Ten Days Ten Album Covers

On Facebook I was recently tagged on a meme called Ten Days, Ten Album Covers. You only needed to list the albums with no explanation. But, I just could not do that and had to write an explanation. About halfway through, I realized I had a post for my blog.

Remember, it about the covers, I focused on the photography and art design, and not necessarily the music. Two albums on the list I never listened to, then some of the others (Beatles, Springsteen, Dylan, Lennon and The Rolling Stones) are favorites.

Starting with number ten and working my to number one.

Number 10

Psyical Grafitti

The album’s art designer for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti was a man named Peter Corriston. He wanted to use a New York City tenement for the cover, but needed one that had no distractions like lamp posts or street signs. The layout would also have to fit the square design of an album cover. He found what he needed at St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The resulting cover actually consists of two buildings, 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place. While they were close in appearance they were  not as identical as your see in the final photograph. The original photos were shot by Eliott Erwitt, B.P. Fallen and Roy Harper (no mention is made of which photographer shot the various photos in the album). There was a lot of pre-photoshop doctoring to make the two buildings look as a close as possible. Below is what the two buildings look like at the time.

Number 9

Exile

The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. Photographer Robert Frank’s photograph of a collage of photographs, supposedly taken at New York tattoo parlor, was used for the cover. Frank was born in Switzerland. After coming to America, he became part of the Beat Generation. Like the other members on the Beats, Frank with his photography was searching for the forgotten Americans, those exiled to the edge of nowhere. Mick Jagger, familiar with the photographer’s work, contacted Frank. The Stones were working on Exile on Main Street, an album that featured a lot of raw outlaw style blues. They wanted the same outsider feel for the album cover. Originally, Frank was going to use photos he took of the Stones on the seedier streets of L.A. But after art director John Van Hamersveld saw the tattoo parlor photo, he knew he had his front cover. Many of Frank’s other photos of the Stones were used on the back cover and inside.
Number 8

Janis-Joplin-Pearl-photographer Barry Feinstein

Janis Joplin’s Pearl was released posthumously. It contained some of her finest work including the classic Me and Bobby McGee. The photograph was by Barry Feinstein. It’s beautifully lit with the light falling perfectly on Joplin’s face. The Victoria style chair, her clothes and the drink in hand (most likely Southern Comfort) add to the atmosphere.

Number 7

Robert Mapplethrope

Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, was photographed by her close friend/lover/artistic cohort photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The photograph, taken in an apartment in Greenwich Village, is from the mid-1970’s. During the session, Mapplethorpe took about a dozen photos of Smith with a jacket slung over her shoulder and skinny tie flung around her neck before he caught the perfect image. It’s a delicate depiction of the singer off-setting the punk rock image she embraced at the time. Mapplethorpe died in 1989 from complications from aids. Patti Smith would write about their life, per Mapplethorpe’s request, in the excellent memoir Just Kids winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010.
Number 6
Henry Ditz
The Doors Morrison Hotel – The album cover was by photographer Henry Diltz (art direction Gary Burden).  Two years ago my wife and I attended a presentation titled Behind the Lens. The guests were Henry Diltz and Patti Boyd, aka Patti Harrison. Diltz part of the talk was the more interesting, as were his photographs. Boyd’s photos, she admitted were snapshots she took over the years of ex-husband George and other celebrities. Diltz though is a professional photographer who has many album covers to his credit. His stories were fascinating. The Morrison Hotel was an actual hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles. Ray Manzarek and his wife were riding around looking for potential locations to shoot the album cover. He recommended the third rate Morrison Hotel. The day of the shoot, the desk clerk told Diltz and company they could not come inside and shoot. The group set up outside and began to take a series of photographs hoping for that one special shot. Then came a moment when the desk clerk left for a break and the grungy lobby was empty. Diltz got the group to run inside and pose in front of the window. He shot about a roll of film and then they all got out before the desk clerk returned. They got their cover shot.
Number 5

Daniel Kramer1Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home is one of rock’s true classics. The cover photo was by Daniel Kramer. The photo shoot was done at the home of Albert Grossman, then Dylan’s manager. The lady in red, seductively lounging in the background, is Grossman’s wife, Sally. Note Dylan’s previous album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) behind her. When asked why this photo was selected, Kramer responded, it was the only one where the cat sitting on Dylan’s lap was looking at the camera.

Number 4

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The cover photo of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album goes back to the Beatles Hamburg days when they played in the city’s red light district. The photograph is by Jürgen Vollmer, an old friend of the group from those wild early days playing in clubs like the Kaiserkeller. Vollmer captures Lennon’s early rebel without a cause persona. He’s framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg, wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other, a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.

