Saturday, August 7, 2010

Regrets In Retrospect: Album Covers

I wonder if people ever look back at their careers and lament over certain decisions that either they made themselves or were made on their behalf. Well if not, I'm sure this new series of posts will reluctantly jog their memories. Regrets In Retrospect aims to take inventory of perceivable blunders and missteps in the public lives of those we hate to love, love to hate, and all variations in between. I'll try to keep it pc...but you know how I do.

Today's subject is album covers. Album artwork has always been an integral part of the record buying experience. I mean, be honest, how album purchases over the course of your life were made solely on the basis of the artwork? A little extreme? Ok. How about this: how many times did the album artwork seal the deal when you were standing in the record store (remember those?) on the fence on whether you should buy an entire album for one hot song? Thought so.

I've chosen two groups to "pick on" for the first edition in this series: Double Exposure and Imagination. Before you dismissively relegate these guys to one-hit-wonder purgatory, understand and know that they've each had big hits.

Imagination Scandalous (1983)

Formed in 1981, the UK-based trio Imagination had already charted high on the charts in their native England before showing up on the Stateside charts the following year with their modest hit single "Just An Illusion":

Even though the U.S. never gave them much love, that same single was a top 10 hit in 8 countries around the world. Soon after, their success began to wane. And while their image was always on the provocative side (not unusual for the early to mid 80s), they jumped the shark with the cover art for their third album Scandalous. It's hard to tell what the art department at their label was thinking when they conceived this one. Maybe a more fitting album title would have been that of Brooklyn Hip-Hop trio Whodini's hit "Freaks Come Out At Night," which was released the following year.

I think even Rick James would have sobered up at the sight of these dude's outfits. The hamburger meat on the torso and the crotch area is a bit...frightening. The only thing that saved them from massive public ridicule was the fact that it was very much an under the radar release. But other than Cameo's front man Larry Blackmon possibly gleaning inspiration for his infamous codpiece, I don't think this cover inspired anyone to do much of anything...except cringe and vomit. C'est la vie.

Double Exposure Locker Room (1979)

Now I know what you're thinking: why pick on a group that seems to have a perfectly acceptable, themed album cover? Well, we'll get to that in a minute. Trust me. First, let's talk about Double Exposure's background. Based in the soul-drenched metropolis of Philadelphia, these guys have a history dating back to the mid 60s when they went by the god-awful name United Image. By the time they inked their deal with disco giant Salsoul Records in 1975, their harmonies were tighter and their name was a lot more attractive. The following year, they scored two consecutive gold singles with the hits "Ten Percent":

...and "My Love Is Free":

These were undeniable dancefloor burners that had a mainline to the remarkable Philly soul sound, taking them from Soul Train all the way to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, the gravy train began to run out of steam the following year. And in 1979...they, too, jumped the shark. Which brings us back to the aforementioned question I was sure you were asking yourself. And here's the answer:

Sometimes the "gem" is on the back cover or the inner sleeve. Here is a prime example of why using a second (or third, or fourth) set of ears and eyes is essential before making final decisions on releasing material. The jock straps are not a good look, fellas. Read: not. It looks more like an alternate cover for the Village People's mega hit single "Y.M.C.A." released the previous year. I mean...there's a side profile of an entire booty here. I get that artists typically have to exude a certain amount of sex appeal for the sake of sales, but this is taking it too far. Do we really need to see their junk hanging out and a side shot of dude's ass cheek to understand that they're great vocalists? I think not.

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