Monday, 30 September 2013

Abandoned AAA Album Covers (Top Ten, News, Views and Music 213)

Every so often an album cover gets rejected - sometimes the record company takes offence (as happened on the first five examples on this list), sometimes the band can't be bothered (as per example six), sometimes the bands have too much choice (as per example number seven) and sometimes the result is just too scary to use (as per examples eight and ten). As we've often said on this site, however, the packaging can often make all the different about how an album is accepted - just think how 'dark' 'Yesterday and Today' would have sounded surrounded by decimated dolls and hunks of meat - or how ordinary 'Dark Side Of The Moon' might have been treated without its iconic cover. All our top ten are in chronological order this week

The Beatles "Butcher Sleeve" aka "Yesterday and Today" (1965)

By far the most famous album on our list, first pressings of the 'butcher' sleeve now fetch ridiculous amounts at auctions, making them one of the rarest AAA records of all time. An American-only compilation of songs from 'Help' and 'Rubber Soul' , it was taken from an 'arty' series of shots designed by photographer Robert Whittaker (who came up with the iconic 'With The Beatles' polo-shirt cover) and titled 'A somnambulent Adventure' (it was never designed by Whitaker as an 'album sleeve'). The theory was that the Beatles were having a nightmare - and as a result discovering all that was wrong with a modern capitalist society. Baby dolls were pulled apart and slabs of meat draped around all four Beatles, with all of the fab four bored of tired drab covers and Lennon especially egging the photographer on (even Paul, the Beatle who spent most time thinking of their public image, thought the shot was still intended only for an art gallery and would make a valid comment on Vietnam). Most dealers refused to stock the record at all and the few that did had so many customers refusing to buy the album or demand a refund that they soon complained to capitol and the cover was switched to a rather boring one of the Beatles playing with a box (compare their gleeful faces on the 'butcher' sleeve to the bored ones at this hastily arranged shoot and that will tell you all you need to know about the Beatles being hemmed into a 'box' themselves in this era!) Actually the original sleeve is arguably closer to the songs on the album, especially the harder-edged 'And Your Bird Can Sing' and helpless 'Nowhere Man', but the cover still has the means to shock now, so goodness knows why Capitol ever thought it was a good idea (did they even see it before 'borrowing' it for the cover?!)

Simon and Garfunkel "Wednesday Morning 5 AM" (1965)

Less of a change, but still controversial, comes from the first Simon and Garfunkel album, which was quite a flop on its release in 1965. If you've ever wondered why this album comes with such BIG graphics naming the duo and album (back in the days when neither were well known) that's because the full photograph of Simon and Garfunkel standing in front of a dirty tube station contains a rather too graphic obscene instruction on the wall. Legend has it the photographer didn't notice it when he belww up the pitcure and sent it off for use as an album cover but record company Columbia noticed and flipped. Figuring it was too late to ask for another cover, they simply cropped the cover, leaving S+G as dwarfs on their own sleeve. Paul Simon was tickled at the censorship and wrote his 1967 song 'A Poem On The Underground Wall' about the incident, reflecting on just the sort of person who leaves messages on subway stations.

The Rolling Stones "Can You Walk On The Water?" (1966)

For years it was assumed that this album - the first version of what would become the first Stones greatest hits record 'High Tide, Green Grass' - was just another piece of manager Andrew Loog Oldham's commercial nous, trying to get the publicity from stirring up controversy without actually having to go the whole hog. In the 1990s, though, proofs came to light that featured the Stones physically walking on water, a la Jesus (although they were actually walking along a conveniently placed plank). With the Stones already under huge pressure to conform from the Southern American States, this was a step too far for record label Decca, who absolutely refused to let such a 'blasphemous' title past. As with most obstacles the Stones encountered in the 60s, most people probably wouldn't bat an eyelid today and it would have made for an interesting title to go along with a string of faintly controversial singles.

The Monkees "Headquarters" (1967)

As regular fans of this site and this band will know, 'Headquarters' was the moment when The Monkees crossed over the divide between fact and fiction and became a 'real' band, not just some stars from a TV series miming to other people's playing. In keeping with the all-our-own-stuff vibe of the album, the Monkees planned to make their own arty cover for the record. They'd been inspired by Micky Dolenz bringing in a collection of paints one day and getting all four Monkees to 'draw' on the panel that separated the recording studio equipment from the musicians. The band got really into their artwork and made some very psychedelic designs and even got record company Colgems to accept their 'masterpiece' as the album cover. Unfortunately, no one told the cleaner who worked at the studio where the Monkees were working and she simply cleaned the whole glass panel before a professional photographer could come in and take a picture of it. Luckily a few 'home-made' snaps were taken, though frustratingly not of the whole cover, but we at least know what part of it looked like - the result is part gifted amateur, part genius, all Monkees (some pictures were included in the booklet for the excellent 1990s re-issue of 'headquarters' on Rhino). It would have made for an even less commercial album, probably, but would have fitted the album contents better than the rather forced 'holding hands' shot that graced the final album cover.

