The Stories of 10 People Featured on Historically Bad Album Covers

LDProd/iStock via Getty Images
LDProd/iStock via Getty Images

Bargain bin recording artists are people, too. In the interest of balanced reporting, I hereby submit to you the very human stories behind some of those infamous photos.

1. I LOVE MY LIFE – JIM POST

Ten years before the above album was released, Jim Post had a Top 10 hit with his then-wife, Cathy. Recording as the folk duo Friend and Lover, "Reach Out of the Darkness" became something of an anthem for the flower power movement with its "I think it's so groovy now, that people are finally getting together" chorus.

In recent years, Jim has published a series of successful children's books and also puts that impressive 'stache to good use by touring the country in a one-man show as Mark Twain.

2. JULIE'S SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY - JOHN BULT

A girl's Sweet Sixteen should be special, but it looks like poor Julie received some bad news instead of a new car. I'm guessing Pop is reassuring her that everything will be OK. "Just tell me the boy's name, and I'll get my shotgun and Ma will rustle up the preacher..."

John Bult hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and once performed on the legendary Louisiana Hayride. He's a house painter by trade these days, although he still loves to sing and brings his guitar to crawfish boils to entertain family and friends. By all accounts he's just one all-around good ol' devoted family guy (he and his long-time wife, an Extension Agent with Louisiana State University, have two grown children, and neither one is named "Julie") who has a million stories to tell and will do so with minimal prompting.

3. LIVE AT THE OPEN FACE SANDWICH CLUB – EDDIE MACK

Eddie Mack has a bona fide show business pedigree; his father was Charlie Mack, one half of the very successful vaudevillian comedy team "Moran and Mack, the Two Black Crows." (Yes, it was a blackface act, but in the 1920s that sort of thing still passed as entertainment.) When Eddie was four years old he was standing backstage one afternoon during auditions for a Broadway show. A man ambled up behind him, placed his hands on young Eddie's shoulders, and asked Charlie, "So, who is this brat?" Eddie was offended by the "brat" remark and kicked the man, who happened to be W.C. Fields, in the shin. As a result, even when Eddie was approaching adulthood, W.C. Fields always referred to him as "Charlie Mack's Brat."

Eddie grew up to be a talented pianist, singer, and actor. He was married and divorced six times. (The beauty perched on the piano was married to him for a brief period – Eddie was old-fashioned and didn't believe in "shacking up.") In 1969 he was on stage in Toronto as a member of the touring company of There's a Girl in My Soup (starring Don Ameche) when his throat started hemorrhaging during a song. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with throat cancer. Greasepaint was in his blood, though, so even though he couldn't speak while recuperating from surgery and radiation, he got a job leading the orchestra on a cruise ship and communicated with the musicians via gestures and a Magic Slate.

4. PUSH PUSH - HERBIE MANN

A sweaty, nude man holding a flute (the classic phallic instrument) on the cover of a record entitled Push Push... You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that this is, as NPR's Jazz Profiles described it in Mr. Mann's obituary, a "sexually charged album." When Mann was a youngster growing up in 1930s Brooklyn, he loved rhythm and wanted to be a drummer. Drum kits were (and still are) expensive, so his mother bought him a clarinet instead. He developed an interest in jazz and learned to play several other instruments, finally settling on the flute because there was a surplus of clarinet and saxophone players vying for the limited amount of openings in professional jazz bands. Mann was known in the music industry for always being at least one step ahead of the current trend. He traveled the globe in search of inspiration and released a series of albums that were influenced by Afro-Cuban rhythms, Yiddish music, Brazilian bossa nova, and straight-ahead R&B. Sadly, Mann lost his battle with prostate cancer in 2003.

5. BY REQUEST ONLY - KEN

There are certain times when one feels a twinge of guilt for poking fun at some anonymous unsuspecting mook on the internet. One of those times is when said mook is found to be alive and well and aware of his infamy. Such is the case with Ken Snyder, a devout Christian (currently living in Iowa) who once upon a time found that he was best able to express his faith via song. Ken traveled the country, performing his original tunes and spreading The Word. So many people asked for a recording of his songs that he went into a South Carolina studio in 1976 and cut By Request Only. The album wasn't originally available in record stores; he carried them in his car and fans had to purchase them directly from Ken after his shows (he, that's how MC Hammer got his start!).

When Ken was contacted by a curious album owner a few years ago, he admitted that he knew he'd been voted "worst album cover" some place on the internet, but he was truly taken aback at just how many web pages had picked up on the Ken meme. And he was downright dumbfounded to learn that a copy of By Request Only had sold for $135.50 on eBay in 2007.

(In the more recent photo at left, Ken is on the far right.)

