Phil Ford

I’m wasting time, and so are you. So, let’s talk about ugly/weird/inappropriate classical album covers. This blog post made me laugh. (Parts 2 and 3 here.) The best image is probably this one:


Although “Tito Wayne Gacy” is pretty good too. There’s the inevitable Lara St. John cover art:


St. John could use a whole blog post of her own. In fairness, I should post a link to her spirited defense of her cheesecake album cover art. And anyway, she’s hardly the first to do it. For example:


And then there are all those album covers that seek to get all in our face with their totally gnarly ‘tude:


I remember years ago I saw a CD of some chump playing a thoroughly conventional piano program but flaunting, on the album cover, (A) a sleeveless leather jacket, (B) moderately accentuated biceps, with (C) a spider tattoo. EXTREME!!!

Nigel Kennedy has been guilty of such things in the past. I remember seeing an interview with him on MuchMusic where, in a carefully studied rockstar* manner, he told the interviewer that Beethoven was a total wild man “pissing in his piano” and stuff. But did he also bite the piano?


UPDATE: Jonathan reminded me of Westminster Gold! How could I have forgotten! And what Jonathan wants, Jonathan gets: behold, a whole website devoted to Westminster Gold cover art. You want cheesecake?


Beethoven’s facial expression seems to suggest that he is about to burst from his pedestal, Commendatore-like, and scuttle around the room like the severed hand in The Evil Dead, driven mad and antic by the the sheer hotness of the Westminster model. The Austin-Powers-like “strategically placed musical object” trope, as we see, did not originate with Lara St. Jean. Indeed, we find more variations on the theme in the Westminster catalog:


And this is not the end of the hotness. Not at all.


Black socks . . . and nothing else. That’s how we rolled in the 1970s!


Did you know that Birkenstock made disco boots? I did not.

This is a very abstract kind of sexy:**


This is just bizarre:


It occurs to me that “Westminster Gold” should join “cop show” in the Dial M slang lexicon. “Westminster Gold” should mean that something is sophisticated, yet totally insane. Dapper and heavily medicated. It’s like a line from a Blackalicious song called “Beyonder”: “like a war with levity/melody felonies/ heavenly heavenly make you feel like the seventies.”

*Jagger in intention, Nigel Tufnel in execution.

**UPDATE 2: Oh, I get it. Military . . . and Farewell . . . But why a VW? And I still don’t get the fox with the balloon. Fox, OK, Virgil Fox, but the balloon with the peace sign? Anyone?

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
This entry was posted in Musical Extremism, Recordings. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to EXTREME!!!!!!!!!

  1. Jonathan says:

    Weeping with laughter. Unfortunately parts 2 and 3 of the linked article aren’t quite working, but I hope they will soon. It would be great to see some of the old Westminster Gold album covers: a pile of cabinet door handles for a Handel recording, and a couple dressed in Barbarella-type spacesuits for–if I recall–other versions of music from *2001: A Space Odyssey* (*Also sprach Zarathustra*, the Blue Danube Waltz etc.).

  2. Jonathan says:

    Westminster Gold=PretentiaKitsch. Sort of like the Absolute Value of Genius, an idea I had in high school: as the absolute value of -6=6, so the absolute value of excruciatingly awful is excruciatingly wonderful.
    My God, those album covers bring it back. Actually, they bring it back up.

  3. Lisa Hirsch says:

    This is hilarious, and Phil, I beat you to posting about Lara St. John by a couple of years:
    Sadly, the comment thread is gone because I’m no longer using Haloscan for comments. Hmm, maybe I can get them from the Haloscan site and my email.

  4. Hannah says:

    Oh my gosh. I put that Holst album cover in a library display this semester! I love it so!
    We used to put a different spectacular/hilarious album cover up on display each day/week when I was a work-study student in the conservatory library at Oberlin. The inside of “Thriller” was one of our favorites. That and the ridiculous Debussy one with (I think) “La Fille au Cheveux de Lin” on it…which sported an extreme close-up of a lady with enormous fake eyelashes and gobs of eye makeup leaning over in such a way that her curtain of blonde hair could be played like a harp. Ahhhh, yes.

  5. Heather H says:

    also weeping with laughter over the VW hubcaps.
    Die Volks-kure???
    And the reanimated Beethoven heads! Oh my god.
    Madeleine: “Can we see those again?”
    Me laughing to hard to reply.

  6. Kip W says:

    Yessir, nothing says “porn” to me like a guy in black socks. Nothing.

  7. Daniel Wolf says:

    The composer and electronic music pioneer Richard Maxfield was an engineer for Westminster in the 60’s. He most famously edited in extra repeats in a few key recordings, not one of which was ever picked up by a critic.

  8. Christopher says:

    Hey! I had that Planets recording! It was one of the first classical recordings I ever bought. And I was not impressed by the sound and balance, either. Everything was rather murky, and the trombones in the loud passages sounded like a band saw cutting through a plywood sheet and hitting a nail. For a high school player, I was pretty discerning…

  9. Charlotte says:

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw that Salome cover… It’s absolutely terrifying! The colors didn’t really come out here. The original has this really intense orange which clashes painfully with the green.

  10. jason says:

    Yikes on the Reichs-humor of the VW hubcaps. Too soon in the 60s? You bet. Not nearly as effective as the “Fawlty Towers” “don’t mention the war” episode.
    Although, if it’s a clever play on Valkyrie/Walkuere spellings, kudos to the art director.

  11. Michael says:

    But you missed out my favourite Westminister Gold album cover: a cookie being crumbled for (wait for it….) Gotterdamerung!

    I remember this from a copy of Sereo Review (I think). I was never fortunate enough to own or even SEE this matserpiece of design.

  12. Phil Ford says:

    Ha ha! What a great cover. Yes, I’d overlooked the Gotterdammerung album design — I should do another post of Westminster Gold covers. There are so many good ones.

  13. allana says:

    I will confess to owning a good half-dozen of those Westminster Gold albums, purely for the covers. I actually paid 15 whole bucks for a copy of Provocative Electronics, which actually sounds sensational… Also, I’ve got Romeo and Juliet, and the Ring of the Nibelung, but not The Planets… I think that’d be the crowning achievement.

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