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Great Covers: Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)

July 12th, 2018 10 comments

 

 

I first wrote this post seven years ago. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, so it seems a good idea to revive my appreciation for the LP and its cover work, the latter by the words below, the former by a collection of cover versions of its songs, in the proper track order.

One track, Prove It All Night, isn’t a cover, but such a reworking that it might as well be, from Springsteen 1978 tour (from the Agora Ballroom gig in Cleveland, bootleg fans). Just as I was putting this set together, it was announced that Springsteen has released a remastered version of his legendary gig from the same tour at the Roxy in LA. One track here has featured before: the Flying Picket’s a capella version of Factory, which was on the Any Major Springsteen Covers mix that accompanied my review of Bruce’s autobiography.

For many years Darkness On The Edge Of Town, in my view Bruce Springsteen’s greatest album, was rather underrated. The trouble might have been that it produced no hit single, and nothing as exuberant as Born To Run on the preceding album of the same name or Hungry Hearts on 1980’s The River. The album’s title suggests an existential sense of alienation, a loss of hope and a ferocious anger, which is reflected in the songs, in their sound and in their words. The hope of Thunder Road on Born To Run gives way to the despondent resignation of Racing In The Streets on Darkness. The guitar-driven elation of Born To Run here becomes the guitar-driven anger of Candy’s Room or Adam Raised A Cain.

In the publicity blurb for the de luxe CD/DVD set of Darkness, Springsteen describes the album has his “samurai” record. I think of it as his Scorsese album. Mean Streets, the name of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film, might have been a great alternative title for Springsteen’s only Carter-era LP. The cover complements the feel of the album perfectly. A tired-looking Bruce stands in what looks like a rather dreary apartment. His dishevelled hair calls to mind Al Pacino in Serpico, his penetrating stare Robert de Niro’s. One almost expects John Cazale to lurk behind the closed blinds, ready to embark on some ill-fated adventure or other (alas, that wonderful actor died on 12 March 1978, exactly a week before the completion of the recordings for Darkness , which begun in October 1977).

 

 

Rarely does an album cover condense in one simple photo the whole direction of an album. Photographer Frank Stefanko’s iconic photo of Springsteen did just that – without having heard the songs or knowing what they were about.

Stefanko, who also shot the cover of 1980’s The River, met Springsteen through Patti Smith, who had a big hit in 1978 with Because The Night, one of the many songs Springsteen had recorded for Darkness and then rejected. It was the beginning of a friendship that has survived the intervening three decades. In an interview with Pitchfork, Stefanko recalls doing a test shoot at his home in Haddonfield, New Jersey. More shoots followed, but it was that initial session that generated the cover art for Darkness.

Stefanko told Pitchfork that “the original shoot was just done with my perception of how I thought he wanted to look or how I wanted him to look […] From what I understand, when he looked at the photograph he said, ‘That’s the person that I’m writing about. That’s the person that is the Darkness on the Edge of Town character and that’s what I want on my cover.”

Springsteen recalled the shoot in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian: “He [Stefanko] was a guy who’d worked in a meat-packing plant in south Jersey. He got the 13-year-old kid from next door to hold a light. He borrowed a camera. I don’t know if he even had a camera! But when I saw the picture I said, ‘That’s the guy in the songs.’ I wanted the part of me that’s still that guy to be on the cover. Frank stripped away all your celebrity and left you with your essence. That’s what that record was about.”

In fact, Stefanko, who in 1978 was 32, had owned a camera since he was seven years old, and had been taking photos on a serious basis since the 1960s.

 

 

The Darkness photos may seem casual, snapshots taken on the fly. They were, in fact, the product of a long shoot. On the picture used for the cover, Springsteen wears a white t-shirt. On other photos taken during the same session, he wears a black shirt, and then a hideous purple paisley shirt with the leather jacket he wears on the front cover.

“We were trying to recreate these middle America, working class families; guys that were looking for redemption. It could have been done in the 70s or 50s or even the 40s. The idea was that these people transcended time or space,” Stefanko told Pitchfork. “But we were trying to get something to look like an old Kodacolor snapshot. There were a lot of black and white photographs taken in those sessions too which were very striking in their own right. But the idea of this color photograph that could have been a snapshot in somebody’s drawer worked for the album.”

