What childhood was complete without having a few pocketbooks scattered throughout your room? They made for a great quick gift idea since they were a fraction of the cost of a full-sized book, and allowed you to keep a reduced book collection in as little as a shoe box versus the necessity of shelving (yes, many would fit the entire story within these smaller dimensions).Aside from the upper collage of randoms I found at my mom’s house, I remember having some about the Universal Studios Monsters that I was quite fond of as well as a few others with various tie-ins to movies or television.
One set that I didn’t have were the NBA Hoops Collect-A-Books that were released in 1990. Part of that reason may have been that I didn’t get too big into sports until I was past the age of reading pocket-books. Nonetheless, now that I have both the passion for sports (which I’m greatly missing these days) and was having a nostalgic look back at these tiny-texts, I picked up the whole set of these basketball trading card-sized books during an eBay browsing session.
There really isn’t much to them. They came in boxes of twelve booklets, and featured statistics, pictures, and trivia about some of the more-popular basketball stars. Sure, you’d have the likes of superstars Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, but also an interesting group of characters like Charles Oakley, Muggsy Bogues, and Mark Eaton. As seen on the box cover above, the fronts were relatively simple in design with the photograph of the player acting as the main point of focus. Turning the first page would unveil the basic biographical information as well as some of the highlights in their career. See the inside of Hall of Famer Chris Mullin’s book for an example.
The next two pages were the most intriguing to me. You get a bit more insight into each player with a personal story. Since basketball cards were largely a place to view athlete’s statistics, much of the information capturing more of their biography wouldn’t fit on a card outside of one of those cartoon trivia panels certain companies used to squeeze onto the backs. Since you may need a reminder that this page is a music blog (I’m getting to that shortly), now would be a great opportunity to show you Wayman Tisdale’s personal story as an example. On top of being a world-class baller, many may have first learned through this booklet that he was also one heck of a bass player.
The next two pages are typical trading card content with a list of college and NBA statistics in addition to an action shot of the player. The arch pattern is really no different from the NBA Hoops card set from the same year. For the sake of an additional visual reference, behold the numbers of Hakeem (then going by Akeem) Olajuwon and a photo of “The Dream” battling Karl “The Mailman” Malone.
Lastly, the backs featured a quotation by the featured player beneath another action shot. These were mostly of a motivational nature, a place where the athlete would usually give some form of advice. Though he’s not always good for a PG-rated quote, I’ve shared the back page of Charles Barkley’s book below.
Now comes the point where I bring this towards music. I never owned any pocket-sized books that related to the music world, so using these NBA Hoops Collect-A-Books as a template, I thought it would be fun to create some. Mirroring the idea of four separate boxes with twelve books in each, I think a good idea would be to sub-divide them into different genres. I’ll go with the following: Rock Legends, Pop Stars, Hip-Hop, and Metal Gods. Since these were aimed at younger audiences, I doubt there would be much call for jazz, folk, or polka. I realize that with sets like these that there could be licensing issues, so there are some artists like The Beatles, Elvis Presley, or Michael Jackson that would be rather difficult in obtaining the rights for their usage. If you have any issues with who I included or excluded, keep in mind that may have been factored into my decision.
For the boxes that store the books, I didn’t bother creating the sides or lid. There’s really nothing of interest on them unless you have a thing for barcodes (I’ll admit that they are a guilty pleasure of mine). Like I do for the actual books, I kept the fonts as close to the original as I had available to me. I tweaked the Collect-A-Books logo, and changed the metallic-looking header to embossed text. I could have figured out how to replicate it, but I’m not a graphic artist, so it would have taken me more time than it was worth.
With that all in mind, here’s what the Rock Legends box set might look like. I’ve included Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Queen, The Beach Boys, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen as members of this prestigious group.
There are several rock artists that would have been worthy of including if I was to expand to a fifth set of more contemporary rock or alternative rock (you’ll see that The Cure, U2, and R.E.M. are some of the notable absentees). Some artists like Bon Jovi I found to be in that middle category where they weren’t a metal band, but would have been too young to be considered rock legends at the time, so a future set would need to be made. For the most part, I’d treat the Rock Legends set as an opportunity out of all these to serve as a history lesson since some of these artists either weren’t active at the time or their current material wasn’t exactly winning the kids over. And, yes, by that I mean “Kokomo”. I’ll also add that I considered including The Kinks in this set, but realized that I had overlooked the almighty Queen. However, you would already be so spoiled for choice with rock bands and artists that were already deified by 1990 that I could second-guess this for days.
Now it’s on to the Pop Stars set. I’ve chosen Prince, George Michael, Madonna, New Kids on the Block, Whitney Houston, Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson, Bobby Brown, Janet Jackson, Tiffany, and Wilson Phillips.
My pop list is likely to raise eyebrows, but I referred to a variety of Billboard singles and albums chart between 1988 and 1990 to justify the selection of many of these artists. You have legendary stars like Prince and Madonna mixed in with others that had considerably less time in the spotlight, and then there’s my ultimate elephant-in-the-room pick in Milli Vanilli. If that inclusion bothers you, let Weird Al’s send-up medley soothe whatever pain that caused you. I also aimed for pop artists that have more youth appeal since the product would be aimed for kids, so apologies to the likes of Richard Marx, Bette Middler, Roxette, or others that were more on the adult contemporary end of the pop spectrum. I also wasn’t sure if Bobby Brown was more pop or hip-hop, but I do know that “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters 2 was a huge part of my early childhood, making his inclusion a must no matter his categorization.
