Sunday, January 2, 2011

Album Cover Tragicomedy

One music genre that's not been subject to the inflation of used record prices is country and western. Hardly any country albums sell for more than $10 and a lot of gems can be had for a couple of dollars, like the Loretta Lynn album pictured above. I'll snap up classic country albums by the likes of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn when I come across them in good shape and priced cheap. Although country music isn't challenging or progressive, some of it possess excellent, expressive singing and musicianship. It's essentially a conservative genre. The same can be said about the blues.

When I came across this Loretta Lynn album, I just inspected the vinyl to make sure it was in good condition and tucked it under my arm without giving it much thought. It wasn't until I got it home that I started to think about it. This album was released in 1967 in the middle of the hippie movement, but Lynn looks completely oblivious to it on the cover. It was a seminal year for rock music with the release of Sgt. Pepper, Are You Experienced, The Doors' first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Judging by the cover Loretta had larger, more personal issues to confront than the cultural revolution taking place.

First, the title of the album is bold and intentionally or unintentionally funny: Don't Come A Home Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind). This is a universal feminist statement if ever there was one. The idea of a woman withholding sex--one sure power women have over men--to assert her will on a man goes back at least to the classical Greek era, as shown in Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. Perhaps, Lynn isn't oblivious to the cultural revolution after all, or at least the feminist movement at the time. The title, though, couches the feminism in homely country rhetoric. "Stand by Your Man" it ain't.

Then you look further down on the album and you see a list of featured songs. Those song titles begin to raise doubts about whether it's a countrified feminist album. Each of the listed songs could be the chapter of a psychological melodrama. After reading the title, your eyes glance down at "There Goes My Everything", "I'm Living in Two Worlds", "I Can't Keep Away From You", and finally "I Really Don't Want to Know". Oh no. So much for feminist enlightenment. The album cover contains an entire drama. That perhaps is the point. Lynn expresses personal conflict. She's not making a statement or a manifesto. In the end, this is what separates art from politics.

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