You people just can’t get enough. So who am I to deny your whims? There’s an endless supply to choose from, after all. So here you go. However, there are some new ground rules. I will try to only include albums I have at least given a cursory listen to, and will try to provide some backstory where applicable, along with the snark you’ve come for. There may be a theme to this batch. Something along the lines of “before they were famous.” Maybe not though. Stop asking questions and just read.
Scorpions: Fly to the Rainbow (1974)
I guess it’s tradition now that we lead off with a Scorpions album cover. And since I want to stay out of jail, I’ll refrain from featuring the original “Virgin Killer” one. So here we have what some may think is a brave announcement that the entire band is coming out of the closet, and in style.
Nothing says gay pride more than having turbine jets for feet, a welder’s mask made from an upside down popcorn bag, and wearing a stylish purple jumpsuit while proudly displaying a rainbow banner. Liberace’s Pomeranian being walked by Rip Taylor during the Chicago Pride Parade couldn’t be gayer, and I’m not even sure what that means.
As for the music, it’s actually a pretty stark departure from the arena-rock stuff they’re most famous for. Most people don’t realize the Scorps have been around since 1965, lending further credence to my theory this is the band that Spinal Tap basically modeled themselves after. This album has way more 70s-style groove than one might expect, save for the fact it was released in the 70s, when they were virtually unknown to American rock fans. Have a listen, on me:
Attila: Attila (1970)
Do you recognize that mustachioed man on the right? That is in fact, none other than one Billy Joel, a mere 3 years, but light years, from being The Piano Man. Now, at the very least, I think it’s clear what Joel and his bandmate Jonathan Small were going for here. It was some kind Attila The Hun theme, although with the sides of beef hanging around, they look more like waiters at a terribly ill-conceived theme restaurant.
The music is also terribly conceived, so if you are just too damn curious, go ahead and Youtube it. I won’t bother linking it here. If you want a description, think Deep Purple meets Iron Butterfly, they lose the bass player, and it all really, really sucks. That’s about the short of it.
I’m sure Billy can laugh about it now, although his old buddy John Small probably can’t. Because besides the album being a huge flop, and Joel going on to huge commercial success, coupled with the fact that you are probably seeing the name Jonathan Small for the first time ever right here on this blog, the “band” also broke up due to Joel banging Small’s wife. Strong work all around, Bill.
Bob Dylan: Saved (1980)
On the surface, this album cover seems much less insane than boring and unimaginative, until you get into the context. Most of you casual or younger Dylan fans may not realize that in the late 70s and early 80s, Bob Dylan, Mr. counterculture himself, found Jesus, and found him with a vengeance. He released 2 albums that were just plain old ultra-pious born-again Christian preaching. In true Bob Dylan fashion, no one was quite sure what the fuck he was talking about, but it sure had something to do with Jesus:
“Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it.”
As for the music, his first Jesus-lovin’ album got pretty good reviews. This one, ehhh.. not so much. It’s basically watered-down aging Dylan, but with 8000% more Jesus than your regular Dylan. Listen, if you must:
Most rock historians believe that Dylan lost his Jesus mojo by about 1982 or so, when he went back to mostly non-Jesusical lyrics, either because the novelty wore off, or because a mainstream rock icon’s album sales tend to do better without cramming scripture down the listener’s throat. Either way, it’s an interesting historical footnote, if by “interesting” I mean… not all that interesting.
Y Kant Tori Read: Y Kant Tori Read (1988)
Every good red-blooded American male, and many females, at one point had a major “thing” for Tori Amos. The woman was basically smoldering sex with a piano, and a redhead to boot. However in her early days, she had a band, and they were called “Y Kant Tori Read.” That may sound like the title of a shitty PSA about the importance of a good education, but this album got far less airplay.
So few CDs exist that hardcore Tori fans will shell out big bucks for an original copy (word to the wise.. if you have room to hoard, save EVERY one of those crappy discs bands give out at dive bars and at SXSW. There’s a chance one of them could be the next someone. And hipster chicks will totally dig your vast collection of unknown crap CDs).
The music? Well we get a two-fer here. It’s basically very crappy, overproduced synth-pop, with a touch of recognizable Tori essence, and lots of over-hairsprayed red locks. But we’ve also got a very strange video where she sports a nice mid-drift and a sheer nighty-looking thing, and trades some painfully bad dialogue with a video “cop” (that’s right.. 80s Video Insanity Bonus!!) before the music starts.
Oh it gets weirder though. The backstory is about someone breaking into Tori’s car and stealing Tori’s underwear, then she sings about it. It’s never really explained why she’s keeping her spare panties in her shitty ’83 Pontiac, but it all has to do with “The Big Picture” somehow. I am at a loss.
Musically, it’s… about what you’d expect from a big star who started out doing whatever was popular at the time, although the music is horribly dated, even from when it was released. So enjoy the eye candy. The music.. probably not so much:
Butthole Surfers: Hairway to Steven (1988)
The Surfers were well known among the stoner crowd since at least the mid-80s. No circa 1988 college radio DJ worth his salt wouldn’t include a playlist that included some Surfers, They Might be Giants, and Dead Milkmen. But they really broke through in 1996 thanks in large part to MTV (yea, they actually used to show videos) and their single, “Pepper.” I never understood what the big deal was with that song, which seemed to me just a mediocre rip off of Beck’s “Loser.” Of course that song was pretty mediocre in its own right, despite how influential it was.
So this is another album I owned, once. I have also seen them live, when they were touring and Stone Temple Pilots was actually opening for them. I think I can safely say I was the only person at that show not on drugs, including everyone on stage.
As the popularity of Pepper and the album it was from, Electric Larryland, blew up huge, it led to a sort of Butthole Renaissance. And there’s a good chance I only included them here so I could type that.
As for the album cover and the music. Well, I recall at the age of 12 seeing the cassette and snickering, buying it, then finding both the cover and the music much less interesting by 12 and 1/2. I think being a kid in the late 80s/early 90s who was in with the “alt rock” crowd had to own a BHS album. At least one. Here’s a tune from the album. Notice the lack of any coherence and strong evidence of THC pervading the music. You might even get a contact high from listening. Puff, puff, pass:
William Shatner: The Transformed Man (1968)
So, here’s another one where I might be going off-theme a little. This cover really isn’t all that insane. But what’s on the album? Holy fuck is it a new level of crazy. And to this day no one is entirely sure if it’s a joke or a very misguided attempt at late 60s pop culture satire. Knowing Shatner, he forgot the truth of it long ago but wants to stoke the “mystery” to keep whoring anything and everything with his name on it.
That’s one thing about Shatner you have to love. The man has no shame whatsoever. None. This album features Shatner reciting Shakespeare intermixed with his quoting lyrics from popular songs of the day, in spoken word form. And by spoken word, I mean a spoken like a mental patient high on mushrooms and being chased by werewolves. It’s as insane as anything ever pressed to vinyl, period. Not much else to explain to this one. Go on and listen: