Did you ever buy a record album purely on the strength of its cover artwork?
I have, a number of times. Seeing a striking album cover and being almost compelled to buy the album with no idea of what kind of music you may be buying. There is always the notion that perhaps the music on the album won’t be to your liking, not in your groove, not your bag, man, but then again there’s also the chance that maybe, just maybe the quality of the music will match the quality of the album artwork.
Although having written that, I can think of examples of the opposite. For example, I was never ‘into’ Iron Maiden; why? I didn’t like the album covers so I never listened to any of their music to any great extent. My Maiden revelation came in the early 2000s when I was in charge of the despatch department of Aerial Facilities Limited. In Despatch, cut off from the rest of the factory floor, we often had music plating to help our working day along and Iron Maiden’s then latest album, ‘Dance of Death’ was lent to us, and it got played.
The scales fell from my eyes, from my ears. I liked this music, it had intelligent lyrics it was melodic, tuneful; how could I have been so churlish to ignore the Mighty Maiden on the strength of their album covers? I sought out and acquired some Maiden albums, it was good stuff. Mind you, I still don’t reckon their album covers, that wretched Eddie, but the music, oh yeah, I like the music.
Back in the 1980s we, that’s Paul, Kerry, Keith and I, used to go up to London to visit the Record & Tape Exchange shops, there were a few dotted around the capital, Camden, Shepherd’s Bush and Notting Hill spring to mind but I think that in their heyday there were more; anyway, we used to go to Camden or the Shepherd’s Bush one in the Goldhawk Road and buy LPs. It was great fun, descending into the basement, the bargain basement, to trawl through the dusty ranks of records that nobody else wanted in the hope that we’d come across real gem of an album, that is to say, an album that we wanted and that had been knocked down to a bargain price, £1 or 50p.
The shops operated by buying second-hand albums, singles, cassettes etc. and then reselling them, progressively reducing the prices of those pieces that hadn’t sold until somebody thought that the price was right. £1.50 to 50p seemed to be a good average. Bearing in mind that the albums were pre-owned and may therefore not be in the best condition; a day’s ‘shopping’ would consist of flicking through the albums until a likely looking one appeared and then slipping the vinyl out of its sleeves, outer and inner if present, and checking the playing surface in the gloomy basement light. 10p was the lowest price that I remember seeing for an album, but those really cheap ones were either not in good condition or really, really not something that anybody wanted to buy.
My friend Kerry bought an album called ‘Space Hymns’ by a group called ‘Ramases’, the cover artwork, by Roger Dean, was fantastic. We had seen the album before in the ‘upstairs’ level of one of the shops, for upstairs read street level, and it was displayed high on a shelf with a price to match but the cover had intrigued us. One day a copy appeared in the basement with a suitably reduced price, not dirt cheap but cheap enough to encourage Kerry to buy it. The music however totally failed to cash the cheque issued by the artwork. The front was a picture of what you took to be a rocket blasting off into space, but the cover opens out into something six times as big to reveal the full picture. The music wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t quite our kettle of fish; but the album cover…
One album I snapped-up for a bargain price was ‘Looking Back on the Future’ by ‘Dawnwind’. It cost me a couple of quid. I had no idea what kind of music it was, I just liked the cover, it was cheap and the record itself looked to be in good condition, not pristine but good with no obvious scratches or marks on it. I still have the album and I still play it, it’s a sort of Folksy affair; acoustic, guitars and voices. Look it up now on Discogs and it gets categorised as ‘Acid Folk’, well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that it’s firmly in my personal category of very good albums and it still plays without clicks or bumps.
If you try to buy an original copy these days, and there was a reissue on vinyl in 2007 and a later issue on CD, you’re not going to get much change out of £200.00. Not bad for a couple of quid punt on a nice album cover.
Karen loves a silver lord
Holds a needle like a sword
He puts rainbows in her hand
Shows her where the pain began…