Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Lost Art of Album Covers

Last February Suze Rotolo passed away at the age of 67. Suze was best known for being Bob Dylan’s girlfriend in the early 60’s and the iconic girl on the cover of Dylan’s album Free Wheelin’. A fantastic photo that critic Janet Maslin summed up as "a photograph that inspired countless young men to hunch their shoulders, look distant, and let the girl do the clinging." Funny thing is, every time Suze looked at the photo she thought she looked fat. It got me thinking about the lost art of album covers – now with the advent of CDs and MP3s generations of kids will never experience the thrill of sitting down for hours staring at an album trying to decipher its hidden meaning.Sure, now we have music videos to feed our mental imagery.. But nothing quite compares to the rush of tearing the wrap off that LP and pouring over the cover inside and out.
So I decided to pick MY favourite album covers, I thought I’d pick my top five. Too hard, so maybe ten. I finally settled on my top 15 album covers of all time with four, make it five, honourable mentions.What were my criteria in choosing my favourite album covers of all time? They had to accomplish one of the following:
  1. Broke boundaries or pushed the limit;
  2. Blow me away with artwork so profound I could stare at it for hours OR
  3. Simply remind me of a wonderful time of life. A cover that, even when I see the photo today, brings back a flood of memories of great songs, teenage naivety and a time before the Internet where we connected through music and still believed all you need is love. Here are my top choices:
#1- In Though The Out Door, Led Zeppelin (1979). My absolute all time favourite! The album came in a brown paper sleeve. There were six different covers and you had no idea which one you got until you brought it home. It was the same scene, just taken from six separate points of view. People would buy duplicates of the album just to get different covers – brilliant! If that wasn’t enough of a gimmick, the inside sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would change colours, like children’s water colour artwork.
#2- Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969). How can this not be in the top ten? Was there ever an album that created more buzz about the cover photo than ABBEY ROAD? Seriously, I never believed the whole Paul is dead rumour, but I must say all the clues on the cover led to hours and hours of staring at that photo. Pure genius.
#3- Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973). Iconic. We all knew at least one person who had their walls painted with the Pink Floyd prism. Black light and all.
#4- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beatles (1967). This cover featured a colourful collage of cardboard models of famous people, The Beatles and all their heroes including: Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Laurel & Hardy and the original Beatles’ bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Also on McCartney’s sleeve is an Ontario Provincial Police flash. According to Wikipedia - all the work done both inside and out of this album cover has been estimated that it cost 100 times the average cost for an album cover in those days.
#5- Some Girls, Rolling Stones (1978). Controversy – love it! The album cover featured the Stones in drag along with female celebrities and lingerie ads. The controversy? They didn’t get permission for the celebrities’ photos. Lucille Ball, Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and the estate of Marilyn Monroe all threatened legal action. The revised cover removed all the celebrities, whether they had complained or not, and replaced with the phrase PARDON OUR APPEARANCE - COVER UNDER RE-CONSTRUCTION. There was also a third version of the album cover with hand-drawn women. I had the under re-construction version, but remember going through every music store to try and find just one copy of the original.
#6– Untitled 4th Album (AKA IV), Led Zeppelin (1971). Clearly one of the greatest albums of all time, the cover created its own celebrity. There was no title, no group name, and no information at all on the outer jacket. However the photo, that showed the dichotomy of city and village, paled in comparison to the inside illustration of the Hermit. Redrawn by countless high school art students. Even today, you can go on YouTube and watch people put The Hermit drawing up to a mirror to show the wolf in the rubble.
#7– Relayer, Yes (1974). It's simply a remarkable piece of work by artist Roger Dean. Yes continued to feature his work in the CD releases.
#8- Crime of the Century, Supertramp (1974). This is one of those albums that I love simply for the great memories it gives me every single time I see the cover or hear one of the songs. I guess I’ll always be a Dreamer.
#9- Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones (1971). This was the first “rock album” I ever owned, so it has a special place in my rock ‘n roll love. It actually featured a working zipper that opened to reveal cotton briefs. The idea for this album came from Andy Warhol. When storeowners complained that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl (from stacked shipments of the record), the zipper was "unzipped" slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimized. This album was also the first time the Stones used the "Tongue and Lip Design"
#10- Love it to Death, Alice Cooper (1971). Originally Cooper had his thumb sticking out of his pants. The record company thought it looked like a penis, and proceeded to airbrush his thumb and arm out of future releases. However, when Cooper released the CD, the uncensored photo found its way to the shelves.
#11– Freewheelin’, Bob Dylan (1963). Although the release was before my time, my brother had this album, and I always loved the cover. I’m sure every girl at one time wished they could be Suze Rotolo in that photo.
#12- Retro Active, Def Leppard (1993). This album doesn’t quite fit the mold, as it came out 20 years later than the others I’ve chosen. But when I saw it, I had to do a double take. Really? It was a throwback, a tribute, to great album art. But the big question was whether it’s a woman at a dressing table or a skull? Or both?
#13- Candy O, Cars (1979). Another album that just brings back great memories of driving in a beat-up old Datsun with a portable radio that we had to stick the antenna out the window to get reception. Those were the days.
#14 – Earth & Heaven, Angel (1977) .You may have never heard of this group, or this album before, but the cover was cool. Mind you the music was never that good, but you can turn the album upside down and it’s a mirror image – logo and all. And just look at that hair!
#15 – KISS– first album (1974). Who were these guys, and what’s with the make up? In an era where we thought everything had a meaning, the conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. It wasn’t until "Hotter Than Hell" did we realize that they were more than show.
There they are, sorry for being so longwinded. But I have to admit – it was a lot of fun to write, and relive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Music Snob defines a music snob as: “A person who believes s/he has a more refined taste in music and has much more knowledge in the field of music in general. Every song and genre is unacceptable unless the snob happens to like it, then it is absolute perfection. Music snobs feel obligated to enlighten everyone with unwelcome critiques and irrelevant musical trivia.”

