In WWII, when American soldiers were asked by journalist why they were going to war the standard response was â€œfor Mom and apple pieâ€.
For some reason the dish of apple pie worked its way into the American consciousness as a representative of all that was wholesome and good about the nation; a reminder of comfort and innocence. Which eventually made it great fodder for those subversives keen to test another American ideal: freedom of speech.
Enter Momâ€™s Apple Pie, a ten-member band from Ohio that boasted a sound similar to bands like Chicago. They released two albums in the early seventies and, while they achieved a degree of national success, are best known today for their controversial cover art.
At first glance, Momâ€™s Apple Pieâ€™s self-titled release features cover art that might be at worst ironic. We see an American Gothic style painting, reminiscent of the work of Grant Wood.
While the â€œMomâ€ in Woodâ€™s painting looks thoroughly miserable, the Mom on this album cover is instead licking her lips â€“ perhaps in anticipatory delight. Further subverting the image are the large, modern speakers in the background that suggest that this mom likes to rock out while sheâ€™s baking. Itâ€™s a strong image but not one that lives up to its legendary status until, as the tagline to American Beauty suggest, you â€œlook closerâ€.
Meet the oozing, bright-red vagina that resulted in this classic cover being banned. However to imagine that the band was outraged or shocked by the ban would be a little naÃ¯ve.
Roger Force, saxophonist for Momâ€™s Apple Pie, gives some background: â€œI remember (Terry) Knight (the head of Brown Bag records) at one of our recording sessions, showing us the cover. He said it was one of his publicity stuntsâ€¦ He had it all planned, the record would get recalled and it would be a big deal. It was 30,000 albums covers that were recalled.”
â€œI was 19 at the time. My older brother was a two-term Vietnam veteran; I was the one with the long hair. I took that album home to show my parents and â€“ Iâ€™m embarrassed. My father looks at it and he says, â€œwell â€“ itâ€™s not that bad.â€
While reflecting on what a cool dad Force obviously had, I also can’t help but wonder what it is about penetrating pieces of pie that seems to capture the imagination?
I suppose don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Knight was a true master of publicity and one of the coolest things about his label was that the records really came in a brown paper bag. He said of the Momâ€™s Apple Pie campaign: â€œthat was some slice of pie, eh? We sent out piping hot apple pies in brown paper bags to all the DJs throughout New York to promote that record. That was a good campaign.â€
He had also anticipated the bandâ€™s response to the album recall. When the authorities banned the original cover, a second version was promptly released, with the slice space filled by a prison wall and barbed wire. An American flag sat on top, as a tongue-in-cheek critique of censorship in the “land of the free”. Unfortunately I canâ€™t find an image of this alternate cover anywhere but both versions have become eagerly sought-after collector items.
Itâ€™s a striking case of cover art that outlives the music. As Force sardonically observed: â€œI also remember Knight saying â€œI can take a piece of shit and turn it into gold.â€ Meanwhile, Iâ€™m famous â€“ for an album cover.â€