Collectable trading cards have been in existence for over 100 years, with some of the earliest examples being ones that came with tobacco products or Cracker Jack snacks. By the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the hobby expanded at a seemingly exponential rate as the marketplace was flooded with product. It seemed like just about anything you could think of had a trading card set attached to it, ranging from major Hollywood films to popular television shows, from scratch-offs of video games to knock-offs of the Garbage Pail Kids, from military operations to… whatever this is…
If you looked through all the excess supply of trading cards, anybody could find a set they would take a liking to. For me, one set I look back fondly on was the Rock Cards set, produced by rock merchandise manufacturer Brockum in 1991.
I remember being introduced to these cards when Christmas shopping when I was around 7 or 8 years old. My siblings and I would usually buy gifts for each other at a nearby dollar store. As I was searching for presents at Mighty Dollar, my own interests got the better of me, as I spotted a bin filled with assorted trading card packs priced at two for a dollar. What mostly caught my eye were the baseball packs, which consisted of cards from an assortment of sets that had been re-packaged in transparent wrapping. My twin brother also expressed interest in these cards, which got me thinking that if I bought two packs of baseball cards for my brother, surely he’d buy two packs for me. It’s an unwritten twin law that exists between us to this day. The interests of one twin will overlap the other, so we can shop for one another accordingly. But this time, it didn’t quite work out.
On Christmas morning, I opened the trading card-sized gift my brother left under the tree. It had a pack of baseball cards in it, and another pack of cards with a holographic wrapper. It wasn’t more baseball, so I was rather let down. ROCK CARDS? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?? How could my DNA-equivalent get my signals crossed this badly? After I cooled down a little, I opened the pack.
The cards were GREAT!!!! I’m sorry for ever doubting you, Alex! Nice sharp photos (though my scans may not reflect that), colourful borders, and lots of information listed on the card backs. These cards opened myself up to a completely unexplored world. I didn’t even own much music at this age, and now I had some of the bigger names in the business at my fingertips. It made me forget all about the baseball pack, which I’m pretty sure didn’t contain anybody of note. With the Rock Cards, though, I can still remember several of the cards I pulled out of that package.
Here’s the first card that I remember seeing, so I guess I’ll begrudgingly say that things started of with a bang. This was as good an introduction to AC/DC as I could ask for. Without having even heard a note of their music, this staged shot let me know his band would be nothing but a fun time. A grown man in a schoolboy uniform? Who is this guy? It was like getting a card of the Three Stooges, a Sunday morning staple of mine at the time.
These next two cards I found particularly disturbing. Here’s Tom Keifer from Cinderella, and David Coverdale of Whitesnake.
In spite of what their names should have led me to believe, my gut was telling me that they were women. Not pretty women, mind you, thus my disturbance. With Coverdale, I think it was the hoop earrings that were distracting me from his chest hair, so I got that straightened out relatively quickly. I have no defense for the Tom Keifer mix-up. He had his shirt wide open, for crying out loud! Still, being unfamiliar with many rock musicians at the time, maybe this was the norm. Maybe (s)he was doing it for empowerment or to be risque. It’s not my place to judge!
Here’s a David Ellefson card I pulled. With the long, blonde hair, and unbuttoned dress shirt, I was more reminded of Michael Bolton or a guy on the cover of a romance novel than a guy in a thrash metal band. It gave me a different impression of Megadeth than I might have gained had I instead owned one of his cards where he’s shown playing live. Would that have made me want to buy Rust In Peace sooner than I did? Who knows.
Most people around my age’s introduction to Tommy Lee was his sex tape with Pamela Anderson. Mine also had a lot of nudity. Here he is, likely at the end of one of his signature drum solos.
And to get a bit of a nude streak going, here’s another one I remember from the pack. Telling Iggy Pop to put a shirt on is like telling Michael Jordan to pass up an open jump shot.
Some cards would show entire bands rather than just one musician. One such card was the one I received of Testament.
This was a definite highlight for me. I thought that the logo was bad-ass, and the band looked like a bunch of cool guys, with Alex Skolnick’s grey streaks of hair really standing out as unique. Their name had me thinking that they were a Christian band, and the reference to them on The Simpsons (though possibly an unintentional one) didn’t help shake that from my mind.
Weirdly enough, I didn’t actually get a musical introduction to the band until around ten years later when I was in my last year of high school, with the airing of the “Over The Wall” video on the Metal Mania program on VH1 Classics. A great band for sure, but they weren’t exactly the talk of the playground.
While the men above were complete strangers to me, I did get one card of a guy I had actually heard of.
I knew Bon Jovi! I also had a card of their drummer, but this is the guy they named the band after, therefore a more significant human being as a whole. In spite of the awkward wide-legged pose, the vest-without-a-shirt look, and that he’s standing in front of what may be a garage door, a storage locker, or he’s waiting in front of the Foot Locker in the mall before it opens, I thought this one was pretty cool. It must have been the tattoos.
Each pack also contained one of 18 different stickers featuring artwork by notable album cover artists. Here are some of my favourites.
