Among the beans and psychedelia are irresistible reminders of Spinal Tap

One man's tacky and embarassing album cover is another's precious artefact.

"Bring snowy lady with the laughing, spread your sailing angels over me. Tell a tale of old sinfuls, look for you to change their face. Do not cry, for all your leaden tears graced a lorded man whose gift was all too free."

Recognise the style? If you wore your hair long, your afghan battered and your pants loon, you might. If you ever sat cross-legged on the floor late at night in somebody else's flat sniffing the incense and reading their LP sleeves, you almost certainly will.

It was 1972. Snowy ladies and lorded man were considered pretty deep stuff and, contrary to popular mythology, it wasn't even necessary to have meddled with narcotics. An hour or two listening to a band that featured a mellotron or a heavy fuzz guitar was quite sufficient to suspend critical faculties and turn the brain into a substance resembling guacamole.

Maybe it's a little unfair to single out the overblown romanticism of Irish progressive folk band Mellow Candle, from whose LP Swaddling Songs the lyric is reproduced, but it's their fault for including it on the sleeve. Even more ill-advisedly, the sleeve has potted biographies of the group members. For instance: "William A Murray. Aries. Percussion. Spent most of his childhood in the company of lum-hatted peacocks from whom he learnt the lore of rainbows and other alternative dimensions. Recently caused near havoc upon sighting 13 "saucers" flying in formation over Salisbury Plain." If Mr Murray is still around and has children, it would be nice to think they quote that back at him when he tells them to grow up and be sensible.

Sensible, of course, was not what progressive bands of the late 60s and early 70s were all about. Their intricate, rambling pieces about free love, nature, mythical beasts, magic (carpets and mushrooms), and other favourite underground themes, and their self-consciously arty sleeves, were intended as a reaction against artists like Donny Osmond or the New Seekers, who made hit singles and were therefore accused of being into a "whole heavy bread scene."

Well, irony of ironies. If you want to buy a copy of Mellow Candle's LP now it will cost you pounds 400. Leafhound's 1971 album Grower Of Mushrooms is available for around pounds 900, while you would have to be a serious breadhead to pick up a copy of Dark Round The Edges by Dark at pounds l,500. A New Seekers LP? Fifty pence at a car boot sale.

So coveted are some of these long-haired relics that 500 copies of a new video featuring the sleeves of hard-to-find hippy albums have been sold in the four weeks since its release. That's right. Just the sleeves. No performances by the groups, just 200 or so album sleeves lovingly shot by Ken Morse's rostrum camera, plus a soundtrack of rare music by Pink Floyd, Ambrose Slade and others.

The tape, Rare, Precious or Beautiful, has been assembled by PR man and former rock musician Eddie Blower, mostly from his own collection. "It's like a porno movie for record collectors," he says. "Serious buffs will be drooling at some of these sleeves. There's pounds 25,000 worth of albums on the video, stuff you just don't see anywhere these days."

Leafhound's Grower Of Mushrooms, for instance, is Decca's rarest LP. The sleeve design shows the band adrift in a sea of mushrooms, a kind of tribute to heavy rock's favourite vegetable. Not all the sleeves are as straightforward as that, however. Pete Brown, of Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments, appears on the video talking about his album Thousands On A Raft, the cover of which features a beans on toast motif. "It's civilisation," Brown explains. "The beans represent people and the toast is the world. The idea is that the toast is drifting out to sea, getting soggier and soggier, and the overpopulated beans are falling off the world, fighting to survive."

Pretentious, maybe, but not without charm, and some of the half-baked philosophies dreamt up by rock's overcooked brains did result in some undeniably striking illustrations. Album sleeve art was a genre in its own right in the era before the rise of the pop video and the CD, and some of its most accomplished practitioners are championed in the video; Keef, for instance, responsible for picturing Bowie in a dress on The Man Who Sold The World in 1971, and Claus Boling, whose cover for Hurdy Gurdy's 1972 album was a wash of blues and greens concealing the face of a grotesque.

Among the beans and psychedelia, however, are acres of beasts dripping blood, swords and sorcery, and overtly sexual images that act as an irresistible reminder of the film Spinal Tap, whose joyous dissection of every rock 'n' roll cliche seemed not only to have destroyed all this stuff but to have danced rather effectively on its grave.

"It's time this music was championed and celebrated because some of it is brilliant," Blower says. "It's almost been written out of rock history, because punk rock was such a reaction against it. There was even one guy who ritually smashed some of these LPs on stage before the show - probably a couple of grand's worth at today's prices. In those days people wouldn't be caught dead with anything like Andromeda or Vashti Bunyon in their collection."

But Eddie, as befits the man who owns Black Sabbath's old mellotron, kept the faith and now reckons to have a record collection worth pounds 90,000, each album hermetically sealed in a plastic cover. He now plans two further releases. "These videos will be the only way a lot of enthusiasts will ever be able to access this stuff. Even where it exists it was usually thrown across the floor at parties or used as an aid for the rolling of cigarettes. I suppose I am a kind of historian for the long-haired."

Or, as Yes put it on their album Tales From Topographic Oceans: "Dawn of light lying between a silence and sold sources chased amid fusions of wonder in moments hardly seen forgotten." You had to be there.

"Rare, Precious Or Beautiful" is available by mail order from BDP Video, 3-4 Little Portland Street, London Wl. Price pounds 16.99 including post and packing.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

    Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

    MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

    Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

    Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

    £14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific