Friday, January 17, 2020

#47 - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: David Bowie (1972)

It’s really pretty simple, isn’t it? It’s really just an urban night scene, with Bowie front and center (though surprisingly small).

Perhaps it’s the colors, which just seem so perfect. I do know it was colorized (like old postcards). I’m not totally sure, though, why that would make it so engaging.

I do know the cover was from a photograph by Brian Ward.  He did some more stuff for Bowie, and also for Jethro Tull:

The colorist was Terry Pastor, who has about two dozen other credits: 

The two also collaborated on Bowie's Hunky Dory album:

K. West was a furriers. They’re gone now. In fact, the whole scene’s changed quite a bit.

There’s also a plaque there now as well:

By the way, the official address is 23 Heddon St., in Soho. I believe Bowie had been recording in a studio nearby.

There are some interesting theories out there about this one. On the less crazy end of the spectrum, we’ve got the idea that “K. WEST” can be read as “quest.” On the other Paul-is-dead / “Here’s to my sweet Satan” end, we’ve got some pretty involved stuff that posits the cover – and the whole album – predicts the birth and rise of Kanye West.

It’s not like Bowie’s ideas behind the album aren’t crazy enough, right? It is a great album though – “Suffragette City,” “Starman,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Moonage Daydream” … It’s generally recognized as his breakthrough album.

I was always a huge Bowie fan. I didn’t go in for all the crazy androgynous / glam / former art student stuff, but I did think the music was incredible. Very creative, very wide-ranging, very theatrical (in a good way), pretty downright catchy. 

Of course somebody had some fun with this one: 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

#48 - Whipped Cream & Other Delights: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1965)

Hey, what’s this doing here? Now, I don’t really associate Herb Alpert with rock ‘n roll, but he was quite popular and definitely a part of the ‘60s.

If you’re not all that familiar (or that old), Herb and his group, the Tijuana Brass, actually were a rock band, but with a trumpet and trombone thrown in. Except for Alpert, they were all session musicians, with not a drop of Latino blood in the whole group. Pretty strictly commercial, they had a number of TV specials, and their music featured in several commercials, as well as intro music for The Dating Game.

That said, Alpert did write incredibly catchy tunes, several of which are on this album. Almost solely instrumentals, his hits include “The Lonely Bull,” “A Taste of Honey,” “Spanish Flea,” “Tijuana Taxi,” and more. If you’re of a certain age, I can guarantee at least one of those will take up residence as your own personal ear worm over the next couple of days. You’re welcome! Overall, Herb and the boys won 6 Grammys, outsold the Beatles in 1966, and had an album in the top 10 for almost 7 years running.

The model is one Dolores Erickson. She’s actually not covered in whipped cream, but is wearing a white bikini (with the straps down), covered with a white blanket, and doused with shaving cream. From Seattle, Dolores would become a Miss Maritime, Miss Greenwood, Miss Longshoreman, and a Seafair Princess. She would then move up to the big time, doing stuff for Macy’s and Max Factor, and signing with the Ford Modelling Agency. She also signed with a couple of movie studios (but appeared in only one movie, as “girl”) and did a number of other album covers as well. 

She is now a painter in Portland.

The inspiration for the cover came from Peter Whorf, future art director for A&M. He did a fair amount of cheesy stuff for some lame-o acts like Bob Moore & the Acapulco Trumpets, Ruben Rodriguez & His Guadalajara Kings, Barney Kessel and His Men, and even Erma Bombeck. 

He also did lots of jazz and even classical covers, though l believe I’m detecting a theme even there.

Herb Alpert is actually a pretty amazing guy. The LA-born son of Jewish immigrants, he was a musician in the Army, was in the USC marching band, co-wrote a number of top-20 hits, and cofounded A&M records – all before starting the Brass. He’s also a serious painter and sculptor, made enough money with A&M to become a major philanthropist, has an honorary doctorate from Berklee, and was a recipient of National Medal of the Arts.

Several of the band’s covers showed shots of Herb, who was quite a handsome guy. 

Looking at these now is bringing back some serious memories. I’m pretty sure my dad had all of them (as did all groovy dads back in the mid-60s).

 And here’s one of the band, none of whom would compete with Herb in any way. He called them “four lasagnas, two bagels, and one American cheese.” And with nary a taco or burrito to be seen.

