Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pop art in the era of the pixel

Pink Floyd's designer Storm Thorgerson on highlights of his career

by James Alexander
BBC News

It is 70 years since the first album cover. But, now that discs are giving way to digital downloads, what is the future for album art?

For generations of music fans, the album cover has a special place. We all have our favourites (and least favourite) - images stared at and studied in teenage bedrooms the world over.

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album over is iconic

From Andy Warhol's banana on the front of the first Velvet Underground record to the underwater baby pursuing a dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind, these were pictures that teased and intrigued.

They offered a tantalising glimpse into worlds that seemed glamorous, exciting and strange. But the once vast canvas is shrinking - whereas on glossy LP covers these images enjoyed a full 12 inches of sleeve space, this reduced to five inches with the advent of the CD.

And now, with the shift from discs to downloads, the space allotted to album art is even smaller. On many MP3 players the sleeve appears not much bigger than a postage stamp - so can the album cover survive?

Album cover reform

It was in 1939 that young designer Alexander Steinweiss persuaded Columbia Records that the use of original artwork might attract more buyers.

Previously records came in drab brown cardboard covers with little to mark them out except the name of the artist and the album.

The change was a big hit. Label bosses soon found the extra sales more than made up for the added printing costs.

In the 1960s the Beatles took album art to a new level - Sgt Pepper, with its colourful cast of characters, came in a gatefold cover complete with a psychedelic inner sleeve and even a cardboard moustache to cut out and keep.

In the years that followed, no expense was spared in creating ever more extravagant and experimental designs.

The multi-layered artwork for New Order's 12-inch single Blue Monday cost so much to produce Factory Records claimed it actually lost money on every copy sold.

Of course not every sleeve was memorable for the right reasons - some were tacky and cheap, others were simply bizarre. Even a classic like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds suffers from a cover photo that takes a horribly literal approach to the album's title.

The art of Storm Thorgerson is as famous as the music it accompanies. A childhood friend of the founding members of Pink Floyd, he went on to become their designer-in-chief, fashioning a string of eye-catching creations.

There was the mournful-looking cow on the front of Atom Heart Mother, the burning businessman on the sleeve of Wish You Were Here, the giant pig flying over Battersea Power Station and - most famously of all - the prism spreading a spectrum of colour across The Dark Side Of The Moon.

'Cool graphic'

"It's a nice but simple idea," Thorgerson explains, surrounded by books and sketches in the same North London studio where the design took shape three decades ago.

Storm Thorgerson created a string of Pink Floyd covers including Pulse

"Refracting light through a prism is a common feature in nature, as in a rainbow. I would like to claim it, but unfortunately it's not mine!"

The idea was sparked by Pink Floyd's keyboard player, the late Richard Wright.

"He said, somewhat provocatively, 'Let's not have one of your photos, we've had your photos before. Can't we have a change? A cool graphic - something smart, tidy, elegant.'"

Thorgerson responded with seven rough suggestions that he pinned to the wall of Abbey Road studios.

The band took just seconds to plump for the prism, an image that seemed to perfectly embody the stark themes that underpin The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Design matters

Although Thorgerson remains best-known for his collaborations with Pink Floyd, his design credits also include albums by Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel and Muse.

Now he has collected his favourites into a limited edition box set, alongside signed prints and previously unseen drawings.

He continues to be in demand and says he's untroubled by the shrinking space given to album art.

Thorgerson's design credits also include albums by Peter Gabriel

"I think it's more about the design that matters. So, once that has been uncovered, then you have an image that will hopefully work everywhere and always," he says.

"I don't worry if it's an LP, CD or MP3 - I always see it as very big. Even though it may be very small, it will get used big somewhere - a hoarding or a poster or an advert in a magazine."

And this may be the future where designs are experienced less as album covers and more as billboards, concert images, screensavers, even as framed pieces of art.

"The golden age of the album cover is pretty much over," says Simon Warner, a lecturer in popular music at Leeds University.

"There has been a revival in vinyl sales the last few years driven largely by nostalgia. But, in overall terms, the era of vinyl - the era of the album cover - has gone," he says.

