Monday, March 28, 2022

Some Favorite Album Covers

Well, I saw that big-low-t just came up with a post with some of his favorite album artwork, and as far as I'm concerned, there's no idea so good that it's not worth ripping off, you know what I mean?.

So, then, like big-low-t said, these are just ten that I came up with quickly; I could be missing some, and I would probably come up with a different list tomorrow. But the real issue, for me, anyway, is separating the cover from the music. Just reviewing, I considered Pink Flag, and it's a good cover, even better than good, but am I overrating the cover some, just because I happen to think it's, like, the-second greatest album of all time? Should I not be surprised that I like the cover to Soft Machine's Third, the music attached to which I think is probably the only thing better than Pink Flag?. Or, moving down the line a bit, is the cover to Let it Bleed really that good, or am I letting the ace music influence my graphic judgement?

These are a bunch of rhetorical questions, I know.

So what I ended up with is a list of some really good albums, but with maybe none among my absolute favorites, just because I wanted to try and focus on the art.

Sepultura - Arise: Michael Whelan is here to tell you that if you're an artist and you've captured the respect of the sci-fi paperback people, well, then, you're *definitely* good enough to do album covers. After Sepultura used Whelan's "Nightmare In Red" second hand, after at least two science fiction/fantasy books had already done so, for Beneath the Remains, Roadrunner commissioned the cover for Arise directly from the artist. It's Sepultura's best album, and their best cover, too, which is to be expected given Whelan's involvement.

Paul McCartney & Wings - Back to the Egg: This album definitely doesn't get the respect it deserves, but even the people who (wrongly) dislike the music recognize that the cover is great. It was the famed design studio Hipgnosis who were behind it, and the reason it's great is the juxtaposition of the warm, rich, comfortable Scottish castle with the cold, metallic, blinking spaceship porthole hidden under that tartan weave carpet. The interior of Lympne Castle would have been good; a view of Earth from space just as good; but the combination is jarring enough to stick in the memory forever, pretty much.

Sonic Youth - Bad Moon Rising: This is another cover that derives its strikingness from a dichotomy. This one's not tradition vs. technology, but rather rural vs. urban. Really, it's the Led Zeppelin IV gatefold, done American style. A scarecrow against the New York skyline. Plus, you know, fire, which should really never hurt an album cover.

Elton John - Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy: I am of an age such that this record was my first experience with a great album cover; I just so happened to be ten years old during the year when Elton John outsold the rest of the music industry combined. And what a package he and his people put together for his hundred million fans: count them, two, booklets, a poster, and that gatefold cover that made my pre-teen jaw drop; not only the glimpse of a well-proportioned bird-woman's pubic hair, but a roly-poly record player taking a dump. Amazing stuff associated with this rock 'n' roll stuff, huh?

Fuzz: Ooooh, stars and bright colors and that space-monster looks fuckin' *stoned*, man. There's a vibe to this that reminds me of the series of Samorost games from Amanita Design. Yes, the music totally reminds me of fuckin' Blue Cheer, but in this case I am sure that I'm not being unduly swayed by that: the art, by Tatiana Kartomten Compton, so you know, is that good.

Free - Heartbreaker: Tremendous title track that you need to hear if you haven't, by the way, but if you thought that the cover image is a little boring, I might almost understand. This was the last of Free's studio albums, and the band had seen the end coming, too, so the front image (done by an Island Records midlevel functionary named John Glover) was probably fashioned deliberately to suggest an evaporation, a vanishing-in-progress, as the band transitioned from something that existed to something that did not. As their guitarist moved towards death, it must be said. But the idea of gradual reality extinguishment my own sci-fi brain brings to it from there may not be there for everyone else, I realize.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is another one about disintegration. I like the album okay -- "Two Headed Boy" is good, and so is "Holland, 1945" and the use of theremin will always get some respect from me --but it's not the music that may be influencing my appreciation of the artwork. What may be influencing it is this idea that used to float around, and still does to a lesser extent, that bandleader Jeff Mangum is crazy. I once read a long, horrifying, account of Mangum's many encounters with ghosts, and one, OK, but many I gotta say sorta equals crazy to me. So when I see that fin-de-siecle image they dug out, but with the gal empty where her head should be, I just think of the disintegration of self that comes with insanity.

Gong - Radio Gnome Invisible Part One: Flying Teapot The ultra-hippy thing with Gong kind of obscures the fact that they were as outsider-art as it gets. Daevid Allen was like Grandma Moses or Daniel Johnston or Jandek, knowwhatImean? Yes, perpetually toasted, but he did whatever the fuck he wanted, and it didn't sound or look like anything else, and that meant the album covers, too.

The Beach Boys - Surf's Up This is a weird one for me, because I've never heard the album. But the title is so Beach Boys, and the art is so clearly not. The cover painting is based on a sculpture called End of the Trail by someone named James Earle Fraser, and it is so evocative of defeat, of simply having had all your lifeblood sucked out, it creates an amazing contrast with the former sunshiny image of the band. And makes me, frankly, a little afraid to listen to the record.

Arab Strap - The Week Never Starts Round Here: I first became aware of this Scottish mopecore band when they backed up Jason Molina on The Lioness, and dug this out, their debut, for the People song "Kate Moss." Yet the album is not a favorite of mine. But I think you'll have to agree the cover is beautiful. It reminds me of the paintings Clive Barker did for his Abarat series.

Already, I can think of one I missed, or would put in next time, or whatever, which is Slayer's Reign In Blood. But this is long enough for now, don't you think?

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Dear Mr. Pavement*

So, I'm on Third Man's mailing list and I get an email Friday saying that Jack White is the cover for the new Mojo and did I want to buy the Collector's edition "[a]vailable exclusively at Third Man London, Third Man Nashville, Third Man Cass Corridor, and online at on March 15th"?

Well, actually, no, I don't. I'll get the plebe version in a couple months, whenever it's traversed the pond via the Covid-slow international mail, thanks. But I'll definitely be looking forward to it!

And then I read through the email and below the blurb for Mojo, and the blurb for Jack's new single with Q-Tip(?), I learned that Third Man has a quarterly magazine themselves, called Maggot Brain. And that sounded cool to me. I still mourn the print version of Spin to which I subscribed for many years. I tried Rolling Stone for a year or two once Spin went out, but let's face it, they've been kind of lame since the '80's (which is why I started reading Spin in the first place). And I do subscribe to Mojo, and they're great, but always being 45 days behind current with them is a little weird, seeing gig ads for shows at the O2 Manchester I could never attend but also are already over is always a little sad for me.

I could maybe subscribe to this Maggot Brain thing! And be current, reading gig ads for shows I also couldn't attend, but *haven't* already happened! So I click through for that, but immediately get waylaid when I start reading about the interview the mag did with Pavement in advance of their reunion tour.

What's this? Pavement dates? So for a second I get excited, and I leave the Maggot Brain page and head over to and sure enough, US tour starting in September.

But my cautious excitement was dashed as I read through the dates, as once again, Pavement is not coming to South Florida, or even Central Florida.

And I sighed.

Because Pavement not coming to South Florida is a long tradition with me. And, you know, with them.

It's funny, 'cause at the bottom of the page, it actually had a link for "Request a Show," and I was like, "OK, I will," and I even had an inchoate letter written up in my head, went something like this:

Dear Mr. Pavement:

Read with the usual disappointment your reunion tour US tour dates, because once again you've decided not to come to South Florida. Living here all my life, I've long since known that being at the geographical and cultural ass-end of America means that I'm often not going to have he opportunity to see my favorite bands play in town. Not like in Austin, or Atlanta, there's a window you have to squeeze yourelf through, here, I understand. It's got to be the band you know, of course, and before they break up, of course, or maybe during their one-off reunion, and during a tour where it's practical for the band to travel the 700 miles. Like some bands end their tours in Miami, and just begin their vacations here the next day. Think Sonic Youth did that one time. Or I saw High on Fire this other time, Pike and the rest of 'em were departing on some Metal Cruise the next day. So, such a long drive, it's gotta make sense, I get it. Not every tour is gonna work out right.

