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23 Album Covers that Changed Everything!

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There are several reasons I loved working on the Saints and Sinners Issue. It's the only magazine I've ever seen with Madonna and Gandhi elbowing for cover space, it's the first issue we ever got the fantastic authors John Green and Michael Stusser to write for, and it had this piece by Chris Smith. It's just 23 quick notes on 23 important album covers, but it's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

wearing their art on_their sleeves:
23 album covers that changed everything by Chris Smith

Long before MTV, performers expressed the visual dimension of their art through their album covers. Every music fan has his/her favorites, but several covers stand out for their brilliance, their impact and their ability to make as much of a statement as the music they represent. Every art form has its giants, and album cover art is no exception. The work of the designers featured here spans over 40 years of music.
THE SIXTIES: Before the 1960s, most albums featured portraits of musicians, instruments or musicians playing instruments. But the 1960's spirit of exploration and experimentation found its way into music and, consequently, onto album covers.

1967 The Beatles, Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles' album covers act as a kind of scrapbook for their mythmaking career: a serious With the Beatles, a hippie-esque Rubber Soul, a stripped down The White Album, and a funeral procession on Abbey Road. Each is a testament to the band's creativity and insight into their culture. Yet no single album cover defines its era and its artists more than 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As with any good cult artifact, stories built around the album: Was Paul McCartney dead? (No.) Are the figures cardboard cutouts? (Yes.) Are those pot plants? (No.) The album was also legendarily difficult to execute—securing the faces of the band's heroes and influences, from Alistair Crowley to guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—was a logistical nightmare. Finding photographs of everyone, blowing them up to specifications and tinting them with color all turned out to be well worth the effort, however. The album became the single most recognizable (and, according to many, the greatest) album cover of all time.

1965 Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights

herbf.jpgThis concept album pushed the 1960s envelope all the way to the fridge. Every song on the album is named for some kind of food, something the cover model seems to be enjoying in a more than metaphorical way. This was Herb Albert's most successful album, but whether the songs or cover sold the album has yet to be determined.

1969 Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa

2031738.jpgIt's an iconic example of psychedelic art by one of the giants of the genre, graphic artist and California surfer, Rick Griffin. The band met Griffin backstage after a concert and fell in love with his style. In fact, they were so sure of his talent that they gave him total artistic freedom for the cover. Griffin also designed the first masthead for Rolling Stone.

1967 The Doors, Strange Days

51VV3VKNQML._AA240_.jpgWith this album, The Doors touched on the decade's surrealism with a Fellini-esque circus, but still escaped the psychedelia that typified its generation. The cover's zoo of characters were a mix of professionals, amateurs and friends. The juggler is the photographer's assistant. The trumpet player in the background was a cab driver who agreed to pose for $5 right before the image was shot.

1969 Blind Faith, Blind Faith

410FJRY7ARL._AA240_1.jpgBy the end of the decade, idealism had given way to cynicism, yet this album offered a strange vision of hope. A maiden in the nude, holding a silver spaceship matted onto a pastoral setting, forms a metaphorical union of innocence and achievement, life and knowledge, uncharacteristic of the decade that spawned it.

THE SEVENTIES: The stylistic fragmentation of the 1960s continued in the 1970s. Bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin claimed music—and their respective album covers—were definitely a trip.

>>Lots more after the jump!

1971 The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

41D56JD6YEL._AA240_.jpgRock n' roll is sometimes used as a euphemism for sex, so it's no wonder that the crotch has been the centerpiece of countless album covers. Yet, The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers is the most famous and innovative example.

Sticky Fingers stands out as the best album cover of the decade. The cover features an Andy Warhol photograph of a well-endowed young man (contrary to legend, it was not Mick Jagger). A working zipper on the man's pants could be opened to reveal another shot of the model, this time in his skivvies. The zipper left its mark on the album cover genre. Unfortunately, it also left its mark on the record itself (right in the middle of "Sister Morphine").

1973 Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

e90917w9hct.jpgThe classic simplicity of the prism on Dark Side is partly derived from a textbook illustration designed to show how light passes through a prism to form a spectrum. In a science book, however, a prism spectrum has seven colors. The album cover only has six; they got rid of indigo simply because it looked too much like purple.

1977 Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols

g40130e1tkg.jpgNothing sums up the punk ethos better than this album. Like the record itself, the cover resembles a ransom note (actually designed with cut-up newspaper bits), boldly proclaiming the Pistols had stolen the music industry's thunder ... and didn't plan on giving it back. The album was first refused in record shops because of the word "bollocks," and the issue was later taken up in court.

