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Between The Liner Notes: 6 Things You Can Learn By Obsessing Over Album Artwork

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There's something exciting about unwrapping a new CD. The sense of anticipation, the smell of the packaging, the struggle with the sticky, impossible-to-open white anti-theft strip. But as music becomes increasingly electronic (in the downloadable sense of the word), gone the way of the liner notes. Sure, you can still pull up the cover art and a track listing, but booklets filled with lyrics and stories and artwork with hidden meanings have become more and more rare, leaving music junkies with just a little less to talk and discuss and argue over. Don't know what I'm talking about? Here's a quick look into a few hidden gems plucked from the liner notes:

1. Radiohead Did NOT Create a Concept Album (Or Did They?)

1997's OK Computer by Radiohead still holds up as one of their most brilliant works. While the members of the group insist OK Computer is not a 'concept album', there are recurring themes of consumerism and human apathy among the lyrics and highlighted by the album art. The liner notes also hold a variety of hidden gems left open for interpretation. The lyrics themselves have erratic spacing, leaving some to suggest that they represent images. For instance, the gaps in the lyrics for "Lucky" reveal a man getting out of a lake or a superhero, two lines found in the song itself. Also hidden in the liner notes? The band thanks Michael, Bill, Peter and Mike...the members of R.E.M.

2. John Coltrane Sings Poetry

In the liner notes of arguably Coltrane's best album, A Love Supreme, there is a devotional poem written by the artist representing a conversation between Coltrane and God. The album is broken down into four movements, with part four being called "Psalm". In this movement, Coltrane performs what he calls "musical narration," playing the words of his poem without actually singing any lyrics. The poem ends with the cry "Thank you God. ELATION "“ ELEGANCE "“ EXALTATION "“ All from God. Thank you God. Amen."

3. Pearl Jam Wants You To Read One Book

While recording Yield, Pearl Jam was heavily influenced by a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The title itself comes from one of the primary concepts of the book: yielding to nature. Inside the liner notes you will find a yield sign hidden in every picture. This album actually received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Recording Packaging, which I had no idea existed (although they were beaten out by Madonna's Ray of Light).

4. R.E.M. Included the Puddles of their Brainstorming

As you may know, R.E.M. pulled it's band name at random from the dictionary (at one point the band serious considering calling themselves Cans of Piss). Seeming to enjoy this method of selective christening, band members typically tape up a huge sheet of paper up on the studio wall and write any name that comes to their head as a method of brainstorming album names. The liner notes of Monster include some of the alternate titles they were considering. Also written in the notes are two words: For River. River Phoenix, a good friend of frontman Michael Stipe, died the year that R.E.M. was recording Monster.

5. Weezer Just Says "No"

After the huge commercial flop that was Weezer's Pinkerton, Rivers Cuomo shut down Weezer for three years. However, following this hiatus, the band reunited to put out a second self-titled effort (while recording this album, Weezer toured under the pseudonym Goat Punishment). Nicknamed "The Green Album" (to differentiate it from the Blue Album and, later, the Red Album), the liner notes contain an Italian phrase from a Verdi opera: "Torniamo all'antico e sarà un progresso." The definition? Let us return to old times and that will be progress. Additionally, if you pry open the CD tray from this album, written on the edge is the word "No". Online groups have suggested this is an answer to another hidden gem from Radiohead's OK Computer. Written in the liner notes: I like you. I like you. You are a wonderful person. I'm full of enthusiasm. I'm going places. I'll be happy to help you. I am an important person, would you like to come home with me? Weezer apparently declined the invitation.

sublime_cover

6. Sublime Wants You To Learn the Language 

Sublime's third and final release (the album actually came out after Brad Nowell's death by heroin overdose), contains a song called "Caress Me Down". In this single, Nowell alternates between english and spanish while singing. While the other songs on the album have lyrics that appear in the liner notes, under "Caress Me Down" it has the first few lines followed simply by "Learn Spanish". Also found inside this CD's liner notes are pictures of Brad singing to his new born son and Lou Dog, Nowell's Dalmatian named for his grandfather Louie.

Of course, this is just a brief sample of the hidden wonders of liner notes. I deliberately left off some of the most famous examples (e.g. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heartsclub Band) but if you'd like to read more on that album, try this article. Does anyone else miss the joys and wonders of reading and speculating over liner notes? Got any favorite examples? Drop them in the comments when you get a sec. 

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Art
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. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

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.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

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.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

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.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

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.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

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.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

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.

1. THE COMPANY STARTED BY SELLING OLDIES COMPILATION ALBUMS.

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.

2. THE IDEA FOR KIDZ BOP CAME A DECADE LATER.

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.

3. THE KIDZ BOP KIDS HAVE HAD MORE TOP 10 HITS THAN MADONNA.

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).

4. “THE KIDZ BOP KIDS” HAVE EVOLVED.

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.

5. ZENDAYA IS AN ALUMNA.

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.

6. THERE HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL LYRIC CHANGES.

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.

7. LAST-MINUTE ADDITIONS TO THE ALBUM AREN'T UNCOMMON.

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.

8. THEY DRAW THE LINE AT CERTAIN SONGS.

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.

9. THE MAJORITY OF THEIR SALES ARE PHYSICAL CDS, WHICH IS UNUSUAL.

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."

10. THERE’S A LOGICAL EXPLANATION BEHIND THE “Z” IN “KIDZ BOP.”

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

11. THEY'RE NOW IN THE ORIGINAL SONGS BUSINESS.

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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