Monster Movie

Although the great Damo Suzuki had yet to lend his unique vocal stylings to the Krautrock pioneers, Can’s 1969 debut still sounded at least a decade ahead of its time. Not only did the album’s aggressive art punk provide fertile ground for such acts as Wire, Public Image Ltd. and The Fall, but echoes of the band’s sound are still heard to this day in the indie rock underground.

For the purposes of this blog, however, how awesome is it to see Galactus – albeit in a less than convincing  disguise – brandish the Ultimate Nullifier smack dab on Monster Movie’s cover? Combined with Doctor Strange’s cameo on Pink Floyd’s Saucerful Of Secrets and other counterculture signposts I’m sure have escaped my attention, it’s easy to buy into Stan Lee’s typically over-the-top claim that late-60s Marvel comics were truly “pop art” sensations.

That’s a pretty great feather in the company’s cap. Too bad such accomplishments were eventually obscured by Marvel’s transformation into little more than a farm system for Disney to harvest merchandise and film franchises, but I guess that’s as good an indication of what became of the ‘60s counterculture as anything else …

Two Steps From The Blues

Two Steps From The Blues
Bobby “Blue” Bland
Duke/MCA (1960)

Is there a universe where this isn’t a cool LP jacket?

Bobby “Blue” Bland’s Two Steps From The Blues is deservedly considered a milestone in modern blues. A seamless merger of juke-joint blues with Southern r&b and gospel, this remarkable collection of singles paved the way for such future chart-toppers as Robert Cray.

Although I doubt Cray ever looked quite so stylish posing in front of early ‘60s future-retro architecture!


The album cover to “Undercurrent,” a 1962 collection of piano/guitar duets by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. The photo of a woman floating in the water at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida, was taken by Toni Frissel and originally published in the December, 1947 edition of Harpers Bazaar.

Although jazz labels have a well-deserved reputation for innovative album designs, “Undercurrent” still manages to stands apart from the pack. The image, which eerily evokes Millias’ “Ophelia” as well as Shelly Winters’ memorable death scene from “Night Of The Hunter,” adds a disturbing dimension to the contemplative ballads performed by Hall and Evans.

Classic imagery befitting equally classic music.

Scott 3

Speaking of eyeballs …

The cover to Scott Walker’s classic Scott 3 LP, released in 1969 by Philips/Fontana.

The image of the brooding artiste as seen through the heavily mascaraed eye of a female admirer pretty much summed up Walker’s status as a pop idol and his increasing attempts to distance himself from that particular persona.

(It’s no accident that Walker’s face is dwarfed by the shot of the rather monstrous, unblinking eye…)

The music itself reinforces Walker’s disconnect, as the album is dominated by beautifully orchestrated, self-penned paeans to broken romance and social alienation like “It’s Raining Today,” “Winter Night” and “Two Ragged Soldiers.”

As if to hammer the point home, the album concludes with three songs by the 20th Century’s undisputed king of pain, Jacques Brel … including the viciously morbid “Funeral Tango.”

Walker released another fine album of orchestral pop, the logically titled Scott 4, before spending much of the ’70s in the musical wilderness. He eventually re-emerged in the 1980s with the more progressive Climate Of Hunter. Walker has subsequently released an album or so every decade that redefines the meaning of “avant garde.”

Fans interested in hearing where David Bowie, Nick Cave and other brooding crooners gained inspiration should definitely seek out Walker’s first four LPs.  The mysterious recluse first glimpsed on the cover of “Scott 3,” however, is best heard on 1995’s Tilt and 2006’s The Drift.

Beware. They ain’t easy listening …

The Crimson King

This is the first in a series of occasional posts on album covers that are near and dear to my ancient, analog heart.

Over the span of nearly five decades, my voluminous music collection has gradually migrated from dusty, black vinyl to tin-plated CDs to intangible digital files. Although it’s been years since I’ve purchased an old-school LP, the format and its attendant packaging always summons warm memories.

