When I think of living rooms in the 1970s certain things always come to mind: brown shag carpet, G-Plan furniture, spider plants, an Alphonse Mucha poster on the wall, and on a shelf a copy of Motown Chartbusters Vol. Six with the bluebottle-spaceship cover painted by Roger Dean.
As a kid I thought that spaceship was fantastic — though I had no idea what it had to do with Motown — and was a big fan of Dean’s work along with other SF/Fantasy artists like Chris Foss and Patrick Woodroffe whose art adorned the covers of the SF novels I was reading. Before I started spending all my money on records I spent it on collections of their work like Dean’s book Views. My number one artistic wish at the time was to draw Marvel comics, but second would have been to paint like those guys.
Dean is best known for his Prog Rock album covers, particularly those for Yes so he might seem a strange choice of artist for Motown to commission, but the album came out in 1971 early in his career before he was too closely associated with Prog. He had already painted a couple of album covers for Afrobeat group Osibisa so he did have some previous with black music.
Looking at this and the Motown album I’m thinking George Clinton should have got Dean to do some Parliament/Funkadelic sleeves.
Though there was never a set style for the Chartbusters series, most volumes usually had art that was either abstract or generic and a bug-spaceship may not seem like the sort of imagery you’d associate with a soul record. Hiring Dean could have been another of Motown’s attempts to appear more tuned-in and hip to the long-haired generation. In the 60s they’d added psychedelic flourishes to records and released more socially-aware material, and Vol. Six came out the same year as What’s Going On? so this may have been a way of selling some more of that counterculture vibe.
Whatever their reasons they got a sleeve that is highly memorable and distinctive because it’s so unexpected, and I wish they’d given Dean the whole series to do. I also love how the back cover imagines a Motortown Review in the futuristic date of 2008 happening on a spaceship. Unfortunately we know the reality wasn’t quite so far-out.
Download: Nathan Jones – The Supremes (mp3)
Download: Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor (mp3)
The new London-based label PC Music (it stands for Personal Computer) puts out primitive, glitchy synthpop that often sounds like it’s been thrown together by kids who’ve eaten too much candyfloss (though they did also put out this great House tune).
The star of their roster is Hannah Diamond who has released two singles so far which a lot of people (most, even) might think are kitschy and sugary bubblegum, but I think have a real off-kilter pop charm. If the thought of a helium-drunk Clare Grogan singing with a bunch of Japanese teenagers playing Casios sounds like your bag you might enjoy these.
Not sure which of the two I like best but “Attachment” seems like a perfectly 21st century love song for the smartphone generation. “Now I’ve saved you as a picture on my phone” is about as modern a declaration of love as you can get.
Hello, it’s me. Todd Rundgren from the planet Xenon.
Saturday was Record Store Day — Record Shop Day if you’re a Brit — and I had become very cynical about the whole event, thinking it had gone from being a well-meaning attempt to promote record buying in actual bricks-and-mortar shops, to a crazy gold rush for overpriced RSD “exclusives” by desperate anoraks with more money than sense and speculators who would put them on eBay for even more inflated prices (sometimes before the actual day).
Judging by some comments on Twitter that morning I wasn’t the only one who felt this way
I’ve only once been to a record shop on RSD and that wasn’t intentional. I popped into my local record emporium one Saturday without realizing what day it was and found the place mobbed. Getting more people into record shops is a noble pursuit but all I thought was “Where the hell are you people every other day of the year?”
So I was smugly disdaining the whole event and had no intention going anywhere near a record shop that day. But then someone tweeted this picture which took the snark right out of my sails
See how happy she looks? Remember that feeling? Seeing this young lady with her special One Direction RSD release reminded me of how chuffed I would be when I got a new Jam single in a picture sleeve, and made me realize that this is what the day should be about. Forget about old farts shelling out a week’s rent on ancient artifacts like Springsteen rarities, REM live sets, and Nirvana 45s; Record Store Day should get younger kids into shops by offering more releases by new pop acts — One Direction, Miley, Kanye West, Rhianna — in cool picture sleeves, coloured vinyl, and all those gimmicks that got us to spend our pocket money in our youth.
RSD turns record shops into museums with expensive gift shops and I’ve no interest in vinyl being a rare and pricey commodity for the 40+ set. But if RSD can get youngsters like that girl to discover the magic of buying a physical record in a shop (even better: on the day of release) in some cool format instead of a cold mp3 download on her phone, then maybe there will be a future for this record shop culture we love.
I still wouldn’t be caught dead in a record shop on that day though.
Download: EMI (Unlimited Edition) – Sex Pistols (mp3)
UPDATE: The 10 Most Expensive Record Store Day ’14 Flips On Ebay
Don’t think I need to say that I prefer Bryan’s version of this song to Bob Dylan’s. Not only didn’t he have both Phil Manzanera and Chris Spedding playing on his, I bet Dylan never wore leather trousers while singing it either.
This ad is a classic example of turning rebellion into money, in this case using women’s lib to sell booze. These ads are never aimed at people who already are adventurous, rebellious rule-breakers, but instead they’re for people who want to be like that. The message is always the same: Drink this, eat that, wear this, listen to that band, and you will be a cool person. One of the good things about getting older is not caring too much about that anymore, which is why advertisers don’t care about my demographic either.