Music snobs are the most irritating type of snob I know. At least wine snobs have some foundation for their arrogance, there are years of research, cultivation, pricey bottles and snobbery behind the science.
But music, com'on- It’s not a commodity, it’s not something to purchase or consume, it’s something you experience, you listen to music for the sheer pleasure of it.

My philosophical side says that music doesn’t have to be a song on the radio, it’s a rhythm that attracts you and can calm you down, pump you up, turn you on, or just make you smile. It could be rain on the roof or a train in the distance, as long as you enjoy it. So how can someone tell me that what makes gives me pleasure isn’t as good as what they are listening to?

A colleague of mine is a typical music snob. I once mentioned my daughter was going to a Jonas Brothers concert. “OH MY GAWD …” she exclaimed, “I would never allow the Jonas Brothers in my house. My daughter likes the classics, Led Zeppelin, the Who, of course the Rolling Stones.

Seriously?  Isn’t that some form of child abuse? Not allowing your children to listen to something they like? Is my daughter any less of a person because she likes a boy band? People that want to shove their music interests down my throat and, worse yet, their own children’s throat – should be locked in a room full of hockey moms. I mean, watching the Jonas Bros on the Family Channel today is no different than watching the Monkees when I was a kid. (Yes, I had a crush on Michael Nesmith I was a rebel.)

Just because I don’t like a certain type of music, doesn’t mean I should expect other people to dislike it too. I’d rather chew tin foil than listen to a Celine Dion song, but if it makes my mother happy to sing along, fill your boots!  YMCA will never go down in history as one of the classics, but when played at a wedding you can’t deny that everyone’s having a good time, and comfortable making a fool of themselves.

What goes around comes around – the site Top Ten Artists Who An Aging Music Snob Can Start Admitting He/She Likes only scratches the surface. But music snobs are simply missing the point. Music motivates, inspires, and changes perspectives.

There's nothing more personal, different songs affect people in different ways. It’s a bookmark to moments in our lives. And unlike music snobs, who run their course – the love of music stays with us forever.

