Welcome to the first in an occasional series in which vinyl record sleeves are dissected for both being delightful and/or dumb ass.
Vinyl lovers were never going to full in love with CDs when they began to be mass-produced in the 1980s. We already had the titles from when they were released; such titles as Brothers In Arms that were pushed by the record companies behind this new technology were not to our liking… and the sleeves were just too darn small.
Accompanying notes were difficult to read or left out all together whilst photos or artists in their prime and/or boasting ill-advised haircuts and leisure gear lost their appeal when reduced to an inch square on a glossy but flimsy inlay booklet.
A 12″ or LP sleeve offers two areas measuring 31 centimetres by 31 centimetres with more if the release has a gatefold sleeve. Photos can be pored over to elicit regular chuckles. Credits can be easily read and thus filed away in the memory, building the awareness of the journey of artists, their guests, engineers, even tea ladies.
Some record sleeves are so memorable – for vastly varying reasons – that they achieve greatness in their own right regardless of the music contained inside on a disc or two. These items of artistic endeavours can be as different and perplexing as the array of opinions they produce from buyers/collectors/dudes and dudesses thumbing through the racks in the store.
If there is any sort of disconnect between producer and consumer, any ignorance on the part of either as to the point of releasing this record, any geographical and situational distance between the makers and the listeners, well… this can result in plain fantastic artefacts. The music, the tunes become secondary; the cover takes precedence, deserving to live on in memory for time immemorial. By this achievement, artists can enjoy some small amount of fame.
The Velvet Underground‘s banana; the Rolling Stones‘ zip, Pink Floyd‘s prism – these are hallowed art covers which long ago traversed the gap between a teenage bedroom and a £50-a-week collector’s mancave wall. #mellow is interested in sleeves which never made it into the spotlight in the first place. Perhaps these were never loved at all – and there may be reasons for this – but that shouldn’t mean there cannot be
snarky appreciation or questions such as ‘why’ or ‘what’s the bleedin’ point!’
Our first in this series is a Jamaican dance-hall reggae compilation from 1990 issued by VP records, who recently celebrated 40 years in business. Having residual problems when it comes to casual homophobia, entrenched sexism and the promotion of violence, dance-hall has been an easy target for many years whilst heavy metal and rock still often gets a pass when it comes to lasciviousness and neanderthal notions of life [a post by Brown Girl Magazine is worth reading on the ideological and musical composition of dance-hall tunes and Kerrang! recently pulled back the curtain on misogyny within death metal whilst the New Yorker identified those metal fans and activist pushing back against Nazi involvement within the music].
Let us not let these vitally important issues cloud the purpose of this article however, namely to look at this offering by Necka and Junior Demus together with Super Cat (Discogs are currently selling the album for between $3 and $38 and the former should be your guide price if tempted).
Contrary to what you might believe upon seeing the album cover – that this is a house hosting violence and death for all of its inhabitants and visitors come what may – the album title refers to taking a ‘chicken’ to a building for romancing. According to the lyrics, the poultry referred to are females who like ‘ruffneck’ love with one man only in contrast to the three males who post on the cover. The listener can relax in the assurance that only phalluses were used in the making of this record and not knives.
The late Necka aka Nicodemus aka Cecil Wellington [brother of Maurice Wellington of the Morwells group, who also produced Morwell Unlimited’s excellent A1 dub album featuring the Roots Radics] stands on the left of the cover positioned between a neat garden and the front door as if awaiting his beau to come to him.
His outstretched hands hold an elaborately presented bottle of reddish alcohol and what appears to be a wrapped rock or possibly an oyster fresh from Montego Bay. There is a dustbin labelled ‘GAS’ turned upside down immediately in front of where he faces and some rubbish on the floor besides it. These two elements might suggest a rough and ready neighbourhood yet the grass is well-cut with flowers in bloom. Additionally, Necka is unlikely to have found his tokens of love in the trash and is thus unfortunate to be snapped next to a waste receptacle.
He appears to be putting a game but weary face on proceedings as he stands in the sunshine, his jaunty hat and tie giving the appearance of a tired yet still courtly lover awaiting his turn in the cabin. Some years younger than his compatriot, Junior Demus aka Conrad McNish is pictured in the second picture in what might be the hallway or living room of the cabin.
Junior has either just finished stabbin’ or is dutifully awaiting his turn, and there is a degree of excitement about him, shall we say, to be glimpsed. His string vest is tucked in whilst the surprising presence of the yellow chiffon scarf around his head matches the laces in his white trainers.
Unlike Necka’s rather drained visage, Junior is raring to go and he points to his left, his legs bent in not unlike the starting position for a sprint. What could be described as a ‘screw face’ from Junior shows that the lady who will have the pleasure of his company will have her hands full.
As with Necka though, Junior must wait whilst William Maragh aka Super Cat goes through his motions. Having waited in turn, the thin Jamaican toaster now stands over a lady lying on a bed or divan. Initially, this well-attired man looks primed and in position. Bearing a calm face, his companion sports an orange PVC beret and is a fitting accompaniment, sartorially, to her dandy partner.
She has a firm grip on her lover’s belt that perhaps reveals a little inner irritation as at that moment Super Cat seems more intent on modelling for her how to use your hand to create a bird or animal. He has no compunction about granting us, the viewer, a look at his private talent show and so that album title takes on a third meaning at this point, one of birds insistently pecking at seeds on the ground.
Their clothes are still on their frames and so it must be concluded that little love-making has taken place. Junior, full of pent-up action in the hallway, and Necka, the gentleman lover outside in the sun, have a long wait ahead of themselves.