"We live in an age when you can download videos to your computer or iPod. We can still enjoy a wide range of imagery associated with an artist, but that idea of the static 2-D work of art is no longer necessarily the only way to enjoy an artist's essence."

It is doubtful the traditional album sleeve that has excited generations of music lovers will hold the same fascination for fans of the future.

But it seems likely the magical marriage of sound and vision, music and art will continue to colour the songs we hear.

Taken by Storm - album art by Storm Thorgerson is published by Genesis Publications.

SOURCE: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

Classic Rock Videos

Three Dog Night - Eli's Coming

Bird & Animal Names In Rock & Roll-part three

Throughout music history there have been many bands that have adopted an "animal" or "bird" monikers to represent their band and their sound. Some artists even have a last name that fits into this category and in this continuing article series we will explore some of the unique "animal" and "bird" names and the diverse music that has been created by these groups or individuals. Let's look at part three of our Bird article series (look for this feature every Tuesday & Thursday!)

In our continuing series about “bird”and “animal” groups and artists in music history, let’s explore more group names.

With the distinctive and quintessential biker anthem “Born To Be Wild,” the band Steppenwolf created some of the most rock friendly tunes that an entire subculture embraced in the late 1960's. There is also the intrinsic value of the anti-drug song called “The Pusher” (written by Hoyt Axton) and both of these songs were featured in the now cult-classic film “Easy Rider.”

Steppenwolf’s seminal leader John Kay (always with sunglasses on because he has been legally blind since childhood) joined the burgeoning folk rock crowd while in California (he escaped from East Germany in 1948 with his widowed mother) and appeared on his first record playing the harmonica on a song called “The Frog.” He performed all around the country and met future band mate Jerry Edmonton (in New York), who was playing in a Canadian band called The Sparrows. Kay joined the band in 1965 and the group toured and recorded without much success and eventually disbanded. But in 1968, ABC-Dunhill producer Gabriel Mekler prodded Kay to reunite with his band mates and even offered them studio time. Edmonton’s brother offered the reunited group a song that he had written (which was the smash hit “Born To Be Wild”) and, opposed to reviving the Sparrow name, they called themselves Steppenwolf after the Hermann Hesse novel that Mekler had just finished reading.

John Kay and company also hit pay dirt with an inventive psychedelic follow-up hit “Magic Carpet Ride” as well as the Top Ten hit “Rock Me.” After some minor success after their monster hits, Steppenwolf disbanded in 1972, but alternative versions of the band have toured worldwide. Jon Kay reformed his version in the mid 80's, grinding out tours and some new songs at oldies shows and also adding a classic rock touch to Farm Aid Two and Three. But the group will be forever remembered for the ultimate biker song and their meat and potatoes rock and roll sound.

During the peak of the “bubble gum” era in rock history, Crazy Elephant hit the Top 40 (peaking at number 12) in 1969 with their one hit wonder tune “Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin’.” The group was assembled by producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz with Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs on lead vocals. A memorable “one hit wonder,” the song stayed in the Top 40 Billboard charts for eight weeks.

In 1967, five teen and preteen siblings and their mother hit the Billboard charts with the Top Ten hit “The Rain, The Park And Other Things.” A precursor to the Partridge Family (more about them in the next article of the series), the Cowsills also hit the Top Ten with the song “Indian Giver” and secured major success with the theme from the Broadway hit “Hair.” With conventional harmonies and a hazy sweetness to their music, this actual family released four Top 40 hits in the late 1960's. Mother, Barbara died in 1985 and three of the brothers and Susan Cowsill reunited and toured and recorded several demos.

In 1991, Susan Cowsill formed the L.A.-based Psycho Sisters with former Bangle Vicki Peterson and together they would eventually join the alternative rock group Continental Drifters. Brother Barry Cowsill worked as a solo act in the 90's and brother Bill would form the band Blue Shadows. In 1994, brothers Bob, John, Paul and sister Susan revived the Cowsills and they contributed a new track to the compilation comeback album called “Yellow Pills, Volume One Global” (released in 1998) which was only available through the Internet. Various siblings occasionally reunite and perform together. Another interesting tidbit is that CD reissues of the Cowsills in concert include a rare EP that was originally recorded for the American Dairy Association.

