Saturday, January 5, 2008

Naked Vinyl Cover Art- Selling Music and Sex

Part one

by Robert Benson

When we look back at album cover art throughout the years, it is kind of ironic that some album covers that are released these days can cause such an uproar because they may have a nude image on them or sexual suggestive scenes. But ‘naked vinyl’ started a long time ago, and, in fact, sold many, many records before it was decided that it is offensive. In this two-part article series, let’s explore some of the more interesting facets of ‘naked’ album cover art and erotica.

There is an age-old adage in the marketing world that ‘sex sells.’ And let’s face it, you’re more apt to buy a particular product from a curvy supermodel than a housewife with curlers in her hair and pictured in a robe and slippers, or you may prefer a hunky-he-man instead of a pot-bellied, balding gentleman hawking a product.

So, taking advantage of this motto, the record labels and specifically, album cover art, used this phenomenon to sell records. The labels released all kinds of music and ‘blue’ comedy records with one thing in common, nudity and plenty of it.

It all began in the late 40’s when album cover designers and the marketing departments for various record labels conjured up a plan to sell records by adorning the album covers with nude or scantily clad women. Another slippery gimmick was to make a play on the title of the record, a visual pun that allowed the erotica to slip in subtly and unnoticed.

For instance, on an album by Hugo Winterhalter (RCA Victor LPM-1904) called “Wish You Were Here,” the cover depicts a beautiful woman seemingly stranded on a desert island with only a telescope and her ripped and cleverly revealing nightgown. Beside her, in a cartoon caption cloud, she is stating the name of the album. And, yes, this worked, the album sold very well and it is still cherished by record collectors to this day.

In post-war America in the 1950’s, stripping as a form of adult entertainment was in vogue, with some women becoming minor celebrities. Why even American idol Joe DiMaggio had a well-documented affair with a hooker. Sex was selling magazines, posters, calendars and everything else in between. And jumping on this bandwagon, record companies rose to the occasion by releasing hordes of “Music to Strip By” records.

Cinema and magazines soon jumped in with big and low budget films and the success of the adult magazine ‘Playboy’ helped pave the way for an increase in the use of ‘naked vinyl’ record covers. In fact, famous Playboy models like June Blair, Dawn Richard and Jayne Mansfield were featured on record album covers. Playboy even released a few records now and then, such as 1958’s “Playboy Jazz-All Stars LP.” In the same year the magazine featured a pictorial montage about erotic album cover art, even using the headline “Music To Make Your Eyeballs Pop.” Playboy documented that the record companies were utilizing a discovery that was made popular by the paperback and romance book publishers-that nudity on the covers sells.

But the ‘naked vinyl’ and erotica vinyl cover phenomenon was just getting started. The 1960’s brought the public ‘stag party’ records, sex-obsessed vinyl covers that not only featured risqué music and lyrics, but ‘live’ blue comedy as well. Kind of like sports cards for adults, these ‘stag party’ records were highly sought after and collectible.

Yes, the public was snatching up these raunchy and ‘blue’ comedy records and two record labels on the West Coast in particular took full advantage of the opportunity to cash in on the trend. It became an excuse to release as much crass comedy and trashy sex songs as they could. Based in L.A., Fax Records was one of the most prolific labels, and had four distinct ‘sex genres’ that they focused on. They, of course, capitalized on the ‘stag party’ themed records, but also included a ‘personality’ series, a special ‘erotica ‘series as well as a ‘themes and scenes motion picture set’ series. These records were all about sex, in many forms, and were both educational and entertaining.

The second West Coast record label, LAFF records, focused on the American Nightclub Comedy Circuit and promoted their releases by quipping “Recorded at the scene of the applause, on the stage, or at an intimate party, the live and living heart-tugging, button-busting laughter of America’s funniest comic personalities; on LAFF Records just for you!! Have a Party, Have a LAFF!”

And LAFF backed up their claims with coarse and crude comedy records including a record called “Tales You’d Never Tell Your Mother,” from raunchy comedian Kenny Carol. A country comedian, Sam Nichols’ (Cowboy Sam-The Old Cowhand From The Rio Grande) slow southern drawl was a perfect medium for his crass comedy; including a country comedy song called “Courtin’ on a Mule.” Other “naked cover” comedians included the lascivious Rex Benson, the ‘blue’ comedy of Bub Thomas, the stand-up dirt of Bert Henry and many, many more.

But the coarse comedy was not limited to the men. Faye Richmond, Madame Mame, Terri “Cupcake” O’Mason and many others were all successful entertainers in their own right. All these records invited the public into the intimate world that was popularized by the rich, famous and sexually successful, embellishing “You Are There” or “Rubbing Shoulders With Hollywood Greats.”

In part two of our look into ‘naked vinyl’ we will explore a couple of East Coast record labels and look at some other albums that have caused a stir because of nudity.

Look for part two of this article in tomorrow's post!

This Day In Music History- Jan 5

Sam Phillips, the producer who discovered Elvis, was born in Florence, Ala in 1923. With his Sun Records label, he also brought to the world's attention the talents of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, and Howlin' Wolf.

In 1959, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" becomes the last release from Buddy Holly before his death.

The late Wilbert Harrison ("Kansas City") was born in 1929.

Sonny Bono ("I Got You Babe" with then-wife Cher) died in a skiing accident in South Lake Tahoe, California, in 1998.

Michael Stipe (R.E.M.'s lead singer) was born in 1959.

Today the song "Please Don't Go" by K. C. & the Sunshine Band topped the charts and stayed there for a week. (1980) It was the first number one song of the eighties and the band’s fifth and final U.S. chart topper.

Today in 1991, the song "Justify My Love" by Madonna topped the charts and stayed there for 2 weeks.

The Blues Brothers top the American album charts in 1979 with Briefcase Full of Blues. The album goes on to sell two million copies.

The No. 1 album in the country today in 1974 was The Carpenters' The Singles 1969 - 1973.

In 1954, Elvis Presley cut a 10-minute long demo tape at Memphis Recording Studio.

In 1962, The Beatles released their single "My Bonnie." When a fan in Liverpool asks record shop owner Brian Epstein for the single, Epstein further investigates the Fab Four and has his life changed: he becomes the band’s manager.

Prince made his solo performance debut in Minneapolis, MN in 1978.

In 2005, Doors’ manager Danny Sugarman passed away at age 50. Involved with the band since 1967, Sugarman, co-author (with Jerry Hopkins) of the Jim Morrison tome No One Here Gets Out Alive, had been fighting brain cancer for several years.

"Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits" goes Gold just nine months after its release in 1968.