Vixens of Vinyl

By Benjamin Darling(Chronicle Books; 132 pages; $14.95)

It probably never comes up in Tom Brokaw's franchise, but the men who whipped the Depression at home and fascism abroad and gave us the baby boom, the Cold War and the trillion-dollar military-industrial complex also nurtured a pretty robust appetite for lurid sexuality.

Witness the innuendo that seeps through B movies of the 1950s on the late show sometime -- or, for that matter, the mammary-obsessed humor in many mainstream Hollywood comedies of the era. Or drop by a secondhand bookstore to peruse the lewd cover art that adorns old-time paperbacks. It's all there: The highball generation may have acted shocked by what their kids were doing, but it wasn't something that hadn't already crossed their minds after a cocktail or two.

The latest chink in the "Greatest Generation's" armor is on display in Benjamin Darling's Vixens of Vinyl, a collection of cheesecake album covers from the 1950s and '60s.

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Darling delivers a wide array of record jackets from mostly forgotten artists. Taken as a whole, they break no new ground in confirming the adage that sex sells. But glanced at in another light, the for-men-only artwork offers a quick glimpse at the seedy underbelly of the suburbs. It's like reading a John Cheever novella.

Forty years later, some of the images remain alluring; others seem pathetic. Many of the faces in the book are wistful, seductive and sensual. Others look like junkies.

No doubt, would-be feminists will wince at record titles such as How to Strip for Your Husband and Music to Make Housework Easier. Self-styled Don Juans might long for the day when they could bring home a copy of Teach Me Tiger by April Stevens and get away with it. And most folks will chuckle at the shots of strategically placed saxophones and violins draped over fleshy models, but nothing in this collection will shock. (Except, perhaps, Lynn Robinson's disturbing LP Your Girl for the Night, which includes a cover photo that could give Weegee nightmares while offering Robinson's renditions of "Up the Canal," "It's Hard to Eat When It's Soft," "Come Into My Cave," "He's Sixty Inches Long" and other such grindhouse hits.)

Vixens of Vinyl is by no means complete. The absence of any of Julie London's smoky records, for instance, or the exclusion of the hedonic artwork that garnished Curtis Counce's You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce, confirms how little thought and research went into it. Darling boasts that the final product came from his own record collection, and it shows.

There remains room for a book that might better put this brazen slice of Americana in its proper context -- something akin to what Geoffrey O'Brien did for the pulp paperbacks in his excellent Hardboiled America. But until that publication comes along, Darling's snickering, lightweight tribute will have to do.

 
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