LINK: Album Covers Suitable for Hanging in a Gallery

Screenshot 2015-05-02 13.39.54I’m not sure about the premise of this slideshow in the Guardian, that these are the album covers that should hang in an art gallery, but it is a good reminder that album covers were an important part of listening to music back in the day of albums.

The big art of an album cover was a message about the product, often a statement about intentions or aesthetic purpose. Or just a lark, but one that connected the artist with the fans.

We lost that when we moved to CDs, and while vinyl sales are up, the vinyl elpee is no longer the face of a musical artist. That image has fractured into many competing versions, each shaped and colored for its particular audience. Which is why I think looking at nice reproductions of these album covers feels so fresh.

Ms Conception

Patti_Smith_in_Rosengrten_1978Patti Smith did an interview with Alan Light back in 2007, when she was promoting her album of covers, Twelve. For whatever reason (he wrote a news piece, not an interview at the time) the interview got filed, and has now emerged on Medium’s Cuepoint. It offers a quick  and insightful overview by Smith of her career, which is worth reading, and it ends with this, which is excellent:

Alan Light: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Patti Smith: The thing that bothered me the most was when I had to return to the public eye in ’95 or ’96 when my husband died. We lived a very simple lifestyle in a more reclusive way in which he was king of our domain. I don’t drive, I didn’t have much of an income, and without him, I had to find a way of making a living. Besides working in a bookstore, the only thing I knew how to do was to make records—or to write poetry, which isn’t going to help put your kids through school. But when I started doing interviews, people kept saying “Well, you didn’t do anything in the 80s,” and I just want to get Elvis Presley’s gun out and shoot the television out of their soul. How could you say that? The conceit of people, to think that if they’re not reading about you in a newspaper or magazine, then you’re not doing anything.

I’m not a celebrity, I’m a worker. I’ve always worked. I was working before people read anything about me, and the day they stopped reading about me, I was doing even more work. And the idea that if you’re a mother, you’re not doing anything—it’s the hardest job there is, being a mother or father requires great sacrifice, discipline, selflessness, and to think that we weren’t doing anything while we were raising a son or daughter is appalling. It makes me understand why some human beings question their worth if they’re not making a huge amount of money or aren’t famous, and that’s not right.

My mother worked at a soda fountain. She made the food and was a waitress and she was a really hard worker and a devoted worker. And her potato salad became famous! She wouldn’t get potato salad from the deli, she would get up at five o’clock in the morning and make it herself, and people would come from Camden or Philly to this little soda fountain in South Jersey because she had famous potato salad. She was proud of that, and when she would come home at night, completely wiped out and throwing her tip money on the table and counting it, one of her great prides was that people would come from far and wide for her potato salad. People would say, “Well, what did your mother do? She was a waitress?” She served the people, and she served in the way that she knew best.

Afternoon Snack: Jesus Christ Superstar, “Heaven on Their Minds”

Diane and I, as noted here before, don’t have a lot in common musically.

Surely, my partner has a shuffle, and a bunch of tunes she likes to listen to when she is running, but virtually none of the songs are ones that interest me. She likes hip hop, and dance songs from the 90’s, mostly, although occasionally an AC/DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) or Boston (Foreplay/Long Time) song will sprinkle into her play list.

Not so, JCSS, which, when we discovered we each loved, caused me to download the original 1970 version from Amazon. Diane also was most familiar with that version, that featured Ian Gillian and Murray Head, although she also likes watching the movie when it appears at Easter (kind of like I enjoy watching Ben Hur at Christmas time).

What is also funny, was shortly after we both discovered a mutual love for JCSS, I was at our local recycle center, where in addition to dumping cardboard and styrofoam peanuts, there is an area where folks dump books and old records and DVDs (well, more like VHS tapes), and what was on top of a stack of vinyl but a copy of the original album (no liner notes, though). So, I grabbed it, and played it last week going through my vinyl binging.

When that album first came out, in 1970, I confess that I knew virtually nothing about Jesus historically. Having grown up as a nice Jewish boy in Suburban Sacramento, the subject just didn’t come up.

But, I did buy the cassette for some reason back then, and at least learned the Rice/Lloyd Webber take on the final week of Jesus’ life. And, I thought (and still do) that the whole work–vocals, lyrics, arrangements, and the musicianship–are just fantastic.

In particular, that body of players who delivered the guitars and bass and drums were indeed the part that has intrigued me most. Culled largely from the Grease Band, who toured behind Joe Cocker (check them out at Woodstock: killer) the principle rock musicians in JCSS play so beautifully, and appropriately, that it is almost sick.

