Sunday, February 21, 2010
By Kevin Joy
As classical albums go, their cover art is anything but.
Russian soldiers flash the "peace" sign on a recording of music by
Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.
A hollowed-out skull stuffed with white carnations graces Heroes and
Villains, a collection of operatic selections.
Scantily clad superhero types clutch cartoonish ray guns in a nod to
The Planets by Gustav Holst.
The campy shots, overseen largely by art director Christopher Whorf,
were splashed across more than 200 classical-music album covers in
the early 1970s as part of a marketing strategy by the since-defunct
ABC-Paramount record label to capture the interest -- and dollars --
of a younger music-buying clientele.
It's a tad deceptive, sure. But who wouldn't be intrigued by a
Richard Wagner album featuring a nude woman covered by two Volkswagen
hubcaps, or a breakfast-skillet photo promoting the music of Brahms?
The aesthetically curious can get a close-up peek at a 54-cover
collection, the center of an exhibit opening Thursday in Wild Goose
Creative, 2491 Summit St.
The showcase, titled "Long Hair Music: Classical Music's Response to
the Counter-Culture," is owned and curated by Gahanna comic-book
artist Michael Neno, 48.
"They were trying to tap into . . . the appeal of rock records," said
Neno, who bought his first such album as a teenager. "I just thought
they were funny."
A longtime classical fan, Neno continued to amass the titles --
recordings originally released by the obsolete Westminster Gold label
and repackaged by ABC -- from now-shuttered central Ohio music shops.
The far-out covers, from a single black bra (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
by Mozart) to a woman drinking wine atop a coffin (Franz Lehar's The
Merry Widow), represent the rise of the youth movement and an attempt
to cater to that demographic.
Although there was a broad range of quality, most weren't top-notch
recordings, Neno said. Some were monaural, with many releases by
lesser-known European orchestras. TV theme-song composer Lalo
Schifrin recently told the Web site allmusic.com that the revamped
Westminster catalog was likely also successful because Whorf -- who
oversaw the art on the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Double Fantasy record
-- could "produce an album cover for about the equivalent of $2."
Yet because the kitschy classical releases were "ubiquitous," Neno
said, they aren't necessarily valuable as collectors' items.
The unorthodox marketing, though, continues to set them apart.
"They're not your typical records," said Colleen Sariotis, an
antiques vendor who has dealt in vinyl at her Colleen's Collectables
shop on Oakland Park Avenue -- and managed a large quarterly record
swap -- since 1980.
"I think it brought in some new listeners. Album art can do that."
She has previously sold Westminster albums for $5 to $6 apiece.
Sold to ABC-Paramount Records in the early 1960s, the Westminster
catalog was acquired by MCA Records in 1979. Geffen Records absorbed
MCA in 2003, with German-based Deutsche Grammophon label managing its
A recent eBay scan found Westminster titles selling for $2 to $30.
They remain a testament to an era when cover art could spark a
conversation -- or even a sale -- whether or not one was familiar
with the musical content.
"The work they put into these covers is actually amazing, so
conceptual," Neno said. "There's a thinking process that you can see."
"Long Hair Music: Classical Music's Response to the Counter-Culture"
continues through March 28 at Wild Goose Creative, 2491 Summit St.
Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and most evenings. For
times, call 614-859-9453.