Friday, July 31, 2009

Album Cover Gallery: Andy Warhol

It's appropriate that the king of Pop Art designed a number of album covers. Here are some examples:

Warhol drawings grace a few early Blue Note titles. This Burrell album was released in 1958. Warhol was doing graphic design for advertisements at the time, similar in style to the Blue Note drawings.
One of his most famous album covers, this Japanese reissue has a peelable banana just like the original.

The Sticky Fingers cover has the notorious bulge of a man rocket in the crotch. Of interest to record collectors, original pressings have a working zipper.

This second cover for the Stones is probably most representative of Warhol's famous portrait style. He did similar covers for Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross (without the biting).

Warhol didn't actually design this Smiths cover. It's a still of Joe Dellasandro from the Warhol flick Flesh.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Notable Reissues: The Velvet Underground

This may be of interest to the lone follower of this blog if he hasn't spent all his money on the Beatles boxed sets by the time this is released (September 29).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Pop Music Quiz (7-29-09)

A shitload of great albums crossed my path in the past two weeks that I couldn't resist, so let's have some fun with a fill-in-the-blank musical IQ quiz. Get your pencils ready. (Answers are provided at the bottom.)

1. Left Lane Cruiser, Bring Yo' Ass to the Table (Alive Records, limited edition orange vinyl, new, $8). People, buy this album so the band makes enough money to record their next album in a decent studio with a decent recording engineer. God knows, Freddie "Joe" Evans and Bren "______" Beck deserve a better recording that approaches the power of their live shows.

2. Arab Strap, Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador, new, $8). The band takes its name after an album title by fellow Scottish band ________ but their mood is more dark and dour.

3. Pavement, Brighten Your Corners (Nicene Edition) (Matador, 4-LP reissue, new, $66). Even though they're my favorite band from ________, California, I hesitated buying this reissue, because I already have the CD and the vinyl version is so expensive. The vinyl edition has eight more bonus tracks than the CD and it looks so damn deluxe. Plus, it was the one Pavement album I didn't have on vinyl. It's right up there with Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in quality and it's got the perfect driving song for rocky, "Passat Dream".

4. Stephen Malkmus and Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador, new, $12). What the fuck is a Jick? Is it short for _______ hick?

5. Big Star, Radio City (Ardent, reissue, new, $12). This album is full of great tunes with catchy pop hooks.  As catchy as the songs are, there's something off-kilter about them. If you can imagine intelligent but not quite human aliens came to record a great pop album, this would be it. Anyway it takes balls to name the band Big Star and title their first album _________.

6. Sparks, In Outer Space (Atlantic, $2). If Kraftwerk grew up in Southern California instead of Germany, they may have turned out to be Sparks. Songs like "Prayin' for a Party", "I Wish I Looked a Little Better" and "Dance Godammit" and guest vocals by ________ of the Go-Go's make this a fun synth pop album.

7. Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love (Reprise/Classic reissue, mono pressing on 200-gm vinyl, new $25). This mono reissue is a relative bargain, I suppose, considering mint original mono pressings of this album sell for hundreds of dollars. Or it's possible that rocky is just plain ________.

8. Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced (Reprise, original stereo pressing, tri-color pink green and gold label, $10).  If Jimi is asking if I'm experienced picking up multiple copies of his albums, I would have to answer yes. Well, we know he's not talking about drugs, since the last line of the title song is "Not necessarily _____, but beautiful".

9. Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $20). I've been buying the high resolution mastered reissues of the Stones catalog on Super Audio CDs since they're now out of print. But an even higher resolution format than the Super Audio CD is __________.

10. Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $26). Mick and Keith must've taken the leash off _________ on this psychedelic pop masterpiece. 

11. Rolling Stones, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $20). This is the Stones' supposedly best live album, highlighted by a 9 minute version of ___________.

12. Rolling Stones, Aftermath (UK version) (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, $14). This is the first Stones album without any ______  and the last to have different track listings on the US and UK versions.

13. Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, 2-LP, $39).  I've wondered if I had owned this record in high school, would I have grown up to become a _______.

14. Love Is All, Play 5 Covers (Self-released, new $9). The songs I recognize are Prince's "Darling Nikki", Dire Straits' "So Far Away", and __________' "I Ran".

15. Bill Withers, +'Justments (Sussex, $2). On the album cover, Withers is holding a piece of chalk instead of the _________ he held on the cover of his first album, which he probably threw down a gully after he hit it big.

16. Fleetwood Mac, Kiln House (Reprise, $4). The Mac's first album after losing founding member _______ to an insane asylum is a curious one. It plays like a feud between Buddy Guy and Buddy Holly.

17. Morrissey, "Irish Heart, English Blood" (Attack, 12-inch single, UK pressing, $6). This is a single from his album __________. The sound quality is posh on this 12-inch single.

18. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again (Atco, yellow label, $6). Even though Neil Young and Stephen Stills were in the band, more songs on this album were written by Richie Furay. Yeah, that's right, the same Richie Furay who later formed the band _____. It's like Lennon and McCartney letting Ringo do most of the songwriting for an album.

Answers: 1. Sausage Paw; 2. Belle and Sebastian (easy one!); 3. Stockton; 4. Jewish; 5. #1 Record; 6. Jane Wiedlin; 7. loco en la cabeza (or any variant); 8. stoned; 9. vinyl record; 10. Brian Jones; 11. Midnight Rambler; 12. covers (i.e., all original songs); 13. male prostitute; 14. Flock of Seagulls; 15. lunch pail; 16. Peter Green; 17. You Are the Quarry; 18. Poco

So how did you do? Rate yourself based on the number you got correct on the following scale:

18: You're a fucking cheater.
12-17: You will fall down a well. At the bottom of the well, you will find your soul mate.
6-11: You're average. Whether you find this tolerable says a lot about your character.
0-5: Maybe you should start giving a shit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swedish Pop Music Break

Happiness is. . . .
                                      . . . . an I'm From Barcelona concert.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Dollar Bin Pick-Ups (7-23-09)

Continuing the 80s theme from the last couple of posts, I picked up these albums during my lunch hour last Friday at the Valley Care Thrift Shop, all for a dollar each:

Aztec Camera, Love (Sire). Doesn't have the pop hooks that their first two albums had. Some would call it boring; I consider it more sophisticated.
David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, The Motion Picture (RCA, 2-LP). Not to be confused with the studio album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This double LP released in 1983 is actually a live recording from the 70s, with the great Mick Ronson on lead guitar.
R.E.M., Dead Letter Office (I.R.S.). A collection of b-sides, including a couple VU covers. Any early R.E.M. album is worth buying for a dollar.
U2, October (Island)
U2, War (Island)
U2, The Unforgettable Fire (Island).  I bought their first album Boy when it first came out, really wanted to like it, but never warmed up to it. Except for the songs I heard on the radio and played by my sister at home who was a fan, I generally avoided U2. I didn't think they could write songs. All their songs sounded like marches. I found Bono's voice grating. I thought this until Achtung Baby came out, which is a nearly great album. Still didn't get into the band, although I've liked some of their recent songs. Figure it's time for a reassessment of their earlier work. 
The Style Council, "Walls Come Tumbling Down" (Polydor, UK pressing, 12-inch 45rpm EP). Bought this on the off-chance that rocky starts a new career as a DJ. I'm starting to think of DJ names for myself already--Rocky DeeLite or DJ Rocky "This Ain't No Mid-Life Crisis" Dennis.

