“Yeah, I was all over it the day it was released. It didn’t work for me on first spin. ‘Know Your Rights’ has some energy, but it quickly exhausted itself for me with over-the-top outrage. ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ had some promise until they started singing in Spanish and doing the screechy call-and-response thing. Then came all those ‘Red Army Dragnet’/’Ghetto Defendant’ turds. Terrible! I played it a few more times thinking I’d missed something, but nothing could save that album.” (For the record, then and now, I think it’s only worthwhile for “Straight to Hell,” the original edited version from the vinyl release, not any “director’s cut” version I’ve heard leak out on digital reissues.)
“Did you like Sandinista when it came out?” he followed.
“Yeah!” I said without hesitation. “What was great about that album was that, during the weird or boring parts, I could immerse myself in the poster or record sleeves that came with the record. There were cool cartoons and song lyrics and whatnot. Sometimes the lyrics were cool enough to make me tune into a song next time around.”
It’s been a while since I’ve pulled out my old vinyl copy of Sandinista, but whether it was actually the record sleeves for the 3-LP set and/or some poster that folded open, the point was, the packaging was cool. It allowed me to enter the world of The Clash at the time of their making that record. I will forever skip “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”—there are few songs on earth that send me lunging for the tone arm faster than that one—but I appreciate them trying to encourage me to like it with a humorous comic strip included in the packaging.
Combat Rock had nothing of that order to distract me or pull me into a subpar bit of songwriting. The front cover shot of the band sucked. The back cover was even worse, with some lousy font that matched the music. The inside sleeve was not enough to get my mind off the music for a couple of minutes. Gergs and I agreed that these examples were yet another reason why vinyl will forever be better than other formats for rock ‘n roll recordings.
“Another one I’ll give credit to,” EPG said, “is Costello’s Imperial Bedroom. I never got into that album the way you did—that’s the beginning of the end for me—but I could get lost in the inner sleeve. I need to pull that one out and try it again.”
Is there an album you can’t imagine appreciating as much as you do if you hadn’t had the benefit of exploring the packaging during your initial spins?