So way back when I wrote a prelude to the Beatles section of this vanity project, I explained that after discovering the Red album and the Blue album in the autumn of our freshman college year, the next exposure my roommate Danny and I had to The Beatles was the “Rock ’n’ Roll Music” compilation.
At the time, going for a compilation made sense. After all, what if their album stuff sucked? What if it was filler? It was true, there wasn’t a bad track on the Red or Blue compilations, but their ouvre was kinda overwhelmingly large, and I just didn’t know where to go next. So on that Christmas break of freshman year, I went over to the Two Guys Department Store in downtown Schenectady, and there I procured “Rock ’n’ Roll Music.”
This was a collection that came out in 1976, just three years after the Red and Blue albums. It came out just a little after the height of ’50s nostalgia that had started with the film “American Graffiti” and then continued on through the TV shows “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley.” As a teenager growing up in the mid-’70s, I’ve gotta say that the love of a period just 20 years earlier seemed inexplicable at the time. Now, of course, I know that’s just how the nostalgia cycle works. Everything that was big when a generation was teenaged will come back twenty years later to be revered by that generation and its offspring, in some form or another. Oy. Okay. Fine.
What is happening with this album packaging?
But that doesn’t excuse the hate crime that is this album’s entire packaging. It has a reflective silver cover, hard to look at and harder to photograph, with a poorly rendered drawing of the Fab Four under neon-styled lettering. The cover adds a bit of surreality by appearing to be held by a pair of giant hands (at least, those thumbs are much larger than mine). The back cover . . . the back cover uses the artistic conceit of looking at the same scene as the front cover, but from behind. So we see the backs of the Beatles, largely in silhouette. But . . . the thumbs. The thumbs are still facing forward. And still much larger than life. This makes zero of the sense.
Open up the album, and the still silvery gatefold art features a jukebox, flying records, a ’50s finned Chevy, Marilyn Monroe, a hamburger and a glass of Coke – all the classic symbols of ’50s nostalgia that have exactly nothing to do with The Beatles whatsoever. Capitol even eschewed its rainbow label that was considered synonymous with Beatles releases, and instead featured a glass of Coke on an orange background. Now, one could make the argument that many of the tracks on this album were originally written or recorded by their original artists in the 1950s. This is a thing that is true, for less than half the album. But the rest of the album is Beatles originals. One does not hear “Taxman” or “Helter Skelter” and think of Richie Cunningham and the Fonz. And, next to each of the song titles in the gatefold is the date of release, bringing home the point that all this music is from the ’60s. So why the Happy Days treatment?!!!!
The band apparently hated it. Ringo said “It made us look cheap and we never were cheap.” True. This is one of the worst album covers of all time, and one of the ones that fell widest of its mark with regard to packaging what was inside.
Rum and Coke Nights
Ah, but the music. Just playing this again was like getting into a time machine and going back to our dorm room in Day Hall, high atop Mount Olympus in Syracuse. Drop the needle and the first thing you hear is John screaming “Well, shake it up baby!” Omigod, what an entrance. We would start this album and that just meant the party was on. And it lives up to the name — this is good, solid rock ’n’ roll. Their ravingest covers and rockingest originals.
In a sense, the Coke motif on the album was appropriate. Somewhere in freshman year we picked up a deplorable penchant for rum and Coke, and one weeknight (Tuesday feels correct, but time plays tricks) was designated as rum and Coke night, during which we would imbibe the absolute worst rum in the world mixed with old-school cane sugar Coke and scream along to the entire album. Then, getting progressively more drunk, we would move on to the White Album. Memory says this happened dozens of times, even though I know that’s not possible. For one thing, we were only in that particular dorm room for three semesters, and I know for a fact that in one of those semesters, Tuesday night was Bad Wine and Moody Blues night (featuring Annie Green Springs). So how many rum and Coke nights could there have been?
There was a bad side effect from rum and Coke night, or at least from Coke, which I drank constantly at that stage in my life. I had a habit of pouring it into a very nice Coke glass, just the shape of the fountain-style glass on the label of “Rock ’n’ Roll Music,” by purest of coincidences. I would pour it and then set it on my desk, right next to, and slightly above, where we kept the turntable. And the Coke, it would fizz, and leave a sticky spray on the desk, on the turntable, on the records. Over time, I found that I had really kinda ruined some records (and definitely my needle). It didn’t help that our record cleaner at the time was some weird soft wet foamy thing that I think left more behind than it cleaned. In reality, it was probably that cleaner that ruined the records, not the sticky Coke. But some were definitely not improved by this, which went on for a while before we discovered what was going on. I have for a long time assumed that my copy of “Rock ’n’ Roll Music” was one of those victims — how could it not have been? Well perhaps subsequent cleanings with a Discwasher have atoned for my earlier sins, but I’m kinda stunned to report that I sat down and listened to this album on headphones, and it sounds quite good, 40 years later.
Omigod. It’s been 40 years since I bought this record. Now I feel old.