Archive for the 'Stoner Album Covers' Category

12
Feb
19

Ten Years After “Cricklewood Green”

Ten Years After is another one of those bands from the Sixties whose name is familiar—but I know absolutely nothing about them. Their biggest hit song was “I’d Love To Change The World” which I’ve heard 1768 times, and it always stimulated that part of my sensibility where song hooks sink in—a nice guitar part, and then the rest of it, including a chorus that sounds like they recorded it through an aluminum vacuum cleaner extension. That song also always made me a little queasy, too, because, just what are they saying? But anyway, that song came out ONE YEAR AFTER this album, Cricklewood Green (1970), which is a record my parents would have had if they listened to folk or rock in the Sixties, but they just didn’t get suckered in until John Denver. This record came out TEN YEARS AFTER I was born, and I was in my Bubblegum period at that time (though soon to transition to Glam and Glitter). By the title, I probably would have thought this was a Kinks record. We had a creek running behind the house where I grew up, but we called it a “crick”—that’s how we pronounced it—I wonder to what extent that’s a regional thing? Not important. I did 46 seconds of internet research on the naming of this band, and read that they called it that because they were Elvis fans and they formed TEN YEARS AFTER some peak Elvis period. I’m not sure I buy that, but it did make me wonder if the band ’68 Comeback (referring to Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special) was somewhat in reference to the naming of Ten Years After? Also, not important. It also made me direly wish I had some ’68 Comeback vinyl to write about, and made me vow to put a little more effort and dollars into my record collection.

The band at this point consisted of the principal songwriter, lead guitarist, and singer Alvin Lee (not his birth name), drummer Ric Lee (not related), on bass Leo Lyons (not a Leo), and keyboards, Chick Churchill (a guy). Bunch of comedians. I guess Lee is one of those names that if you’re afflicted with the blues you kind of want to have, either as a first name, a last name, or most desirable of all, the middle of a three name name. Like, if I decided to grow my wig out again, go back to electric guitar and lite strings, and just give into that terminal blues rock black t-shirt purple drank wankiness (believe me, it would come too easily, though I’m not saying I’d be any good), I could change my name to R. Lee Speen. I continue to pile sandbags against that particular midlife crisis levee compromise though by closely examining the efforts of the guys who came ten years before me.

The thing about blues based hard rock is that there is a fine line between a blistering hot guitar part and noodle wet wankiness, and FOR NO TWO PEOPLE is that fine line the same. That fine line is as unique as a fingerprint. It could be used in forensics—well, it probably has been. The first two songs have the word “road” in the titles, and the third song is called “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain.” Then there’s one called “Year 3,000 Blues.” The last song starts with the word “As,” and there is indeed a song called “Circles.” Only eight songs, and two of them are over seven minutes long, which means there is a good chance they go on for too long. One of those fades out, finally, only to fade back in for some more—a joke which wore out its welcome the first time anyone conceptualized it. There’s a song that sounds like they needed to wear bowler hats and suspenders to play it, and a jaunty blues song that makes you feel like you’re at the Times Square TGI Friday’s. When there’s finally a song I think I might like, it reminds me of The fucking Black Keys, which is no fault of Ten Years After, I guess, but I guess you could say The fucking Black Keys are partially the fault of bands like Ten Years After. Maybe I’m being too harsh—at least they avoided doing a train song, and they didn’t let anyone get ahold of the dreaded harmonica. Also, it’s a cool album cover, which is why I bought it, sucker that I am.

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07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

19
Jan
19

Audiophile “Echoes of the Storm”

This 33 1/3 RPM long playing 12 inch record is a collection of high fidelity recordings of various oddities, pressed into beautiful, translucent, ruby-red vinyl grooves, as heavy as the records the kids are making these days, though this came out in 1956. I’m considering “Audiophile” to be both the artist and the label (from Saukville, Wisconsin!), and “Echoes of the Storm” the title, though that recording comprises Side A of this disc—Side B is titled: “Crazy Quilt” and consists of several tracks: Rotary Saw, Hammer Driving Nails, Water Dripping into Bucket,” “Drums,” and “Music Box.” The last two tracks are undeniably “music”—though I’ll wager they didn’t crack the Billboard charts—and I find the Rotary Saw track not unlike being subjected to the sound of a rotary saw. In fact, if ever I put this side on again, on purpose, it would be justifiable for friends to express concern. Side A, however, is another matter. I love thunderstorms, and this sounds exactly like a thunderstorm, and it’s framed by birds and frogs, and a train rolls through somewhere around the halfway point! There are some pretty good liner notes about serious techie audiophiliac issues, but also composed with a lot of dry humor. It also reveals that the storm was recorded in Milwaukee in June, 1952—and I find it kind of thrilling to know that. The cover looks pretty homemade and it is beautiful. It includes an 8 x 8 inch, what looks like a woodcut, rendering of a storm, with racing clouds, a bent tree, and some really frightening, hairy lightning—all in silver and blue on black. I found myself staring at it while listening to the storm track, and I have to say, I’ll take this over drugs any day. I got a real evening’s entertainment out of the dollar or so this record cost me.

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

16
Dec
18

The George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson “The Swingin’s Mutual!”