So whether you're a Bob Dylan fan or a One Direction groupie, it doesn't matter - remember this. Whenever I'm asked what my favourite music is, my answer is simple, "the ones that give me goosebumps."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

This is not a Post about Steve Jobs

As we all come to terms with the tragic passing of Steve Jobs. I’m reminded of the quote by journalist Chuck Palahniuk, “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

Very few people can leave behind a legacy as amazing as Steve Jobs. But what would you like to be remembered for? An invention like Thomas Crapper (toilet), a disease like Lou Gehrig, or an amendment like Bryan Adams? I think I’d like to be remembered for something I said, for a phenomenon. Not just any phrase – one that would be uttered, savoured and loved for generations to come. Like Alan Freed. The man who is credited for coining for the phrase. Rock ’n Roll.

Freed was a DJ back when radio DJs were the most exciting, sought after occupation a teenager could dream of. By the time Freed was 25 – he was already living the life at WXEL in Cleveland. (Now home to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame)

In the early 50’s, Freed started breaking the rules, by playing R&B music for a white teenage audience. It was unheard of. That was black “ghetto” music. To get around the prejudices Freed told his audience he was playing something new called “rock ‘n roll.” The irony here is that the term Freed was using to make rhythm and blues more acceptable to a white audience was actually slang for “sex” in the black community. You gotta love the gonads this guy had. (He came up with the phrase after hearing an R&B song “The Sixty Minute Man” by The Dominoes.)

By 1954 Freed was DJing the #1 Radio show in New York City. He staged revues at the Brooklyn Paramount and appeared in a number of rock and roll movies. Unfortunately Freed was the epitome of the term “face for radio.” He had great ideas, a fantastic voice, but, already in his mid-thirties Freed looked at least ten years older. He looked completely out of place. Sadly, his career was destroyed by the payola scandal of the early sixties.

He died when he was only 43. Is it true? Only the good die young?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remember John

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
30 years ago today, I, like so many of us, lost a hero.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Musical Memorial Tributes

I heard on the radio the other day that it’s been 35 years since the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk in Lake Superior. A tragedy that may have been long forgotten had it not been for Gordon Lightfoot immortalizing it in his song “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Although Mr. Lightfoot took artistic license with the events of the actual sinking, the haunting lyrics have helped keep the disaster in our memories.
“In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

It started me thinking of all the songs written in tribute to people who have died. Tragedies that affected the songwriter so much he/she felt they had to share it with the world. Now this topic that will take more than one blog to do it any justice, but at least here's a start. Consider this my “shout out” to all the songwriters for helping us remember the people we should never forget. Thank you.

Now there are the obvious ones like Don Maclean’s
American Pie (“I can’t remember if I cried when I heard about his widowed bride”), and Elton John’s Candle in the Wind (And I would have liked to have known you, But I was just a kid. Your candle burned out long before, your legend never did.”)
But what of the songs about people the writers knew, people that changed their personal lives?

First one that comes to mind is Tom Cochrane's
Big League. Tom had met this boy’s father in an arena before a show, the father had asked the artist to play Boy Inside The Man because it was his son’s favourite. Asking if his son would be at the concert, the father replied “no.” The following quote is from the Tom Cochrane website (
That was when he told me his son had died in a car accident that past summer... I felt for that guy, his story hit me hard. Some songs are hard labour, but the best songs are born ... I carried that story with me for quite some time. “
I often wonder how that father must have felt when he heard that song. I still get shivers when it comes to the part where Cochrane says, "
Sometimes in the morning I still hear the sound
Ice meets metal...
"Can't you drive me down to the Big League?" “

Speaking of father/son songs, it must have been incredibly difficult for Eric Clapton to write, let alone perform, the song
Tears In Heaven.
In 1991, Eric Clapton’s 4-year-old son Conor fell 53 floors through a window left open by some idiot cleaner. After a long silence, Clapton released the song “Tears in Heaven” as a tribute to his son. Imagine having the courage to sing
“Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven” knowing it’s your own son. Clapton has not performed that song live since 2004.

