Looks like I’ll have to pull out my copy of Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company, whose lead singer at that time was Janis Joplin, to compare it to this one-page parody of the album cover. And, yeah, there’s three pages of Ad Parodies, too.
First, here’s the actual album cover:
It is the record that made Janis Joplin famous so that she left the band and went solo at the end of 1968 even as the album became the top seller of the year. The cover is as notable as the music, drawn by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. According to Wikipedia, “Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Janis Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia place it on the front cover…There were no changes with R. Crumb. He refused to be paid, saying, 'I don't want Columbia's filthy lucre.'" Wikipedia also tells us that “Initially, the album was to be called Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but the title was not received well by Columbia Records” and that “It is number nine on Rolling Stone's list of 100 greatest album covers.”
While I’m on this Wikipedia kick, here’s a quote from their R. Crumb entry: “His work displays a nostalgia for American folk culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and satire of contemporary American culture.” That’s one way of looking at it. You could also say that Crumb indulges in racist and sexist images. The cover illustrates the songs and the performers. For the song, “I Need a Man to Love,” Crumb posed Janis on a bed, looking out at us longingly, wearing fishnet stocking and, clearly, no brassiere underneath her dress. More extreme is the illustration for “Summertime,” a Gershwin song originally from “Porgy and Bess,” in which Crumb portrays a stereotype of an African-American “mammy” who is holding a squalling white baby. Are these drawings “nostalgia for American folk culture” and “satire of contemporary American culture” or are they essentially sexist and racist? I’m not going to weigh in on that. I’ll leave it to you to decide.
Now, what about our parody? It starts with a “Golden Wreckord Dept” intro. “It’s us again, gang…mercenary Marble, trying to sell another million copies of NBE by presenting our voomy version of one of the most popular LP albums this side of ‘Sing along with Forbush-Man!’.” (That last, by the way, is a riff of Mitch Miller’s 1961-1964 TV program, “Sing Along With Mitch.”)
The “Marble” version of the album is called “Cheap Shrills” and it is by “Big Benjy & the Clobbering Co.” Where the album cover has Janis introducing the “following tunes,” the parody has Mary Jane Watson presenting the “following tunes, Tiger.” There are other MJ and Peter/Spidey appearances, such as MJ filling in for Janis, stretched out on a bed and thinking about Spider-Man in “I Need a Normal Man to Love.” (MJ seems to be wearing a brassiere.) The song “Oh Sweet Mary” becomes “Oh Mary” with Peter Parker looking at a photo of MJ and crying. Where the album credits, “Peter S. Albin, Bass, Guitar and Dave Getz, Drums,” the parody has “Mary Jane Watsit. Go-Go Girl and D. Octopus, Everything,” in the same positions as the characters in the original.
Other bits worth mentioning are the Black Panther holding baby Franklin Richards for “Suppertime” and the Mighty Sore shackled to Jane Foster as “Ball and Chain” becomes “Sore and Jane.” Note how our parodists, Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe are depicted in the spot that originally listed “Art: R. Crumb.” (The original panel does not show Crumb but, instead, a guy in a turban. Wikipedia says of this, “In at least one early edition, the words ‘HARRY KIRSHNER! (D. GETZ)’ are faintly visible in the word balloon of the turbaned man, apparently referring to a track that was dropped from the final sequence. The words ‘ART: R. CRUMB’ replace them.” Note also that the “Approved by Hell’s Angels, Frisco” is unchanged as if Herb and Gary were afraid to mess with that.
The parody takes the form of a huge album held up by Janis Joplin who stretches out below, holding a bottle of “Southern Cumquat” in her other hand. She says, “Y’all run ra’t out an’ buy about a zillion copies, naow! Even moah, if y’all happen to own a record-playah!”
In Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Roy Thomas says of the next three pages, “Yeesh! No credits – or even an overall title – on these parodies of ads for Nice and Easy Shampoo, Winston cigarettes (turned into, of all things, an ad for stretch pants!), Ford (featuring Forbush-Man) and All-State Life Insurance. I kinda suspect I did the scripting.” Well, Roy may have done the scripting but the pages begin with It’s a Mad Mad Ave. Dept., which is what Stu Schwartzberg titled his piece in Not Brand Echh #11 (Story 2) so I’m going with Stu. The artwork is by Tom Sutton.