The sticker in the middle was in that first pack of mine. I didn’t know what that was (it’s a picture of Megadeth mascot Vic Rattlehead), but I was blown away by Ed Repka’s artwork. I couldn’t exactly do a reverse image search on the internet in 1993, so I had no idea that this had any Megadeth affiliation. The illustration was used on the Megadeth single “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”, which would have likely blown my head clean off my shoulders had I heard the song at such a young age.
I acquired more of these cards throughout the years, but never had the whole base set until about a month ago. However, I’d appreciate them whenever I stumbled across them at flea markets. Many of them became the first source of my knowledge for random trivia facts about musicians. It was through this set that I learned that I share a birthday with Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord (June 9, in case you want to send a gift), that Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach is Canadian (from Peterborough, Ontario, though the card lists Toronto), and that Anthrax bassist Frank Bello once tried to win Madonna’s heart with a limo ride and backstage tickets to their concert. I’d never dream that inviting a girl to a thrash metal show would impress her, I don’t care if you are in the band.
Besides the sticker inserts (the Motley Crue “Ball and Chain” art is the only one I still need), there were two additional types of cards randomly inserted into packs. One of these sets consists of holographic band logos, but I currently don’t have any of them to show. To see what some of them look like, as well as the entire 288-card base set, click here.
The other insert set is a tribute to the Grateful Dead, all of which proudly list on their backs “This product is printed on recycled paper. Save the rain forest.” I’ve yet to explore much of their music (I’m open to suggestions on where to start), but I still can’t resist the temptation of chasing down this set. It consists of ten cards, one of each of the six band members (current photos on fronts, and vintage black and white image on the back), two band photos (one current and one from 1967), and two that feature poster art. I currently own the following three from the set.
The first two came packaged with the complete main set that I purchased. The Phil Lesh, a fellow bassist, I found through an eBay search. The same query also turned up an old credit card that allegedly belonged to him, just in case any Dead Head out there is looking for some obscure, one-of-a-kind memorabilia. I’m willing to bet it will still be there by the time you read this.
Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with these cards, what’s my overall impression? It’s still favorable. They seem to be reasonably priced online for the most part (mine was just under $15 CDN minus shipping), but with some patience you can likely get it for dirt cheap at a flea market or yard sale. I think it’s worth the pocket change if you’re into music of the era.
While the bulk of the set consists of thrash and hair metal artists, they manage to make some interesting choices to fill up the rest of the set. Among them are some progressive rock content with Yes, some goth rock with The Sisters of Mercy, and some contemporary bands that time forgot such as Warrior Soul. They even threw in a blues guy with a Stevie Ray Vaughan card to commemorate his recent passing.
In spite of my nostalgia for this set, I can acknowledge that there is room for improvement. Like many mass produced card sets (I’m looking at you, 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey!), some errors slipped past quality control. Most notably, look at the back of these two cards.
They mixed up the photos of two members of Exodus, bassist Rob McKillop and guitarist Gary Holt. Granted, they do look fairly similar. However, in retrospect it seems to be quite a slap in the face to Holt. He’s easily the most recognizable member of the band as the one constant in Exodus since their debut album, Bonded By Blood, whereas McKillop would be out of the band the following year.
Here’s the main thing I think could turn away people from the set. Here are three cards of Kip Winger, each one with unique photos and varied border colour schemes.
However, looking at the backs of these cards show no difference other than the card number in the bottom-left corner.
This makes me wonder how they obtained the information to fill out the backs of these cards. I’d be fine with the content having only one of these cards, but couldn’t Brockum representatives have sent out a slightly more extensive survey for them to fill out or do some more research? I’d be more than willing to let the identical back photos slide if we could learn just a little bit more about the bands. However, I think the fact they pulled the back pictures off of the same band photo was another of the nice features. Had I obtained more of these as a young kid, I would have got a kick out of laying them across the floor of my room, overlapping the images like a miniature puzzle.
Finally, I think there was good opportunity for to squeeze a couple more bands into this set. They could have achieved this by shaving off a few cards from some of the major bands that had three cards per band member (I’d suggest Poison or Warrant), or they could simply expand the set by a few cards. Why end it at such an ugly number of 288? Why not 300, 350, or 400 cards? I’ve seen some pre-release promotional cards of Aerosmith (who weren’t included in the final edition), so odds are they intended on a larger set.
Who would I include that isn’t featured? This set looks to have been issued in early 1991, right before grunge exploded, so it would have been unrealistic to expect to find any Nirvana or Pearl Jam cards. There’s probably some licensing issues involved in keeping many of the bigger names out, but it’s lacking some huge bands of the time like Metallica, U2, Guns N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and R.E.M. Though not household names, bands like Queensryche and Faith No More were nearing their commercial peak around this time, and could have easily fit into this assortment. They did include, in my opinion, a few puzzling choices such as The Dan Reed Network and Junkyard (who featured ex-Minor Threat and current Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker), so I don’t think any of my suggestions are too far out in left field.
That’s all I can think of for now. There are definitely more music-related trading cards I wouldn’t mind discussing, so I may go over more of them in future posts.