In the next article, we will delve into some “bird” groups and people that have dotted the musical landscape.

Steppenwolf Tidbits:

While the band has achieved great success in the music arena, it has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As the band was named after the novel Der Steppenwolf by German author Hermann Hesse, who was born in the Black Forest town of Calw, the city invited them to come over and play in the International Hermann-Hesse-Festival 2002. The concert drew considerable media coverage, with Kay's fluent German stunning those who did not know beforehand that he grew up in Germany.

Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with its core linup of Kay, Edmonton, and McJohn, along with longtime bassist Biondo and newcomer Bobby Cochran, Eddie Cochran's nephew. Their first album was Slow Flux which included their last Top-40 hit, "Straight Shootin' Woman.”

The band has sold more than 25 million units worldwide, releasing 8 gold albums.

Buy Steppenwolf Music

Buy Crazy Elephant Music

Buy Cowsills Music

Cowsills Tidbits:

After working as a sound engineer for Helen Reddy, Paul left the music industry for a career in construction.

Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows per month as The Cowsills, while maintaining their separate lives and careers. In 2007, they toured as part of a package called "The Original Idols Live!"

Both Barry Cowsill and his sister Susan were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. According to cowsill.com, Susan and her husband left New Orleans and were accounted for, but Barry perished in the disaster on Jan 4, 2006.

Bill Cowsill died on February 17, 2006 in Calgary, Alberta His death has since been officially listed as due to complications from a variety of ailments that Bill had suffered from for years, including emphysema, osteoporosis and Cushing syndrome.

Look for part four on Thursday!

Today's New Vinyl Releases

1990s: Kicks (vinyl)

Arthur Russell: The Sleeping Bag Sessions (vinyl)

Charles Spearin: The Happiness Project (vinyl)

Crosby Stills Nash & Young: CSNY/Deja Vu Live (2-LP vinyl)

Dalek: Gutter Tactics (vinyl)

Dan Deacon: Bromst (vinyl)

Dan Hicks: Tangled Tales (vinyl)

Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (vinyl)

Green Day: 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (2-LP reissue)

Green Day: Kerplunk (vinyl)

Husker Du: Candy Apple Grey (vinyl reissue)

Indigo Girls: Poseidon and the Bitter Bug (with bonus CD)

Jeremy Jay: Slow Dance (vinyl)

The Lymyc Systym: Carved by Glaciers (vinyl)

M. Ward: End of Amnesia (vinyl reissue)

Mastodon: Divinations (vinyl picture disc single)

MSTRKRFT: Fist of God (vinyl)

O+S: O+S (vinyl)

Obits: I Blame You (vinyl)

Pearl Jam: Ten (2-CD & DVD Deluxe Edition) (2-CD edition) (2-LP edition) (2-CD & DVD & 4=LP & cassette edition)

Ponytail: Ice Cream Spiritual! (green vinyl)

Radiohead: The Bends (remastered with bonus CD) (2-CDs & DVD)

Radiohead: OK Computer (remastered with bonus CD) (2-CDs & DVD)

Radiohead: Pablo Honey (remastered with bonus CD) (2-CDs & DVD)

Rafter: 10 Songs

Red Red Meat: Bunny Gets Paid (remastered with bonus disc)

Royksopp: Junior (vinyl)

Sarah Borges: The Stars Are Out (vinyl)

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson (remastered with bonus tracks) (vinyl)

Swan Lake: Enemy Mine (vinyl)

Warren Zevon: Excitable Boy (vinyl reissue)

Buy Your Vinyl Here: http://www.insound.com/index.php?from=5141

Music News & Notes

Chamberlin Quits Pumpkins

Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin has left the Smashing Pumpkins, according to a statement on the band's Website released late Friday. When Billy Corgan resurrected the Pumpkins name in 2007, Chamberlin was the only other original member to return to the lineup. In a simple statement, it was announced that Chamberlin had left the group and that Corgan "will continue to write and record as the Smashing Pumpkins with plans to head into the studio this spring." Corgan has come under fire for a variety of reasons over the past year, from goading angry fans at last fall's unusual Pumpkins gigs to testifying in Washington in favor of the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger.


