The New York City subway, more than any underground train, has always equated big city grunge.
That’s why the silver and sometimes red cars, their cluttered interiors and their graffiti-covered exteriors, as well as the worn-out platforms where commuters have stood since the dawn of the 20th century, have so often graced record covers of artists who want to flaunt their urban cred.
Now, the New York Transit Museum has a new exhibition celebrating the subway on vinyl, putting on display nearly 40 records with the subway system on their covers.
“The first thing people think of when they think of New York City is the skyscrapers, but those are more about wealth and business,” said Robert Del Bagno, who curated the Album Tracks exhibit and is also the museum’s manager of exhibitions.
“The subway is more of a gritty image.”
The albums on display range from iconoclastic covers like the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded,” Billy Joel’s “Turnstiles,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Wednesday Morning 3 am” to little-known gems including McKendree Spree’s “Get Me To The Country” and Kalaff Luis Perez’s “Y Los Pobres Ahi.”
All of the albums on display came from one collector and arranged by genre.
The exhibit gained an additional dimension when the Michael Jackson estate contacted Del Bagno to ask if the museum would screen the “Bad” movie in honor of its 25 anniversary. The short film, directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring a very young Wesley Snipes, was shot in the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station. So, Del Bagno made the movie part of the exhibit.
“I thought that if we are enjoying these records this much, other people will too,” said Del Bagno.
Del Bagno tried to track down as much specific information about each album cover as he could. For many, he resorted to searching for the producers or photographers named on the back of the albums.
Along the way, he learned a few interesting tidbits, such as that the Ramones actually posed in a squeaky-clean subway car for the cover of “Subterranean Jungle” and then were upset when their label released the album with airbrushed graffiti.
New York City Transit Museum [130 Livingston St., underground entrance located at Schermerhorn Street and Boerum Place in Downtown, (718) 694–1600, www.mta.in