From all that we learn that Stefanko had pretty awful taste in wallpaper in 1978. The new owners of the house took the right decision to paper over it, but neglected to sell scraps of it, thereby missing one of the great opportunities for profiteering from a photographer’s ugly wallpaper.

Of course this mix easily fits on a standard CD-R. I haven’t made home-gigged covers for this set. PW in comments.

1. Dropkick Murphys – Badlands (2012)
2. Jeff Healey Band – Adam Raised A Cain (1994)
3. Aram – Something In The Night (1997)
4. Maria McKee – Candy’s Room (2005)
5. Emmylou Harris – Racing In The Streets (1982)
6. Frans Pollux – Belaofde Land (Dutch version of Promised Land) (2013)
7. The Flying Pickets – Factory (1984)
8. Graziano Romani – Streets Of Fire (2001)
9. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Prove It All Night (live, 1978)
10. The Winter Blanket – Darkness On The Edge Of Town (2005)

https://rg.to/file/7d16442d45bbe5bdff2b48fb7e8d3f46/Darkness_rec.rar.html

 

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Great Covers: Ziggy Stardust (1972)

January 11th, 2016 6 comments

Ziggy

[To mark the passing of David Bowie, I repost this from October 2013]

There is a sweet irony in the cover picture of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: the alien superstar is photographed in a seedy sidestreet, not a glittering glamour spot, of London’s West End. Instead of shining brightly in a metallic science fiction wonderland, the monochrome photo is hand-coloured in the way of postcards from the turn of the last century.

The cover holds not the promise of the story we are coming to hear, but its denouement: Ziggy has come back down to earth as David Bowie. There’s trash, there’s rain, there’s a bin, there’s the sign of the furrier K. West, where the fiction of left-handed Ziggy and the fact of Bowie, holding his guitar right-handed, come together.

Or that’s how I choose to see it. The story of Ziggy Stardust is vague enough to let you project your own ideas on it. In fact, by writing about the cover, by stripping away a veneer of its mystique, I may be depriving you, if you do not know the story of the cover, of your ability to freely project. Read on at your own peril.

What we will find is that the story of the cover is rather… ordinary. The photo was taken on a cold January night in 1972 in Soho’s Heddon Street, then an insalubrious sidestreet, but today a fashionable pedestrian zone. The photographer was Brian Ward, who had studio in the street.

He took 17 photos that night, including the back cover shot of Ziggy/Bowie in the telephone booth. The front cover pic was taken at house number 23, under the big sign for K. West. Apparently Bowie turned up (with a posse of two girls), posed for a few minutes, and quickly disappeared into the rainy night, leaving Ward to develop his black-and-white photos.

Did Bowie feel like Ziggy in “Five Years”? “It was cold and it rained and I felt like an actor.”

ziggy-bwThe winning shot was colourised, giving the jumpsuit a blue hue when it was, in fact, green. You can see the jumpsuit in real life on this clip from the Old Grey Whistle Test in February 1972.

Have look at all 17 photos of the session at the Five Years site (from which I’ve borrowed one here). And if you feel that Bowie was wrong as Ziggy, and it should have been your mug on the cover, well, that can be arranged HERE.

As for the signs on the wall? They were for Paquerette Dresses (4th Floor), Ramar Dresses Ltd (3rd Floor), International Wool Secretariat, Cravats Ltd (main entrance), and T.H. Ferris (2nd Floor)

So, to mark the Ziggy cover here’s a mix of Ziggy covers. Every track off the album is performed in sequence by various artists — and two by Bowie. One is from the famous Hammersmith Odeon concert at which he killed off Ziggy Stardust — obviously the final track, “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide” — the other a new mix of the largely uncovered “Star”. In fact, there’s a third Bowie number: The Arnold Corns was a Bowie project on which he test-drove some Ziggy tracks a year before he gave birth to the alien superstar.

One song on the album, of course, was a cover itself: “It Ain’t Easy” was a Ron Davies song. The cover of that on this mix also precedes Ziggy.

