Funky Town

Album cover art recalls the glory days of vinyl at Crate Breaking

The tattooed and the dreadlocked gathered on a recent Saturday night at Cabbagetown boutique and gallery YoYo. They warmed themselves, as men and women have done since the dawn of time, around a communal fire of sorts, trading memories and recollections.

Previous generations solidified community with stories passed over an open flame. Today, instead of folklore we have comic books and record albums. Queen and Black Sabbath are our communal pop culture fire, Freddie Mercury and Ozzy Osbourne the wise elders who regale us with their insights into sex and life.

There are 140 vintage record albums on display in YoYo's Crate Breaking show, drawn from local record hoarder Glenn Washington's collection of rap, jazz, funk, soul, Latin jazz and blues.

"I have pretty much everything ... except maybe country," says Washington, a 29-year-old Atlanta firefighter who estimates his spread at somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 records. Washington lives across from YoYo in the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts and has been accumulating albums since he was a kid growing up in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

The crowd at YoYo included music lovers old enough to remember those glory days of vinyl with its satisfying repertoire of needle drags and signature pops and crackles. Then there were the nostalgia junkies, weaned on the high-tech factory-issue ambiance of CDs, for whom album covers featuring Miles Davis and James Brown must look like ancient history.

The albums mine every extreme of the age, from sexual misbehavior to psychedelia to enough fashion travesties of fringed vests and frosted lipstick to make your head spin.

In addition to the vintage albums on display, a group of local artists were invited by YoYo to create their own homage to cherished albums and celebrate the obsessions our formative music inspires. Neo-folkie R. Land gives shout-outs to Kraftwerk, Queen and the Last Poets, often in his signature freaked out cartoon style. Graffiti artist Dr. Blade offers an homage to Nitzer Ebb painted on his preferred medium of street signs, and Judson Akin's screen-print references the seminal punk band the Dead Kennedys.

But the art plays second fiddle to Washington's collection, which features some of the most outrageously dated iconography imaginable. No contemporary graphic designer could come anywhere close to approximating the often god-awful, but thrillingly old-school graphics of the albums.

Washington has arranged the albums in a loose thematic order. At the entrance to YoYo is Washington's tribute to blaxploitation, with soundtrack covers for C-grade fare like Shaft in Africa, Cleopatra Jones and Black Caesar. Sandwiched in between are rare funk records like The Incredible Bongo Band's 1972 album that features a drum break considered to be the origin of hip-hop and a striking, minimalist cover illustration of two hands pounding the skins.

Certain motifs arise, but two of the most obvious are members of bands shrunk down to doll-size, like one of Mose Allison sitting semi-cross-legged inside an enormous ear, or the members of Flavor swimming in a brandy snifter lifted to the Godzilla lips of one of the babes who populate the genre of cover art. Washington's other thematic element is the slick erotica that dominated vinyl in the '70s. The sexuality, centered on lips and butts and phallic objects - bananas, candy - raised to female mouths are reminiscent of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin images of sexuality as glossy and omnivorous.

Washington points to the top row of albums where Soul Sugar by Jimmy McGriff hangs, one of his favorites. An Afroed babe sporting killer Diana Ross lashes and bathed in warm brown tones bestows the kind of lascivious attention on a peppermint stick that haunts record producers' dreams.

"It says '70s. It says funk. It says soul. Sexuality. All those things rolled into one," says Washington.

Understatement does not appear to have been a part of the '70s album art lexicon. Political correctness has never made the kind of inroads into record industry imagery that it has in other media. But the sexual politics of these vintage albums are nevertheless beyond freaked.

For The Second Rudy Ray Moore Album, that comedy kingpin has surrounded his naked self with a trio of curvy naked chicks.

And a kitty.

And a lion rug.

The subtitle of the album? This Pussy Belongs to Me.

The show has already been successful enough to convince YoYo to give over a portion of the space to selling vinyl selected by Washington beginning this month, so the record can keep spinning on and on and on.


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