Once upon a time there existed large black vinyl discs with one very long, continuously flowing groove carved into each side of them. These discs would be placed upon a device called a turntable. Set into rotation at the rate of 33 and 1/3 revolutions per minute—music would emanate from these discs when a phonographic needle was positioned in the groove.
Way back when, this is how your ancestors listened to the music recorded by the musicians of their day. Since all of these discs looked pretty much alike, they had to be offered in some sort of packaging to differentiate one from the other. This presented considerable artistic opportunities, as the packages were perfect for displaying photography as well as various graphic treatments, in an effort to convey something of the personality of the artist—or the nature of the music contained within.
These discs were called albums, and the packaging was referred to as “album covers”. Now you do get a small semblance of what they were like today in the thumbnail images representing the music you find on iTunes, Pandora, or whatever other online music you use. Of course, those tiny pictures you see today are nowhere near as fulfilling as what we “geezers” enjoyed back when albums were “full size”. But hey, it’s just one more example that nothing you have is as good as what we had “back in the day” .
So now, for those of you whom we haven’t completely alienated with that last paragraph, we’ll get to what all of this has to do with cars. Turns out, one of the most popular subjects for many of those album covers included cars. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you want to say dirty, gritty and urban, a picture of the Dodge police car the Blues Brothers drove gets that across in nothing flat. If you want to say, “I’m sophisticated and smooth”, being photographed in a Jaguar E-Type speaks volumes. Some bands were even particularly noted for the car. ZZ Top’s hot rod is a perfect example of this.
While cars were only incidental to the overall composition of the photograph on this album cover, the symbolism many conspiracy theorists read into the imagery was said to support the notion Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced with a lookalike impostor. According to the theorists, the license number of the VW Beetle: LMW 28IF can be construed to read Linda McCartney Weeps (LMW), and 28 IF he survived, which would have been Paul’s age when the album was released—had the beloved Beatle not met his doom. Other details such as Paul walking out of step with the other band members, and his being barefoot, as well as holding a cigarette (then referred to in popular culture as a “coffin nail”) also implied McCartney’s demise. We hereby assure you rumors of McCartney’s death were greatly exaggerated. In fact, he is currently one of the two surviving members of the band.
Two ne’er do well brothers, who were also blues musicians—one of whom was recently released from Joliet Prison near Chicago after doing time for armed robbery, must get their old band back together to play a gig to get the money to save the orphanage in which they grew up. Starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, when Belushi’s character “Joliet” Jake Blues, sees his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) has deigned to pick him up in a ex-cop car, rather than the Cadillac the brothers had before he went away, he’s perturbed (OK, pissed—alright?). Then, when he sees the Dodge perform he becomes so enamored with it the car becomes the third member of their trio. They then go about creating all sorts of mayhem as they carry out their “mission from God”. It is said the film’s producers bought 60 police cars and kept a body shop going 24 hours a day during production to repair the cars after stunts. Holding the record for the most car crashes ever committed to film at the time of its production, the film The Blues Brothers was just as much about that car as it was the brothers themselves.
The music he wrote might have been syrupy-sweet, but Richard Carpenter, of the brother and sister duo Karen and Richard Carpenter, was a die-hard auto enthusiast—with the money to seriously indulge his passion. The 1972 Ferrari GTB4 “Daytona” featured on the cover of The Carpenters’ Now & Then album was Richard Carpenters’ own. Interestingly, he owned the car for a mere six months and put only 5000 miles on it—before selling it. He later purchased another example of the model for his collection. Carpenter says he let the Daytona go because without power steering, at low speeds the car “steered like a truck” and he had broken his wrist during the period he owned the car. Given the price he later paid to add a Daytona back to his collection, Carpenter says he really should have taken his dad’s advice back in 1973, kept the car, and bought the 1973 GTC4 he acquired to replace it too.
OK, we know, the car is barely there in the image. No, seriously, look closely, the model really is sprawled across the hood of a Ferrari. Come on guys, focus—on the background of the image. When the name of your band is “The Cars” you pretty much have to have one on your album cover, and indeed the Boston, Mass. group fronted by vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek, featured automotive themes on four of its seven album covers. Alberto Vargas, noted for his paintings of pin-up girls, painted the cover for The Cars’ second album—Candy-O. Vargas’ previous work was prominently featured in the likes of Esquire and Playboy magazines. Noted for portraying “Chris Carmichael” as a young girl on The Lucy Show, the model’s name actually was Candy—Candy Moore. The band’s drummer and art director David Robinson, who also directed the photo shoot from which the painting was derived, developed the idea for the cover. And yes, Robinson and Moore also dated for a while after the project. No word on whether he got to drive the Ferrari too.