Led by Henry McCullough (the Grease Band, and Wings) and Neil Hubbard (the Grease Band, and Roxy Music) on guitars, bass player Alan Spenner (the Grease Band, Mick Taylor, Alvin Lee, and Roxy Music), and drummer Bruce Rowland (Fairport Convention, and the Grease Band), Jesus Christ, Superstar is arguably the best of that oddity known as the rock opera. That means I like it better than either Tommy, or Quadrophenia, both of which I love to pieces, meaning this is high praise.

I do puzzle, though for usually rock’and’rollers don’t sight read symphonic charts, which I would guess is what was produced, and conversely, I have a hard time with Rice/Lloyd Webber thinking in terms of bending an “A” to a “B” starting on the seventh fret of the fourth string, with a little bit of reverb for a fill, so I do wonder just where the collaboration starts and stops.

Fortunately, it is simply a philosophical question, and in no way interferes with just how dead on the drums are, how the strumming and guitar play just enhances the words (which are very good), and how the bass interplays with both.

You can look down your nose at this work, and it might not even be your cup of tea, but no doubt these guys can seriously play.

Don’t Drink Coffee: 2 Songs, 1 Lyric

Been listening to a lot of Blue Oyster Cult lately. Specifically, the “black & white period” BOC, which is the first three albums – the real BOC. They followed with a great live album, which was essentially a review of the b&w period. Then they followed with Agents Of Fortune which was the transition album from the excellent, mysterious, fascinating BOC to the commercial, obvious, boring BOC. Then there was the album with Godzilla on it. Then they made about 10 more albums I don’t know or care about. (Kind of like the excellent early ZZ Top as compared to the boring beards and spinning guitars ZZ Top.)

I’ve always thought the debut album trails the masterpiece second and third albums, and I still do, but it’s been climbing lately.

But the reason we’re here is to highlight the genius of this track from the debut:

which uses the same lyrics as this track from Tyranny And Mutation. (Take note that Lamb does hint at Red And Black at the end.)


1) What other two almost completely different songs share the same lyrics (not counting traditional lyrics or something like that)? The only thing I can think of are the two Thank You songs from Sly Stone, although that’s not quite the same as this.

2) Buck Dharma sure is a helluva lead guitarist. I had kind of forgotten about him. He sounds like a country chicken picker amidst a hard rock symphony, but it definitely works. I gotta do a Steveslist of my favorite lead players sometime. Pretty sure BD would make the cut.

3) There’s nothing else quite like the early BOC. If you know something else that sounds a lot like it, do tell. I did listen to the classic first Captain Beyond album the other day and there are some similarities there. Both bands arrived at the same time so if someone was copying, I don’t know who it was.

4) Can’t go without mentioning the best BOC album, the third – Secret Treaties. It’s the highlight of their mystique. Can’t tell you how many hours I spent as a young teen looking over that album cover with the Nazi overtones, particularly the slaughtered German Shepherds in the snow on the back, trying to figure out what the hell the words were/meant. Who needed love songs?

5) The Minutemen loved early BOC and so do I.

Afternoon Snack: Fleetwood Mac, “Showbiz Blues

Dust is some nasty shit. Swear.

I did a lot of cooking this morning. I don’t really have any family in this country, so fortunately, my late wife, Cathy’s, family decided to hang onto me.

the mac

I say this because Cathy’s mom, Edie, turns 80 on Monday (go girl!), and later today we have a celebration planned.

Where the dust comes in is that Thursday morning, as part of the spate of rain we have been jonesing for in Northern California for the past six months, it got cold where Cathy’s brother, Eric, and his wife Jill (these would be Lindsay’s folks) live, and Jill slipped on some black ice. The results were a broken wrist and fractures to her cheek (hopefully she won’t need surgery there), meaning a nasty fall.

This meant a couple of things: first, Jill is on a soup diet for a spell, and second, Jill always makes birthday cakes (except for her birthday, when I do it) and well, no way that was going to happen.

So, I took it upon myself this morning to both bake Edie her cake (blueberry-buttermilk bundt with glaze), and also make some soft stuff Jill could eat (creamed spinach, honey-pepper-cheese grits, and tomato basil soup). If you don’t get this yet, I really love to cook, so I had a good time doing this.