Of course there were parodies – lots and lots of parodies:

<#49                    #47>

Saturday, January 4, 2020

#49 - Use Your Illusion I: Guns 'n Roses (1991)

Definitely not my favorite band, but they do have some great songs.  I mean, everyone likes “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” right?

And the band certainly had style.

Richard Fortus, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose, Steven Adler, Slash

Basically just good old-fashioned hard rockers, the group also had a reputation for hard partying and rebelliousness as well. That last bit earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones and the moniker of “the most dangerous band in the world.”

This particular album was a bit of a departure for GNR, moving them from heavy-duty hard rock to some lighter stuff, with a little blues, punk, and even some classical thrown in.

The cover was done by Mark Kostabi, a real honest-to-goodness artist (and a bit of a favorite of mine). 

Most of his stuff involves bland, mannequin-like figures in surrealistic settings, with nods to major works from the past. Here, for example, is a fave of mine ripping off Diego Velazquez:

And here he is appropriating Giorgio Di Chirico:

Can you guess whose is whose?

The Use Your Illusion cover was something of a departure for Kostabi as well. It’s definitely a different style. And the artist this time is no less than Raphael himself – in particular, his masterful School of Athens. 

Now, can you find the two figures?

Kostabi actually has something of a reputation as well, being seen by many as a commercial sellout.  I still like him though.  

Kostabi did eight other album covers, including the very similar Use Your Illusion II and one for the Ramones.

Here are a couple of other GNR covers I like:

And let's end with a very inappropriate (but extremely funny) parody:

<#50                    #48>

Monday, December 30, 2019

#50 - Is This It: The Strokes (2001)

This is kind of a two for one. This one shows subatomic particle tracks in a bubble chamber. It’s trippy, it’s cool, it’s kind of fascinating. Originally, though, the cover was quite different: 

That’s the UK version, by the way. Not too surprisingly, it caused quite a fuss.

The photographer was Colin Lane. The model was his then girlfriend, whose identity he would never reveal. 

Lane has 20 credits, including more for the Strokes, a couple for the Kings of Leon, and others for bands I’m not cool enough to have heard of before. 

He never seems to be the art director, though, so I’m not sure if these are his covers, or someone directed his shots, or if he just took some pix for the band for the insert or the back cover.

He did do the pix of this band for Is This It, which are great. I mean, honestly, could these guys be any cooler (well, except for the guy on the left, that is)?

I guess that’s a pretty good description of the band in general. Their sound is just so hip, cool, New York to me. Indeed, front man Julian Casablancas cites Lou Reed as a big influence.

Nikolai Fraiture (bass), Julian Casablancas (vocals), Fab Moretti (drums), Nick Valensi (guitar), Albert Hammond Jr. (guitar)

This was their first album, and arguably their best. Indeed, the band that was supposed to “save rock” has not aged that well. Is This It, though, remains one of the tightest albums ever.

Oh, the subatomic stuff? Casablancas happened upon it, saying “I found something even cooler than the ass picture." I honestly don’t know much more about it. It’s typically totally overshadowed by the “ass picture.”

The only other covers I have any feelings for:

Of course there are parodies:

<#51                    #49>

Saturday, December 21, 2019

#51 - Meat Is Murder: The Smiths (1985)

The Smiths had a definite look when it came to album covers. They were famous for black & white photos of minor cultural icons rendered in various tints (duotones). 

They were all designed by singer Morrisey and the Rough Trade (record company) art director Jo Slee.  (She has 60 credits on - all of them for The Smiths or Morrissey.)

This one’s a little different though. First, it’s straight black & white (no tints). It then repeats the image a la Warhol.

There’s also the famous photoshop (or whatever they used back then) of the original slogan. That original, by the way, just so happened to say, “Make war not love.”

The title means exactly what you think it means, reflecting front man Morrisey’s strong vegan beliefs. The Smiths’ second album, it’s their sole one to go to #1, though it really doesn’t have any classic hits, except for maybe “How Soon Is Now?”

I loved the Smiths. Still do. Those jangly guitars, Morrisey’s supple voice, the back-to-basic (but very post-punk) arrangements, the super catchy (but never saccharine) tunes, the great (though morose) lyrics …

Bassist Andy Rourke, Morrisey, drummer Mike Joyce, guitar god Johnny Marr

As with any famous image, it’s lent itself to more than its fair share of parodies.