Just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art

I’ve written before about album cover art — its beauty, its creativity, its shock value, its lasting durability.  Indeed, the covers of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” are almost as memorable as the music inside.

In the 1980s, for a relatively short period, there was a new option for rock music buyers: 17f1cd68-6130-43da-9e99-825e813b10a0the 12-inch single.  Many songs were released not only as traditional 7″ 45-rpm singles but also in a 12″ 33-1/3-rpm format, often containing several different mixes and extended versions of the song (ideal for use in dance clubs).

These products offered another great opportunity for the designers, photographers and art directors, who had been using album covers from the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s to stretch their wings and create arresting visuals as companions for the music.  Now, they could pour their energies into additional projects to help promote specific songs with still more eye-catching images.

Album cover art has endured for decades, even in its ineffectively smaller canvas on the front of CDs.  The artwork created for these 1980s 12″ singles, however, had a relatively short shelf life.  Unless you were a collector of this format (and not many Needle-Coverconsumers were), the single and its covers would be pulled from distribution once the song had completed its cycle of rising up and down the charts — probably six months at most.

I was recently gifted a fun coffee-table book called “Put the Needle on the Record” by Matthew Chojnacki, which is a collection of  250 examples of the artwork made for the 12″ singles of the Eighties.  There is some imaginative, startling stuff here that I think is worth sharing, because it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere else.

Some artwork will look familiar because it borrows from the art of the accompanying album from which the single was pulled.  Some will be unfamiliar because the art has nothing to do with the art from the album cover.  And others will appear totally foreign to you because you’re unfamiliar with the group or artist.  All are, without question, products of the times — the MTV era, the big-hair era, the pretentious fashion era, the pre-PC era.

The book’s author has some interesting things to say about that period.  “It wasn’t just about the music; it was also about the art of the music.  What we saw was nearly as important as what we listened to.  Record sleeves and music videos inspired new and dramatic looks for our self-expressive Me Generation.  Music, lyrics, and fashion, together, revealed who we were or who we wanted to be.”

Below I’ve selected 20 of my favorites (the artwork, not necessarily the music) from the book, a cross-section of the kind of art forms, graphic designs and type faces that dominated the decade.

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220px-She_Blinded_Me_with_Science“She Blinded Me With Science,” Thomas Dolby, 1982

Dolby was a nerdy-looking genius who collaborated with photographer Andrew Douglas on the art for his “She Blinded Me With Science” hit single.  “Douglas had an archive of clippings from the early 20th Century, one of which showed an odd horn-rimmed spectacle with a single lens,” he recalled.  “We merged the idea with a photo of the specs I wore at the time.  My imagination muses about the strange mutant who might wear such an item.”

9ff1798600e90f98a98f7586d360db0a“Rooms on Fire,” Stevie Nicks, 1989

Big poofy hair styles were the order of the day during the ’80s, not only for women but many men in “hair bands” as well.  Stevie Nicks’ hair was never quite as big as it appeared here on the cover of her 1989 single, “Rooms on Fire,” the successful hit from her album that year, “The Other Side of the Mirror,” which similar cover artwork.  Note the huge poofy shoulder pads as well, another sign of the times.

R-1421651-1228445377.jpeg“Let’s Go to Bed,” The Cure, 1986

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Robert Smith, who led The Cure from obscurity to great success on the British pop charts in the 1980s, was a leader in another important way:  He was a trailblazer of the “goth” subculture, particularly the look.  The all-black attire, hollowed-out eye makeup and frightening hair, adopted by many disaffected teens in the US and UK alike, is on full display on the 12″ single sleeve for The Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed.”

118861290“When the Tigers Broke Free,” Pink Floyd, 1982

Here’s an example of how the artwork created for related movie promotional posters was re-used on 12″ single sleeves.  Gerald Scarfe, a British artist known for his work in The New Yorker, had created the art on the award-winning cover for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” LP in 1979, so three years later, for the release of “Pink Floyd — The Wall” movie, he was asked to expand on that visual look with a howling face in the throes of madness, and it was used for the single “When the Tigers Broke Free,” not part of the original LP but included in the film.

220px-Eurythmics_Revival“Revival,” Eurythmics, 1989

Throughout the ’80s, Eurythmics lead singer Annie Lennox was eager to create stunning visual imagery to go with the group’s innovative music.  “The intimate association between sound and vision can be powerful and profound,” she said.  “Images inform and assist in guiding you to whatever message is contained in the music.”  The intense closeup of Lennox’s eye on the 12-inch single sleeve for “Revival” suggests a much more alluring mood than the stark whiteface used on the companion LP, “We Too Are One.”

