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

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.


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. 

Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
Pop Culture
Take a Sneak Peek at the Brooklyn Museum's Upcoming David Bowie Exhibition
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands

David Bowie was born in London, and spent his final years in New York. Which makes it fitting that an acclaimed traveling retrospective of the rocker’s career will end at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018, five years after it first kicked off at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Following a whirlwind global tour, “David Bowie is” will debut at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2, 2018, and run until July 15, 2018. Curated by the V&A, it features around 400 objects from the singer’s archives, including stage costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs, set designs, and Bowie’s very own instruments.

Together, these items trace Bowie’s evolution as a performer, and provide new insights into “the creative process of an artist whose sustained reinventions, innovative collaborations, and bold characterizations revolutionized the way we see music, inspiring people to shape their own identities while challenging social traditions,” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

“David Bowie is” has received nearly 2 million visitors since it left the V&A in 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the show is a timed ticketed exhibition, with priority access reserved for Brooklyn Museum members and certain ticket holders.

Tickets are on sale now, but you can take a sneak peek at some artifacts from "David Bowie is" below.

Photograph from the David Bowie album cover shoot for "Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph from the album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Striped body suit worn by David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" tour in 1973

Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from David Bowie's album Heroes, 1977

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from Heroes, 1977

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

A 1974 Terry O'Neill photograph of musician David Bowie with William Burroughs.
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974. Photograph by Terry O'Neill with color by David Bowie.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original photography for David Bowie's 1997 "Earthling" album cover

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997

Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3

Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

One of David Bowie's acoustic guitars from the “Space Oddity” era, 1969

Acoustic guitar from the Space Oddity era, 1969

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An asymmetric knitted bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for musician David Bowie's 1973 "Aladdin Sane" tour.

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour.

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum


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