31 March 2011

1999

Some of my favorite club flyers from the dearly departed, but just as dearly loved Cafe Bleu. One of L.A.'s best nights out for fans of Britpop, '60s soul and Mod pop from 1996-2000, Cafe Bleu was one of a trio of clubs (including Shout! and Bang!) that produced some fantastic '60s-inspired flyers that I used to look forward to almost as much as going to the clubs themselves...

30 March 2011

HAMMER DOWN

I can't bring myself to get all that excited about the upcoming Thor film, but I do love this rather splendid print Marvel Pictures commissioned from Olly Moss:

As always, you can find out more about the magnificent Mr. Moss at ollymoss.com.

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Joanna Newsom

29 March 2011

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD

It's Tops Coffee Shop, 1935

28 March 2011

UNCLE FLOYD

This is from David Bowie's recently leaked Toy album. Recorded in 2001, the album was a mix of re-recorded versions of lesser known songs from Bowie's back catalogue alongside some new material. So you get new takes on Mod-era gems like "In the Heat of the Morning," "I Dig Everything" and "The London Boys" rubbing up against tracks that would later show up on Heathen, most notably the haunting "Uncle Floyd," which I find far superior to the official version, which was renamed "Slip Away"...

WINDOW

This is from the window display at Kayo Books, not far from my place in San Francisco. I love looking in the window here almost as much as digging through the shop's gigantic selection of old paperbacks and pulps. The arrangement changes often and there's always some kind of theme to the books on display. I like the inclusion of Inside the John Birch Society in this one...

ON IMPULSE

I was at Groove Merchant in the Lower Haight yesterday, deciding whether or not to buy copies of Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus and Coltrane, when I thought: "Blue Note gets a lot of credit for having some of the most impeccably designed sleeves in jazz, but man, nearly everything Impulse did looked just as fantastic..."

Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth is one of my all-time favorite album covers, so the aesthetic quality of Impulse Records had most definitely crossed my mind before. In addition to picking up that copy of Coltrane (the Mingus album had an irritating pop all through the second side, so no-go there), though, I've been reading The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records, giving me cause to think about those amazing records with their distinctive orange and black spines have been a bit more than usual.

Most of Impulse's sleeves, at least between the label's inception in 1960 until the latter part of that decade, were the work of a designer named Robert Flynn. Strangely enough, though, there's nothing about him or his contribution to Impulse's look in The House That Trane Built. ABC-Paramount graphic designer Fran Attaway gets a nod for her early influence on the then-fledgling label's bright sleeves, but none of the many photographers commissioned to shoot the striking photos that adorned Impulse's covers or the man who actually designed them are mentioned. It's an odd omission, especially considering how important the look of Impulse's records were to their overall appeal. (Odder still: Many of the CD re-issues of various Impulse albums list the photographers involved as the sleeves' designers...)

Going back to the Blue Note comparison, I think the most instantly noticeable difference is how vital a role color played at Impulse. I actually had to go back and look at some Blue Note albums to remind myself they actually weren't all black and white photos with color type, just because there's so much vibrant color on the Impulse sleeves. And there are certainly some striking Reid Miles Blue Notes sleeves built around close-ups (Blue Spirits by Freddie Hubbard comes instantly to mind), but there seems to be a greater emphasis on head shots and close-ups on the Impulse albums covers that's interesting to note, as well. Again, maybe it's just down to the bold use of color...

With all that said then, here are 15 of my favorite Impulse sleeves, presented in chronological order. I started out trying to pick just 10, but even with as many as I did include, I'm leaving out some truly great looking records!