Notable Reissues: Galaxie 500

Galaxie 500, they rock slow. They can even rock you to sleep. I felt their narcoleptic effect when I tried to listen to all three of their studio albums straight through. I made it through Today and On Fire, but then had to spin Jimi's Are You Experienced to snap me awake. Now why would anyone want to listen to three Galaxie 500 albums in a row? Well, I was really excited, like a kid graduating from Harvard, when I picked up these reissues. They've been released on Damon & Naomi's record label 20-20-20. All three albums have been remastered by Kramer, the original producer of the albums (and the founder of Shimmy-Disc Records and not the Seinfeld character). The vinyl LPs are mastered by Kevin Gray, a top-notch mastering engineer, and pressed at RTI, the best pressing plant in the country. The record jackets are beautifully reproduced on heavy card stock. All in all, a very considerate job of reissuing these classic, hard-to-find LPs (unlike the blatant customer-be-damned cash-grabs of the vinyl reissue programs of some major record labels). Interestingly the reissues are available only on vinyl or as a high-resolution digital download, which seems to be another sign of the demise of CDs. One can order the albums at the official Galaxie 500 online store Fiery Breeze or pick up the LPs at your local record store. The prices are reasonable, although you don't get any extras like a book covered in faux fur.

The sound quality of these albums is decidedly low-fi. The recording budget for Today was reportedly $750. Comparing "Tugboat" from the Today album with the track on my Portable Galaxie 500 CD reveals the digital version as slightly flatter, by which I mean there's less sense of atmosphere and three-dimensionality and the cymbals don't seem to shimmer as much ("decay" as audiophiles call it), but it's not a night-and-day difference. I haven't compared my vinyl copy of This Is Our Music on Rough Trade with the new reissue yet. Regardless, these reissued LPs should make Galaxie 500 fans happy, because these albums are meant to be listened to on vinyl. And if you're not a Galaxie 500 fan, what's wrong with you?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Record Collecting Manifesto: Connoisseurship

Yeah it’s a big word for good taste. It was the subject of a recent NPR piece on a collector of photographs. He dwelled on the idea of having an “eye” for photographs. What was implied was that some have a better “eye” than others. This is anathema to the current postmodern, subjectivist view that dominates our culture, where every point-of-view is considered legitimate, only different but qualitatively equal. (This undiscriminating attitude certainly pervades journalism in which the concept of truth is abandoned for presenting different points of view equally as if each article, especially political ones, is written like a re-tread of Rashomon instead of the fact-finding documentary it ought to be.) “Connoisseur” is kind of a joke-word now, outside of the wine-sniffing crowd, if it’s used at all. It’s been replaced by the more derisive word “snob”. The word “snob” subverts the notion of qualitative aesthetic differences, which is the concern of a connoisseur, relegating all claims to superiority as unfounded. That’s why “snob” is always a put-down. Record collectors are often accused of being “music snobs”, for example, when someone argues that vinyl sounds better than digital, eyes start to roll and thought bubbles form which contain the term "snob” and perhaps "loser". In a culture that devalues quality for convenience, newness and disposability, it may be looked down upon, but record collecting can be a form of connoisseurship. Just don't ask me about my ABBA records.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Let's see if I hit the Lotto jackpot maybe I'd buy this:

I hope Kim Deal will make some money off this. Last I heard, she had moved back to Dayton to care for her Alzheimer's stricken mother.

The same company that produced this box set, Artist In Residence, issued a limited edition box set of all of Sigur Ros's LPs on vinyl, housed in a beautiful package with a full-color book. That was only $200. Reports are the vinyl pressings are horrible. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Song from God Help The Girl

Released as the b-side of the "Funny Little Frog" single.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: The Blues (7-19-09)

Radio Moscow, Brain Cycles (Alive Records, limited edition purple vinyl, new, $14). Bought at the Deep Blues Festival after seeing the band live. The vinyl is among the loveliest I've seen, a marbly lilac. The music is black and blue. The guitarist really knows how to--what's the term--shred.

Kenny Burrell, Blue Moods (Prestige, silver and black label, stereo, 2nd pressing, $10). Burrell backed by the rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins, and a young Elvin Jones. The real surprise here is the baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, who I had never heard of before. He swings and plays with feeling on this thoroughly enjoyable set.