For my Hip-Hop collection, my choices were the following: LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, Eric B and Rakim, Beastie Boys, Tone Loc, Boogie Down Productions, MC Hammer, Biz Markie, De La Soul, and EPMD.
I left Vanilla Ice off out of personal taste and since he didn’t break until the latter half of 1990 (unlike MC Hammer’s earlier waves that year), there were still plenty of contenders available. NWA would be a controversial inclusion as an early example of gangster rap, and I would ideally include them, but excluded them out of censorship in a manner of speaking. I’m not sure if the Scholastic Corporation would look too kindly on the inevitable explaining of their name or their notorious “Fuck Tha Police” to qualify it for their book orders catalogs. Besides, several artists, even ones I included like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, passed along social commentary through somewhat less abrasive means. My Beastie Boys inclusion would feature images from the Paul’s Boutique era because it seems that the few music card sets in existence would still show them in their Licensed To Ill style, which was horribly dated by the time. The album had less promotion and chart success than their debut full-length as a possible result from leaving Def Jam Records, but it’s my set and felt I had to include them. The fact they left their frat boy, party-hard image behind them could only be seen as a positive for a kid’s book, right?
Speaking of positive, wholesome imagery, here comes the devil’s music. These Metal Gods would not only be appropriate for the era, but their names have also stood the test of time. My picks were Metallica, Anthrax, Skid Row, Queensrÿche, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Poison, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth.
Why the Metal Gods title? There’s the obvious Judas Priest connection, but I mainly wanted the letter O to be in each volume’s title so that I could put a record in each of the banners. If you look over the list of artists, I left out Guns N Roses because they are widely considered hard rock in the vein of the classics like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, and I’ll reiterate that licensing may have been difficult since the band was a red-hot property at the time. I had the same genre debate regarding AC/DC, who I also left out of my set. One group that is undisputedly metal that may have some wondering why I excluded them is Slayer. I may be wrong, but I always viewed Seasons In The Abyss as the album where they took off in the mainstream since that’s when they started using music videos as a marketing tool. The album wasn’t released until October of 1990, and I figure that three of the Big Four thrash bands is sufficient for that metal sub-genre’s representation. I also included Alice Cooper, who could just as easily be filed under Rock Legends, but with his late-’80s albums like Trash, his sound fit more into the metal camp. Queensrÿche may be the selection you could put under the most scrutiny. While “Silent Lucidity” had yet to put them into a very-high chart position, I believe that Operation: Mindcrime generated enough buzz and acclaim to warrant their inclusion.
If we can finally get past who made the cut and who didn’t, I’ll get to the samples. I’ll keep it at one booklet per genre to demonstrate how they could have potentially looked. To start, here’s my stab at one for Run-DMC.
With this cover, I just noticed how inconsistent I’ve been in spelling out Run-DMC’s name. While I may have done a poor job with quality control, at least I haven’t brought these books to market. Card manufacturers were notorious with making errors in their sets as the sports card craze was reaching it’s peak in the early ’90s, so at least these would fit right in.
Anyway, on with the rest of the pages.
Run-DMC was the first group I thought of when thinking of when conceiving this topic. Their message of literacy on their Reading Rainbow appearance is fondly remembered as one of the series’ all-time classic moments. Their clean-cut and marketable image helped people take notice of a once underground genre and launched it into the mainstream. You’ll notice that since Run-DMC did not frequently wear jerseys, I decided to throw a piece of merchandise (a t-shirt) into the booklet.
Here’s my attempt at one for Jefferson Airplane.
I’ve known about them for years, but only recently started to actively listen to their work. I needed to reduce the font size to accommodate their lengthy name. The basketball series of Collect-A-Books didn’t have such an issue. They came out before Dikembe Mutombo was in the NBA, and there’s no way in hell they were going to print his full name on the cover. I decided to include mostly photos of them from the ’60s and ’70s, but put one picture of them to reflect what their lineup would be when reuniting towards the end of the ’80s at the time of their self-titled album. The piece of memorabilia is the gig poster from a three-night stint at The Fillmore Auditorium.
For the Pop Stars series, I’ll go with Madonna.
Madonna was and continues to be a polarizing figure, but talking about pop music of the time would be incomplete without putting her in the discussion. I envision this book as one that would pre-date her notorious Erotica album and Sex book, which more than likely disqualify her from being in material marketed towards kids. Then again, the video for “Like a Prayer” was also considered very controversial. But I already made the book, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to take it back. I liked the quote I put on the back, but I never verified the year that this or any of the quotes came from.
And since they don’t come much more Metal God-worthy than Ozzy, I made a book for him.
Ozzy Osbourne has an extensive enough history between Black Sabbath and his solo career that the limited space in these books can’t contain in full, and I wasn’t sure how to balance the music content with his other antics, so I kept it simple. I also didn’t want to get into all the details of the kid-unfriendly incidents live the dove and bat bitings, the Alamo urinating, or the ant-snorting. For the memorabilia, I chose one photo that did not fit the No Rest For The Wicked theme when I stumbled across a cool-looking vintage tour program from Blizzard of Ozz.
I realize these weren’t the best-looking pocket books ever available, but they did get my imagination running. Of course, if there were any real music-themed pocket books in existence (and I’m sure there were), I’d love to know about them.