I couldn’t do this topic without mentioning
All Those Years Ago by George Harrison. The song was a personal tribute to his murdered friend, and former band mate, John Lennon.
Released less than a year after John’s death, the song was recorded by all three remaining Beatles. George, Paul and Ringo would not appear together on a song for another 13 years. What I like the most about this song is that it’s a cheerful melody and embraces the happiness Lennon tried so hard to give. It’s a celebration of his life as well as regret of his death. If you ever get the chance to see the video, treat yourself – it’s filled with old photos of the boys and particularly Lennon, some dating back to their pre-Beatles life. Knowing George had been a friend of John's since he was 14 years old makes me appreciate the lyrics that much more.
"But you point the way to the truth when you say
All you need is love.
Living with good and bad
I always looked up to you
Now we're left cold and sad.”

I’ll finish this blog with the song that hit me the hardest.
Carry Me by Ray Lyell and the Storm. So how did I go from Clapton and the Beatles to some guy from Hamilton? Ray Lyell and the Storm was a fun, popular Canadian band of the 80’s with hits like Another Man’s Gun and Cruel Life. When I worked at HTZ-FM I had the opportunity to meet the group. I don’t remember much about the evening (par for the course back then), but I do recall Ray talking about the person that inspired the song Carry Me. Over twenty years later and I still remember how I felt the first time I listening to the song, knowing it was about a real person.
I knew somebody who lost his way
Got himself a loaded gun
They found him lying at the light of day
Now it’s too late to undo what’s already done.”

Those were pretty poignant lyrics for a young woman who had also lost a friend just a few years before. Although it was no accident, and he wasn’t holding the gun, I wonder if things would have been different if someone would have heard the other boy’s desperate voice say Carry Me.
So, I guess this is as close I’ll get to my musical tribute. Here’s to you Dave Jackson, you are always remembered.

"> Carry Me

It’s too late to undo what’s already done.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I stumbled across this site and I'm addicted. I entered my blog address and wordle creates a "word cloud" of my Blog. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. The applications for this are limitless. Enter a crown speech and find out what was the most prominent word, enter your resume, your facebook page. For today's visual learners this is a lot of fun. It's also very revealing. Dare you .. Wordle yourself.
Follow the creator's blog here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What you are now is who you were when.

A colleague and I were talking the other day about moments in our lives that are etched in memory of where exactly we were when they happened.
Sure, we both had the obvious including September 11, Columbine, even Princess Diana’s death. But what became most interesting were the more obscure memories.
Mine included the first time I saw a microwave oven being used, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the 1989 World Series Earthquake. But the one event that clearly stands out in mind that remember every word, every feeling, everything that was going on - happened on December 8, 1980.
1980 was a pivotal year for me – I had just started college at 17 – and was pretty unsure of what my life ahead had to offer. The only things I did know were 1- I was way too young to be away from home for college and 2 – I loved the Beatles. Pretty simplistic by today’s standards, but in an age before computers, CD’s, remotes or cell phones – it was complicated enough.
On December 8, 1980 my girlfriend, Brenda, called me to tell me the news. “Did you hear John Lennon’s been shot?” Of course I didn’t believe her, there was no reason to shoot John Lennon. He wasn’t a radical or a political player; all he wanted was to give peace a chance. The man made people happy, and except for his bad taste in wives, he was a genius – my girlfriend must be mistaken. So I turned on the television, again remember this is an era before a lowly college student could afford cable – so all I had was CKVR Barrie. Nothing – no mention, I was positive she was wrong.
Then the 11:00 news – they replayed an earlier announcement from Howard Cosell during a football game “This, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to the Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.”
And at 11:20 Walter Cronkite confirmed John Lennon was dead.
I cried, all night. I cried the next day at school, I went to the vigils, I held my Bic lighter in the air, I sang, “give peace a chance” but I never understood.
That week, I can honestly say, changed me forever. I was no longer the naïve teenager from Fonthill from a sheltered background – I was someone who had the person they believe in the most ripped out from under them, for no reason at all. There was no reason for Mark David Chapman to do what he did. He even sat there and waited for the cops to come. He took everything away from me, and millions of others just like me.

That was the day I realized life wasn’t fair.

This December will mark 30 years … Life still isn’t fair, people are still doing unthinkably cruel things, but lucky for me, I’ve found more heroes to get me through the day.
Here’s to you John.

There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends

I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers

there is no one compares with you

And these memories lose their meaning

When I think of love as something new

Though I know I'll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I'll often stop and think about them

In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I'll often stop and think about them

In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more