Welcome Back to another episode of the Judged by the Cover podcast, brought to you by JW Creates! Judged by the Cover is now a member of the PodNooga Network. Follow Podnooga on facebook and instagram, or find us on the web at podnooganetwork.com
The theme of todays episode is a little bit different than our past episodes. Actually I need to give credit to my friend Brandon with Fleet by SSC for this idea…Brandon buys and sells vintage cars & trucks, and he suggested that we talk about cars on album covers. For me this is like a dream come true…I get to talk about two of my most favorite things in this world Cars & Album covers!! So let’s get to it….
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One other announcement is to make sure you mark your calendars for September 8th, of this year 2023 because I will be releasing a very special episode of the Judged by the Cover podcast. I had the opportunity to sit down with my good friend Abe Montalvo and discuss his new song Brave the storm that comes out on September 1st. You’re not going to want to miss this one….
There were quite a few albums with automotive themes, but I was a little bit surprised that there wasn’t more! I picked out some of the most notable and my favorites, so we do have a few of them to talk about. Also my Near miss segment this week is a little different, and just as a hint its concerning cars that met unfortunate ends of life…
To get started there was one album that I thought of immediately, and thats ZZ Top - Eliminator
ZZ Top - Eliminator
For me, this is the most memorable album cover with a car on it, but before we jump into the story behind the car and album cover…Lets take a minute to set the scene behind the album.
Eliminator is the eight studio album by the band ZZ Top. It was released march 23 of 1983, and all four singles off the album hit various charts in the US and around the world. This album would mark a pretty stark change in the overall sound of ZZ Top, moving away from the boogie/blues rock sound they were known for, to a more new wave style. The introduction of synths and drum machines were a shock to a lot of their older fans, but found them a new younger audience, especially with the help of MTV.
Now I know there are a lot of younger people, even people my age, that can’t remember music actually being played on MTV, but MTV played a huge role in the success of this album. Three songs off the album; Gimmie All Your Loving, Sharp Dressed Man, and Legs had very successful music videos, and took ZZ Top from being an old fogey band, to the new hot thing. It also helped that the songs, and videos painted this picture that America was the land of rock n roll, cars, and girls.
At the center of all of this, and literally at the center of the album cover, is Billy Gibbons dream car. The Eliminator as it is called, which referss to a drag racing term, is a fully custom built 1933 Ford coupe. The car took 5 years to build, and reportedly cost about $50,000 dollars in 1983…which in todays money is about $151,000. Thats a ton of money…but Gibbons had pretty good plan on how to pay for it.
They used the car as the inspiration for the album cover, and was one of the central figures in three music videos that supported the album…It became a “tax write offf”… because it was a “work related purchase”…
As I already hinted, the Elimator is the central figure of the album cover. The car was painted by the artist Tom hunnicutt, who had a long history of working for car and racing magazines and was a classic car comic book artist. The hot rod is this amazing bright and deep red color, with these double Z graphics in silver, yellow and maroon on the side. The graphic on the car influenced the graphics on the album cover. At the top of the cover we have ZZ Top, as a maroon and yellow graphic, think in the style of stripes on the side of a hotrod. It’s overlayed on top of this really cool night scene so you have the beam of the headlights on the car shining into the darkness of a starry night sky. It’s kind of got these dark and mysterious vibes, for an album thats very upbeat and fun. But honestly I can see myself on a long road trip, driving the night shift, and being behind the wheel of this hot rod as the song Sharp Dressed man plays in the background. The car absolutely embodies this album, and it wouldn’t be the same with out it on the cover and in all the music videos.
The Eliminator car is currently sitting in the Rock N Roll hall of fame in Cleveland Ohio, and anytime that Billy Gibbons is in the area he stops by, fires up the car, and takes it for a spin. The car was built to be driven, and I’m glad to hear that it still gets driven to this day.
My biggest take away from the design of this album cover, is that it helps to have a captivating object to grab the attention of your audience. The Eliminator car became just as big of a star as the band itself, and perfectly embodied the feeling and attitude of this album.
Now you may not have the budget to have a fully custom hot rod created from your album cover, but try to find that thing that embodies your sound, attitude, or subject of your album/song to captivate your audience.
Its going to be hard to follow up the “coolness” of the car from the Eliminator album, but the next album we are going to discuss is easily more successful then Eliminator, but the car is kind of a secondary character on the album cover.
Beetles - Abbey Road
The second album cover we are going to discuss is Abbey Road by none other than the Beetles. Now this cover is famous for lots of other reasons, which we will talk about here in a second, but because of the popularity of the band…this white VW Bug or Beatle…also became very popular. I also had it on good authority that there was an interesting history to this car…but let’s see what I found out.
Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album by the Beetles and was released in America on October 1st 1969. Fun side note the UK got this album 5 days earlier than the US did. Even though this is possibly one of the most iconic albums of all time, I’m not going to jump into too many of the details behind the music because I want to get to the album cover.
The cover was based on an idea that Paul McCarney had sketched out, and the photo was taken during a very rushed photo shot outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. At this time abbey road wasn’t a super busy street, but it was still an active street in Westminster. At 11:35 in the morning a policeman held up traffic while the photographer Iain Macmillan was given only 10 minutes to get the shot. Macmillan took six photos, and I believe it was shot number 5 that made the cover.
If for some reason you have never seen this album cover, let me talk you through it. Picture you are standing in the middle of an intersection in a suburban neighbor hood, and you are looking down the street. You have trees and buildings on either side, people standing on the sidewalks, and cars parked along the side of the road. The most prominent car in the shot is a “lotus white” (yes that’s the official color name) Volkswagen Bug. More on that in a second.
In the crosswalk, or zebra walk as I have seen it referred to online, is the four members of the Beetles walking across the road from left to right. They are evenly spaced and are stepping in unison. Three of them are wearing designer suits, with George Harrison at the back of the group wearing an all blue jean outfit. I will also note that Paul McCartney is not wearing any shoes…also more on that in a second.
The direction that the group is walking, is away from the studio…so I feel like there are two meanings to this. It could be this “its done” moment, this image that captures them leaving the studio behind them. But then also the band did break up in 1970 which is the following year…so I’m wondering if there was already plans for this to happen, and this is kind of foreshadowing that “its over”. Either way its a great shot….and very iconic album cover…
One last note on the design before we move into the info on the white VW bug….this is the only UK Beetles album sleeve to not show either the artist name or album title on it. The record company did not approve of this idea and swore that the album would not sell, but the creative director said “we didn’t need to write the bands name on the cover….they were the most famous band in the world!”…talk about confidence in your design decision!
So what about the white VW Bug…? Is it special…? Did it belong to one of the Beetles…? And why is it parked so terribly….? That last one is just a joke but for real…that thing is parked halfway on the sidewalk…who parked that thing…?
So there is a lotus white, 1968 VW Beetle in the VW Autostadt, Wolfsburg Museum in the UK…and according to the plaque next to the car its the same car from the 1969 Abbey Road album cover. It also states that John Lennon owned said car. Though it might be true that John Lennon did own a similar car…the car from the cover was actually owned by a nearby resident, and luckily…or unluckily, had his car parked in the wrong place at the right time. I say this because after this album was released, the license plate from his car got stolen repeatedly. Also this album cover became a very famous and constant reminder of his terrible parking job from the night before…….
Now I was kind of bummed that I didn’t find anything really exciting in the story of this car…but if you want to go down the conspiracy rabbit hole…there is possibly one piece of information about this car that could be kind of interesting.
As the conspiracy goes…Paul McCartney supposidly died in a car crash in 1966…and was replaced with a look a like. Fans of the beetles claim that there are clues in songs and on multiple album covers that point to this being true. Like the band was forced to cover it up and they were “trying” to tell the fans that Paul is dead.
Two details from this cover supposedly point to this theory. First is the fact that Paul is not wearing any shoes on the cover. Its said that being barefoot is a sign of mourning in Sicily…Also they point out that the license plate on the VW Bug says 28IF…as in Paul would be 28 IF he were alive…But in reality Paul was 27 at the time that this record was released.
So if you believe that the license plate is one of the pieces of evidence that proves your theory that Paul McCartney is actually dead…and the Beetles have been lying about it for decades…than it makes the car pretty kool.
Volkswagen of Sweden actually had a little bit of fun mocking the parking job of the car on the cover…and used it as a way to promote a new parking technology in 2019. A quote for the Marketing Director at Volkswagen Sweden says… “Volkswagen continuously innovates to make the driving experience better and safer for drivers and pedestrians. We want to show how far our technology has come since that little parking mishap, so that no one else has to live with a constant reminder of their parking fail. They actually created a 12” vinyl sleeve that you could buy with an image of the car parked correctly on abbey road. They sold them online and all the proceeds went to help an organization called Bris, which is a Swedish children’s rights organization.
Thats a fun way to get creative with marketing if you ask me!!
FU MANCHU - In Search of…
If you are looking for great cars to grace your album cover…is there anything better than 70’s muscle cars…? The early 70’s, in my opinion, was arguably the best era for American automotive design, just look at the Chevy Camaros, Chevelles, the Dodge Chargers and Plymouth road runners, and even the Ford Torinos, mustangs and fairlanes are all pretty spectacular to look at and usually had big ole v8 engines to make them roar. This next cover captures the greatness of a few of these machines.
I have never heard of this band before doing my research on the topic of cars on album covers, but the next car focused album cover is the album “In Search Of”… by Fu Manchu.