I was – and remain – enough of a music nerd to get a special kick out of studying album covers while listening to music. I’d stare at the wonders conjured by such designers as Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and many, many more), Roger Dean (Yes and many, many more), Cal Schenkel (Frank Zappa), Pedro Bell (Parliament-Funkadelic) and Neon Park (Little Feat).

Even photographic portraits – such as the famous head-shots of the Fab Four on With The Beatles and Diana Ross’ little-girl-lost pose on her solo debut – seemed to convey great meaning.

Combined with interior photographs, liner notes and, yes, the music itself, the classic LP package was a piece of pop art. While I enjoy the convenience of downloading and streaming music via the Internet, modern services like iTunes and Pandora can’t quite replicate the unique sensation of cracking open a vinyl LP for the very first time.

In tribute to that bygone era, here’s my favorite album cover of all time: the screaming gent who graces King Crimson’s classic 1969 debut, In The Court Of The Crimson King.

The image was painted by Barry Godber, a computer programmer who sadly died of a heart attack after the album was released. The famous cover was Godber’s only painting.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, the painting is currently in the possession of Robert Fripp himself.

All I knew is that when I first stumbled upon the album nearly 10 years after its release, the cover alone convinced me to give the “Crimson King” a try. The first song, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” pretty much delivered everything that Godber’s painting promised.

After that, there was no looking back.

25 X 20

Dylan Love & Theft

There’s a reason this blog isn’t titled “The TIMELY Bullet.”

As much as I intend to post on a more regular basis, it just seems harder and harder these days to find the time and energy to wax poetic on the relative merits of Yankee Girl vs. Miss Victory. Still, I’m not ready to hang up the keyboard for a second – and presumably final – time, so it seems like a fine to time to literally steal a page from Johnny Bacardi’s fine blog and invite myself to an enticing meme that challenges participants to list their favorite albums of the last 20 years.

“Favorite” is the key word here. As the tag on Mr. Bacardi’s post states, and I quote, “If Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane was your favorite album, that should be number 1, even if you feel Nevermind was a more influential album.”

Well, Maroon 5 didn’t make the cut on my particular list but I must confess that Nirvana fell short as well. While I greatly admire Kurt Cobain’s  discography as well as a great deal of Hip-Hop released in the past two decades, the albums I return to time and time again tend to revolve around less revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll and singer-songwriter conceits.

You can take a boy out of the ’70s, but you can’t take the ’70s out of the boy I guess.

The Dylan record, released on Sept. 11, 2001, is definitely my favorite album of the past 20 years; a dense swirl of Americana mixed with ruminations of mortality and a knock-knock joke.

The rest appear in no particular order. All, however, offered something of value in a pithy lyric, snarling guitar lick or hyped-up beat.

With no further ado …

  1. Bob Dylan –  Love And Theft
  2. The White StripesDe Stijl
  3. Gillian WelchTime (The Revelator)
  4. Drive-By TruckersSouthern Rock Opera
  5. Paul McCartneyRun Devil Run
  6. The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs
  7. Kylie MinogueImpossible Princess
  8. New York DollsOne Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This
  9. Dean & BrittaL’Avventura
  10. SpoonKill The Moonlight
  11. Matthew SweetGirlfriend
  12. DovesThe Last Broadcast
  13. Sinead O’ConnorGospel Oak
  14. Mother HipsThe Green Hills Of Earth
  15. Neko CaseFox Confessor Brings The Flood
  16. The Detroit CobrasLife, Love And Leaving
  17. BeckMutations
  18. Teenage FanclubSongs From Northern Britain
  19. Johnny CashAmerican IV: The Man Comes Around
  20. Nada SurfLet Go
  21. Britney SpearsBlackout
  22. SupergrassIn It For The Money
  23. Maria McKeeLife Is Sweet
  24. Belle & SebastianDear Catastrophe Waitress
  25. Jay BennettThe Magnificent Defeat

The Late, Great Johnny Ace

John & Yoko

Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s birth, and like many of my rapidly aging peers I was at least partially shaped by the words and sounds so eloquently espoused by the “Smart Beatle.”

Taking inspiration from the always inspirational Johnny Bacardi, I’ve decided to pay tribute to one of rock’s finest lyricists and vocalists by listing my 10 favorite solo tracks by Mr. Winston Ono O’Boogie Lennon.

