The 4 Most Baffling Trends in Old-Timey Album Covers
One day in the distant future, long after our society has fallen to an alien army or some new up-and-coming species (elktopi?), I hope that they will sift through our cultural ashes in an effort to understand who we were. And I hope that in their search, they stumble upon a perfectly preserved flea market bin of vintage records, and nothing else. Not because those albums accurately depict what life was like for humanity at the apex of its existence, but because all the cover art on records from the 1950s and '60s is so confusing and removed from reality that it looks like it was created in an alternate dimension. Tricking all those elktopi into committing that nonsense into their history books is exactly the kind of final "fuck you" I'd like to rub in the faces of our conquerors.
Here are four facts our grandparents' generation insisted were true ... for some reason.
They Hated Furniture
If the album art is to be trusted from old records, the mid-20th century was a notoriously bad era for sofa manufacturers. Albums across all genres of music have the same type of photograph slapped on their covers -- people sprawled out on the floor like paraplegics who've fallen out of their wheelchairs.
I'm no historian, but I'm fairly confident that furniture had been invented by the 1950s. So where are all the recliners, benches, beds, stools, chairs and couches? Well, a little digging reveals that there are at least a few albums where furniture appears on the cover, but in every single one of those photographs, people look completely baffled as to how sitting on it is supposed to work.
The closest anybody comes to using furniture properly is the guy on the stool in the last photograph, and he looks absolutely miserable that he's not allowed to sit on the floor like everyone else. So furniture clearly exists, but apparently no one quite gets it, or else they are intentionally misunderstanding it. There is no logical reason for this trend, unless somehow this is a long, creepy, fetishized holdout from the Great Depression when everyone had to burn their furniture to keep warm. Or, more likely, it's a weird, sexy way to honor the president who pulled us through that Depression.
... over 20 years later.
They Needed to Be Told What to Listen to at Any Given Moment
Granted, Pandora didn't exist in the '50s and '60s, so it must have been tough to come across new music. I can't fault them for not knowing what songs would go best at parties and what songs are better for crying in cars. But it's still shocking how many vintage albums there are dedicated to giving people a soundtrack to every minute aspect of their day.
It's like having a mix tape that's best suited for every event in your life, and that's fine. It doesn't start teetering into insanity until those events get really specific.
I don't even know what to equate these to in today's music. I think the closest we have are Jock Jams, and even that's a far cry from Music to Lure Pigeons By. Presumably there were mobs of people in 1968 freaking out in parks because they didn't know what to listen to while feeding birds. Unless there are breadcrumbs in that record sleeve, pigeons probably don't care what type of music is pouring out of your wind-up gramophone while you try to lure them into cages. Incidentally, people weren't listening to these albums on Walkmans or anything that's even remotely portable; for every Music to ____ By that includes an outdoor activity, they would have had to lug a record player along with them just to adhere to the suggestion on the front of the album. It was either that or guys were playing Music to Watch Girls By in their own homes and just peeking through the blinds at pedestrians.
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They Had a Race of Women Who Were Very Tiny
Somewhere hidden in the walls of your house or under the floorboards there is probably a small community of them. They are elusive and secretive today, but during the '50s and '60s they were ubiquitous -- drawn out into the open only by the power of music, out where they were easy prey for hawks and cats, all so they could sit on the ends of their favorite instruments and just listen. They are the race of very tiny women.
I have no idea why the Borrowers kept popping up on album covers 50 years ago, but the trend is too predominant not to mean something. Clearly people were more inclined to buy records when there was a tiny woman on the front or they would've stopped making so many of them, but I'm afraid to explore it any further than that, because I'm almost positive it has something to do with gender subjugation. If I'm wrong and nothing on this cover art is meant to be a metaphor, then that man's harmonica has no business being that big.
The one aspect of all of these pictures that's kind of endearing is that these women seem to be loving the shit out of being tiny. None of them look terrified or even apprehensive, which means they're either lost in the music for one fleeting moment in an otherwise peril-filled day, or they have owners who take very good care of them and keep them safe. And by owners I think we all know I mean regular-sized husbands.
Everybody Was Wasted
I suspect that in the middle of the 20th century, everyone accidentally confused looking sexy for looking black-out drunk. It's the only reason I can think of for putting so many shit-faced people on the covers of albums. All the heavy eyelids, the curled lips and the nests of hair hanging over one eye are red flags that the people on these record sleeves need to drink three glasses of water and go directly to bed before they do something regrettable.
Worst of all, whatever element of sexual appeal might be present in these photographs is overwhelmed by that subtle but irrefutable look in their eye that says, "I'm not going to tell you when, but some time in the next 10 minutes I'm going to throw up on you." That's true of all of them, except the woman who's so stoned that she's seeing a little man in a white suit pleading with her to stop ruining her life like this.
Sadly, the idea that everyone was constantly drunk may be the only trustworthy element presented by the album covers from this era. It would certainly go a long way toward explaining why they needed someone else to pick their music for them, and why everyone was always spilling over furniture or collapsed on floors. The only missing link in all the album covers of the mid-1900s was a tiny woman swimming around in a glass of whiskey.
Sorry, never mind.
For more from Soren, check out 4 Cliche Movie Moments Explained by Psychology and 7 Real Suits That Will Soon Make the World a Cooler Place.