Fu Manchu is a stoner rock band that formed in 1985 in Orange County California. They have gone through a lot of line up changes over the years, but it looks like Fu Manchu is still together to this day although they don’t currently have any tour dates or shows on their website. This album, In Search of… came out in 1996 and was their first major label supported album.
I only came across one review of this album by Eduardo Rivadavia, that I think it summed up all I needed to know about the band and this record.
“…In Search Of... is a very inconsistent affair, with only a few cuts such as "Asphalt Risin'," "Strato-Freak," and "Seahag" really standing out of the pack. Simply put, one gets the impression that Fu Manchu doesn't try that hard, but then, not every band wants to rule the world.” Pretty harsh and honest review, and after listening to the album…I really don’t have much more to add.
I will say that I do love their style in terms of album cover themes, since there are multiple album covers in their discography that are automotive related. In Search of… is easily my favorite of the bunch. The image for the cover is a classic ford vs chevy drag race. On the left you have a cherry read ford mustang and on the right we have a dark blue or black chevy Chevelle. Ahead of the cars we have a woman that is flagging the start of the race. The rest of the image is interesting, because the sky looks to be full of shining stars…that you would normally only see at night, but the rest of the image is from a sunny shot. I’m not sure what the thought is there, but the cars are really cool.
One of the reasons that old American hot rods perfectly depict this band, is the fact that most American muscle cars from this period weren’t super fast (compared to todays standards), but were almost always big, loud and proud…and that too me sums up Fu Manchu.
That completes my top three choices for cars on covers, I have two more that we are going to cover in my near miss segment… but let me know what you think of these automotive inspired album covers…? Have I missed one of your favorites…? Let me know by shooting me an email to email@example.com
Near Miss - Fiery Fates
As is the theme with this episode, my near miss segment is also going to be a slightly different format. I have two albums that I am going to discuss, that are actually really well done album covers. Given our theme of cars on covers, I feel very sad for the fates of both these cars on these covers, so they have become my near miss victims.
First up is the album Woodstock by Portugal, The Man. The album cover is simply a classic Rolls Royce, that’s on fire. And to quote an interview with the band “…it’s a Regan-era, old-money car. It’s also not the engine or any of the mechanics that are on fire, it’s the interior, which makes it seem like someone threw some gas in there, lit a match then walked away like, ‘F— it.’”
The image is so powerful that there is no text other then the initials PTM in the bottom left hand corner, and another icon or logo in the bottom right. I can’t quite make out what’s in the bottom right corner but its probably the record or production company logo.
Thankfully they did not stage this photo shoot. This image was actually taken by a photographer friend of the band, Josh Welch who was on vacation with his family in Las Angeles when they drove past this poor car on fire and he was quick enough to get a great candid shot of the ordeal. This album came out in 2017, after a tumultuous election and the band felt that the image reflected their view of the state of political affairs that inspired a lot of the songs on the album.
I actually found where you can buy a print of this photo from the photographers website for a cool $3,000…..I guess when one of your photos goes on a pretty successful album you can ask whatever you want if people want to buy prints.
The second album cover also has a car that met its fiery end, in the name of album cover art. Now this car actually was staged and set on fire…but it looks like the car wasn’t in the best of shape at the time of this photo shot. The album is Below Paradise, by Tedashii.
The shot is staged in a very rocky desert area with a mountain off in the distance. There is a flipped over car in the center that is on fire, with the artist sitting on the ground leaning up against it. This album came out after Tedashii lost his son, and this album is him processing through the struggle of that, and of pain suffering and the love of God. I definitely get the vibes from this album cover that this guy is literally between a rock and a hard place. There’s a really cool video where you see them setting everything up and getting different shots for the packaging and marketing for this album that I will link below/in the show notes.
The reason why I’m sad about this car, even though its pretty rough, is that this looks to be a first generation 1966-1970 Oldsmobile Toronado. For those that may not know, this car is special because it was front wheel drive, when that was not common in American cars, but also had a big 400 hp V8 under the hood. This to me is one of the most beautiful cars ever designed with its long, low, wide stance and looks great from every angle. You just don’t see cars that look like this anymore, or even then.
I will agree that this shot perfectly embodies the emotions of this album…but I have shed at least one tear for this car that once was a beautiful masterpiece…….
My only advice to those of you out there interested in having a car on your cover, if you are going to also include fire…make sure its either a rust bucket that has no life yet, or pray that you get a once in a lifetime shot of a car going up in flames. But don’t just burn up cars just to burn up a car for your album cover!!
I know there are a few other covers we could have discussed, so if I missed one of your favorite automotive related album covers…drop me a recommendation by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe it will become the topic for a future episode.
That’s it for this episode of the Judged by the Cover podcast, thanks for hanging out and we will do this again very soon!