1979 Supertramp, Breakfast in America

f32520v6fj8.jpgThis album reflects the English band's move to the United States and the cynicism that went along with it. A view of the Manhattan skyline, uncannily recreated with salt shakers, creamers, coffee mugs, egg cartons, napkin dispensers and silverware, stands behind a friendly waitress named Libby who offers you a tall glass of OJ—all through your airplane window. Good morning, indeed.

1979 The Clash, London Calling

d95264o1973.jpgPunk thrust a rusted safety pin into the nostril of the bloated music industry with this one. London Calling juxtaposed the concept of a 1956 Elvis album with a blurry image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass. Incidentally, during the shoot, he smashed his watch in the process. That's the price you pay for ripping on Elvis.

THE EIGHTIES: The 1980s offered an interesting contrast: Musically, the decade was both an extension of the excesses of the 1970s and a reaction to it. So what was the product of this conflict? The ability to stir up some controversy.

1988 Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking

1927.jpgThis album was shocking in every way. A pair of Siamese twins joined at the hip and shoulder (actually plaster sculptures built by lead singer Perry Ferrell himself) sit naked on a love seat, their heads on fire.

According to Ferrell, it's harder to get big flames burning on plaster twins than one might think. Nine national record chains refused to stock the album.

1980 Gamma, Gamma 2

f55492e9yd5.jpgThis cover perfectly illustrates the fear that 1980's punk rock brought into the otherwise serene suburbs of America. Originally, the pair of feet in the bottom right corner of the cover were only those of a woman, but Electra Records felt the image might seem inflammatory to certain female customers. At the last minute, a pair of male feet were added to the cover.

1988 Prince, Lovesexy

f61458f9n0i.jpgWhile heavy metal and punk were making waves in music during the 1980s, Prince pushed the envelope in a different direction. Celebrating both sexual freedom and ambiguity, Prince combined a feminine pose with overt phallic imagery. Believe it or not, the shot was spontaneous: the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino suggested Prince go nude just before the session.

1983 Def Leppard, Pyromania

c33511kk8d2.jpgThis album made Tipper Gore's "filthy fifteen" list when she crusaded against "porn-rock" in the mid-1980s. By organizing the Parents' Music Resource Center, she encouraged the Recording Industry Association of America to adopt an explicit content labeling policy to protect minors.

THE NINETIES AND BEYOND: By the 1990s the CD had replaced the old vinyls of yesterday. While the classic square shape was back, the smaller size meant designers didn't have as much space with which to work. Time will tell what images from the 1990s will stake their claim as classics. Some are immediate standouts.

1991 Metallica, Metallica

alb263.jpgThe rock band reflects their stripped-down sound with this none-more-black cover, known to fans simply as "the black album." The album marked the band's transition from heavy metal to mainstream.

1990 Pixies, Bossanova

Pixies_Bossanova_large.jpgThe Pixies took their listeners to another world with Bossanova, mixing the old with the new and the new with the kitsch and retro. Pixies' vocalist Frank Black claims he saw a UFO as a child and was always infatuated with outer space. In fact, the band's founding members decided to form the band while on a trip to New Zealand to see Halley's Comet.

1996 Beck, Odelay

images7.jpgOne of the decade's strangest covers comes, fittingly, from one of its strangest artists. Beck's album shows a Komondor, (a Hungarian sheepdog with a dreadlock-like coat), leaping over a hurdle. It's almost impossible to tell it's a dog, but it's even harder to forget.

1997 Prodigy, Fat of the Land

4d4e224b9da00f3409a3c010._AA240_.L.jpgThe rise of electronica brought acts like Prodigy to the fore, which featured a crab with brandished claws, symbolic of their aggressive beats and attitudes. The image was chosen at the last minute as an illustration of the album title: a crab coming out of the sea to enjoy the bounty of the land.


Andy Warhol: 1967 The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico

f86637hbo58.jpgDespite what it insinuates on the cover, the album's title is not Andy Warhol. Rather, the then-unknown The Velvet Underground used their well-known album artist'of Warhol's name created a persistent myth about The Velvets. Everybody thought Andy Warhol was the lead guitarist."

Reid Miles: 1962 Freddie Hubbard, Hub-Tones

f87257icfkw.jpgReid Miles produced almost 500 graphically striking covers for Blue Note Records jazz acts like Freddie Hubbard. Apparently, Blue Note often didn't have the budget to print full-color album covers, so Miles was confined to using two colors. With his creativity and resourcefulness though, you'd never know.

Neon Park XIII: 1970 The Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh

f07169ewhes.jpgA painter, whose name is as colorful as his work, Park produced quirky paintings for Little Feat and the Beach Boys, and the infamous Weasels Ripped My Flesh for Frank Zappa's band, The Mothers of Invention. This one was based on an ad for an electric shaver from a 1950s Life magazine.

