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The Stories Behind 11 More Classic Album Covers

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Last month, Bill DeMain took us behind the scenes for 11 iconic album covers. Today he's back with 11 more.

1. Satan Is Real (1960)

The Louvin Brothers
Design by Ira Louvin

The cover of this country classic walks the line between goofy humor and heart attack seriousness. Look at that buck-toothed devil. He's more Mortimer Snerd than Mephisopheles. But there's something in the rapturous faces of the brothers that makes you think of crazy snake-handling preachers. And that's real fire dancing behind them.


Charlie Louviin said, "Ira built that set. The devil was twelve feet tall, built out of plywood. We went to this rock quarry and then took old tires and soaked them in kerosene, got them to burn good. It had just started to sprinkle rain when we got that picture taken. Those rocks, when they get hot, they blow up. They were throwing pieces of rock up into the air."


The brothers survived the cover shoot to give us their best-selling album ever. Sadly, Ira was killed in a car accident in 1965. Charlie died in 2011.

2. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Bob Dylan
Design by Don Hunstein

"Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1,001 Arabian nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people."


That's Bob Dylan in Chronicles, waxing poetic about Suze Rotolo, his girlfriend from 1961-64 and the muse clutching his arm on the cover of his breakthrough album.


The picture was taken in February 1963 by photographer Don Hunstein. Dylan was 21, Rotolo 19. The location is Greenwich Village, on Jones Street, near West 4th and Bleecker.


"I didn't do the shoot with a record cover in mind," Hunstein recalled. "I brought only one roll of color film with me, and most of the pictures on it were not good."

But the magic shot captured Dylan in all his bohemian glory, and helped make him a household name. Rotolo passed away in 2011.

3. Rubber Soul (1965)

The Beatles
Design by Robert Freeman and Charles Front

Bye bye moptops, hello Mary Jane.


For their landmark 1965 release, the Beatles traded their clean-cut image for a psychedelic look.


The slightly warped angle of the sleeve was a happy accident. "[Photographer] Robert Freeman was showing us the slides," Paul McCartney recalled. "He had a piece of cardboard that was album cover-size and he was projecting the photographs onto it. We had just chosen the photograph when the cardboard fell backwards a little, elongating the photograph. It was stretched and we went, 'That's it, Rubber So-o-oul, hey, hey! Can you do it like that?'"

Charles Front added the eye drop lettering. (Trivia: Held upside down in front of a mirror, it appears to say "Road Abbey.")

George Harrison said, "We lost the 'little innocents' tag, the naiveté, and Rubber Soul was the first one where we were fully fledged potheads."

4. Eat a Peach (1972)

The Allman Brothers Band
Design by W. David Powell and Jim Holmes

"The images on the cover are found art," says W. David Powell. "They came from postcards we picked up in a drugstore in Athens, Georgia. The postcards had the trucks with the giant peach and watermelon. I added lettering with the band name to the trucks, and pasted the cards onto a background, spray-painted pink and blue."


Inside the gatefold sleeve, Powell and his college buddy Jim Holmes collaborated on a painting of a mushroom wonderland teeming with strange creatures. "It owes a lot in inspiration to Heironymous Bosch," says Powell, then adds with a chuckle, "I don't want to reveal the background psychotropics that were involved, but we were not in a particularly rational state of mind."

Voted by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 100 Album Covers of All-Time, the sleeve image is alive and well on T-shirts and hats.


Trivia: Forty years on, an urban legend persists about the peach truck, claiming that it was the fatal vehicle in Duane Allman's motorcycle accident death. Not true.

5. Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Design by H.R. Giger and Fabio Nicoli

The original title for ELP's fifth album, Whip Some Skull On Ya, was a slang term for oral sex. But the prog rockers ditched it for an even more provocative euphemism, lifted from a Dr. John song.