The Rolling Stones "Beggar's Banquet" (1968)

More Stones controversy for our list, this time for something so deeply uncontroversial to modern audiences you wonder why it was ever rejected. The original cover for one of the Stones' greatest albums had the contents for the album (along with a bit of other graffiti) scrawled over a toilet wall. Decca figured that fans would be 'offended' to have a toilet wall in their record collection and pulled the cover in favour of a very boring mock-party invite that didn't have half the frisson of danger all Stones covers should possess (although the naked girl scribbled on the wall on the back cover was pushing it for the times, even for the Stones). Thankfully sense has prevailed and every CD re-issue of the album since 2002 has restored the original cover. Sadly the Stones weren't the ones to write on the toilet wall, but whichever poor art designer had to write all the remarks on seems to have caught their spirit well: if you own for a copy look out for references to Bob Dylan, pianist Nicky Hopkins and the very Stonesy' wot - no paper?!'

The Beatles "Everest" aka "Abbey Road" (1969)

The Beatles knew that 'Abbey Road' was going to be their last album more likely than not and wanted to go out with a bang. At first, this included not just the cover but the contents. Stuck for a name everyone could agree on, George Harrison came up with 'Everest' based on the brand of cigarettes engineer Geoff Emerick was always smoking during their recordings. Liking the idea of the band leaving at their 'peak', the band toyed with the idea of being flown out to Everest by helicopter (or at the very least a suitable looking alternative). When it came to it, though, the band were simply too tired and grumpy to go to such great lengths anymore and decided to stay local, doing a 'Let It Be Rooftop' and taking their cover snap literally on their doorstep at the crossing into Abbey Road. A shame, as a snowy Beatles might have been just as iconic! Intriguing footnote: Paul McCartney remembered the trick when asked to come up with a cover idea for 'Wings Greatest' - with the band in disarray after one of many splits, he got a suitably mystical figure that had sat on the Mccartneys windowsill for years flown out to a mountain at vast expense, although as all the viewer can see on the cover is a figure surrounded by snow and ice the result isn't as impressive as it should have been!

Pink Floyd "Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973)

There was never any doubt in Pink Floyd's mind what their album cover should be - they spent a grand total of 30 seconds perusing artist Storm Thorgerson's many ideas before exclaiming 'that one' in unison and walking back to finish the album (about the only thing they did all agree on in 1973!) Storm, however, was far from convinced about what direction to go into on album Roger Waters had loosely told was about 'life, death, madness, greed, religion and death' or words to that effect. He'd made at least 20 different ideas, all of them sketched loosely so he could work on them later (including the one for 'Dark Side' the band wouldn't let him change - that's why 'Indigo' is missing from the prism and why the line of light doesn't exactly correspond with what would happen if you did the experiment 'properly'). You can see some of these 'outtakes' on the Floyd's next release, a re-issue of their first two albums 'Piper At The Gates Of dawn' and 'A Saucerful Of Secrets' under the collective title 'A Nice Pair', including light being refracted by a pair of spectacles, a giant fork balancing in the middle of a road (boom! boom!), a kettle of fish and an eerie phantom floating above a road with her head missing (an idea returned to for 'Wish You Were Here'). Frankly, the Floyd got it right - none of these other album covers can compare and its a surprise that someone as confident as Storm didn't see it from the first, but nevertheless its a surprise that more of these ideas weren't revisited as many of them are too good to be thrown away on a re-issue hardly anyone bought.

Pink Floyd "Animals" (1977)

Sticking with the Floyd, Storm's book 'Mind Over Matter' reveals quite a few alternate artworks that never quite happened. The one that's most different is the one for 'Animals', that was famously replaced by Roger Waters' own idea of a flying pig drifting over Battersea Power Station. Unusually Storm tried an illustrated cover of a small boy walking in on his parents having sex and drawing the listener towards the 'animal' instincts of humans in quite a different way to the music. Roger reportedly wanted an album cover with more 'hope' which was when his flying pig was born.

George Harrison "Somewhere In England" (1981)

We've already dealt with this album cover on news, views and music 194; to reiterate replacing the brilliant cover of a swirly illustrated George made out of darkness with a bland picture of George standing in front of what appears to be an anonymous road (before the back cover pulls away to reveal he's in an art gallery) is sheer madness. Apparently EMI didn't like the cover because George 'wasn't smiling' - by contrast his 'happy-with-this-suckers? fake grin on the 'finished' album cover probably put off more fans than a serious-but-serene George would ever have done. Utter stupidity, even though the second cover is quite clever too (you assume from the front George is somewhere low brow - and on the back he reveals he's somewhere 'high brow', which is actually pretty fitting for this mixed up album of material and spiritual matters).

Grateful Dead "In The Dark" (1987)

We end with an album cover that wasn't actually that different to the finished cover. However, the first attempt at capturing the band's eyes shining 'in the dark' was apparently 'too scary' (and relegated to the inside sleeve); a jumble of the band member's eyes all stuck together to create one massive huge one. The record company were still upset with the 'finished' vinyl cover, though which does seem to emphasise the band members' many and varied bushy eyebrows, so for every CD re-release the main cover photograph has been turned upside down, making the contents marginally less scary (unless you turn the sleeve upside down!)
Right, that's all from us for now - we'll be back with more albums and covers as finished next time around with more news, views and music. See you there!

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