But with Pavement, it has *never* worked out, to the point where I wonder whether y'all just have something personal against South Florida. I've followed you, basically your entire mid-major career. It's true I wasn't a fan of the band when you were on Drag City, but you weren't doing national tours then anyway. But I read the glowing review in Spin for Slanted, and bought the Matador CD right away. Liked it so much I wrote you, commending your vision. Spiral Stairs even wrote back to me! So I'm right with you from your breakout. Should count for something, right? And since I got that short note, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a date I could check out.

But never; not then, and not, sadly, disappointingly, not now.

Maybe you'd reconsider? Other bands, do, evidently. Hell, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is coming to Florida for the first time ever next month. You should do the same in October.

(Signed) rastro etc.

It would have been a good letter. But when I clicked the "Request a Show" link,it just gave me the Bandsintown page and you couldn't personalize your request.

Just as well, I suppose, as it puts me in mind of the time I wrote Sweep the Leg Johnny asking them to play Churchill's, and instead, they cancelled their tour. Or the time I *couldn't* talk Parquet Courts out of watching the Super Bowl and playing Churchill's instead.

* Extra credit if you caught the "Young Ones" reference.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Rick Wakeman at the Amaturo Theater, March 11, 2022

After a cancellation due to Covid that actually worked out quite well, thank you, the Missus and I attended the Rick Wakeman show along his 'Even Grumpier Old Rock Star' US tour at the Amaturo Theater in beautiful downtown Ft Lauderdale last night.

If it was not a long show by anyone's imagination, I did have loads of fun. Rick had a Steinway piano off to stage right, a microphone in the middle, and a Korg to the left. He'd hop in his bright white sneakers (you can seem 'em in the photo!) between the three positions depending on whether he wanted to play something acoustic, tell a ribald story, or play something electric. Highlights for me on the Steinway were the first number after the intermission, which was a medley of the two Catherines on Six Wives (the Aragon one, and the Howard one) and "Merlin the Magician," from Myths and Legends," betcha guessed.

His stories--almost always funny--were primarilly in either of two camps; either something mildly off-color from his Mega-Rockstar days, or something mildly off-color about the depradations of being old. He also told an actually poignant (though also off-color) story about his friendships with Keith Emerson and Jon Lord, that I'll probably remember most.

The best on the Korg was probably "Jane Seymour," you know the pipe organ one, and man, was I impressed by how much his little skinny keyboard sounded so goddamned much like some massive unit built into the nave end of a 600-year old Anglican church. As I was listening, I was pretty sure that was a perfect segue for Grumpy Rick to talk about the transmogrifying effects of our modern technology, but no, he didn't mention it afterward, though I noted that there was a credit in the tour book for the guy who programmed the pipe organ routine.

The other electric highlight was a Beatles medley he did toward the end, an interpretative medley in which he got to flash his classically-trained ear and chops with "Help!" as if it were written by Saint-Saens, and "Eleanor Rigby" as if it were by Prokofiev. I liked the Revolver cover better, but Melanie enjoyed the soundtrack tune better. Either way, it was an impressive flash, in, really, a show full of them. No capes, no smoke machines, and certainly no costumed knights on ice, but Mr. Wakeman's ten flexibile digits, 72 years old though they may be, still work quite well.

The song that he sent us off with was a dazzling "Life on Mars," on which he originally played of course, and it sort of circled round to the Emerson and Lord story. Enjoy and appreciate your artists while they're still around, is what I read from the encore choice--and I was left then with an appreciation that I'd attended, on a couple different levels.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Dream 3/6/22

Last night, I dreamed about Lady Bolshevik, a cross-dressing punk rock quartet who fought for the televised Marxist Revolution by playing for free, Hawkwind-style, outside gigs and festivals along The Clash's Sandinista! world tour.

Think red flowing gowns, high-heels, fake bandoleros and berets. The Asian bassplayer, weirdly, had a Steinberger, the lead singer, a long blonde Mohawk like that guy from The Plasmatics. Clicking stateside more on the West Coast, they made the cover of Slash, and John Belushi once mentioned 'em in an interview, but they disappeared once Strummer and the boys came off the road, with nary a tour EP to show for the experience.

Much, much later, it was revealed that 'Weird Al" Yankovic had been a member, though not the leader.

File under: Dreams