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O.C. museum believes it has found the worst album covers ever

Beefheart_3 Who doesn’t love a little bad art from time to time?

The pop-music-attuned Fullerton Museum Center has a fresh take on that notion in a new exhibition opening Saturday, “The 100 Worst Album Covers,” which revels in the gloriously wretched imagery and graphics of the LP era.

It’s been assembled by longtime Orange County music journalist, musician and kitsch collector Jim Washburn, who is quick to point out that there were so many worthy contenders that this collection extends well beyond the number in the show’s title.

For every visual classic like the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” there were dozens, maybe hundreds, that have earned their place in the album cover hall of shame.

“Some of the most widely seen, defining and enduring images of the century appeared on album covers,” Washburn writes in his notes that accompany the show. (Full disclosure: I once played with Washburn in an ad-hoc band of pop-music critics and other area journalists.)

“But where there is art, there is always also bad art. Hapless, misguided, garish, tone-deaf, drunk-eyed, marvelously awful art. That’s what we’re celebrating here: the fact that even our cultural trash can contain flights of fancy and wonder. Some of the arguably worst covers are also arguably the best: works of genius beyond the boundaries of taste or reason."

The display demonstrates that even some of the world’s most respected musicians and entertainers weren’t immune from the curse of the bad art director. Fats Waller, Les Paul, Clifton Chenier, Jackie Gleason (represented multiple times),  Bobby Bland, Tex Ritter and Porter Wagoner have covers included.

The show, slated to run through Oct. 18, actually encompasses a couple hundred examples, most of them drawn from Washburn’s own archive, which he’ll discuss at Saturday night’s opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m.  There’s also an interactive component: Visitors are encouraged to cast votes for their favorites on the way out of the gallery.

Here’s a gallery with some samples of the most magnificently cheesy and bizarre images ever to wrap a 12-inch vinyl disc.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica," released in 1969. Courtesy: Fullerton Museum Center

Comments () | Archives (10)

Trout Mask Replica and the Yesterday and Today butcher album covers are two of the most artistic covers ever made. I imagine the dork who created this so called exhibit has every Barry Manalow record ever made. There's just no account for taste is there? BTW, I liked the James Brown cover too.

ok, it is not so bad i think. lol

The inclusion of Trout Mask Replica in a collection of "worst" album covers is a travisty.

The cover was designed by noted artist and album cover designer Cal Schenkel. It is a groundbreaking psychedelic work of art that is part of a groundbreaking album.

Rolling Stone selected Trout Mask Replica as number 58 of the top 500 albums of all time.

Schenkel designed most of Frank Zappa's album covers. His work is innovative and contributed greatly to the images and marketing success of the recording artists.

The only person who belongs in a "hall of shame" is the manwho put Trout Mask Replica in a "worst ever" exhibit.

Trout Mask Replica is one of the BEST album covers EVER!!! I mean for an album that's got songs like "Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish" and "Hobo Chang Ba," the cover is more than appropriate. Now I could see why someone would include The Beatles' Butcher Album as one of the worst 'cause that album's got "Yesterday." So maybe that's not quite appropriate. I'm a music collector and I've always disliked albums that's got close-ups of the artist's face. Just seems really narcissistic.

How could the list of worst covers ever not include "Two Virgins" featuring full frontal and back nudes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono? Gahd-awful that was.

the Beatle's butcher cover is one of the best covers of all time (and most valuable)......add to that such great covers as the Louvin Bros. SATAN IS REAL....and Swamp Dogg's RATT ON, SWAMP DOGG.......and Jimi's English cover for ELECTRIC LADYLAND......
as far as bad covers, anything with Madonna or Neil Diamond on it would qualify.....

Nearly all of the covers sampled from this 'curated' show are easily visible, mounted on the walls surrounding the trade-in counter at Ameoba Hollywood. That, and there are already several coffee-table books celebrating 'bad' lp art, with the contents of said anthologies representing more thoroughly researched and rarified selections than that constituting the OC show. Clearly, the 'curators' of said show didn't break a sweat making their selections.

Trout Mask Replica, one of the most significant releases - its influence sustaining through the present on a global scale - ever to emanate from the Southland, heralded as an example of 'bad' artwork in the L.A. Times. Does no one at this paper know ANYTHING about the history of pop music? Oh, good night.

Sorry, Randy, but you friend Washburn is way off. The Beatle's Y&T butcher album? What's he basing this on? Those aren't even the worst album covers I've ever seen.

Sounds like my very unhip grandmother curated this exhibit for Reader's Digest. Kitsch and irony and a whole slew of other legitimate artistic devices, if they're truly understood, could never be confused with "bad", as in the "worst". This is like Fox News Aesthetics.

Most covers in the gallery are cheesy indeed, but far from representing the "worst".


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