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Posted: Wednesday March 11, 2009 3:28PM; Updated: Thursday March 12, 2009 10:25AM
John Rolfe John Rolfe >
GETTING LOOSE

Great sports-themed album covers

Some records not made to be broken, a rockin' chimp, wok stars and other items of disinterest

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They didn't actually play there, but that is them in the box seats by the dugout...
Courtesy of Mercury Records

With cd sales tanking (by nearly 50 percent since 2000) along with the economy and record stores going under by the score, album artwork ought to be placed on the endangered species list. So let us give thanks for the modest revival of the vinyl LP record.

Bands and artists such as Radiohead, U2 and Bruce Springsteen have been moved to release their latest work in the beloved old format, which allows one to savor the artwork, song titles and credits without having to squint at them. But even a well-designed cd booklet beats the cold nothingness an MP3.

Music history is loaded with iconic album covers, but this space would like to pause this week to tip its battered cap to those that have employed a sports theme (notables and favorites are below).

If you want iconic, John Fogerty's Centerfield probably stands as the most monumental sports-themed title and cover, but for setting and wit this space will go with NRBQ's At Yankee Stadium. The Q's 1978 masterpiece, which contains their best-known song "Ridin' in My Car", is a play on their status as a cult band (they're still cranking their distinctive screwball stew of rock, pop, jazz, blues and anything else that comes into their heads). At first glance -- if you don't know about the band -- you may be tempted to lump them in the pantheon of acts like Pink Floyd (who played the Stadium in '94) or The Beatles, The Clash and Billy Joel (who did Shea and others). Then you turn the cover over and discover, along with a closeup photo of the perennial club act lounging in box seats, that it was recorded entirely in a studio.

Speaking of Pink Floyd, the repackaging of their first two albums as A Nice Pair features a series of visual word plays and common expressions (flying saucers, a kettle of fish, etc.), one of which was going to be boxer Floyd Patterson colored pink. Alas, he refused to grant the rights to use his likeness. But in the center is a photo of the Floyd's soccer team, which included band members David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, scowling -- according to sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's book Walk Away Renee: The Work of Hipgnosis -- after a loss to some West End Marxists. (Mason later did an album with jazz keyboardist Carla Bley in 1981 entitled Fictitious Sports.)

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Of more recent vintage, the punchy Boston sports scene fixture Dropkick Murphys went with a boxing theme for The Warrior's Code (2005), which includes the track "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" from the soundtrack to the major motion picture The Departed. The Zambonis are a reliable source for fine hockey-themed covers (surprise, surprise) and songs (hard to beat, so to speak, "Losing My Teeth"). But from surfing to cricket, mainstream (Huey Lewis & The News) to obscure ('70s prog-rockers Babe Ruth), there's something for just about every sports fan if you take the time to look.

These babies are a dying art.

Rock star

The week brought stirring news from Stockholm about a chimp named Santino who stunned researchers by diligently gathering rocks and waiting to fire them at people when they showed up at his digs in the Furuvik Zoo. Apparently, Santino, was irked by folks laughing and pointing at him, and opted to go the route sometimes taken by athletes who've had enough of loud, opinionated fans. Goes to show that our link to our primate friends is short -- as Devo sang, "God made man, but a monkey supplied the glue" -- and one has to wonder how long it will be before Santino attracts attention from pro scouts.

On a more painful note, the zoo relieved Santino of his gonads in an effort to calm him down. Roger Clemens oughta heave a sigh of relief that Major League Baseball didn't take that appoach after his bat-throwing incident in the 2000 World Series.

Wok stars

Those who thrill to competitions that involve food were no doubt hyperventilating during last weekend's Wok World Championship in Germany's Erz Mountains. Notables such as Tour de France cyclist Erik Zabel and the wife of Formula One racing titan Ralf Schumacher hurtled themselves down an icy luge track on a wok while steering with modified soup ladles affixed to their feet. Best to leave dangerous stuff like this to trained professionals. No surprise, then, that Olympic luge legend Georg Hackl cooked up his fifth singles title.