Number 3

220px-Born_to_Run_(Front_Cover) Eric Meola Photographer

The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, has become one of the most iconic shots in the history of rock. It was Springsteen’s third album and his big breakout, selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.  The photograph was taken by Eric Meola who during a three hour photo shoot shot more than 900 photos. Meola, a self-taught photographer opened up his own studio in 1971. Four years later he was photographing Springsteen leaning on the big man, Clarence Clemons, for the cover of Born to Run. The cover photo has been often imitated, from Cheap Trick to the Muppets, but never duplicated.

Number 2

Joni-Mitchell-Hejira-album-covers-billboard-1000x1000

In the 1976 Joni Mitchell released Hejira, a fusion of folk and jazz; the album cover, like the music, was a mix. Three photographs: Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, a superimposed image of the artist staring directly at you, and a second superimposed image of a long empty highway layered over the artist’s coat. The final blended image suggests the creative never ending journey Mitchell has been traveling. It’s self reflective, seductive and elusive.

Number 1

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Like the music inside, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover was revolutionary. The art designer was Peter Blake. Each of the four Beatles were asked to compile a list of people they admired and would want on the cover. The concept was that the group performed a concert and all these people were in the audience. Using cardboard cutouts of their selections, all would all be featured in a group photo. Permission needed to be obtained from the chosen before using their likeness. Some folks, like Leo Gorcey, demanded too much money and were axed. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan made the cover. Just as surprisingly Elvis Presley, a significant influence on the group, did not.  Michael Cooper was the photographer of the final image. While this photograph would be his most famous, Cooper worked with many other musicians of the day, notably with the Rolling Stones. In 1973, Michael Cooper’s life spiraled out of control. Addicted to drugs and with bouts of depression, at the age of 31 he committed suicide.

From Real to Reel: Still Photographers at the Movies Astrid Kirchherr

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Astrid Kirchherr

This is the 5th installment in this series.

Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr knew each other since their days at art school in Hamburg. It was there they met Jürgen Vollmer, a photographer. Voormann and Kirchherr were lovers, though their relationship was heading toward an end. After an argument one evening, Klaus wandered into the Kaiserkeller a club in a nasty section of Hamburg called the Reeperbahn filled with drunken sailors, prostitutes, gangsters and other sorts. The artsy/beatnik crowd that Voormann, Kirchherr, and Vollmer were part of were more into jazz and coffeehouses that the raucous rock and roll or the Reeperbahn. They wore their hair long, for the times, and leaned toward wearing black clothes. Voormann’s crowd were part of a group known as exis, short for existentialists who read Camus and Sartre.

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Klaus Voormann – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Depending on what biography you read, on stage at the time were Rory Storm and the Hurricanes whose drummer was Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, or a leather-clad group called the Beatles (the two groups’ alternated sets). Most bios lean toward the Beatles. Either way, the music was loud and raw.

Klaus found the music exciting and the band wild. He could not wait to go and tell Astrid and Vollmer what he experienced.  Astrid Kirchherr was already working as an assistant to photographer Reinhard Wolf and was on the cusp of having a great career of her own. Born in 1938 in Hamburg, Germany to a middle-class family. Astrid’s father was an executive officer in the German branch of the Ford Motor Company. When World War II broke, Astrid and her family evacuated to the Baltic Sea. After the war, they returned to a bombed out Hamburg, but still managed to live comfortably. [1]  She attended Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Graphik und Werbung in Hamburg to study fashion design. During this period, she also displayed a talent for photography and was convinced by the school’s top photographic instructor Reinhard Wolf to switch courses. After graduating, Wolf hired Kirchherr as an assistant where she still worked when Klaus brought her to the club where she would meet the Beatles.

At first, Astrid did not want to go to the seedy red-light district. Sometime between Klaus’ first visit and the time he got Astrid to join him (timing again differs depending on the biographer), Klaus, who spoke decent English, and was a wannabe guitarist and a graphic designer, just completed a commission to do the cover of the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run album. [2] He approached John one night showing him the album. John brushed him off, telling him he should talk to Stu, he was the arty one.

Astrid-Kirchherr Stu

Stu Sutcliffe – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Eventually, after tireless insistence on Klaus’ part, Astrid, along Vollmer, went to the club. The three were blown away by the wild, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Little Richard songs played by the group. Astrid was as captivated as Klaus by the group, and by John in particular, but it was the sunglass-wearing diminutive Stu, the bass player who stood quietly near Lennon on stage that really attracted the young woman and the others in the arty group. Astrid, Klaus, and Vollmer kept coming back to the club, enthralled by the music. At first, Astrid hid her attraction to Stu by using her professional photographer status as a front. She asked to photograph them. The Beatles were flattered, to say the least, that a professional photographer, a beautiful professional photographer, wanted to take their pictures.