Unknown-26“Start Me Up,” The Rolling Stones, 1981

The front and back cover of The Stones’ “Tattoo You” LP in 1981 had mutated treatments of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, while the inner sleeve featured a bizarre shot of a deer leg wearing a high heeled shoe.  That same photo was lifted for use on the “Start Me Up” 12-inch single, which became a huge dance club hit as well as an international #1 pop hit.

220px-Metallica_-_One_cover“One,” Metallica, 1988

Heavy metal bands have always been big on ghoulish, violent images for its album covers, both in photography and in illustrations, and Metallica was no exception.  The cover art for the LP “And Justice For All,” which depicted the Statue of Liberty bound and tethered in ropes, was the model from which designers came up with a single mummified/skeletal figure to represent the single “One”, using the same logotype on both covers.

220px-Sunglasses_at_Night_(Corey_Hart_album_-_cover_art)“Sunglasses at Night,” Corey Hart, 1984

Beginning, I suppose, with Tom Cruise’s look in the film “Risky Business,” Wayfarers and Ray-Bans became required accessories for pretty boys in the movies and in rock.  Corey Hart took that a step further with the obvious hit “Sunglasses at Night,” and for the single cover, he added sunglasses to the same wardrobe he’d used on his accompanying album cover, 1984’s “First Offense.”

R-2143371-1269226987.jpeg“Tempted,” Squeeze, 1981

Instead of featuring a photo of the band members posing or performing, as they did for the album cover for “East Side Story,” this single used a compelling conceptual illustration by Patricia Dryden, depicting Adam and Eve’s temptation toward the apple in Eden.  Note, also, the clever way the word “Squeeze” pushes (or squeezes) the two “e”s together.

R-300091-1479653432-8952.jpeg“Rock the Casbah,” The Clash, 1982

One of the iconic British punk/rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s, The Clash was known to push boundaries with lyrics, live shows, and album artwork.  By 1982, they had learn to trust the work of designer Jules Balme, who came up with a provocative painting/live model rendering of an Arab sheik and a Jewish rabbi dancing together outside a casbah.  It’s far more interesting than the “Combat Rock” LP cover, a relatively bland shot of the group clowning around alongside railroad tracks.

R-1440619-1219896851.jpeg“Gone Daddy Gone,” The Violent Femmes, 1983

A 3-year-old girl named Billie Jo Campbell was randomly selected by photographer Ron Hugo one day in L.A. where she was walking with her mother.  She was persuaded to look in the door of a condemned old house to see what was in there, and Hugo quickly snapped the photo, which was used on The Violent Femmes’ 1983 single “Gone Daddy Gone.”  The Femmes were Wisconsin natives but never charted higher than the mid-50s in the US, although they managed better results in Australia and the UK.

220px-Prince_RaspBeret“Raspberry Beret,” Prince, 1985

“Around the World in a Day,” Prince’s follow-up to the megaplatinum “Purple Rain,” adopted a dense psychedelic style, and he wanted the corresponding album art to reflect that leaning.  Painter Doug Henders worked for months on the album’s unusual, stylized cover art, and the single sleeve for “Raspberry Beret” was cropped from that sprawling painting.

thecars_drivesingle_a725“Drive,” The Cars, 1984

The Cars’ fifth LP, 1984’s “Heartbeat City,” used the precise artwork of pop artist Peter Phillips, who gathered several iconic pop culture images, from muscle cars to the kind of buxom women he had illustrated for Playboy Magazine for years, and merged them in a flashy montage.  A spinoff of the cover, using a different color scheme, showed up on the sleeve for the hit single “Drive.”

lita-ford-back-to-the-cave-remix-rca“Back to the Cave,” Lita Ford, 1988

The Runaways were arguably the first all-female rock band, enjoying success in the second half of the ’70s employing a look of tough bad-ass girls.  When Joan Jett and then Lita Ford went solo in the ’80s, they so no reason to mess with that success, maintaining the tight-leather-and-lingerie look that apparently appealed to their target audience.  I doubt Ford’s cover for her “Back to the Cave” single would meet the approval of the #MeToo crowd today.

BornInTheUSAsinglecover“Born in the U.S.A.,” Bruce Springsteen, 1984

One of the most popular albums of the Eighties was Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” whose LP cover showed The Boss’s butt and a ball cap in front of a flag backdrop.  For the release of the title song as a single, they used another image from the same photo shoot, with Bruce leaping in the air with his guitar, also in front of a huge U.S. flag.  The album had seven Top Ten hit singles, each with its own distinct sleeve art.

