those that genuinely hooked me in because . . . it came from that time in the early Seventies when it was cool to pose outside secondhand or junk shops, that Schechtman was signed to a major label (Columbia) but I'd never heard of him, that he was right in the "new Dylan" zone and -- like so many at the time -- had come down from Canada to make his fortune.
So a lot to be interested in . . . and he's pretty damn good. With a voice which would appeal to everyone from John Denver and Shawn Philips followers, some lovely acoustic songs (On Cherry Mountain, The Road Rolls On) and just hokey enough in places to capture the whole Americana vibe . . .
And it's very much of its period: Sharpshooter Delight starts, "My old lady, she's a dynamite chick, Well she keeps me together, gives me no lip, she's the best old lady I ever did score . . . ."
On Up and Down he sings "I won't guess the future but I pray the best will come, maybe I'll have a mansion or maybe I'll slave in one . . ."
Jack is now a rabbi in Berkeley, California and goes by the name Jack Schechtman Gabriel and still performing. Wonder if he's still with the same old lady?
DAF: Gold und Liebe
I picked up this DAF album more for the butch and homo-erotic cover and the song titles (Sex Under Water, Have You Decided What to Wear Tonight, Muscle, Absolute Body Control etc), than the fact they were an innovative electro-dance duo produced by Connie Plank in his famous German studio in the late Seventies/early Eighties.
There's a studiously macho delivery in Gabi Delgado's vocals (the music is all by Robert Gorl) and just about every track on this album succeeds through relentless repetition of synth lines and beats. Which is why it all works so well as decadent dance music . . . mostly in clubs called Beef, probably.
The boiler track is Waste Your Youth.
DAF stands for Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (German-American Friendship) and they achieved some early notoriety with their widely condemned and largely misunderstood Der Mussolini.
They are still recording today and have been hailed in some quarters as being in the vanguard of what became techno. Less well-known than other German electronic bands like Kraftwerk, DAF were certainly worth discovering.
The Motors: Approved by The Motors
Somewhere I have a clipping which explains the public reaction to this '78 album by the rather classy British pub-rock outfit from London.
My recollection is the record company couldn't figure out why the album wasn't selling when the reaction to their first single Dancing the Night Away had been good and their next single Airport (see clip) went top five in the UK. But still people wouldn't buy the album which it was featured on.
And the reason was . . . people thought they looked ugly.
It did even worse business than their debut album of the previous year. If I remember rightly they tried repackaging it but the momentum was gone and the band moved on to another album.
But this one -- the best of their three before they broke up in '80 -- bridges the gap between slick pop, pub rock, punk energy and power pop . . . and they had the cred top pull it off. In the band were Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster who'd been in Ducks Deluxe and at the time of Approved they also had guitarist Bram Tchaikovsky (who later had a passably good solo career with his own band and played with Alice Cooper).
But as Quincy Jones memorably observed, you can't shine shit. And people though this cover was shit.
The Beatles: The Beatles' Second Album
Because Dave Dexter -- Capitol Records A&R man in the States -- had his eye on the economics rather than the art, American audiences got very different versions of Beatles' albums than those released in Britain.
They were cobbled together affairs with some of the UK album tracks dropped in favour of singles. A real mish-mash of songs in different (often terrible) covers and different mixes.
This one -- 11 songs in 22 minutes -- was the first Beatles' album released after their pivotal appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and it's a firecracker of a rock'n'roll album with none of the McCartney ballads/covers and no filler by Ringo. It throws Lennon and Harrison into high profile. It also explains why the band had the reputation of selling American music in a British accent back to US audiences because it has rock'n'roll, girl group and Motown covers (Roll Over Beethoven, You Really Got a Hold on Me, Devil in Her Heart, Money, Long Tall Sally and Please Mr Postman) alongside originals . . . and the massive hit She Loves You which was not on a UK album at the time.
So an album which spotlights their roots and rock'n'roll and originality . . . and it comes in a cover which looks like a 12-year old's scrapbook project. (Nice picture of Ringo's ear.)
