I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.
The LP record has been around for more than a century, and in that time hundreds of thousands of albums have been produced around the world. Vinyl LPs may be in the midst of a hipster mainstream comeback right now, but the majority of old, forgotten record albums by equally forgotten artists are still doomed to molder away in basements, attics, and storage units until they're finally dragged out into the light of day to be sold on the cheap at yard sales, flea markets and thrift shops.
I'm a long-time music collector and pop culture nerd, and one of my favorite pastimes is hitting the local thrifts in search of new CDs to add to my collection. I don't collect vinyl (I don't even own a turntable), but I still can't resist flipping through the crates of musty old LPs when I'm out thrift shopping, just to see what kind of weird crap will turn up. In the internet age, weird/bizarre album cover art has become a genre unto itself, with untold numbers of web pages devoted to ugly, offensive, and just plain WTF record albums from days gone by.
Here are a half dozen LPs that made me stop and go "What the...?" during my recent thrift-shop travels.
What the Heck?
The piece of nightmare fuel shown above was the album cover that inspired this article. Just look at it. Pity the poor souls who were forced to sport cheap animal costumes (including an off-brand Tweety Bird, a depressed looking rabbit, and a duck who is clearly stoned out of his gourd) for the sake of this photo shoot. I am especially creeped out by the guy wearing the jester's outfit in the lower right corner, who's reaching out towards unsuspecting record buyers with his soulless eyes. If I were a little kid, this cover would scare the livin' poop out of me!
In the midst of all this fur-covered paper-mache mayhem, the smiling visage of French-Canadian children's chanteuse Nathalie (aka Nathalie Simard) invites you to enjoy this 1985 collection of her greatest hits.
Yeah, I know... "Nathalie Who?"...but apparently she was quite a big deal among the Canuck pee-wee set during the '80s. Most of the pint-size audience members in the YouTube video below don't seem all that enthused to be part of her performance of "Danse Des Canards," though. Hey kids, count your blessings - you could have been one of those backup dancers in the duck outfits! How this French language children's album wound up in a thrift store in New Jersey, hundreds of miles from the Canadian border, is a mystery that will have to wait for another day.
Nathalie Simard - "La Danse Des Canards"
Who Are You Callin' "Honky?"
Adelaide "Del" Wood (1920-1989) was apparently one of the premiere female honky-tonk piano players in her day. Her career spanned three decades (the '50s into the '70s), during which she recorded more than a dozen albums, performed at the Grand Ole Opry and even showcased her ivory-tinkling skills in the Dolly Parton/Sylvester Stallone country-music comedy Rhinestone (whether that's something to brag about depends on who you ask, I guess). I knew none of that when I first came across this 1957 LP, I just loved the cover art, which looks like something you'd see hanging on the wall of an old-timey ice cream parlor.
Del Wood - "Beer Barrel Polka"
Who's Up for a Hootenanny?
Come on, who doesn't love a good Hootenanny? The Wanderin' Five and the Appalachians (and their friends!) sure do! Check out these clean cut folkies, don't they look they know how to throw one helluva party? (Seriously, people, we should use the term "Hootenanny" more often. Let's bring it back.)
I'm going to assume that this 1963 release, which features such pickin' and twangin' favorites as "Mary Don't You Weep," "Midnight Special" and "Lonesome Valley," was not recorded at the same "Limelight" venue in NYC that was known for its heavy metal, gothic and hardcore concerts in the 1980s. Wherever it was taped, it would appear that this album was the lone major release for both acts.
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The Wanderin' Five - "Shenandoah"
"Barbershop? That ain't been popular since aught-six, dag nabbit." - Bart Simpson
Today I learned... Barbershop Quartets were still a thing in 1969. Not only that, but there were enough of them out there to compile an album of the Top Ten groups in the genre! Who knew?
This LP was apparently recorded at an annual competition held by the "S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.," which sounds like an evil spy organization from a James Bond movie, but it's actually the official governing body for all things Barbershop-related. A quick Google search revealed that the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. (which stands for "Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America" -- whew!) was founded in 1938 and still exists today, though as of 2004 the organization has shortened its name to the much-less-of-a-mouthful "Barbershop Harmony Society."
I was unable to find any video evidence of "Mark IV," the first-place winners on this LP, but a YouTube search turned up a tribute to "The Oriole Four," who according to this album cover, placed 4th (appropriately) in 1969. YouTube says the Oriole Four came back to capture first place in 1970's S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. championship, so hey, good on ya, fellas!
The Oriole Four
Caught in a Mish-Mosh Pit
As a long time metalhead, I found the use of the term "mosh" hilarious in this outdated context. For the uninitiated (which included me before a bit of Google and YouTube searching), Mickey Katz (1909-1985) was a comedian and jazz musician who was sort of like a '50s version of Weird Al Yankovic. Though he also wrote original songs, Katz was best known for his Jewish-themed parodies of then-current hits, like "Knish Doctor" (instead of "Witch Doctor"), "Barber of Schlemiel" ("Barber of Seville"), and "How Much is that Pickle in the Window?" ("How Much is that Doggie in the Window?") You'd think that a one-joke premise like this would get old after only a few songs, but the record-collectors' reference site Discogs tells me that Mickey released nearly a dozen albums (with titles like The Borscht Jester, Comin' Round the Katzkills, and Katz Pajamas) between 1951 and 1962!
Fun fact: Mickey Katz is the father of actor/singer Joel Grey of "Cabaret" fame, and the grandfather of Jennifer ("Dirty Dancing") Grey!
Mickey Katz - "How Much Is That Pickle in the Window"
Stumbling across this album in the Goodwill bin was actually a relief, because at least it was a familiar name and face! This 2-LP set is somewhat famous in record collector's circles because of its complete and total failure when it was first released in 1974. For some reason, Casablanca Records was so convinced that everyone in America would want to own a two-record set of the late night TV king's greatest bits that they pressed half a million copies of this album, only to see more than half of them quickly return, unsold, to their distributors. (Legend has it that Carson himself quipped that the album "shipped gold, but returned platinum!")
Fun fact: This album's failure nearly destroyed the Casablanca label, who were already teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. If KISS' Alive hadn't suddenly taken off in 1975, thus saving the company's financial hindquarters, they would've gone out of business and missed out on the disco wave that made them famous thanks to late '70s hits by Donna Summer, the Village People and Lipps Inc.
Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round, Like a Record Baby!
Well, this was a fun trip into the obscure corners of Grandma's record collection .. I still stop by my local Goodwill every other week or so to scrounge for new CDs, so I will make sure to keep digging in the record crates while I'm there to see what new weirdness I can uncover. Stay tuned for more in the near future!
© 2018 Keith Abt
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on July 08, 2018:
Yep, it's known as "The Chicken Dance" here in the U.S. and gets played at many wedding receptions to this day.
Bev G from Wales, UK on July 08, 2018:
Bloody hell, that Danse des Canards is a French version of the Birdie Song. It was a hit in the UK back in the day... and obligatory fare at your drunken wedding party disco.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on June 18, 2018:
Hi Heidi - I hate to say it but the bulk of my parents' record collection would probably qualify too. Small wonder I grew up to be a metal head, I had to rebel somehow!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 18, 2018:
OMG! Now I want to go to a thrift store again just for the chuckles. Sadly, I think many of the LPs at my house when I was a kid would have qualified. Thanks for sharing the finds!