The Smiths, "Girlfriend in a Coma" b/w "Work Is a Four-Letter Word" & "I Keep My Hidden" (Rough Trade, 12-inch single, UK pressing, $10). The Smiths at their morbidly funniest--Morrissey singing about his girlfriend in a coma over the cheery, chiming guitar of Johnny Marr. The sound quality is leagues better than the version on the 2-LP singles compilation released in the US, Louder Than Bombs, which is mastered way too bright.

Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls (Epic, DMM pressing, $2). There's lovely harmony singing, including guest vocals by Michael Stipe and Luka Bloom, thoughtful lyrics, and fine guitar playing, but I can't listen to the Indigo Girls for long stretches. It's like spending time with overly earnest people. You might admire them, find them interesting to a point, but then you want to walk away and talk to someone like Morrissey or Louis Prima.

Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana, Illuminations (CBS, UK pressing, $10). "Alice and Carlos, meet the Indigo Girls. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go press my trousers."

When In Rome, When In Rome (Virgin, $1). 80s synth pop at its finest. Not sure if their inclusion on the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack was supposed to be ironic. Rocky though is on the level.

God Help The Girl, "Come Monday Night" b/w "Howard Jones Is My Mozart" (Rough Trade, 7-inch single, UK pressing, new, $6). The b-side provides the answer for those of you wondering if there are any modern day Mozarts. Wouldn't it be cool if they used "Come Monday Night" as the theme for Monday Night Football and John Madden was replaced in the booth by Anthony Lane? That would be worth watching.

Nat 'King' Cole, Penthouse Serenade (Capitol, turquoise label, $5). Rocky's vinyl economics lesson #2: The original price sticker from The Emporium is still on the back cover. It originally cost $3.98. Capitol stopped using the turquoise label in 1958-59, when it went to a black label with a rainbow colorband around the rim. So let's say the album cost $3.98 in 1959. That would be $29.50 in today's dollars. Records have never been cheaper than they are now. The music on this album is sophisticated, obviously for folks who could afford buying it back in the day.

Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica (Straight/Reprise, 2nd pressing, 2-LP, $13). The cover and the music creep me out. Maybe I'm not taking enough drugs.

The Velvet Underground, Live at Max's Kansas City (Cotillion, blue label, $5).

Donovan, Mellow Yellow (Epic, yellow label, mono pressing, $5.50). I've been looking for a mono pressing of this album for a while. Most copies are re-processed stereo, which everyone knows is bad for you.

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, Together Again (Improvisation, $5). If this album is half as good as its predecessor, I'll be a happy man.

Bill Evans with Jeremy Steig, What's New? (Verve, $8). Jeremy Steig is a jazz flutist. Whenever I think jazz flute now, I picture the scene of Will Ferrell playing jazz flute in Anchorman. Unfortunate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rocky's Best Albums of 2009, First Half

Love Is All, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night (What's Your Rupture? Records). Here's a surprise, a Swedish pop album on top of the list. What was that motto in the 80s? "Fuck art, let's dance". The spirit lives on in Love Is All. Yeah, life is boring and incomprehensible, so might as way wail on my sax, play my cheap keyboard and get my punk-ska groove on. I really wanted to have an album like The Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca on this list, what with the bona fides of a Yale music major channeling David Byrne. But fuck that shit, man. Here are two songs from the AHTKMUAN:

Dinosaur, Jr., Farm (Jagjaguwar Records, 2-LP, includes free mp3 download of album). Like most Dino Jr albums, beautiful riffs rise from the din, just more so on this album. Also wins the prize for the worst album cover of the year. I can't imagine anyone thinking it's a good cover, even when stoned.

God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Matador Records). Precious x 10.

[Ed.-The Love Is All album is disqualified from this list because it was released in late 2008. However, the video of the Unabomber's hand-puppet show with Osama bin Laden laughing and dancing in the background is too brilliant to take down.]