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Astrid Kirchherr and Stu Sutcliffe – Photograph by Astrid Kirchherr

Using a Rolleicord medium format camera and black and white film, Astrid brought the boys to a local amusement park called the Dom. The park had only a few people roaming around that day due to inclement weather. Astrid did not speak much English at the time, so she and the group communicated mostly through various gestures and her positioning the boys the way she wanted them to pose. In those first photos, the Beatles still had their hair combed back in the standard 1950’s-60’s Teddy Boy style of the day. Stu would be the first to change his hair with the help of Astrid. She did not invent the Beatles hairstyle as so often is incorrectly reported. At the time it was a familiar style among their arty/exis crowd including Klaus. The others, except for Pete Best, eventually would follow.

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The Beatles in Hamburg – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Astrid’s photos captured the rawness, the innocence, the attitude, the tough guy exterior, behind their insecurities, as well as the beauty of the group. The  for these boys, rock and roll was all there was in life. The boys loved the photographs and posed for Astrid on various occasions. The images from this period, along with photos taken by Jürgen Vollmer[3] have become part of the Beatles legend, in their own way historical documents capturing a moment in time.

 

 

Lennon and Sutcliffe (left) George Harrison (right)- photos by Astrid Kirchherr 

In 1964, while on assignment with photojournalist Max Scheler, for Stern magazine and using a 35mm film, Astrid photographed the Beatles once again during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. She would also do the album cover for George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music. A couple of years later Astrid gave up her photographic career. She did stay friends with all the Beatles over the years though she lost touch with John Lennon after he moved to the United States. For many years, Astrid sadly saw no income from her Beatles photos though they were used over and over in many publications and bootleg albums.  It was in the 1980’s when she managed to get her original negatives back and her copyright.

John Lennon Foto-Ausstellung

Astrid Kirchherr on Film

Astrid Kirchherr made it to the movie screen in the 1994 film Backbeat which as you would expect is the story of the Beatles during their early days, before fame, playing in the sleazy sections of Hamburg. Kirchherr is played nicely by Sheryl Lee who bears an uncanny resemblance to the photographer. Astrid was a consultant on the film and was interviewed by screenwriter/director Iain Softley as part of his research.

I wrote an article about Backbeat on my film blog, Twenty Four Frames. Instead of repeating much of the information, please jump over to read by clicking right here.

 

Footnotes:

[1] An Interview with Astrid Kirchherr  

[2] Klaus Voormann would later design the covers for both  Revolver and The White Album. He also would play on many of the Beatles solo album including John Lennon’s Imagine, Plastic Ono Band, Sometime in New York City, Walls, and Bridges, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World, Extra Texture and Ringo Starr’s Ringo, Sentimental Journey and Goodnight Vienna. He also was in Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band for the Toronto concert and played at the Concert for Bangladesh.

[3] The cover of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock and Roll album features a photograph by Jürgen Vollmer taken during one of the Beatles later trips to Germany. Vollmer nicely captures Lennon’s early rebel image. Wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other; a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan, framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.

 

 

Remembering Lennon

   john%20lennonPhoto by Bob Gruen

  On December 8, 1980 I was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when a news bulletin interrupted the program; John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, where he lived, as he and Yoko were returning home after a late night recording session.

    I was in shock!

   I grabbed my small transistor radio and turned it on. The dial was already set on WNEW-FM, then one of the premiere progressive rock stations in New York. It was true. Lennon was shot and soon pronounced dead. The station was jumping from one report to another. It was a combination of  shock, disbelief and horror. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

  Over the next days, weeks and months tributes poured in, memories were talked about, dedications were made all trying to keep the dream alive. There were also the hucksters who sold phony memorial pins, posters and tribute magazines. A slew of quick paperback writers pasted together “biographies” that fans gobbled up.

    In the end though, and what remains with us today, thirty-six years later, is the music and its message.

  Sometimes art is at it best when it seems so simple, yet it carries a message that gets more powerful and important with each passing day. Imagine is such a song.

 

Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sorta Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him. Sorta…

 

 

 

John Lennon and Bob Gruen

Bob Gruen is one of rock & roll’s finest photographers. Over the years, he has photographed many of the greats including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, The New York Dolls and most famously John Lennon. Gruen met Lennon in 1971. They became both friends and business associates with Bob becoming  the former Beatles personal chronicler of his New York years. Many of Lennon’s most iconic images from this period including the rooftop photos with John wearing a New York City t-shirt and his holding up a peace sign while standing in front of the Statue of Liberty  were taken by Bob Gruen.

In 2005, Gruen published an excellent book, John Lennon: The New York Years, collecting the best of his Lennon photographs. I highly recommend any Lennon admirer adding it to their bookshelf.

Below are a few photos from the 1974 rooftop session. The first photo is the now iconic New York City t-shirt shot. The second photo is an interesting behind the scene polaroid of Gruen photographing Lennon during that now famous session. Finally, one of Gruen’s contact sheets from the shoot.

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If you are a photographer like me or a Lennon admirer, there is a very good documentary on Bob Gruen that covers his entire career. It called Rock and Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen. Unfortunately, it’s not on DVD, however, it does show up on cable occasionally.

As John Lennon once said, “You shoulda been there.”