Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Mama Lion
Back in the days of 12-inch long-playing vinyl, the album cover was almost as important as the music. Who can forget the classic photograph on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or the iconic prism on Dark Side of the Moon? So today let’s dig around and find an album with interesting packaging – ah, here we go … 1972’s Mama Lion (or in the U.K., Preserve Wildlife).
Mama Lion was the name of a group built around female singer Lynn Carey, who had ah, interesting packaging of her own. Carey was a decent blues-rock belter in the mold of Janis Joplin, and the rest of the band was fairly adept at cranking out some rockin’ grooves. The band included on vocals and keyboards a young James Newton Howard, who would go on to become well-known as a writer and performer of movie scores (Pretty Woman, Prince of Tides, The Dark Knight, etc.). Bassist/singer Neil Merryweather was also in the band – he doubled as Carey’s boyfriend.
Another obvious influence was Led Zeppelin, but Mama Lion came up a little short in the songwriting department. So the album is filled with covers with Carey’s voice running roughshod over trinkets like Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the Motown chestnut “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” The originals, including “Wildcat” and “Sister Sister (She Better Than A Man)” were written by Carey/Merryweather and fit the mold of a strong, earthy woman singin’ about “her man.” Howard turns in some fine rock piano work on “Wildcat” but his piano intro on “Mr. Invitation” shows off his classical training.
But … the cover art. Ahem, yes – Mama Lion was perhaps best known for its notorious gatefold photo, which was revealed after you opened the “cage door” on the album’s cover. It depicted Carey breastfeeding a lion cub, and perhaps was the best thing about this whole album. Carey went on to front Mama Lion for at least one more album, and later in 1972 she became the Penthouse magazine Pet of the Year. She worked in movies and TV and her voice is dubbed for one actress in the movie Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.
For listening purposes, Mama Lion is a great time capsule to the era. For viewing purposes, the controversial cover art shows that artists wanted to get people talking (and buying music) long before Erykah Badu.
YouTube: Mama Lion on German TV in 1973 doing “Candy Man”