When I used to buy records I often chose them entirely on the basis of the cover. The weirder and cheesier the better. My personal favourite is Manowar’s Into Glory Ride; a fantastic depiction of four men, proud and unembarrassed to have been caught dressed in the most embarrassing of styles. Defiantly they stand, in ambiguous dark landscape, clad in furry boots and loin cloths. Three wield swords, whilst singer Eric Adams wearing one grey gauntlet grasps a limp mace. The cover is as good as the music contained within: life-changingly brilliant. My copy, on magnificent 12” vinyl, remains one of my greatest second-hand finds.
It’s a long time since I have bought vinyl. I have nowhere to put them; my shelf is full. My record player sits, unused and collecting dust, in the corner of the living room, a sad remnant of a past obsession. The terrible thought that should never be thought has even entered my mind on occasion: perhaps I should sell my records. There may be logical reasons to do this: I never use them, rarely even acknowledge their existence, someone else might have use for them, and I could do with a few extra quid... But who would really want a copy of German Beer Drinking Songs? I do, and I could not bear to part with my copy. Where else would I be able to listen to the rousing chorus of ‘Trink, Brüderlein, trink’? Actually, a quick google search has just answered that question for me.
But that is clearly beside the point. Owning something on vinyl is obviously superior than being able to stream a low bit-rate copy off YouTube accompanied by a half-arsed photo montage. My copy of German Beer Drinking Songs has a wonderfully cheap cover: a red background frames a photograph of a vast Bavarian beer hall, brimming with lederhosen and steins. The best thing about it is the printing error which means all the blue stands out way too much, meaning the odd insignificant blouse or tablecloth jumps right into the foreground. Not being an internationally significant release I assume the printers just thought fuck it. And nobody else involved cared; presumably they were all too pissed.
Living in Withington I have a profusion of charity shops at hand which between them are incredibly well stocked with old tat. The focus of my old tat hunting in recent weeks has been books. I am brushing up on short story style and technique, and have found a couple of anthology gems. Thanks to finding Opus, The Best of Isaac Asimov, and reading all this H.P. Lovecraft I am now on the lookout for old sci-fi novels, especially ones with great cover art. I happen to know there is a fantastic selection in the Withington branch of Barnardo’s bookshop. Unfortunately this has been mysteriously closed for the last couple of months. One day it was just shut: the steel shutter was pulled down, and a pair of handwritten notes sellotaped to it read ‘Unfortunately we will be closed for the foreseeable future, sorry for the inconvenience’. The signs have since blown away, but the shutters remain closed. Soon I will have tiny amount of money burning tiny holes in my tiny pockets, and I want to spend it in this shop.
A couple of days ago I felt the urge to buy a book based entirely on its garish, cheesy cover art. I don’t remember it exactly, but it was an illustration that reminded me of Barbarella-style. The blurb on the back described a book I don’t want to read; a trashy romance sort of thing. But I definitely wanted to buy it. I resisted... but was drawn back towards it this morning. The shop was closed but in Age Concern (which was open) I experienced the pull again. This time I gave in. For 50p I got a copy of a ‘Panther Crime’ novel called Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes. It’s a blaxploitation novel about two detectives called Coffin Ed and Gravedigger.
The cover is so bizarre. It features a photograph of what appears to be an East Asian woman in a blonde wig wrapping her arms around a man with a paper bag over his head. The bag has eye, mouth and ear holes cut into it, and the man holds a snub-nosed revolver. The Scotsman calls it ‘tough, weird, vicious, and quite remarkably un-put-downable,’ and The Sun says ‘I’ve run out of adjectives... just, like, read it, man’. OK, maybe I will.