Sorry there’s no songs from The Beatles. That would take all day to compile!

(Although I do love “I’m So Tired.”)

1. Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) (Non-Album Single) – An immortal catch-phrase bolstered by Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound and jackhammer percussion courtesy of Yes’ future drummer!

2. I Found Out (Plastic Ono Band) –  Brutal, stripped-down rock accompanied by brutal, stripped-down lyrics. Whether he knew it or not, Kurt Cobain owed his career to this track.

3. Jealous Guy (Imagine) – Devastating ballad.

4. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (Non-Album Single) – A less preachy – and in many ways more subversive – peace anthem than “Imagine.”

5. Woman Is The Nigger Of The World (Some Time In New York City) – An outrageous statement that makes a world of sense once you give it a bit of thought. Catchy, too.

6. Tight A$ (Mind Games) – A great Dylanesque throw-away.

7. Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out) (Walls And Bridges) – Written as a potential hit for Frank Sinatra, the desolate lyrics and Lennon’s weary voice spell out the emotional toll of the singer’s infamous “Lost Weekend.”

8. Stand By Me  (Rock ‘N’ Roll) – John seeks solace through classic rock ‘n’ roll. The accompanying album – put together amidst great personal and professional turmoil – was his last word for five years.

9. Beautiful Boy (Double Fantasy) – Given the tragic events following the album’s release, this touching  lullaby is utterly heartbreaking.

10. Walking On Thin Ice (Non-Album Single) – Sure, “Walking” is a Yoko song that technically shouldn’t count. However, the track was clearly a labor of love for John and his searing guitar solo conclusively proved that – as the man himself brashly stated years before – he could make the six-string instrument “howl and move.”

Thanks for all the great music John, and happy birthday to Sean Lennon as well!

Acid Bubblegum

Graham Parker

In the late 1970s, England blessed the world with an acerbic singer-songwriter who possessed an extraordinary command of American roots music and a raw voice that barely contained his fury toward an uncaring universe.

No … I’m not talking about Elvis Costello. The singer-songwriter in question is Graham Parker, a pugilistic soul man who laced Van Morrison-esque r&b with garage punk realism.

A year before Costello proclaimed his aim to be true, Parker – aided and abetted by his trusty pub-rock cohorts, The Rumour –  railed against man and God in the classic “Don’t Ask Me Questions.” His classic debut, Howlin’ Wind, married the best aspects of rock and soul to the nascent class consciousness and up-against-the-wall anger that soon emerged full flower with the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, et al.

Although the follow-up LP, Heat Treatment, was equally strong, sales didn’t necessarily match the critical acclaim and Parker soon became mired in record industry problems that wasn’t helped by a transitional third album, Stick To Me, that disappointed fans and pundits alike.

(His stature in England also took a hit after punk swept the nation; Parker’s traditionalist music was viewed suspiciously by Johnny Rotten acolytes.)

Following a contractually obligated live album and a poison-pen letter to his record company, the scabrous “Mercury Poisoning,” Parker moved to Arista and teamed with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche for Squeezing Out Sparks, one of the finest records of the so-called New Wave era.

Abandoning r&b for stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, Parker’s anger fueled such classics as “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” and “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” which addressed the hot-button topic of abortion.

The album proved popular enough in America to indicate a commercial breakthrough, but it was not to be. Continued squabbles with record companies along with the dissolution of The Rumour consigned Parker to obscurity while his fellow “Angry Young Men,” Costello and Joe Jackson, captured headlines and secured solid cult followings.

Still, unlike Costello and Jackson, Parker never fell prey to pretentiousness or show-biz convention. He continues to release quality music, mostly thorough independent labels, but receives little attention these days.

Perhaps that’s what the singer-songwriter prefers. Unlike Jackson and Costello, he never seemed suited for soundtrack albums or the talk-show circuit.

Hopefully, though, some enterprising listeners will one day rediscover his early classics, recorded back when it seemed possible for a quick-witted, sharp-tongued rock ‘n’ soul singer to conquer the world.