Phish Side Project

Phish’s Trey Anastasio has teamed up with composer Don Hart to create Time Turns Elastic, a classical/blues-rock crossover project, released by Rubber Jungle Records.

"Neither of us had ever heard anything that uses a guitar as a serious instrument intermingled with an orchestra in the same way one would write a concerto for a violin and orchestra," says Anastasio, who first collaborated with Hart at the 2004 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. The piece will make its debut on May 21 at a sold-out show in Baltimore with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, while the record is due out May 12.

MySpace Music is exclusively streaming the new album, Living Thing, from indie band Peter Bjorn and John, days before its U.S. release. Fans can currently listen to the record in its entirety via myspace.com/peterbjornandjohn. Tour dates, videos and other band information are also available through the MySpace page.


Guns N' Roses Adds Guitarist

Guns N' Roses announced the addition of guitarist DJ Ashba, a founding member of Nikki Sixx’s Sixx:A.M., for their upcoming touring lineup. "DJ's a gifted, energetic guitarist that Guns N’ Roses is proud to have on board," Axl Rose said in a statement. "We're very excited to have the opportunity to work together. Guns' radar has silently been aware of DJ’s presence for quite some time! He brings a fresh approach to our particular brand of mayhem expanding the tapestry of Guns N' Roses live. Once DJ’s name was in the hat, the hat disappeared!" Ashba is replacing Robin Finck, who rejoined Nine Inch Nails after recording Chinese Democracy with GN’R. Details of when this "upcoming tour" will happen still remain to be seen.


Anniversary edition of Pearl Jam's '10' is being released Today

Diehard Pearl Jam fans out there, and they are legion, might be able to explain the significance of Tuesday's date in the band's chronology. Whatever the date might have signified in the past, from now on it will mark the re-release of "Ten," the band's first album that came out a little more than 17½ years ago, on Aug. 27, 1991.

The "Ten" deluxe edition has four different versions, ranging in price from $19.99 to $199.99 for the super-duper deluxe package that includes two CDs, a DVD, four vinyl LPs, a cassette and various replica mementos of the band's early days. If you are the ultimate Pearl Jam fan -- and you have lots of disposable income -- this is the package for you!

Elvis Costello to release 'Secret' acoustic album

Three-day recording session with T Bone Burnett

By Joe Bosso

Elvis Costello's upcoming Secret, Profane & Sugarcane CD was recorded with producer T Bone Burnett over a three-day period at Nashville's Sound Emporium Studio.

The last time Costello and Burnett worked together yielded 1986's King Of America, which, like the new album, explored American roots music.

Costello's trusty touring band The Imposters sat these sessions out. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (due 2 June) sees Costello surrounded by bluegrass and traditional country musicians such as Terry Douglas (dobro), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Mike Compton (mandolin), Jeff Taylor (accordion) and Dennis Crouch (double bass).

Emmylou Harris turns up on one song, and producer Burnett adds a Kay electric guitar sound to several cuts - the only times that an amplified instrument is utilized on the album.

Costello originals, with notable co-writers

While most of the the record is filled with Elvis Costello originals, two are co-written with Burnett; I Felt The Child was co-authored by Loretta Lynn; and two others - Hidden Same and Boom Chicka Boom - were originally penned by Costello for the late Johnny Cash. The closing track, Changing Partners, was written by Joe Darion and Larry Coleman and made famous by the late Bing Crosby.

A vinyl version of the album will feature an acoustic arrangement of Lou Reed's classic Femme Fatale, along with Costello's 'sequel' to an old Appalachian murder ballad entitled called What Lewis Did Last.

In June and August, Costello will perform a select number of dates to support the album with a band called The Sugarcanes, featuring a number of musicians who played on the record.

SOURCE: http://www.musicradar.com