Thursday 5 May 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 98 (Top Ten): What the heck is going on in these album covers?!

An album’s packaging can be a fans’ first introduction to their new favourite artist and – back in the pre-internet days when you actually had to buy the thing to know what it looked like – packaging was crucial to an album’s success. Just think of the prism on the front of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, the band-in-park scenario of ‘Sgt Peppers’ (to be honest, the only reason that awful album’s still iconic these days) and the, err, photo of the Beach Boys feeding the pets in San Diego Zoo for ‘Pet Sounds’. But at least that last shot fits the music and album title, which is more than can be said for some of the covers we’ve selected below. So this week, in honour of the decidedly head-scratching cover for ‘The Present’, here are 10 other curios of AAA packaging that really do have to be seen to be believed....Oh and I’ve temporarily banned 10cc covers from the list because none of them are meant to make any sense, least of all my personal favourite – a sheep on a psychiatrist couch asking ‘Look, Hear, Are You Normal?’ (just beating the deep-sea diver with ‘Deceptive Bends’ into second place!)

10) Belle and Sebastian “The Boy With The Arab Strap” (1998): The title is weird enough (and thankfully, no the cover isn’t a re-creation of the title), but this album’s picture in glorious shades of green is truly weird, albeit it not in the usual B + S type way. We’re used to seeing unknown models and band friends pose as the band in a number of weird and wonderful guises (the acupuncture treatment on the cover of ‘Storytelling’ being particularly odd) – but this one breaks the rules by featuring main songwriter and vocalist Stuart Murdoch. Only, he’s mucking about on a day trip out, looking like he’s re-creating a Monkees romp in the same place The Kinks shot their ‘Village Green’ album cover. A closer inspection reveals that Stuart has just been stabbed and is play-acting pretending to be dead – with a wooden spoon! No mention of this is made on the album’s sleeve-notes, nor is it referred to in any of the song titles or lyrics, nor is it a still from any of the band’s promo videos of the time, nor is the fact reflected in the far more placid shots of the other band members on the inner cover. Hmm, I can just imagine what record company Jeepster thought of that!

9) Buffalo Springfield “Buffalo Springfield Again” (1967): Classic album, tacky cover. What comes to mind when you play the death-defying multitude of psychedelia of this most important of milestones? Probably not an aging fairy reaching out her arms to greet the band while in a wood with some butterflies (what is it with psychedelia and butterflies?!?) and a hummingbird the size of a double-decker bus taking a peck out of Stephen Stills’ head. The band themselves are the size of mount Rushmore, towering over a glacier which seems to have no bearing to the rest of the scene at all (shouldn’t it have melted? The tress around it are big and strong and clearly getting a lot of sunlight!) The one gag that is quite funny is that this collage does feature bassist Bruce Palmer reaching out to the angel uncomprehendingly with arm outstretched (and with a tree hiding the join). The roses on the border of the LP sleeve are also woefully unhip for the time (they still look pretty ghastly now) – if this is what Atlantic think makes for a psychedelic album sleeve then they are badly mistaken and need to sit in a darkened room listening to Jefferson Airplane (who, despite their ongoing war with record company RCA, were themselves pretty decently served by their album covers!)

8) Grateful Dead “From The Mars Hotel” (1974): Funnily enough I’d already planned to review this album next week, so imagine my delight when I realised I could ‘tie’ two articles together and kill two Byrds with one Stones EP (to adapt a phrase). You’d think from the title the hotel on the front would be all space-agey and modern and alien and sophisticated – certainly I did when I used to read about the album on discographies instead of seeing the cover for real. But no – it’s a shabby run down hotel that really did exist in Los Angeles somewhere (and known to the band from touring in the area) which was so run-down it was demolished the following year before it could become a site of special recording history significance. The rear cover, though is much more fitting to our list: all six of the then-current band members are drawn as assorted aliens, somehow still recognisably ‘them’ (how could Jerry Garcia ever look like anybody else?) and yet somehow very different: just dig Bill Kreutzmann’s ‘Donald Duck’ type shoes! I’m still at a loss as to why these characters should be pictured on this record however: by Dead standards it’s a very down-to-earth album (as we’ll be seeing next issue) and the only people really ‘alien’ to us across the album’s lyrics is the president running a ‘ship of fools’ (Darn, why did George W Bush have to go? That sentence would have been a gift for a ribald comment a few years ago!)   

7) The Byrds “Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde” (1968): OK, I get this much – the Byrds are changing. They were folk-rock, then psychedelic, then country and, on this new LP, a bit of everything. They’re also a similar-sounding but in DNA terms very different beast from what we had before – whereas in the past we had Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn taking turns in the spotlight, from now on this is very much a McGuinn and his McMagical McNuggets show. So much for the ‘Hyde’ aspect of the title. But what on earth does this cover (and more so the back cover) really mean? Schizophrenia? (The band are – literally – beside themselves here). And on the back The Byrds are dressed as spacemen. On horseback. Before taking off their sci-fi gear and riding off, with Stetson cowboy hats, into the distance. Which ‘Byrd’ genre is the nice one and which one is the mad scientist? And why, then, for the first time since ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, is there not one space-age sci-fi-ish anthem on the record for us to savour? I’m confused...

