Not Your Mother’s Vinyl

Having neglected album cover art for a while, it’s high time we revisit the topic. Those lamenting the decline of vinyl, or perhaps more aptly, album cover art itself need not fear. While vinyl and CD’s went the way of the bargain bin in exchange for compact hand-held devices that could hold our ever-growing appetite for convenience and quantity, a community of art lovers clung steadfastly to their collections.

Turntable
Turntable

Some allowed theirs to collect dust, but could not or did not part with their favorites. Still others, sent them the way of the garage sale or flea market, and for a while it seemed they might disappear altogether as record store chains Sam Goody and Tower Records clung to the capitalistic vines.

Enter new artists.

For at least the last several years, musicians have experimented with releasing their music in a variety of formats. By creating limited editions, pre-orders, early single releases, and mastering the art of releasing a studio version, a deluxe pack with extra tracks, live versions, digital first, and yes, even vinyl, the new artists have the opportunity for mass appeal.

Vinyl, Insert, and Cover
Vinyl, Insert, and Cover

One such limited vinyl pressing Imaginary Numbers came in the form of a November 2013 acoustic album (accompanied by a YouTube release of a single and a quick bi-coastal tour in the U.S and Toronto) from alternative/punk rock band The Maine. The music on it , while melancholy, is “therapy,” according to lead singer, John O’Callaghan, and kudos are in order for an excellent recording. What makes the plastic unique is what can best be termed as Magic Spin Art vinyl; it is as though someone blew out the candles on the cake that graces the cover, scattering hot wax over all of the icing and placed the whole deal in a centrifuge.

Cool.

Lyrics
Lyrics

The added insert featuring a black and white photo of the band on one side and lyrics on the other is reminiscent of the expectation of those of us who still consider 50 a figment of our imagination.

An American in Moscow 1962

Some album covers are not especially artistic. Others are nothing more than a photograph on a 12” x 12” cardboard sleeve. Some are astonishing works of art. But every once in a while, you find one that is a historical document: by accident, design or both.

Benny Goodman in Moscow ©1962 by Park Recording Company, Inc. for RCA, is one such album cover. It documents the first jazz band tour by an American of the then U.S.S.R. from May 30 through July 8, 1962. The written history is now (in my humble opinion) laudable, odd, amusing, sexist, racist, and politically charged.

IMG_5255 Cover

A detailed two page background, invitation and tour synopsis.

Center
Center

Photos accompany the written documentation:

IMG_5256 Goodman1

To read the history is mind-blowing on several levels. One passage is of political interest. “The Union of Soviet Composers—which is the official musical Establishment in the U.S.S.R.—held a reception for Benny. (Here I renewed my acquaintance with composer Aram Khachaturian, without an interpreter—we spoke Armenian.) The mere fact that Mr. Khrushchev attended the opening concert with a panoply of top Soviet officials, and later engaged in an informal discussion with Benny at a Fourth of July party at the American Embassy, served to put the highest stamp of approval on the tour.”
IMG_5257 Goodman2
IMG_5258 Goodman3 IMG_5259 Goodman4
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“The tour had played to sold out houses in every city, mostly in large sports arenas, and brought a genuine slice of America to thousands of people who obviously reacted strongly and favorably not just to the music, but to the musicians. And not just because they were musicians, but because they were people. Everyone came back from the trip with the feeling that he had given some pleasure and done some good in relations between the people of our country and of the Soviet Union. And that’s what really counted.”

Back
Back

IMG_5264 Goodman8

Historical photos credit: James Reina, NBC
Front Cover Photo: Natalie R. Jones
Album Produced by: George Avakian

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Opera

Sometimes I miss Freddie Mercury’s voice, but if I listen closely to the echoes of the past, I still hear him crooning:

You’re the first one
When things turn out bad
You know I’ll never be lonely
You’re my only one
And I love the things
I really love the things that you do
You’re my best friend

Rolling Stone pegged Queen’s A Night at the Opera as #231 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Personally, I would have placed this album higher on the list for its musical originality. However, this is about the album cover. The 1975 single album in pristine condition features a fold-out cover complete with lyrics. And in this case…less is more.

Queen front a

Queen inside left

Queen inside right

Queen back

Yup, I can just hear him…

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me