Ray Charles - Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961)


Gil Evans - Out of the Cool (1961)


Oliver Nelson - The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961)


John Coltrane - Coltrane (1962)


Charles Mingues - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)


McCoy Tyner - Live at Newport (1963)


Freda Payne - After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More!!! (1963)


McCoy Tyner - Today and Tomorrow (1964)


Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1964)


Gábor Szabó - Gypsy '66 (196)


Chico Hamilton - The Dealer (1966)


John Coltrane - Ascension (1966)


Elvin Jones & Richard Davis - Heavy Sounds (1968)


Pharoah Sanders - Jewels of Thought (1969)


Pharoah Sanders - Karma (1969)

27 March 2011

MEMORY COLLECTOR

A few months back, I bought around 100 soul singles my friend Paul had brought back with him from England. Most of the records were fairly common as '60s soul 45s go, plus they didn't have their original sleeves, many of their centers had been popped out for use in a jukebox, or stickers had been applied to the labels. The actual records were in wonderful shape, though, so while they weren't particularly collectible for one reason or another, they were perfect for all-around listening. What made them particularly appealing, though, was that their previous owner was an original Mod from the '60s: a woman who had connections to the UK music biz in her youth, showing some of the biggest names in '60s soul around London when they were there on tour.

I would have bought them regardless of who their original owner was, but looking through such a huge stack of '60s soul records (many of which were on Randy Cozens' fabled Mod Top 100 list) and learning about their history just made them more desirable. Most (if not all) of the songs on these singles are available digitally, but you can't download memories. It's one of the reasons I never have a problem with buying records that have someone's name written on the sleeves. At one point, these things were part of someone's life, important enough that they felt compelled to mark or label them, to say, "This is mine." So many details of each individual record is steeped in someone else's memories, and that's one of the things I love about collecting and listening to vinyl. It's almost like the passing of a torch, and to come across a collection of records like the one these soul singles came from makes that feeling even stronger...

HOT YOU'RE COOL

Hotsy Totsy Club, Albany (1940)

26 March 2011

OOH LA LA

25 March 2011

23 March 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Elizabeth Taylor

21 March 2011

I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT

Kingman's Ivy Room, Albany, 1940s

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Following up on the X-Men family tree I posted a few weeks back, here's one for Marvel's Avengers, again courtesy of graphic designer Joe Stone. Cool stuff...

17 March 2011

16 March 2011

IT'S LIKE THAT

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Joan Jett

15 March 2011

STUCK ON THE PUZZLE

I'm not sure what I was expecting from a solo outing by Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner, but it certainly wasn't something as understated or as lovely as the recently released soundtrack for the British film, Submarine...

13 March 2011

NOWHERE MAN

Back in the days when people still bought and cared about things like pop music, Nick Heyward had a short run of hits with the ludicrously named Haircut 100, most notably the perennial favorite, "Love Plus One." Not long after the international success of debut LP Pelican West, though, Heyward decided being in a band wasn't for him and set out on his own. A few more hits and a fairly well-received solo album followed, and then... obscurity. This was no doubt due to the rather dreadful nature of his second and third solo albums, Postcards From Home and I Love You Avenue, and that he carried on after twin failures, let alone recorded the most outstanding albums of his career, is actually somewhat remarkable.

Carry on he did, though, and over the course of the '90s, he released three further albums: From Monday to Sunday, Tangled and The Apple Bed. Seemingly timed to coincide with the Britpop explosion of the mid-'90s, they're all steeped in Beatlesque guitars and harmonies, with Tangled in particular sounding like the near-perfect fusion of Lennon & McCartney's pop hooks with the punk thrash of Nirvana. Critics loved it, the world at large wasn't much bothered.

13 years on, it's looking like 1998's The Apple Bed is the last anyone will hear out of Mr. Heyward, but the best of his work has aged surprisingly well. Here then, are my top 10 favorite Nick Heyward tracks...

1. "Kite," (From Monday to Sunday, 1993)
2. "Whistle Down the Wind," (North of a Miracle, 1983)
3. "I Love the Things You Know I Don't Know," (Tangled, 1995)
4. "London," (Tangled, 1995)
5. "Going Somewhere," (single b-side, "Stars in Her Eyes," 1998)
6. "She's Another Girl," (Tangled, 1995)
7. "The Man You Used to Be," (The Apple Bed, 1998)
8. "My Heavy Head," (The Apple Bed, 1998)
9. "In Every Place," (The Apple Bed, 1998)
10. "These Words," (From Monday to Sunday, 1993)

IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY

11 March 2011

RUIN MY DAY

10 March 2011

NOSTALGIA

This is something I wrote a while ago, almost 11 years ago, actually, when I was managing the comics-related content for a soon-to-fail dot com. It's mainly about discovering comic books in the dusty old days of the 1970s, but reading it now, I'm struck by how different my experience growing up must be from a young kid finding his way in the world today. There are so many great things about technology, but I don't think digitizing our entire culture is one of them. Looking back, I made so many random discoveries, met so many people, made so many friendships, simply by being out in the world. I'm not sure how much of that can be re-created online. Maybe I'm just coming down with a bad case of old, but I think a story like this one is a bit more interesting than, "I found (blank) on the Internet."