One thing Roy definitely gets wrong is calling Nice ‘N Easy a shampoo. It is, rather, for coloring your hair. This makes more sense in the context of the parody for “Nice’n Oozy” as “the closer he gets…the better he looks??” replaces the slogan, “the closer he gets, the better you look.” In our parody, Bruce Banner runs toward a woman but, by the time he gets to her, he has turned into the Hulk. The copy says, “Why settle for a shampoo that will change your hair, when you can have one that will change you into a hare – or a centaur, or a green giant – or anything else your nasty heart desires?!” Fittingly, Clairol, the maker of Nice ‘N Easy, has become “Scare-All.”
As Roy said, the Winston parody has become an ad for stretch pants, advertised by a stretching Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl. The parody uses the actual slogan used for Winston Super King-Size cigarettes: “It’s not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long.” (Anybody out there not know that cigarettes used to be advertised on television?) The parody asks, “Tired of shirts that tear when you’re lifting a skyscraper? Pants that split when you’re wrestling an alien dinosaur? Shoes that burn when you’re diving into a sizzling super nova? Get new Weed-ston Super-Stretch Pants (for the super-hero who has everything!)”
The Forbush full-pager riffs off of the Ford has a better idea slogan. As you can see from the actual ad, the “O” in “Ford” was replaced by a light bulb. Here, the “O” in “Forbush” is replaced with a broken light bulb as “Forbush has a better idea!!” shows Forbush-Man next to a trash can overflowing with his better ideas, such as a boarding pass for the HMS Titanic, Thomas Dewey campaign buttons (Dewey lost to Roosevelt in 1944 and Truman in 1948), 200 shares of “Acme Buggywhip Co.,” “Script for TV’s Newest Hit ‘The Tammy Grimes Show’,” (the Tammy Grimes show was canceled after four episodes) and an Edsel. There are a couple of stabs at the competition with “Beware the Creepster Comics” (Steve Ditko’s “Beware the Creeper” was cancelled in 1969 after 6 issues) and “Infernal Five Comics” (“The Inferior Five” was cancelled in 1968 after 10 issues.) Note, though, that Forbush-Man has a copy of “Not Brand Echh” in his hand. As you can see by the end of this 1950s Allstate Commerical, they used to illustrate their “You’re in good hands with Allstate” slogan by showing a cupped pair of hands holding a house and car. Here we have Giant-Man (Giant-Sam) in a full-page parody that interrupts its slogan…”You’re in good hands with All-St…Ooops!” because Giant-Sam has dropped the house. It lies shattered down at his feet.
The feature ends with the promise, “More ads next ish, image-conscious one!” which turns out to be false advertising because this is the last Brand Echh issue, making it as defunct in 1969 as “Beware the Creeper” and “The Inferior Five.”
In A/E #95, Roy says, “Working from Gary’s script and rough breakdowns, Incredible Hulk artist Herb Trimpe turned in a masterful parody of Robert Crumb’s cover for Janis Joplin’s sensational ‘Cheap Thrills’ record album.” That’s putting it mildly. Everything about this parody works from the use of Mary Jane as Janis Joplin to the riffs on the various songs and performers to Janis herself holding up the album cover. (Her hand is tucked inside the cover because, yes, the actual cover opened out to a photo of the band in concert.) It was a great parody back when it was only lampooning a best-selling album. Now, all these years later, with Janis dying a year later and the record assuming classic status, it feels like finding the pulse of a forgotten feeling, like taking a time machine to a living moment in time.
It’s not the jokes that catch my attention in the ad parodies. It’s that Roy (or Stu) used the actual slogans of the actual products to inspire the riffs. Looked at as a challenge the writer set for himself to combine those actual slogans with Marble characters, it’s no wonder the Winston takeoff with its “It’s how you make it long” slogan becomes an ad for stretch pants starring Mr. Fantastic. And, of course, “Giant-Sam” in the Allstate commercial demonstrates bad hands.
It’s one page but it sure isn’t filler. “Cheap Shrills” easily earns five webs.
I love that the ad parodies riff off the actual slogans. Too bad the jokes aren’t better. I give them three webs.
Bringing us to an average of four webs for this section.
Next: Three more stories from Brecch’s final issue. Not Brand Echh #13 (Story 7).