I heard that Nancy Wilson passed away a few days ago, and I recalled hearing her music now and then over the years, mostly on the radio. Then I remembered that—among my limited, rag-tag record collection—I have this 1961 album of her singing six songs with George Shearing. I have as many Shearing records as by any artist, because for one, you can find them, and not for a million dollars, and they’re all either pretty good or excellent. But also, I probably listened to more George Shearing than anyone as a kid because my parents had a lot of his records and seemed to play them more than anything else. That distinctive vibes along with the piano sound is probably more entrenched in my brain than fear. Nancy Wilson sings on half of these twelve songs; I would have liked it better if it was all of them, but it’s a fine album, regardless. “The Nearness of You” is a standout, and they’re all good. She must have been only in her early twenties when they recorded this, but she sounds very mature and has a lot of personality. She’s an Ohioan, and about the same age as my mother. I like to think she was maybe in Columbus when my dad was in college there. I know my dad saw George Shearing in Denver when he was in the service out there. The album cover is pretty odd, the two of them sitting back to back, both in in plastic Eames chairs, Nancy Wilson holding a Shearing album, glancing over her shoulder at George, and Shearing kind of propping himself up with her her “Something Wonderful” album (which was like her second, this being only her third). She went on to record 60 or 70 albums, no doubt covering all my favorite songs, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. The only sad thing is, unless I’m missing it, they didn’t collaborate on any more records—because, besides good music, for the album cover, they could have each held up this album cover, and started a kind of infinity mirror thing. Just an idea for one of the parallel universes.

07
Dec
18

Lowell George “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here”

I picked up this record recently, having never heard it, and curious. I have always been a kinda fan of Little Feat—I bought one of their records in high school, liked about half of it, but loved a couple of the songs a lot. I might have bought some more stuff by them, including a live record, not long before I lost all my records. I was kind of fascinated with the band, but most fascinated with Lowell George—it seemed like what I liked most about Little Feat was him, and then he died tragically young (at the age of 34, in 1979, the same year this record, his only solo album, came out).

This is an alarmingly short record—nine short songs—which makes you think, did he just not record a lot for the sessions for this record, or is he kind of a perfectionist about what goes on the record? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone does—all I have to go by is the music here. These are some nice songs—though I’m not getting a feeling of any kind of thematic line running through them at first listening—so I’m listening to this record a few times. I like it, so that’s no chore. This could be one of my regulars, at least in this place, at this time. My favorite, maybe, is “Two Trains” (one of his compositions), in spite of it being undeniably a dreaded “train song.” I also like, a lot, “20 Million Things,” and “Find a River,” and Alan Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do”—which is the first song on the record, and just fairly irresistible.

I only noticed later that there are liner notes on the inside sleeve—quite a lot of writing, actually, all in the no caps, no punctuation style that kind of says, hey, I’m a musician, not a writer, but I got something to say here. Okay, it’s not liner notes, but lots and lots of album credits—kind of a funny way to present them, though. Likely scrawled by LG with a pencil on the back of a paper bag and transcribed by someone. A lot of names there, and even though a lot of these people have lots of career credits, you have to wonder if this one might have been particularly special.

The cover is a painting by Neon Park, who did most of the Little Feat album covers, as well as a lot of others. A very clean looking Lowell George is in the foreground wearing a blue bathrobe (that looks just like mine), and behind him there’s a park or woods with a lot going on, some of it probably containing secret meanings—or not so secret—what looks like a picnic lunch containing some cheeseburgers and a City Lights copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. And then some lounging people who look a lot like Fidel Castro, Bob Dylan with devil horns, and Marlene Dietrich (but a black and white version of her from The Blue Angel (though possibly wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers). There’s a few b&w photos of LG on the back, one of which kind of portrays him as a rather moist drunk. But on the other side of the sleeve there’s a really nice photo of him fishing, after snagging some sea-weed. It’s a great photo—he’s really attractive, and it makes you think he probably had a good sense of humor—was likely a warm and genuine guy—one of those people you’d feel kind of elevated, just being in the same room with him. I always got that from his music, too, so I’m going to go on believing that.

30
Nov
18

Jefferson Airplane “Volunteers”

If you want to give some kid an introduction to 1969, this would be a good place to start. The album cover is modeled after an activist newspaper, and the foldout, insert lyric sheet is as well. There is that equal amount of humor, deadly seriousness, surrealism, practicality, insiderishness and outsiderishness in unequal but workable measures. The music, too, of course—that style of vocal harmony, everybody singing, and jamming, and pretty excessive lead guitar that is often impressive once you’re in the mood. If I have time later, I’m going to go back and read some of this stuff, but I’m nearing the end of my time here (as we all are). I am actually pretty unfamiliar with Jefferson Airplane—I know the names (if you came across them for the first time, you might think they were a law firm, or a deli), but not much about them. I probably have had more contact with the band through the movie Gimme Shelter (1970) than any other way. Oh, one really important thing is that this is one of the few records I know of that uses the inside album cover (it’s one of those that fold open) to good use: there is a giant (as big as the album cover, X2) photo of peanut butter and jelly on bread (it looks like crunchy PB and straw-or-raspberry jelly-or-jam, with a liberal amount of butter). So it’s an open-faced, PB&J—and then when you close the album cover back up, it makes a sandwich. Get it?




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