Anyway, this was the first installment of what was intended to be a regular column called "You Don't Know What You're Missing." I think I completed a two or three of of them before the company I was working for closed its doors. After that, I started my own comics Website, SpinnerRack.com, with a couple friends I'd met at that poor doomed dot com, and I continued the column there, writing eight or nine of them in all...

The Sound of the Spinner Rack

I can still hear it, some twenty-five years on: that nagging screech, that slow, mournful whine that inevitably accompanied even the most careful turning of a metal comic book spinner rack. It was a sound I became used to as a seven year-old taking his first tentative steps into the world of comic books, and it was something I hated at first. I used to try to turn the rack just so, or if there was just enough space, I'd shimmy around the whole blamed thing while I looked...anything to avoid that ungodly sound.

After a while, though, I realized that not all spinner racks were created equally. Some squealed more than others, some not at all. And I discovered that the racks that emitted the most piercing shrieks were frequently the ones with the best comics, the most comics...the ones packed with all manner of four-color treasures, sometimes two or three consecutive issues of a single title! And that totally changed the way I perceived that sound forever more...

This was the mid-70s, of course, 1975 to be exact. My dad was in the Air Force, and we were being transferred to McChord Air Force Base, out near Tacoma, Washington, when I first stumbled upon comics. Now, I'd seen comics before – mostly DC stuff or Gold Key reprints of things like Turok, Son of Stone that my grandparents regularly tried to pacify me with – but they never made much of an impact on me. I watched reruns of the old Adam West Batman show on TV, and I liked the Spider-Man cartoon that was on at the time, but I never saw comic books, and there was never any kind of indication on the shows themselves that they were anything other than TV shows.

My parents must have been paying attention to their parents' attempts to mollify me, though, because my Mom and Dad never bought comic books for me. I think they realized, and quite rightly so, that buying comics was pretty much like taking fifty or twenty-five cents (because comics were only a quarter back then, don'tcha know!) and safely disposing of it in the trash. Because that's where pretty much all of the comics my grandparents bought me wound up.

On this particular occasion, though, my folks must have been desperate to shut me up. I can't remember exactly what had happened to set me off, but we had just pulled into Tacoma, and I was not in a good mood. Maybe it was a fight with my sister, maybe I was just pulling that whole "Are we there yet? Can I have something? When are we going to eat? I'm bored! Are we there yet?" bit for the umpteenth time. Whatever it was, my Dad couldn't wait until we actually got on base to settle down for the night. So he pulled over at a 7-11, grabbed a couple of Cokes for me and sis (hey, it was the '70s, we drank Coca Cola like it was water!), some candy bars and – what's this? A copy of The Incredible Hulk.

I could have claimed that I was starving for all I know or dying of thirst, but all of the sudden, that didn't seem to matter anymore. Something about this Hulk comic, which my Dad described as one of the comics he used to read, made an immediate impression on me. I set the Coke and the candy aside, and as we set off on the last leg of our journey, I flipped through the pages of this amazing comic book over and over again. I'd never seen anything even remotely like it. And what's more, the Hulk wasn't the only comic published by – as the cover banner proclaimed – Marvel Comics. There was an interior ad for merchandise from the 1975 Marvel Comic Con, key among it a poster featuring a couple dozen other Marvel characters. I recognized Spider-Man, but...who were all these strange-looking characters? To my young mind, this was nothing short of a written invitation to another world.

As it turned out, though, it was a world my parents weren't in anywhere near as much of a hurry to explore as I was. I basically had The Incredible Hulk #192 and that Marvel Comic Con ad to feed my imagination for a solid two months. Why? Who knows, but it wasn't until we'd settled into an apartment in Tacoma and I'd started school that I got another comic. I came home from my first day of school and there it was: Captain America # 193. "Madbomb: It Can Destroy the World!" claimed the cover copy, along with "King Kirby is back—and greater than ever!" I was intrigued. And not just by the story. As with the Hulk comic, this one had another ad that fired my curiosity, an ad for a paperback book called Son of Origins of Marvel Comics.

