As I was wrapping an iTunes gift card for my college-age niece, I couldn’t help but recall getting vinyl record albums for Christmas. The only thing better than seeing that twelve-inch-by-twelve-inch package under the tree was witnessing the cover unfold as I tore the tissue paper away.
One album I got for Christmas was Ringo Starr’s Ringo. It contained big hits like Photograph and You’re Sixteen—and a sweet bonus for a fourteen-year-old just discovering girls: A booklet of sketches depicting each song. Devil Woman showed a bare-breasted beauty; for Have You Seen My Baby, it was a bare-bottomed babe.
Just thinking of this record still makes visions of sugarplums dance in my head. I mean, tits and ass! For Christmas!
Ringo wasn’t the only album delivering holiday joy.
Mott the Hoople’s The Hoople shows the face of a woman whose hair consists of photos of the band members. You don’t always notice those photos, though, when you’re a fifteen-year-old guy, as I was for Christmas 1974. Instead, you notice how the slight parting of her luscious lips makes her look kind of tragic. And if the fifteen-year-old guy in question was me, you might also have thought, “I could make her feel better.”
Years later I realized the woman on the cover was probably the titular character of a song called Alice, about a woman who followed her star to The Great White Way but ended up a prostitute. So, no, I probably could not have made her feel better—though my pimply presence in her world might have amused her.
That same year, I also received Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery, whose cover depicts a feminine face encased in scary machinery. The album’s about computers and robots taking over the world, and the image illustrates the hauntingly beautiful single, Still, You Turn Me On, about a man pining over a “female” robot. It’s prescient in that it predates Internet dating (and Internet porn) by a decade or three.
A few years later, I heard a radio station play an entire side of Dave Brubeck’s Anything Goes. The LP of Cole Porter songs immediately moved to the top of my wish list. Santa delivered—and wasn’t I delighted to see that the only image on the cover was of a woman’s shapely legs.
One item I never included on my list, though, was Roxy Music’s Country Life. No way was I asking my mom—or one of my grandmoms—to wrap a recording that featured a photo of two scantily clad women.
Forty years later, a week before Christmas 2012, I ran across Country Life in an online music store. Hard to overlook that cover. But it occurred to me for the first time that the women weren’t just barely clothed to attract the prurient eyes of the typically horny middle-school geek. It’s actually quite clever: One woman is wearing only panties, but you can’t see her breasts because she’s covering them with her hands. The other woman is wearing a bra, but it’s so sheer that it reveals her bosoms in all their glory.
And I do mean glory.
Moreover, the first woman’s panties are black, but because they’re made of lace, you can clearly see pubic hair. Meanwhile, the other woman’s panties are white, but no matter how close you look, you ain’t seeing nothing, cuz they’re opaque. Oh, and her hand’s in the way.
It’s ironic, see? Why hadn’t I figured that out before? Is it because I’ve grown up?
No longer embarrassed about the prospect of my mom seeing a nearly naked woman, I downloaded Country Life. For the music, of course.
Oh, what the hell—and for the cover. Because that typically horny fourteen-year-old teenaged boy I mentioned earlier? He’s still hanging around in the mind housed by this fifty-three-year-old body.