1. The Polyphonic Spree – Five Years (2002)
2. Marti Jones – Soul Love (1986)
3. The Arnold Corns – Moonage Daydream (1971)
4. Leningrad Cowboys – Starman (2006)
5. Three Dog Night – It Ain’t Easy (1970)
6. Seu Jorge – Lady Stardust (2005)
7. David Bowie – Star (40th Anniversary Mix) (1972/2012)
8. Contraband – Hang On To Yourself (1991)
9. Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust (1982)
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suffragette City (2012)
11. David Bowie – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (live) (1973)

GET IT!
(PW in comments)

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Great Covers: Tapestry (1971)

June 21st, 2012 10 comments

It is one of the defining LPs of the early 1970s, and for me one of the go-to albums, perhaps the go-to album, if I do not know what else to play.

By the time Carole King released Tapestry she already was a veteran in the music business, having been a teenage songwriter for Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway (and the subject of Neil Sedaka’s hit Oh Carol; she responded with an answer record titled Oh Neil). She was 18 when she had her first #1 as a songwriter, with The Shirelles’ version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow in 1961. In the ten years between that and the release of Tapestry she had a prolific songwriting career, but as a recording artist she had only a minor hit with It Might As Well Rain Till September. Her uneven 1970 debut album, Writer, was a commercial disappointment; it has many bright spots, but cannot nearly compare with the sublime perfection of Tapestry.

So when Tapestry became a critical triumph and a mammoth hit after its release in February 1971, topping the US album charts for 15 weeks, it was something of a surprise.

Jim McCrary in 1978

The cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary – who died on April 29 – in the living room of her house at 8815 Appian Way in Laurel Canyon (McCrary’s website says it was at Wonderland Avenue; he also took the photo of the cover for Music, the location of which he identified as being on Appian Way). At first sight it is an unremarkable shot. A woman in her late 20s sits on a windowsill. The photo is in soft focus. And yet, the image is compelling. Viewing it feels like an intrusion into an intimate moment, a woman feeling at peace in her domain. Her bare feet suggest that we are not really invited into this domestic scene; if we came knocking at her door, she might put on footwear and her serene body language might change. And the cat would scram and hide.

The feline, who went by the name of Telemachus, was not there by accident, as it would appear. It may spoil the enjoyment of the cover a little to know that the tabby was a spontaneously employed prop. McCrary later recalled seeing Telemachus sleeping on his pillow across the room. Recalling a Kodak survey which revealed that after children, cats were the most popular photo subject, he asked King whether he could use the cat in a photo. “I saw a cat, and I wanted to get something good,” he remembered. Having ascertained that the cat was tame, he carried Telemachus on his pillow to the window ledge. He managed to take three photos before the cat, no doubt annoyed at having been awoken, had enough and made tracks. But McCrary had the perfect shot: the barefoot Carole with sunlight filtering upon her, holding a tapestry that she was busy creating, and her cat sitting in front of her, as if guarding the singer.

A remastered version of Tapestry was re-released in 2008 with a bonus CD featuring all but one of the tracks of the album in live versions, recorded between 1973 and 1976. It is highly recommended. The back-cover of it (pictured above) features another photo from the McCrary session. For more photos of Carole King and others by the late Jim McCreary see www.jimmccrary.com.

Here’s a mix of cover versions of the songs of Tapestry, with an appearance by Carole King from that bonus CD, in their original tracklisting order. Given my bias for soul covers, many of them are of that genre. Most were recorded soon after the release of Tapestry. One of the exceptions is the cover of Way Over Yonder by David Roe, a  New Orleans street musician (see royalrounders.com). Fans of The Originals will be interested in Kate Taylor’s version of Home Again, which was released shortly before Tapestry came out. Finally, the vocals on the Quincy Jones version of Smackwater Jack are by, unusually, Quincy himself.