The “until I discovered Smirnoff” campaign was so famous it inspired jokes like “I thought Cunnilingus was an Irish airline until I discovered Smirnoff” but was stopped in 1975 when the British government passed a law against alcohol advertising that claimed drinking the product would lead to sexual or social success. This is a witty ad but it does unfortunately equate women’s liberation with being sexually available, especially once you’ve got a few vodkas inside you.
Smirnoff certainly wasn’t the first company to co-op youth or social movements for the purposes of capitalism but I wonder who was. Probably someone in the 1920s using the Bright Young Things to sell headache powders.
Let’s get funky.
Download: Liberation Conversation – Marlena Shaw (mp3)
This gorgeous track originally came out in 1999 so it’s far from new, but The Clientele are reissuing their early singles collection Suburban Light on vinyl next month so I thought I’d give it and them a plug as they’re nowhere near as well known and loved as they should be, especially in their native England.
Like a lot of Clientele records, “Reflections After Jane” is like this blog in musical form: wistful, hazily nostalgic for half-remembered days, long shadows, fading sunlight, London after the rain, cafes with fogged-up windows. All that good stuff.
The version of A Forest they play at the start of this clip is from before they recorded the song and it was called At Night. I preferred The Cure when they made spiky pop like this and think it’s a shame that when they went into the studio to make the record Robert Smith said to the band “Nah, too fast. Make it more dreary.”
It wasn’t just kids who got lectures from the government about the correct behaviour. In the post-war years they liked to nag at grown ups too via posters that gave advice and instruction on the correct personal habits that were required if we were going to work together to build the New Jerusalem of happy, healthy people.
Many of these have been collected in the new book Keep Britain Tidy And Other Posters from the Nanny State which is full of State-sponsored finger-wagging about personal hygiene, diet, fitness, smoking, litter, drinking and driving, and even when to take your holidays.
A lot of the posters are about health and hygiene as this was an era when most people only had one bath a week (I think we had two as kids), smoked like chimneys, cooked with lard, caught diseases like Tuberculosis, and a lot of homes still had outside toilets. There is even a poster in the book telling people to change their underwear more often. Life was grim back then kids, everything was covered in soot, even the people.
Though the tone of the posters is mostly benevolent they do occasionally take on a more sinister Big Brother vibe like the giant finger below, and that Watch Out! There’s a Thief About poster from the late 60s seems like the beginning of the paranoia about crime that I mentioned in the previous post, and the government taking a more sensationalist, scare-mongering approach which was seen in those scary public information films aimed at kids.
Nowadays this might all seem very Orwellian, but the British have a love/hate attitude towards this sort of authoritarian maternalism. We gave the much-loved BBC the cozy nickname “Auntie” because of its we-know-best elitism, and Maggie Thatcher built her career on lecturing voters about how we’d been naughty and immoral. But in the past I don’t think we ever took the government and civil servants seriously enough to feel threatened by them, they were just old duffers telling us to brush our teeth more often.
Download: Danger Signs – Penetration (mp3)
They really did try their best to scare the shit out of us kids in the 1970s. If we weren’t being warned about getting locked in old fridges, drowned in dirty canals, crushed by farm machinery, blinded by fireworks, or catching Rabies, we were being told not to talk to strangers.
That last one seemed to be the most deathly important of all — for reasons we didn’t quite understand as kids – and clearly no expense was spared in the making of “Never Go With Strangers” a 1971 film that was shown in schools. It’s an epic of the scary safety film genre complete with animation, special effects, and a huge cast of creepy-looking men.
Though it is a well-meaning attempt to talk to young children about a difficult subject, some of the script is almost surreally funny (even in context) with lines like “People like this might be a bit odd in the head”, “That’s a lovely cape you’re wearing” and “There’s not even a baby donkey in the field” — personally I’d have run a mile if some strange man had complimented my cape and offered to show me a baby donkey.
With all these apparent dangers you’d think we lived in a state of perpetual terror locked in our bedrooms, but like most parents my mother let us go out on our own unsupervised and out of contact with her from quite a young age (no cell phones then either of course). I don’t know when or why that changed but you couldn’t make “Never Go With Strangers” in the same way now because those kids wouldn’t be out on their own. One very sad statistic in this article is that in 1971 80% of 9-year-olds in the UK walked to school alone, by 1990 that number had dropped to only 9% and now it’s even lower, despite there being no rise in the number of child abductions — though you wouldn’t know that from the pitchfork-waving hysteria about paedos, predators, and kiddie-fiddlers in the British tabloid press these days. Even the smiling old man who winked at you in the street when you were a kid would be suspect now.
Despite my mother’s apparently laissez faire attitude to our safety she still had her moments of terror. I can vividly remember an instance of her “losing” me for a few minutes in a crowd of shoppers on Kensington High Street one Saturday afternoon, and the panicky, tearfully relieved tone in her voice when she found me made it clear how awful those few minutes must have been for her (a feeling I know myself now with my own kids.) Then she spanked me and said “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” — that’s 70s parenting for you.
Download: Fear Of The World – ABC (mp3)