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Judging LPs by the covers

A Fullerton Museum Center exhibit takes on what it deems as the worst

August 03, 2009|Randy Lewis

Who doesn't love a little bad art from time to time?

The pop music-attuned Fullerton Museum Center has a fresh take on that notion in a new exhibition, "The 100 Worst Album Covers," which revels in gloriously wretched imagery and graphics of the LP era.

It's been assembled by longtime Orange County music journalist, musician and kitsch collector Jim Washburn, who is quick to point out that there were so many worthy contenders that this collection extends well beyond the number in the show's title.

For every visual classic like the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," there were dozens, maybe hundreds, that have earned their place in the album cover hall of shame.

"Some of the most widely seen, defining and enduring images of the century appeared on album covers," Washburn writes in his notes accompanying the show. (Full disclosure: I once played with Washburn in an ad-hoc band of pop-music critics and other area journalists.)

"But where there is art, there is always also bad art. Hapless, misguided, garish, tone-deaf, drunk-eyed, marvelously awful art. That's what we're celebrating here: the fact that even our cultural trash can contain flights of fancy and wonder.

"Some of the arguably worst covers are also arguably the best: works of genius beyond the boundaries of taste or reason."

The display demonstrates that even some of the world's most respected musicians and entertainers weren't immune from the curse of the bad art director. Fats Waller, Les Paul, Clifton Chenier, Jackie Gleason (represented multiple times), Bobby Bland, Tex Ritter and Porter Wagoner have covers included.

The show, slated to run through Oct. 18, actually encompasses a couple of hundred examples, most of them drawn from Washburn's own archive.

There's also an interactive component: Visitors are encouraged to cast votes for their favorites on the way out of the gallery.

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