Madness_-_Our_House“Our House,” Madness, 1982

One of England’s leading pop/ska bands of the late ’70s through the present day, Madness never caught on in the US, with one big exception:  They made it all the way to #7 in late 1982 with their melancholy single, “Our House.”  The band wanted a childlike piece of art for use on the single’s cover, but instead of lifting something by the likes of Andy Warhol or Peter Max, they chose to visit a local elementary school, surveyed the display walls in the art classroom, and selected six-year-old Karen Allen’s simple painting of her family’s house.

BILLY_JOEL_WE+DIDNT+START+THE+FIRE-502140“We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel, 1989

This #1 hit is teeming with lyrics that list various people, places and events that define post-World War II pop culture and current events.  I can’t think of a better concept for illustrating the single’s cover than with black-and-white type of all the song’s lyrics that resembles a news teletype or newspaper column.  Joel said he wrote it to dispute the fact that all of society’s ills had been created by the Baby Boom generation.

220px-Chaka_Khan_-_I_Feel_for_You“I Feel For You,” Chaka Khan, 1984

Khan, a major funk vocalist for many decades, was starting to peak with 1984’s LP “I Feel For You,” whose title single was the first R&B single to feature a rapper as well.  The striking hand-sketched chalk illustrations by Anne Field mimicked a popular aesthetic of early ’80s design, with bold colors and swirls indicated Khan in pensive thought (on the album) and in motion on stage (on the single).

516-E9oS7AL._SX355_“Mary, Mary,” Run-DMC, 1988

This early hip-hop group, who successfully merged rap and rock, are credited with creating the hip-hop fashion style that came to define the genre:  Huge ropy gold chains, oversized clothing, unlaced white Adidas sneakers and Kangol hats.  These all showed up on the “Mary, Mary” single sleeve, even more prominently than on the companion LP “Tougher Than Leather.”

Mjhm“Human Nature,” Michael Jackson, and “Heart Don’t Lie,” LaToya Jackson, 1983

“Thriller,” as everyone knows is one of top-selling albums of all time.  Released in late 1982, it spawned seven Top Unknown-24Ten hit singles between October 1982 and February 1984, and each 12-inch single sleeve featured a photo of Michael Jackson decked out in fashionable attire with his name and song title sharing the same cursive type face.  Jackson’s sister LaToya, struggling to succeed with her own career, released her own single concurrently with “Human Nature” and copied her brother’s fashion statement on the cover.

 

 

 

 

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Rock is dead, they say, long live rock

What does the term “rock star” mean to you?  What did it mean in the ’70s versus what it might mean today?

Let me introduce you to an extraordinarily perceptive author who has written a very intriguing book on this subject.

5aa66baa65232_eventDavid Hepworth is an accomplished and respected music journalist, writer, and editor in England.  He was an on-air personality for BBC programs in the 1980s, has written for and led the charge for such influential rock magazines as Mojo and Q, and still contribute regularly to The Guardian newspaper.

His recent book, “Uncommon People:  The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars” (Henry Holt & Co., 2017), offers a thought-provoking series of 40 short essays that take a look at defining moments and turning points in the lives of 40 rock stars between 1955 and 51kdXSxa1bL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_1995.  He busts myths and creates new ones.  He has deftly zeroed in on many of the key players and events that shaped rock music during that 40-year span (which conveniently covers roughly the same period Hack’s Back Pages has always sought to examine).

The names you’d expect to see are there:  Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin.  You’ll also find a few names that aren’t as familiar to American audiences:  Hank Marvin, Ian Stewart, Ian Dury.

And Hepworth also latches on to key developments that have affected the arc of the rock star era:   Rock tour excesses, the deaths of Elvis and John Lennon, the rise of music videos, ironic rock star parodies, the glitz of Michael Jackson and Madonna and Prince, the increased move toward drug rehab, the rise of the Internet and social media.

His main premise, which I happen to agree with, is starkly stated in the book’s foreword:  “The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed.  The idea of the rock star, like the idea of the cowboy, lives on.”

Although rock ‘n roll and its first big names emerged in the late 1950s, nobody was yet calling those people rock stars.  As Hepworth notes, “The term rock star didn’t come into widespread use until the ’70s and ’80s, when the music business was looking to sustain the careers of its biggest names.  The industry was beginning to realize the value of brands, and there was no better brand than a rock star.  A rock star was supposed to be somebody you could rely on, somebody whose next record you had to have, regardless of its merits.  Eventually, it was applied to everyone from Morrissey to Madonna, from Ozzy Osbourne to Bjork.  By the 21st Century, the term had been spread so thin as to be meaningless.”