6. SOMETHING SPECIAL - JEFF STEINBERG

Something Special was released in 1974, a time when folks with disabilities were more often described as "crippled" rather than as a person with "special needs." Jeff Steinberg was born with no arms and malformed legs. He spent most of his childhood first at a Shriner's Hospital and then at The Good Shepherd Home for the Physically Handicapped. His birth mother was Jewish, but Steinberg converted to Christianity after being fostered by a local Christian couple. The "Tiny Giant" (he stands 4'6") and his wife travel the world ministering through humor, scripture, and song, urging people to "Quit focusing on the handicap and start appreciating the Gift."

7. REBORN - ORION

Once upon a time, Georgia-based writer Gail Brewer-Giorgio concocted a story about a popular Southern rock and roll singer named Orion Eckley Darnell. Orion became so famous that his fans referred to him as "The King." Sadly, Orion eventually felt trapped by his success and staged his own death, complete with a wax figure in his likeness and an elaborate funeral. Elvis Presley died in August 1977 and shortly afterward Brewer-Giorgio's story was published. It didn't take fans and conspiracy theorists very long to decide that she was telling the true story of the King, and that the real Elvis was alive somewhere. A producer named Shelby Singleton sensed the opportunity and found a singer named Jimmy Ellis whose voice and style were nearly identical to Presley. Singleton dyed Ellis' hair black and had him grow some sideburns, but there was no hiding the fact that his face didn't look anything like Elvis'. Shelby had a brainstorm – have Ellis perform while wearing a mask. Not only that, but have him perform under the name "Orion," just like the guy in that book.

Ellis wasn't wild about having to perform incognito, but he went along with it and achieved an amazing level of success, considering his whole career was based on keeping fans guessing as to whether or not he was really Elvis Presley. His voice was so similar to Presley's that RCA almost sued Singleton; they thought he'd unearthed some pirated unreleased Elvis tracks. Orion recorded nine albums in three years and played to sold-out crowds in medium-sized venues. His career ended just that quickly, though, when he ripped off his mask onstage in a fit of anger during a performance in 1981.

A tragic postscript to the Orion story: Jimmy Ellis and his wife were shot to death in 1998 when the pawn shop they owned was robbed by armed bandits.

8. JOYCE

Joyce Drake is a devout Christian woman who lives in Sealy, Texas. Her father, the late Reverend Billy Yeats, was an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God for 60 years during which time he pastored at seven different churches. Likewise, Joyce's husband Clyde was a long-time pastor at the First Assembly of God Church, where Joyce often played piano and sang during his services. It is unclear whether Rev. Clyde is still preaching regular Sunday worship, but the Sealy-area obituaries indicate that he's been in high demand as an officiant for local funeral services in recent years. As for Joyce, well, I did find a telephone number for her but I couldn't bring myself to interrupt her while she's probably busy delivering Meals on Wheels and reading to the blind just to quiz her about an unflattering album cover photo.

9. POR PRIMERA VEZ (FOR THE FIRST TIME)– TINO

Constantino Fernández Fernández, known to his fans as Tino, was one of many hopefuls who answered a 1979 ad in a Barcelona newspaper looking for pre-teens to be part of a pop group that Belter Records was assembling. Tino made the final cut and became the "red" member of Parchís; the band's name meant "Parcheesi" in Spanish and each member was assigned a different color to represent the tokens in the traditional board game. Parchís was very successful in Spain for two years (one of their biggest hits was a Spanish rendition of the Village People's "In the Navy") but by 1983 they were overshadowed by Latin-American boy band sensation Menudo. Tino left the group that same year at age 16 and launched a short-lived solo career aimed at capitalizing on his heartthrob status. Sadly, he later lost that provocatively positioned left arm in an automobile accident while driving in Buenos Aires.

10. LIEBE MUTTER (DEAR MOTHER) ... - HEINO

"A Bouquet That Never Wilts" is German singer Heino's personal Valentine to dear ol' Mom. The cover photo just radiates familial affection, doesn't it? You can almost hear his mother murmuring, "Heino, my son, you are beautiful and angular and you make my uterus implode with affection" as she cuddles him.

Heino was born Heinz Georg Kramm in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1938. When he was 10 years old his mother got him an accordion for Christmas, though the family could ill afford such an expense. Five years later he formed a musical trio with two friends and got a regular gig playing at a local bakery. Eventually, in between playing for pumpernickel, the group gained notice when they took the top prize at th Oberbilker Markt hometown festival and they secured both a manager and a record deal. Critics described Heino's style as "folk music with a Beatles beat;" that may have been stretching the truth a bit, but he did have a certain appeal that inspired lumberjacks. Heino has sold more than 50 million albums over the course of his career and he's still performing today, with his basso cantante voice and platinum hair both intact.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)