Saturday, June 17, 2017

Rock Covers – 1950s
Works on Paper

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Introduction
Music and art appear intrinsically linked. Go to an opera performance and what do you experience: a storyline enacted within musical frame; wearable art on display; art fabrication in terms of sets within scenes.

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly @ the Sydney Opera House.

So what was I doing whilst my parents were listening to opera? I was under my doona with a transistor radio to my ear, listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Donnovan, Jerry and the Pacemakers, Pink Floyd, Them, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Alice Copper, Badfinger, Chicago, and Dylan – just to name a few! Clearly I had an eclectic taste back in the 1960s (that didn’t extend to opera)!

Self-Titled Album Cover. “Them” were a Northern Irish band formed in Belfast in April 1964, most prominently known for the garage rock standard "Gloria" and launching singer Van Morrison's musical career. The original five-member band consisted of Van Morrison, Alan Henderson, Ronnie Millings, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon.

So what made these bands so appealing? First and foremost it was their music and then of cause their sex appeal. There was little in the way of imagery since video clips were far too expensive and they did not really take off until the 1980s, although the origins of music videos date back to musical short films that first appeared in the 1920s. The rock video really came into prominence in the 1980s when MTV based their format around that particular medium.

This vinyl L.P. (long playing) record sits proudly in my record collection. My favourite song - Try A Little Tenderness - of course! Don't come to my place when I'm playing it. I use to be a go-go dancer in the '70s. Got the picture!

Also living in Melbourne (Australia) it was difficult to see overseas bands perform live on stage in the 1960s/70s and so television played a role in bringing still photographs of international rock bands to its audience whilst playing their music (The Hit Parade was Australia's top rating Teen show).

The Beatles outside The Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne in the 1964 tour of Down Under. Ringo was ill but returned to the band for their Melbourne performances.

For a number of reasons albums appeared as a more adult appreciation of rock music. Sure singles (one song on each side of the vinyl) were a lot cheaper and even EPs (extended plays) contained anywhere between 3 and 5 songs that usually gave 30 minutes of music. However, it was the LPs (long plays) that expanded the aural and visual experience to the listener. Albums were at least 5 inches bigger and approximately four times more expensive. They also enabled thematic musical experiences as well. You could go through the visual photographs of the groups whilst listening to their music.

Album Cover of Beatle’s Sargent Peppers.

The 1950s covers needed to be wholesome in appearance since Church groups who had a lot of influence in those days, saw body movements by rock singers as being sexually provocative and even seducing girls to engage in sex before marriage. In the 1950s being an unmarried pregnant teen would cast you and your family in terrible light and so backyard abortions or giving a child to a Christian adoption agency was prevalent.

Rock ‘n Roll is Devil’s Music.

By the 1960s the “pill” had arrived and with it sex and pregnancy were no longer inextricably linked and together with the concomitant rise of feminism, women were demanding sexual control over their own body and so not only did music flourish in the new-found age of liberation, but album covers follow suit and so became more sexually explicit.

Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” (1965).

In the digital age, digital disruption is always present. There is that much imagery now available on the internet - from musical clips to interviews of bands to still images etc – the visibility of bands is now determined by a much larger myriad of factors (with luck still being one of them). The album and album cover is now a thing of the past since you can pre-arrange so many songs from so many bands on your digital device that you can program yourself a musical-mood trip. Imagine if you wanted to feel “serene” in the good old days, playing one song from ten different albums in a particular sequence. Such a chore would cause a serious mental meltdown. Nowadays you can exercise your body to an array of pounding music from an array of different bands without leaving your treadmill! Clearly life has changed for this women who at onetime in her lifetime listened to - “If I Needed Some One” (LP: Rubber Soul) - on her transistor radio under a doona!

Beatle’s “Rubber Soul” album cover.


The Rock and Roll Story [1]
The 1950s was a time when the baby boomers (i.e. born during or immediately after the war) were reaching their teens. The swing bands of the 1940s were down-sized into smaller combinations since the spotlight descended on solo singers and vocal groups rather than on orchestras.

Swing It Again - album cover.

The exact emergence of rock and roll is of course unclear. In the US Jonny Otis, Joe Turner, Ray Brown and Fats Domino all started recording before 1951. This gave rise to a number of independent US record labels like Atlantic, Chess, Vee Jay and Specialty that basically got kick-started by recording non-mainstream artists, namely, the early rockers. By the middle of the 1950s, rock and roll swept the US as Bill Haley’s "Rock Around the Clock" became the biggest rock hit to date. It became the rock and roll anthem.

Bill Haley and the Comets - Rock Around the Clock (Album Cover).

Rock and roll was often accused of alluring whites to black man’s music, which demonstrates the paranoia in the US at that time. However, soon it was white singers that started to dominate that genre. For example, Elvis started recording for Sun in 1954, but it was not until he switched to RCA in 1956 that he became famous. In 1956, Elvis had five number one hits on the US charts and featured in a film – Love Me Tender. He appeared on national TV eleven times and so swiftly reach legend status.

Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender.

Rock and roll became mainstream and so was seen regularly on TV such as on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”. By the end of the 1950s rock and roll started to wan as the new teens of the 1960s wanted to embrace a new phenomenon alien to what their elder sisters and brothers danced to.

Single - (What a) Wonderful World - by Sam Cooke. It was released on the 14th of April 1960 by Keen Records.


Rock Covers – 1950s
Below are just a sampler of 1950s album covers (works on paper).

Album: Johny Ray.
Artist: John Ray.
Record Label: Warner Columbia (1951).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: Jamboree.
Various Artists.
Record Label: Warner Brothers (1955).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: Elvis.
Artist: Elvis Presley.
Record Label: RCA Victor (1956).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: Rockin'.
Artist: Frankie Laine.
Record Label: Columbia (1957).
Photograph: John Engstead.

Album: This is Fats.
Artist: Fats Domino.
Record Label: Imperial (1957).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: Here's Little Richard.
Artist: Little Richard.
Record Label: Specialty Records (1957).
Designer: Thad Roark.
Photograph: Globe

Album: Dance Album of Carl Perkins.
Artists: Carl Perkins.
Record Label: Sun (1957).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: We are the Chantels.
Artists: Chantels.
Record Label: End (1958).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: Please, Please, Please.
Artist: James Brown and His Famous Flames.
Record Label: King (1958).
Design: Record Design Studio.

Album: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Record Label: Sun (1958).
Designer: Unkown.

Album: Frankie Avalon.
Artist: Frankie Avalon.
Record Label: Chancellor (1958).
Photograph: Bob Chiraldin/Arsene Studios, New York.

Album: The Flying Platters Around The World.
Artists: The Platters.
Record Label: Mercury (1959).
Photographer: Herman Leonard.

Album: Hold That Tiger!.
Artist: Fabian.
Record Label: Chancellor (1959).
Photograph: Marvin Wellen/Topix.

Album: Shout!
Artist: The Isley Brothers.
Record Label: RCA Victa (1959).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: He's So Fine.
Artist: Jackie Wilson.
Record Label: Brunswick (1959).
Designer: Unknown.

Album: The Great Ray Charles.
Artist: Ray Charles.
Record Label: Atlantic (1959).
Design: Marvin Israel.
Photographer: Lee Friedlander.


Reference:
[1] M. Ochs, Classic Rock Covers, Taschen (2001) New York.