6) Paul McCartney and Wings “Back To The Egg” (1979): OK, I’m not a big fan of this album’s overall concept but I kind of get it – inspired by punk and new wave, this is Macca and co with a new line-up, trying to get back to where they once belonged, with a rockier and less polished set than normal. But why, then, issue said album with such a futuristic and space-agey cover? (not unlike ‘The Present’ it has to be said!) For those who haven’t see it, the band are dressed in sci-fi garb in a rocketship, looking out of the rescue hatch to the Earth that they’ve just escaped (and where, presumably, they’d have been sucked down the hole while the ship was in flight?) Surely this cover would have been more fitting for Wings’ ‘space-age’ album ‘Venus and Mars’ but here, accompanying a series of grungy and not that well thought out rockers plus a few exquisite ballads in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ mould, it just seems plain wrong and weird. A bit like some of the album tracks it has to be said – what on earth are ‘Reception’ ‘The Broadcast’ ‘Old Siam, Sir’ and the ‘Rockestra’ theme really about? Answers on an intergalactic postcard...

5) Crosby, Stills and Nash “Live It Up” (1989): Talking of space-age, what the heck was this album collage of workmen building giant cocktail sausages on the moon all about? I’ve heard that it’s meant to be some kind of attack on capitalism, imperialism, MTV (it’s very similar to their logo of the day with Neil Armstrong planting a psychedelic flag onto the moon’s surface) or simply a dig at American commerce of the day. I wouldn’t put that past CSN either – being anti-money and pro-freedom is a theme of many of their songs. But not, it has to be said, a theme of any of their songs from this album, none of which mention the moon or even space (surprisingly they don’t mention the word ‘sausages’ anywhere either). The result is a woefully tacky cover to an actually pretty nifty and under-rated album, which is all the more frustrating given that the background picture (a neat image of the Earth from the space –far more convincing than the Jefferson Starship’s ‘Earth’ cover – and thus representing a bigger picture Earthlings sometimes forget) would have fitted the contents superbly.

4) Oasis “Be Here Now” (1997): This one puzzled me hugely at the time, although everyone else seemed to lap it up. Following on from their out-of-focus pics of the band at home and out on the streets of Manchester for the first two CDs, here’s the band in world-domination rockstar mode, having driven a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool (a la Keith Moon). However, what’s the significance of all the other gubbins here – a giant clock, a giant dice, a giant calendar, a Mod motorbike, a spinning globe and a 1950s gramophone? Even the title doesn’t help – it didn’t mean a lot as a George Harrison song title and here, meaning ‘being here at the moment’, it doesn’t explain why there are so many un-1990s things in the picture (what’s wrong with using a CD player and a giant digital watch if Oasis are ‘being here ie 1997 now’?) Perhaps this weird cover does sum up this occasionally weird album well in one respect though – everything is very big big big, stretched out much further than normal so that even the smallest riffs and understated lyrics sound epic, a bit like this album’s oversized props.

3)  Cat Stevens “Mona Bone Jakon” (1970): When you’re busy releasing your big ‘comeback album’ after a period of illness and it’s meant to relaunch your new image as an adult solo star, there are a few rules you have to follow. Cat broke them all with this cover, which he drew himself, with Stevens summing up his new worldly wise outlook with a picture of...a dustbin. To be fair, it’s a very good dustbin and it does make some thematic sense (ie Cat is throwing his past away and getting rid of all the old pop star trappings that caused him harm) but of all the things I never expected to see on an LP cover I think a dustbin would be near the top. Oh and the album name doesn’t help very much either – in case you’re wondering it’s a supposedly sexy name a groupie once gave to a certain part of Cat’s anatomy when he got, umm, ‘excited’ to see her (no prizes for guessing which part!) 

2) Pink Floyd “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” (1987): There are beds everywhere. They stretch along the seashore (!) for a good three miles and took so long for cover artists Hipognosis to put into place that they actually had to do it twice when the tide came in unexpectedly first time out. There’s a man sitting on a bed (first seen rowing a boat for the album’s tie-in single promo video) while a nurse looks on and a dog sniffs around. Now, I’m used to having to work out Pink Floyd covers and enjoy working out the puzzles therein (especially the cow on ‘Atom Heart Mother’ – which is such a great idea at sending up packaging that I’ve missed it out of the list – read news and views no 18 for an interview with the cover star!), but this one’s got me confused. I love the title by the way – in the context of the lyrics it means falling in love but can also be read as Pink Floyd getting back on track now Roger Waters is no longer in the band – but that too bears no resemblance to the album. Or the hospital beds. Or the dogs. Or the nurse. Help, my brain’s just exploded! 

1) The Moody Blues “On The Threshold Of A Dream” (1969): The Moody Blues, though, are the real mothers of them all when it comes to confusing covers. There are many many Moodies candidates for this list, from cavemen scrawling line drawings to a foetus rising out of a corpse to smoke blowing out of the ears of Albert Einstein, but third album ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’ wins the award by a whisker. There’s an ear and eyes painted onto a tree while a space alien that happens to look a lot like a vacuum cleaner looks on and a witch casts a spell over everything. I get the magical things to look at and listen to concept and the witch ties in neatly to the story of Camelot on album track ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably’ but, honestly, what’s with the vacuuming alien? Just when I’m on the threshold of comprehension....  

Right, that’s enough of that – who needs drugs when you’ve got albums covers like this lot to look at, eh? We’ll see you next week for a much more normal issue where everything is far more boring and ordinary and when, erm, The Grateful Dead will be playing at the Mars Hotel. See you then!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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