Maybe that was part of the appeal? This will cost you more than $10 if you can find it, but just make a burn of these tracks you have scattered across albums and singles, and read Dave Marsh's insightful little book about it. You'll hear why this is a good album in a bad cover.
David and David: Boomtown
When the American economy was heading south in the early Eighties and crack cocaine was becoming an epidemic, there were millions of people struggling and largely voiceless.
Perhaps that was why many escaped into glossy pop, Olivia Newton-John's Physical, MOR pop-rock like Hall and Oates, larger than life characters such as Prince and Michael Jackson, and stadium fillers like Dire Straits and Tina Turner.
The two Davids here -- Baerwald and Ricketts -- didn't look away however and although there is an element of that distinctive Eighties production on this, their sole album from '86, they told stories of lives spinning out of control, of domestic violence, people who went to LA to make their fortune and got spat out . . .
The cover doesn't tell you that -- it tells you nothing in fact -- but in places there is as much cool cynicism here as on a Steely Dan album, and yet the title track could be one of those socially insightful Cold Chisel songs which Don Walker can pen.
That surface polish rather neatly takes the edge of this and makes its uncomfortable narratives just that little more palatable. They broke up this "band" shortly after (they played just about every instrument themselves) but do a websearch on what happened to them -- especially Baerwald -- and you might be surprised. Smart guys, good album, bad cover.
Amazing Blondel: England
Nothing to attract you to this '72 cover on an album by these English folk-folks . . . and certainly even less when you open the gatefold and encounter the customary faux-archaicism of supposed Elizabethan/Shakespearean language in the lyric sheet.
And worse, they play dulcimer, tabor, tubular bells and . . . . recorder?
It gets worse: two of the three players here go by elongated names: "Terence Alan Wincott" and "John David Gladwin".
Hmmm. Watch the wall my darling, as the gentleman go by? (Kipling)
Actually no. These delightfully crafted songs evoke summer days under oaks, vesper bells, empty halls where choirs once sang, steeples and spires, fresh green grass in blue-belled woods . . .
And I'd be astonished if members of the Fleet Foxes hadn't heard this album and thought, "Hmmmm . . ."
Not amazing, but prog-folk was -- or has been -- rarely bettered.
Carolyn Mas: Carolyn Mas
So on the evidence of the cover Ms Mas was a mime artist, someone from the cast of an off-Broadway production, or a person who missed the call for Annie Hall ?
Dunno, (all of the above?).
But this album from '79 (her under-acknowledged debut I have discovered) fires on all cylinders.
From the opening track Still Sane (girl group meets a very familiar hook over stuttering New Wave guitars) through songs where she clearly knows her way around a power-pop ballad and into some of that sleazy-excellent NYC stuff the great Genya Ravan could deliver (Sadie Says) and . . .
The centrepiece on side one is the powerful Snow, a power ballad which doesn't aim for cheap grandeur but puts its radar straight to the impassioned heart. And it hits.
Listen to her album from this perspective, of course it is knobbled by being "from the Eighties" and all that production/clothing-cum-costume means, and . . .
Set that aside and you can hear great songs, an impassioned voice, up-to-11 song production (Never Two Without Three) and . . .
I found it for $4 many years ago and it became a repeat play item . . . and you have to love that she included her kindergarten report on the inside.
It's the sort of thing -- "sometimes needs to be reminded of class rules" -- which seems to echo down the generations and resonates in its own quiet way with all those misunderstood gifted outsiders who recognised their own talent, if not genius, when few other (always teachers, right?) do.
But maybe her '61 kindie teacher Agnes Adams was actually right because Carolyn Mas -- despite a few other albums and probably living a happy and fulfullied life outside of music -- didn't amount to a hill of beans in popular music.
"Irregardless" as thay said in The Sopranos, this very good album.
Elsewhere has a number of columns along these lines, click the title for the following
Five Odd Albums No One Should Own (but I do)
and there is probably much more . . .