The cover of the book featured another group of heroes, some of whom I recognized from that Comic Con ad, some new, and it promised stories about the Silver Surfer, Iron Man and the X-Men. My head was spinning with possibilities, and "Can we go to 7-11 and get some comics?" immediately became my mantra.

My pleading was in vain, though, because my parents were notorious penny-pinchers at that time. Luckily, though, one of the first friends I made, while not an avid comics reader, had a small stack of comics that he was willing to share with me. One of them was Marvel's Greatest Comics #57, featuring the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer! I'd seen The Thing in various ads in the two comics I had, and I was completely fascinated with this bizarre man made entirely of orange rocks, so that was the first of my friends' comics that I took home.

After that, practically all I could think about for days was the Fantastic Four. Despite the fact that the story in Marvel's Greatest Comics #57 was actually older than I was (it was a reprint of FF #75, the FF immediately became my favorite Marvel heroes. And this time, I knew that I had to get my hands on some more comics of my own.

And, finally, one day, it happened. My Dad was going to the laundromat. He said I could come along and – if I promised to behave – he'd let me pick out a couple comic books at the 7-11 next door. Now, I would have promised to find a solution to the energy crisis that was plaguing the nation back then in return for a comic or two, so simply sitting in the laundromat and keeping quiet was definitely not a problem. It never even occurred to me that I would actually get to pick out my comics while we were waiting for the clothes to wash and dry!

But that's what happened. My Dad put the clothes in to wash and next thing I knew, we were next door at the 7-11. He said I could get two comics and some candy. I approached the spinner rack, my heart pounding with anticipation. I'd never seen so many comics in my life. I reached out and gently nudged the rack.

SKRREEEEUUNKKK!

I stepped back, my face a little flushed from embarrassment. I was a shy kid, and the last thing I wanted to do was attract unwanted attention by making inordinate amounts of noise. I looked around the store and, sure enough, the guy at the counter was looking at me, craning his neck to see what I was doing. My Dad just laughed and mussed my hair; he told me the rack just needed to be oiled and that I should hurry up and pick out a couple comics. I turned back to the rack and saw a comic featuring The Thing and Spider-Man. That seemed a little weird, I thought, and I gave the rack another spin.

SKRREEEEUUNKKK!

My embarrassment was lessened this time by what I thought was one hell of a find: Fantastic Four #172! The Thing fighting some big metal guy on an asteroid? I couldn't have asked for anything more! It wasn't called Marvel's Greatest Comics, which momentarily caused me a bit of concern – was this the same Fantastic Four? – but ultimately, all that mattered was that it was another FF comic I hadn't read.


I flipped through the comics like an addict, looking for more comics with the FF in them. No such luck. The closest thing I'd seen was that damned Marvel Two-In-One with The Thing and Spider-Man.

SKRREEEEUUNKKK!

I grabbed the copy of Marvel Two-In-One #17 and told my Dad I was ready. He handed them to the guy at the counter and made some comment about how expensive comics were. They both noted that it was amazing that comics cost a quarter, because they'd both grown up on the twelve-cent books. As they spoke, I returned my attention to the comics rack. I couldn't believe everything that was on the rack.

I saw Superman, Batman, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Archie...and there were lots of characters I didn't even recognize. Taking it all in, I decided 7-11 was just about the greatest place on Earth.

That was an opinion that stuck in my mind for quite a few years after that, prompting me to spring to life in the back seat of my Dad's red Beetle like some kind of demented Jack-in-the-box every time we so much as passed a 7-11. My parents were still penny pinchers, but I eventually wound up getting comics on a fairly regular basis. The Fantastic Four. Marvel's Greatest Comics. The Avengers. Marvel Tales. I had the bug, and my folks knew it. Hardly a week went by that I didn't make at least one trip to some 7-11 or another and before too very long, the nagging squeal of the spinner rack that had annoyed me so much first time out, seemed like the best sound in the world...