He finds it preposterous to label current celebrities like Adele or Kanye West or Justin Bieber as rock stars because they came of age in an entirely different set of circumstances.  “The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit making, the widespread adoption of choreography, and, above all, the mystique-destroying rise of the Internet.”

pasted-image-0-1He adds, “Rock stars were the product of an age when music, and details about rock stars’ lives, was harder to access and was treasured accordingly…  Today, you simply can’t live the life of a rock star anymore.  The mobile phone alone saw to that.  That was when the rock star’s all-important mystique came to an end.”

Since 1973, he says, “We have grown increasingly used to ‘rock star’ being employed as a descriptor.  Bill Clinton was supposedly the first rock-star president.  Andre Agassi was a rock-star tennis player.  Russell Brand was a rock star comedian.  These days you can even be a rock-star fund manager.”

The reason I have chosen to delve in detail into Hepworth’s book goes beyond his provocative premise about the demise of the rock star era.  Quite simply, he is a hell of a writer.  I marvel at the superb descriptive phrases and metaphors he offers in his examination of the people and events of that time.

led-zeppelin-1980-79b0dc3f-9670-4b70-8c05-5d952da34af7When he discusses how, in 1979, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant seemed to lack the confident swagger he had in the band’s heyday, he attributed it in part to “the death of distance.”  He was referring to how rock stars had once been able to behave recklessly with impunity in the ’60s and ’70s, engaging in shenanigans without their wives or the public at large ever knowing for certain.  There were rumors, of course, but no visual proof, no culpable evidence, no 24/7 speculating.  Rock stars were untouchable mythic beings “who did things you wouldn’t dare do with people you would never meet in places you could never afford to go.”

little-richard-1957His piece on Little Richard as “the first rock star” describes how he came up with “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, a-lop-bam-boom” when he let out a yelp while playing a beat-up piano in a Macon, Georgia, hangout.  “It was just a little riff, an imagined percussion fill that Richard was in the habit of beating out on the lunch counter, and this time it tumbled out without interruption into a song, if song it could be called.”

davidbowieziggyIn an essay entitled “A ‘rock star’ retires,” Hepworth looks deep into David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust persona, which he sees as “the rock star as tragic figure, doomed to enact his own suicide on stage.”  In 1973, he theorized, rock musicians felt “they could indulge themselves in the world of limelight while still retaining some intellectual standings.  They felt it ought to be possible to play the part of a rock star for a while and then walk away without a scratch on them.”

Janis-Joplin-ASC-550x350On Janis Joplin, Hepworth had this to say:  “Before Janis, there had been female musical stars, like Dusty Springfield or Aretha Franklin, who were much admired for their artistry but were not permitted anything as vulgar as a personality.  They were as prim and proper as young women were expected to be at the time.  The idea that they might have a love life was hard to imagine.  A sex life would be wholly out of the question.  Janis came to the fore in the age of ‘let it all hang out.’  She understood what she needed to do to be a star, and she worked at it.  She was smart enough to know that the appearance of spontaneity was something that must be worked at.”

alg-buddy-holly-jpgIn his essay on Buddy Holly, Hepworth explains how early rockers found themselves to be popular paupers:  “Holly figured in his naiveté that there would be a simple accounting of monies from which everybody would be able to walk away satisfied, but this proved not to be the case.  As 1958 drew to a close, Holly found himself in the unenviable position of being massively famous, widely celebrated, and functionally penniless.”  Holly, therefore, felt he had no choice but to go along with sketchy plans to perform on unpleasant bookings in unpromising venues, traveling on unsafe vehicles in ungodly weather conditions, which ultimately killed him (“the day the music died”).   

ian-stewart_1866315b-600x375

Ian Stewart (left) pictured with The Stones in 1963

Rolling Stones fans know the name Ian Stewart as the unofficial band member who played keyboards on albums and in concert.  He was heard but rarely seen because the group’s manager said he didn’t work visually.  As Hepworth points out in “The man who didn’t fit in”:   “Stewart spoiled the look of the group.  He didn’t fit the picture.  In fact, ‘Stu’ looked as if he came from an earlier decade.  The look the Stones were going for was a look that the presence of Stewart simply ruined.  Furthermore, he wasn’t temperamentally suited to being a rock star.  He seemed impervious to the passion for fame that drives rock stars on.  He could never have been a rock star for the same simple reason that the rest of us aren’t rock stars:  Because we can imagine not being one.”

