Back when I was in college, someone–a relative, I don’t remember which one–gave me a book called Album Cover Album for Christmas. I was a record-shop hound and loved album art, but at first didn’t really see the appeal of a book of album covers. I mean, sure, nice, but I’d rather have music. Plus this was put together by the guy who did those fairly hideous covers for Yes. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I didn’t get it at first.
But as I returned to Album Cover Album its influence began to grab hold of me. The odd juxtapositions, the albums (usually old) I’d never seen before, the paintings of Mati Klarwein, which I loved, and a myriad of other delights offered me a chance to browse the record store from the comfort of my own bed. Not better than music, perhaps, but in the end a gift fully appreciated.
In today’s New York Times the music critic Ben Ratliff writes about his youthful encounter with Album Cover Album, in a warm appreciation that also provokes him to say: “Over the next 15 years or so I made my way toward most of the records in the book, consciously or not. As I started to learn something about what a Cecil Taylor record sounded like, as opposed to, say, a Ted Nugent record or a Michael Nyman record, the spaghetti of musical style represented on each page would accelerate my blood, as if each grouping represented a question you had to answer within yourself: What do these different entities have in common? How can you hear them all and think all of this has something to do with you?
“I distrust lists of records you ought to hear, even though making them is part of my job. When you see them, you’re usually reading someone with a well-meaning desire to protect and restrict the understanding of music; you’re reading a subtext of fear and anxiety as much as one of pleasure.”
Which seems to get up into the throat of our arguments about the Remnants’ Essential Albums list.
Album Cover Album, Ratliff concludes, “had no fear or anxiety.”