TRACKLISTING
1. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move (live) (1973)
2. Marlena Shaw – So Far Away (1972)
3. Mike James Kirkland – It’s Too Late (1972)
4. Kate Taylor – Home Again (1971)
5. Barbra Streisand – Beautiful (1971)
6. David Roe – Way Over Yonder (2004)
7. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend (1972)
8. Faith Hill – Where You Lead (1995)
9. Zulema – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972)
10. Quincy Jones – Smackwater Jack (1971)
11. Jackie & Roy – Tapestry (1972)
12. Laura Nyro & Labelle – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Live) (1971)
BONUS TRACK: The Isley Brothers – It’s Too Late (1972)

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Great covers – Beatles

September 29th, 2009 12 comments

As a Beatles fan, I would be quite happy to display all their album covers on my wall, if decorating my humble abode with LP sleeves was my thing (the putative notion of such interior design innovation, of course, being the premise for this series). I imagine the Beatles would appreciate the pun in my song selection: Beatles songs sung by others… Read more…

Great covers: Curtis Mayfield 1975

September 1st, 2009 1 comment

The message of the cover of Curtis Mayfield’s 1975 album There’s No Place Like America Today is unambiguously direct: the American dream is a lie when there is so great a disparity in the experience of comforts among Americans. The happy, white middle-class family is symbolically running over the (mostly black) poor on their way to a promising future. Curtis Mayfield, always the most eloquent political spokesman among the soul men, is calling bullshit on the great American delusion. Note also how the billboard serves as a front — a physical barrier as well as a tool of propaganda — for the capitalist palaces and at the same time shields them from the poor in the welfare queue. It’s also striking that the Rockwellian billboard image recalls the 1950s, while the welfare line evokes the Great Depression, communicating the notion that the great lie and the divide between American affluence and poverty transcends generations. Read more…

Great covers: Satan Is Real (1960)

August 18th, 2009 5 comments

satan_is_real

The Satan Is Real album cover routinely is included in lists of “worst ever covers”, alongside Millie Jackson fighting constipation, Orleans getting closer than close, and dirty old John Bult parking his cigarette as he seduces Julie on her 16th birthday. Of course the Satan Is Real cover is a bit naff — the dentally disadvantaged Evil One at the back is not very convincing, never mind real. And yet, I think it’s a fabulous cover. Read more…

Great covers: Josh Rouse – 1972 (2002)

June 29th, 2009 4 comments

Josh Rouse marked his 30th birthday in 2002 with an album inspired by the year of his birth. It might easily have turned out as a pastiche of the worst clichés. Happily, it didn’t: the sound is contemporary. Rouse evokes rather than recreates what he imagines were the sounds of 1972. Imagine the concept as the subtle but essential spice in a delicious meal. The album borrows its influences wisely: James, a song about alcoholism, is a psychedelic soul workout, with Jim Hoke’s excellent jazz flute and Rouse’s falsetto positioning the song closest to 1972. Elsewhere, swirling strings and saxophone (also by Hoke), handclaps and Latin percussions serve as a marker for the ’70s influence being filtered through Rouse’s sound. Read more…

Great covers: Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1974)

May 19th, 2009 2 comments

How many albums are there which bear the name of one of the artist’s most epic song which does not appear on it? Winter In America, the song, made its appearance a year later, on 1975’s The First Minute Of A New Day album, written at the decree of one Peggy Harris who created the artwork on the inner sleeve, and who believed there just should be a song called Winter In America. Read more…

Great covers: Herb Alpert – Whipped Cream and Other Delights

May 12th, 2009 8 comments

I cheerfully admit that I like this album cover for all the wrong reasons. The picture is not exactly, to use the dreaded and misleading term, “politically correct” (less so in an age when the troubling terminology of bukkake is gaining mainstream currency). The woman is objectified, of course. The whipped cream is not supposed to guarantee her modesty, and, in the mind of the male heterosexual beholder, it is not meant to be removed by such conventional means as a cloth. The model’s come-hither look and suggestive lick of her finger communicate as much. So the reader will have to believe me when I claim that my attraction to the cover relates only and exclusively to the very attractive typeface. Read more…

Great covers: The Mamas and the Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

May 6th, 2009 8 comments

In this series of album covers I would hang up on my wall, I previously featured the artwork of Dexys Midnight Runners’ Searching For The Young Soul Rebel album, which features a defiant looking Belfast lad named Anthony O’Shaughnessy. A couple of weeks ago, Anthony commented on that post, which marks the first time the subject of a post (who was not a fellow blogger) responded to something published here.  Let’s see if Michelle Philips leaves a comment to this post. If she doesn’t, you are more than invited to do so… Read more…