Bimonthly MAD Magazine noted in July 2019 that it would cease publishing new content, outside of its year-end specials, after a 67-year run. Even some of its most ardent fans in the 60s and 70s might say, “I didn’t even know it was still issued,” because, let’s face it, as we became adults some of us did away with childish things. In a way, it’s kind of fitting to put an end to the publication, as many of its originators have long since passed. Which brings me to my real point - with noted MAD Magazine Cartoonist Jack Davis’ passing on July 27, 2016, roughly 3 years ago, it seems fitting to share some of his album jacket art with Boomerocity readers. Davis, a renowned cartoonist and illustrator, was best known for being one of the founders of MAD Magazine in 1952, doing much of its cover art and other graphics over the decades. But Davis also did a significant amount of eye-catching record album jacket art over his lifetime.
The illustrations shown are from my personal collection, all obtained over the years, not because they were illustrated by Jack Davis, but because I was drawn to the jacket art, and they just happened to be by Davis. I know I have other Davis art jackets in my disorganized collection, hidden away in a box or on a dusty shelf. If you search the internet you will find hundreds of other jacket art by Davis, as prolific might be the best adjective to describe his lifetime of illustration and cartoon art. He did numerous jackets for Ben Colder, Homer and Jethro (other than the few pictured in this article), Spike Jones, David Frye, and many movie soundtracks, just to name a few that are not pictured.
What amazes me is how easily recognizable Davis’ subjects are, even in caricature. Davis had an uncanny ability to capture the essence of a person, putting more life into a cartoon drawing than we sometimes even see in a photograph of the same subject. Here’s a very small sampling of Davis’ album jacket art:
Texas Bound and Flyin’ – Jerry Reed; RCA Records, 1980 – I’m not sure what Jerry’s prime years were, but since he had a Best of Jerry Reed album out as early as 1972, I’d guess this 1980 release might not have been some of his best work, but the guy was pumping out albums right up to 1999. But this album does contain a couple tunes from Smokey and the Bandit II; regarded by some as the best sequel of all time. Just kidding. I may be guessing, but I don’t think anyone regards it as that. But what baby boomer didn’t love Jerry’s fun-loving trucker role as Cledus Snow in Smokey and the Bandit, or how Reed’s songs carried that soundtrack? What kid didn’t want a CB radio and a big rig after seeing that movie?
He put this album out right after his Jerry Reed Sings Jim Croce, so maybe that says something; I just don’t know. But hey, this album reached number 43 on the US Country charts, so what do I know? But the Jack Davis cover art makes this one a keeper. Reed’s wild, fun-loving nature is evident in the artwork, and Reed’s image is perfectly captured.
The Greatest of The Guess Who – The Guess Who; RCA Records, 1977 – Some may question whether this is truly the group’s greatest hits, but it’s got Clap for the Wolfman, which features the voice of Wolfman Jack, so who am I to argue? This record came out six years after Best of the Guess Who was issued, both issued by RCA Victor, so I would guess RCA wanted to capitalize on the popularity of hits such as Clap for the Wolfman, Star Baby, and Dancin’ Fool, all released after the first greatest hits compilation, and there just weren’t enough later hits to feasibly release a Greatest Hits, Volume 2 (although that never seems to stop most record companies, does it?).
Why did Jack Davis portray the Canadian group dressed as hockey players? From an internet search, I know lead singer Burton Cummings was a big hockey fan, and in the early days of Winnipeg Jets’ franchise, Cummings sang the national anthem many times at the Winnipeg Arena. Cummings was apparently featured as the team’s honorary captain on a 1991-92 hockey card set in full uniform. Do any of you Guess Who fans out there own that card? For all of you unfulfilled Guess Who/Burton Cummings’ fans, the card is readily available on eBay.
The Best of the Cowsills – The Cowsills, MGM Records, 1969 – I was a bit late to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, harder rock scene, but don’t be too sad for me – I was groovin’ on the music of Herman’s Hermits, Bobby Vee, the Cowsills, and the like, so I was happy. The feel-good music made me feel, well, good, and you can never take that away. To this day certain songs still make me happy, longing perhaps for those happy-go-lucky, carefree days; songs like the Cowsills’ The Rain, The Park, and Other Things; We Can Fly; and Indian Lake.
We are treated to a two-sided Jack Davis art jacket on this one – the colorful front showing the group actively playing and singing, and a black and white line-up of the members with their names, on the back. Am I the only one who thought they should have put actual photographs of the members on the back? Amusingly, I read online that this was one of only a few rock jackets that Davis did; I find that amusing because The Cowsills and rock do not seem synonymous. But I guess pop and rock are perhaps one and the same.
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, United Artists, 1963 – As a young boy, for some reason this movie resonated with me, and I remember liking it although I couldn’t remember anything about it other than all the characters were all chasing after something. It’s likely that I saw the movie at a drive-in theater, the Midway Drive-In, on Beach Blvd. in Jacksonville, Florida. My mother would pile all the kids into the station wagon and head to the drive-in to watch back to back Elvis movies or other comedies, likely never first releases, but later showings. We would roll down the windows, light a green PIC mosquito coil on the front dashboard, which hopefully would keep us from getting eaten up, and enjoy the double feature.
Davis’ artwork clearly illustrates the chase, and many of the main actors can clearly be identified – Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry Thomas, Jonathan Winters, and Jimmy Durante. But the movie was a who’s who of comedians and actors, also featuring Jim Backus, Peter Falk, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, the 3 Stooges, Andy Devine, Norman Fell, and many others. The jacket art wraps about the gatefold album, and look, I broke one of my rules (cardinal sins) about never flattening out a gatefold album, just so you could see the entire artwork.
Kelly’s Heroes – Music from the Original Soundtrack, MGM Records,1970 – This is a great movie if you’ve never seen it, or even if you have, I guess. Imagine seeing Clint Eastwood young again, not to mention the actors who have since passed on. Jack Davis’ artwork, true to his form, really captures the essence of this movie, showing, left to right, Don Rickles, Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, and Telly Savalas, carrying off gold bars and proudly holding a flag featuring a dollar bill. The movie also featured Carroll O’Connor (All In the Family) and Gavin MacLeod (captain of The Love Boat), among others.
Life Can Be Miserable / Any News From Nashville? / Nashville Cats – Homer and Jethro; RCA Victor, 1959/1966/1967 -Davis illustrated many Homer and Jethro comedy albums, and this is just a very small sampling. He seemed to have a special knack for illustrating hillbillies as a music loving, redneck crowd of simpletons. Homer and Jethro consisted of Henry D. “Homer” Haynes and Kenneth C. “Jethro” Burns, whose countrified satirical versions of popular songs were popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. They were known as the “Thinking Man’s Hillbillies”. You have to wonder whether this jacket art would be considered politically correct today, but heck, we collect because we like something, not because it is politically correct (and yes, sometimes we collect because it’s not politically correct). Although I couldn’t find Davis’ trademark signature on the Any News From Nashville? album, sources online attributed the artwork to Davis. Good enough for me, because everything you read on the internet is true, right?
Well, there you have it. My homage to Jack Davis, one of the greatest illustrators ever to grace the cover of MAD Magazine or album covers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and good luck hunting!