792913Conversely, drummer Keith Moon of The Who was ideally suited for the rock star world, Hepworth contends.  “The very same things that made Keith Moon an impossible child made him the perfect rock star.  He was hopeless at school and left at the age of 14.  He had a need to be admired and noticed that could be satisfied by being the center of attention all the time.  As a civilian, Keith Moon would inevitably have to find a way of growing up, fitting in with other people, and curbing his excesses.  If he became a rock star, he wouldn’t have to do any such thing.”

The essay “sex, violence and television” explores the rise of MTV, which Hepworth Olivia_Newton-John_Physicalclaims increased the visibility of both rock stars and would-be rock stars.  “Marginal acts with strong visuals (The Stray Cats, the Go-Go’s, Duran Duran) quickly went mainstream.  Older acts worried about how the close scrutiny of the camera could reveal the shortcomings of their appearance.  Elton John’s hairline was retreating and thus his video was shot from one side only in a darkened room, and Olivia Newton John happily cut her hair, toned her body, and belatedly transformed herself into a sex symbol for the ‘Physical’ video.”  

198In discussing Bruce Springsteen‘s rise following the painstaking development of his monumental “Born to Run” song and album in 1975, Hepworth noted that great rock records had often been made quickly.  The recording of the debut LPs by The Beatles in 1963 and Black Sabbath in 1970, he points out, had both been hammered out in a single day.  “If popular music history had one thing to teach, it is that time spent polishing records is usually time spent ruining them.”  But there are always exceptions to the rule, and Springsteen, who was “possessed by a lust for rock and roll glory,” worked for six months to hone the words, and another three months to perfect the arrangements and recorded layers of “the title song’s titanic thrust.”  The result, he said, “felt like some lost masterpiece that had been awaiting discovery for decades.”

Hepworth’s piece “The absurdity of the rock star” reviews the impact of the 1984 rockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.”  He remarks that rock had been parodied before by older funnymen like Phil Silvers and Peter Sellers “who didn’t really understand what they were spoofing, but the difference this time is that Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer knew whereof they spoke.  They slid in the stiletto with loving tenderness.  They revealed the overarching truth of what was now a rock industry:  It relies on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.  Once you have seen the world of rock through the lens of  ‘Spinal Tap,’ the standard bunch of rock demigods are instantly revealed before you as middle-aged men in unsuitable trousers.”

MV5BYmNjYzYyNjItODNhMS00ZjdiLTk4ZjUtOGMxZDM5YTcyMDBiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ0NzE0MQ@@._V1_Here is Hepworth’s take on the pre-fabricated lack of spontaneity that characterized 1990-era Madonna in “Rock star as celeb”:  “The Blonde Ambition World Tour was what a generation raised on MTV had come to expect of a live show, which was a very big, very loud multimedia assault.  It was an experience that was so beholden to click tracks, autocue machines, and technological whizzbangs that nothing could stand in its way or alter one step or one word from night to night.  The performers were elements in a production rather than autonomous individuals who might at any stage stop what they were doing and change their mind.”

Nirvana-Kurt-Cobain-630x420Kurt Cobain, Hepworth believes, qualifies as “the last rock star,” if only because his death affected his generation of fans as much as, if not more than, Buddy Holly’s death did to ’50s fans.  “Nirvana’s second album, ‘Nevermind,’ which had been released in 1991, did something more for Generation X than other, better-known albums had done for their parents,” wrote Hepworth.  In the note Cobain wrote before shooting himself in 1994, he quoted Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey,” which insists, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”  Hepworth concludes:  “These aren’t just the words of someone who has fallen out of love with playing.  These are the words of a man who has grown up with all his hopes and dreams invested in the single purpose of becoming a rock star…and has found that he simply can’t live up to the demands of the role in which he has cast himself.”

Finally, there is Hepworth’s view on how things are today, and why there are no rock stars anymore, or at least, none in the traditional/original sense of that term:  “Because there are fewer and fewer places to play, and the audience now has too many options to be willing to put up with an evening’s entertainment from somebody who is only just learning their trade, it’s harder and harder for people to establish the balance between entertainment and invention.  It’s never been easy to make it, and it still isn’t.  You no longer need a record company to make a record, but you might need the record company’s money to make you a (rock) star.”

I heartily recommend this book.  An excellent read.