Roger Dean: 1973 Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans

c85091rj7bo.jpgInfluenced by John Michell's The View Over Atlantis—which argues the entire earth is connected via a single prehistoric ancient culture—and by P. Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, Dean imagined otherworldly dreamscapes for prog-rock groups like Yes and Asia. In 1970, Dean also designed the first logo for a new record label, Virgin.

Hipgnosis (A British design pair led by Storm Thorgerson): 1975 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

e423395we8t.jpgHipgnosis produced widespread cover art, including Led Zepellin's Houses of the Holy and over 20 Pink Floyd covers. In Wish You Were Here, the burning man shaking hands actually is on fire. At the photo shoot, the stunt man wore an asbestos suit and a wig, then doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.

From "Nevemind" to "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" to "On the Corner", we definitely left a lot off the list. Be sure to tell us which ones we should have included in the comments below.

A few other posts you might enjoy:

The First Time Aerosmith Made the New York Times

Smarter than they (musically) act: See what Weird Al, Garfunkel and other celebs majored in in college.

Baby Jessica and other kids we'd forgotten about

And a Classic Guitar Solos Quiz (that'll definitely have you feeling good about your music addiction)

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6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 


If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”


Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.


Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.


What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.


Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”


Art made by a robot.

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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11 Surprising Facts About Kidz Bop
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If you have kids, they've likely forced Kidz Bop upon you. And if you don’t have kids, you’ve almost certainly seen the commercials and wondered who in their right minds would willingly listen to children singing sanitized, high-pitched versions of pop songs ranging from "Uptown Funk" to "Bad Blood." But there's more to Kidz Bop than meets the ear—here's what you don't know.


Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam, the men who launched Kidz Bop, started their first music company out of Chenfeld’s apartment in 1990. Their big idea? Compilation albums. They started with "Those Fabulous ‘70s," a record of hits from the likes of the Partridge Family, the Bay City Rollers, and Starlight Vocal Band. (You may remember seeing the kitschy infomercial above.) "Monster Ballads" was another big hit for Chenfeld and Balsam, with more than 3 million copies sold.


Nearly 10 years later, both founders had families, and they noticed a void in the music offerings available for children too old for Barney but too young for Britney Spears. So they hired some kids to sing 20 songs, cut a record, then marketed the crap out of it. Investing in TV commercials paid off: The first Kidz Bop album sold 800,000 units—and it wasn't even available in stores.


The 22 albums that have hit the Billboard Top 10 make the Kidz Bop Kids more successful than Madonna and Bob Dylan (who have had 21 albums each) and Elton John and Bruce Springsteen (who have 18 albums each).


The “Kidz Bop Kids” were originally just a variety of anonymous singers, likely low-cost talent as the company was finding its footing. These days, several talented tweens are chosen to be the Kidz Bop Kids every few years (Jezebel refers to it as the "Menudo Model"); they’re marketed as full-blown personalities, even being likened to this generation’s Mouseketeers.


Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The singer-actress-model-designer was a member in 2009, along with fellow future Disney Channel star and boy band member Ross Lynch. Other Kidz Bop successes include singer-actress Becky G and actress Spencer Locke.


Even though the whole point of Kidz Bop is to be inoffensive, sometimes the fact that certain lyrics are deemed “offensive” is offensive in and of itself. For example, when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was rewritten to exclude words like “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgendered,” and “bi,” people took note.


To take advantage of the most current chart-toppers, Kidz Bop albums currently come out at the rate of four per year, up from the previous schedule of two per year. The quick turn means it's not unheard of for albums to be nearly complete when a song unexpectedly takes off, causing producers to scramble to get it included. That was the case with "The Fox" by Ylvis, which was rushed onto the Kidz Bop 25 album just days before it was manufactured.


Though the company is able to change most suggestive lyrics into words that are more kid-friendly—sometimes to hilarious effect—there are some songs that just won’t work. One of them: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke. “There’s no way we can do a song like ‘Blurred Lines’—it’s just too suggestive,” COO Victor Zaraya said.


In an industry where sales are increasingly moving to the digital realm—CD sales have hit a record low, in fact—the majority of Kidz Bop sales are still physical copies. Zaraya says that's due to the extras they offer with each purchase—like stickers and magnets. "There's a tangibility," he says. "Parents want to be able to put something in their kid's hands."


The “z” in Kidz Bop isn’t there just to be edgy—it’s there because the alternate spelling made it easier to trademark.


The gang did their first-ever original song on Kidz Bop 30 in 2015, a spunky little ditty called "Make Some Noise." They even shot a video for it:


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