While the image of Shriners parading in their signature tiny cars gets this album included in this listing, it is actually the poster that was included inside the album cover’s packaging that makes this the most notorious of the Dead Kennedys albums. The band’s third album, Frankenchrist, was the subject of tremendous controversy because of band member (and record label owner) Jello Biafra’s decision to include a poster of H.R. Giger’s painting Work 219: Landscape #XX. Biafra felt the work was a political statement, depicting how Americans were treating one another during the Reagan presidency. Upon the release of the album, Biafra and label manager Michael Bonanno were charged with distributing obscene materials to minors. The resulting trial reportedly cost Biafra his marriage. Further, the expense of defending his record company—Alternative Tentacles—nearly bankrupted the company. The band recorded one more album after Frankenchrist and broke up. Maybe Biafra should have just left well enough alone with the Shriners and their tiny Oldsmobiles.
Hip-hop artists in particular have a special affinity for luxury cars. As a symbol of wealth and success, it’s hard to beat a customized luxury ride in certain cultural settings. One rapper is even noted to have penned; “I got too many cars in my driveway, I got boats, I got planes, Ni&&a I’m paid! But when it comes to flaunting your whip on the cover of your joint, Houston, Texas rapper E.S.G. got everyone beat when he immortalized his 1984 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and its custom grille cap surfing a wave on the ocean of funk presumably contained within his LP. Swangin and Bangin, but not exactly Sangin’ (hey, he’s a rapper—OK?) E.S.G. is…well…what else can you say? It’s an interesting image.
In 1969, the sports car to have was the Jaguar E-Type. And truth be told, it isn’t exactly considered a bucket to this day. Sleek, curvaceous, fast, and relatively affordable comparatively speaking, the E-Type Jag made a statement. If you look at the way the Jaguar is portrayed on the cover of Smith’s album, it’s the car doing all the heavy lifting in terms of making a statement. Smith is poised there with this “What else is there to say?” expression on his face. After all, if you were rolling Jaguar E-Type back then, there wasn’t much else needed to be said. Universally acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful cars ever, the Jaguar is but one of but six cars on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Smith’s organ playing, by the way, was well noted to stand up to the statement the Jaguar made on the cover of this album. One of America’s most revered musical artists, in 2005, Smith was awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts—the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians.
The subject of hundreds of thousands of keystrokes worth of rumor and speculation on the ‘Net; when Snoop Dog’s 2008 joint, Ego Trippin dropped, all sorts of jaws were flapping over S. Doggy Dogg posing all gangsta with a 1972 Datsun 510 wagon. Now, given the title of the album, one could safely assume Snoop was potentially making the statement that at this stage of the game; he didn’t need to be posed with no high-buck mega-cashed-up ride to have cred—his ego was straight. After all, just three years earlier, he had done a Chrysler commercial with Lee Iaccoca for Christ sake! The brother had arrived. So maybe he’s on to something there. However, upon tracking down the owner of the car, the truth comes out. When Snoop was in attendance at Long Beach High (the location of the photo shoot), he owned a car much like the one depicted on the Ego Trippin cover. In other words, Snoop quite literally went—wait for it—yes, old school. He went back to his old school—with his old ride—for the album art.
The clean design of the cover of Too $hort’s first major album release drew all eyes to the Cadillac Eldorado convertible—while focusing little attention on him. In a subsequent interview about the cover, Short said this was intentional. He was concerned about overexposure. Short says; “If you look at the first album I did that Jive picked up, Born To Mack, you could look at that album cover, I was selling the car. I wasn’t even selling me. There’s a guy, I’m sitting on the car, I’m sitting on the back seat with the top down, and I put on all my homeboy’s jewelry. I had like seven chains on—rope chains—and I’m looking like this little pimp dude on this car. But if you really look at that album cover, that little dark skinned dude could be anybody. It’s not me; it’s not a close up of me. We weren’t selling me. We were selling the image of an Oakland player.” Too $hort says he never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be the hardest underground rapper that ever existed—and still be able to go to 7-11 for a Big Gulp. And that’s what that cover was all about.
The star of four of the band’s music video productions back in the 1980’s, the customized 1933 Ford coupe ultimately became just as much a symbol of the band as the beards worn by its two guitar players—Billy F. Gibbons and Dusty Hill. Ironically, the only member of the band without a beard was the drummer—Frank Beard. Gibbons, who commissioned the building of the car in the early 1980s, owned the Ford. In the videos, the car was the catalyst of transformation for shy young teens. Other characters in the videos would mercilessly berate the protagonist—until the Eliminator arrived with its trio of vivacious video vixens. The band would then hand the downtrodden individual the key to the coupe on a stylized ZZ Top keychain and the teen would be whisked away to cool.