But, inspired both by Peter’s posting of I’m in Love With My Car, and Tom’s Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White, I decided to fire up the turntable while cooking for a few hours, and listen to some stuff I had not heard for a while. Plus, I like vinyl.

I started with A Night at the Opera, per Peter, and it was so fun. Death on Two Legs is wonderful, as is Sweet Lady (“you call me sweet, like I’m some kind of cheese,” what a line), and then I went to the first side of Jesus Christ, Superstar (sorry, guilty pleasure, but the band is killer, and well, it is sentimental for Diane and me), t0 Their Satanic Majesty’s Request (who hoo, In Another Land, and Citadel), then Boston’s first (sorry, another guilty pleasure, but a fun guitar album), Idlewild South, and finally to Then Play On.

When I first bought it, Then Play On was my favorite album, and it was followed by Kiln House.  I cannot remember which, but I believe one of those made my 50 essentials.

Then Play On is really Peter Green’s album, and a beautiful one it is. So vast and varied, and well, it has the iconic Oh Well, but that is not even my favorite cut on the album. In fact, I don’t know what is.

But, where the dust comes in is I have not played a few of these albums in a while, maybe 20 years, and I cleaned them before playing, but they had so damn much dust, it took playing the sides or songs a few times before I could get a real listen.

But, it was worth it. This recording is really just the studio one from the album, but it has two-plus minutes of stoned out banter and mistakes before the song gets underway (which was the song on the album after Show Biz, and I tried to find a pairing because the two work so well together), but it is pretty good fun.

We will get to more of the Mac, one of the most interesting bands of all time, another time.

For now, dig Peter A, whom if you listen, Santana got his sound from.

Breakfast Blend: Elvis Costello on Letterman 1982

The Attractions were touring supporting Imperial Bedroom, the album that Columbia promoted with the headline, Masterpiece?

I saw the band on the pier by the Intrepid, and then got a call from my friend Robin. Her neighbor was a writer on the Letterman show, and she had tickets to see them in the studio on Letterman’s show. We went. You can see them here. Thanks Robin.

The reason I landed on this is I’ve been playing that album a lot lately. I hadn’t revisited it for years, partly because of that Masterpiece? dodge. The weird overselling and the record’s effete literary musicality caused a problem. You can’t say you love this record without saying you’re some king of fancy boy. Unless you’re brave.

I love this record. The Attractions were a fantastic band, and the songs and arrangements on this elpee push them to create lively melodic music that can only, sometimes, be called Beatles-esque.

But the record really doesn’t rely on pretension. This isn’t XTC. There’s lots of air and delicious melody in the arrangements. Beatles engineer Geoff Emmerich produces this one, and the sound is precise and rich, full of detail, but each layer adds nuance, not complexity. This is art rock that is art, but doesn’t sacrifice the straight forward perspective of rock, even if the tunes mostly rock only in spurts.

And then there are Costello’s words. He’s a writer of too many words, sometimes, but when they’re pared back, as they actually often are, especially on Imperial Bedroom, he’s also a writer of uncompromising personal directness and vividness. The two songs on this Letterman clip are lyrically bold and personally revealing.

And this live version of Beyond Belief shows the rock heart at the core of Imperial Bedroom.

Breakfast Blend: The Mekons Rock and Roll

At some point indie rock got hot and the Mekons ended up signing with a major label. The resultant album, The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll, was full of great music. Rocking music.

This is the official video for a song called Memphis Egypt, which could be called Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Here’s a video of a live Memphis Egypt performance from 2011 in Zurich, home of Dada, more than 20 years later, of Memphis Egypt and Where Were You, did I mention live? Fun, right?

You can read Robert Christgau’s liner notes for the non major label rerelease of the major label Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll album here.

LINK: The Black Album

enhanced-buzz-wide-1538-1405955330-7In real life Ethan Hawke made a mixtape of his favorite songs by the Beatles during their solo career to give to his daughter, apparently after he and Uma divorced.

At the same time, over the last 12 years or so, he was making a move with Richard Linklater called Boyhood, which is the story of a boy from the age of five to 17. The trick of the movie is that it was shot with the same actors over a 12 year period. Ethan Hawke plays the boy’s father, and he presents him with the Black Album after the fictional couple, the boy’s parents divorce.

This article at Buzzfeed publishes the song list for three disc worth of tunes (too many), and the liner notes that Hawke gave his daughter and rewrote for the movie’s purposes. Beatles experts may have something to say about its interpretation of history, but I would say the whole thing is kind of lovely. Much nicer than How Do You Sleep?