Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Asylum Records: Saturate Before Using

While many people, including myself, have referred to Jackson Browne’s debut album as “Saturate Before Using,” it was not the album’s title. It was officially named “Jackson Browne.” When designing the cover, Gary Burden and his company R. Twerk received cues regarding the cover design. Browne wanted it to resemble a canvas radiator water bag that, when saturated with water, cooled the contents via the process of evaporation. It really is an ingenious device.

Browne was hesitant to put the words “Saturate Before Using” on the front of the album for fear that it would be mistaken as the album’s title. So he suggested placing it on the reverse, but Burden insisted it remain on the front and dismissed any concern that Browne might have. Even the label initially rejected the cover art for the same reason, but Burden’s creation remained intact. And yes, everyone thought it was the album’s title. Even when the album was released on CD, Asylum put “Saturate Before Using” on the tray card so that it showed as the CD’s title. While it never was the title, perhaps it should have been.

The cover had an atypical design as it was textured to give it the feel of canvas. Later editions of the album mimicked the canvas design by printing lines on the cover and thus saving the company manufacturing costs. In addition, the original cover was darker than the eventual faux canvas versions.

It’s a great album that I didn’t get until 1976 or so, but I remember buying the single, “Doctor My Eyes,” at a Gimbels in the Monroeville Mall. One Saturday, my friend Regis Franko and I decided to set off for the mall. We walked to East McKeesport and took the bus to Wilmerding, but missed the connecting bus to Monroeville and we decided to walk the remaining miles to what was once considered the largest shopping mall in the US. It also was the location for the shooting of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.”

I always liked to look at the singles at Gimbels, as the prices were a little cheaper than National Record Mart – our local music retailer. That day, I picked up Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” Sailcat’s “Motorcycle Mama,” and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” It obviously was a good day for WEA.

The Browne single? Well, I loved the whole thing – Jackson’s piano, the congas, Jesse Ed Davis’ guitar leads, and the harmony vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash. To nudge radio into playing the single, Asylum listed both Crosby and Nash on the label – something that was not done on the commercial releases. Perhaps it worked, as “Doctor My Eyes” peaked at #8 in 1972.

While Jackson Browne was the catalyst for the founding of Asylum Records, “Doctor My Eyes” was the label’s fifth release with a catalog number of AS-11004.

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