Note: Economically beleaguered teams and leagues would do well to borrow a page from this event, which has attracted so many advertisers it's earned the label "world's most dangerous infomercial" -- a tag borne out by the nasty concussion suffered by the lead singer from the band Oomph! in 2007. And the hybrid possibilities -- see: competitive eating icons Joey Chestnut vs. Kobayashi at 60+ miles per hour -- are mouthwatering.

A Called Strike

It seems that a group of fans, disgusted by baseball's dalliance with performance-enhancing elixirs, have decided to organize a boycott of Major League games on April 17. In honor of the late, great Roberto Clemente's big league debut, fans will be asked to stay away from ballparks and refrain from watching on TV, and instead donate the time and life savings they would have spent on tickets, cold hot dogs, warm beer and a place to find their car up on blocks, to charity or their communities.

(Okay, they're really only asking for a $13 donation -- half the price of the aveage major league ticket -- and they're offering suggestions about where to donate it.)

It's a nice idea, and one imagines that were will be considerable support in places like New York, where there is already serious grumbling in the ranks of longtime season ticket-holders who have been priced out of the two new emporiums or had their seats relocated to a spot with the pigeons in the outer boroughs.

WBC Ya

Hey, we love the international pastime as much as the next space, but we hope we can be forgiven for our inability to work up an elevated pulse for the World Baseball Classic. Unlike the good folks in other nations, we Amuricans -- based on what this space has been hearing and reading and feeling of late -- seem just a tad jaded by the whole affair, although that stirring upset of the Dominicans by the Netherlands on Tuesday night did serve to disturb the torpor a bit.

The theory here is that the lack of widespread facepaint and chest-thumping in the U.S. of A. is due to All-Star burnout as much as a preference for spring training and fear of injury to one's big league team's stars. Besides the four major sports conducting their own annual All-Star clambakes, you got your continual stream of assorted world cups and world championships and an Olympics every two years. The novelty of the concept has worn thin, especially since the world's best talent tends to come here to play baseball, hoops, hockey and football on a daily basis. The WBC can also feel a tad contrived when teams are padded out with marginal major leaguers and Italy has "a lanky righthander from Brooklyn." Naples, sure. Brooklyn, not so authentic.

Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay were only the latest big name Americans to go the way of Shaq and Kevin Garnett in 2004 and decline an opportunity to play for their country in an international shindig. A perceived lack of fervor -- or "security concerns" -- can feel contagious. Also, winning just doesn't mean quite as much, at least to fans, as it used to now that there are no real bloodcurdling rivalries a la the U.S. and USSR in the heyday of the Cold War. Sure, in countries like the Netherlands, Cuba or Venezuela, it's carthweels-in-the-streets time when a giant is knocked off or national pride is inflated, and that's as it should be. But here, well, if the U.S. wins the whole magilla, most fans will likely still be counting the minutes until Opening Day.

Just Wonderin'

You may have seen SI Videothe Haney Project on this fine site in which renowned golf instructor Hank Haney attempts to fix Charles Barkley's driving deficiencies. Couldn't help but wonder if this is part of Sir Charles' conditions for release from the Arizona pokey following his recent automotive misadventure.

Unfounded Rumor of the Week

The space always tries to keep its ear to the ground, so while sleeping off a nice chianti it seems we overheard rumblings that the New York Mets are about to sign some guy named Santino out of Stockholm to be their fifth starter. A byproduct, no doubt, of the ever-expanding globalization of the sport, Santino's mechanics are said to be a tad rough -- "His front leg wanders and that forces his arms to drag" says a scout who professes to be "in the know" about such things -- and he's 31 years old. But if Jim Morris could make the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at age 35, anything is possible, right? We said, right? And you read it here first, as well as last.

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