ELP found a sympathetic soul in Swiss designer H.R. Giger. When the band contacted him, Giger was in the midst of painting a triptych, Landscape XIX – Work Z16, whose themes, coincidentally, were penises, skulls, and a woman's mouth. The main part of this painting became the cover of Brain Salad Surgery – a woman's lips squeezed between a metal vice with a protruding phallus.


Atlantic Records objected, and a reluctant Giger airbrushed the offending member into a shaft of glowing light. If you look hard, you can make it out.

Trivia: Giger went on to design the intergalactic monster in Ridley Scott's Alien.

6. Candy-O (1978)

The Cars
Design by Alberto Vargas

As hood ornaments go, the auburn-haired beauty reclining against the front of the Cars' second album is unbeatable.


The erotic image was created by the legendary Alberto Vargas. The Peruvian artist got his start designing posters for the Ziegfield Follies and Hollywood movies, then made his name creating iconic WWII-era pin-up girls for Esquire magazine. He was eighty-two when Cars drummer David Robinson coaxed him out of retirement for one last painting.


Vargas had never heard of the Cars, but the aerodynamic model – coincidentally named Candy Moore – was much to his liking. So much so that he imagined her au naturel. Elektra Records had to insist that the old master cover up the nipples and pubic hair with a sheer body stocking.


Of the accusations that the cover was sexist, Robinson said, with his best Spinal Tap chuckle, "Maybe it is. I don't know."

7. Breakfast in America (1979)

Supertramp
Design by Mike Doud and Mick Haggerty

Call her the Statue of Libby. The waitress with the good old-fashioned name replaces Liberty's stone tablet and torch with a menu and a glass of fresh OJ, welcoming us to Gotham made from cups and kitchen utensils.


For this Grammy-winning cover, designers Mike Doud and Mick Haggerty set out to capture the mood of the recently relocated Brits of Supertramp to America.


"The cover expressed with wry humor our mental and physical place at that time," said sax player John Helliwell. "The imagery appealed to us – living in the land of dreams and ambitions, and substituting the English transport café for the friendly diner."


Libby was originally going to be a cheesecake-type model, but the band ended up choosing a more matronly gal from the Ugly Model Agency. She later went on tour with the band, announcing them from the stage.

8. She's So Unusual (1983)

Cyndi Lauper
Design by Janet Perr

The primary color-rich cover of Lauper's debut perfectly caught her bubbly persona.


"Cyndi kept saying how she wanted peeling paint and walls that looked distressed," recalls designer Janet Perr, "and I thought Coney Island. I knew that there were a lot of abandoned, boarded up buildings there. And of course, because it was by the beach, the lighting would be really beautiful.


"We were on the boardwalk with a boom box, and Cyndi had on a great vintage dress, and she was dancing with her shoes off. She was really like that – flouncy and jumping around – and I think that really came out in the photo shoot."

Annie Leibovitz snapped Lauper in a pose like a new wave marionette.

The result: 16 million albums sold and a Grammy for design to Perr. "It was a great thing for me," Perr recalls, "because the Rolling Stones called the week after."

9. Post (1995)

Björk
Design by Paul White and Stephane Sednaoui

This cover was Björk's postcard to herself.


"The motivation behind it was her desire to be surrounded by her possessions from home," designer Paul White said. "She felt very isolated from everything in Iceland while recording the album. She was away from friends and family and communicating with them via messages. Post was about her state of mind – remote communication and a sense of awe and surprise at the changes in her life after the success of her first album."


The garishly colorful blur of a background (orange and pink are notoriously difficult for designers to bring off) is meant to symbolize both flying postcards and a tumbling house of cards. Meanwhile, Björk remains still, with the airmail braiding around her jacket communicating her longing for home.

Trivia: A discarded cover design featured Björk surrounded by silver balls with her tongue extended towards a falling silver ball.

10. OK Computer (1997)

Radiohead
Design by Stanley Donwood

"Someone's being sold something they don't really want, and someone's being friendly because they're trying to sell something – that's what the cover means to me," said lead singer Thom Yorke. "It's quite sad, and quite funny as well."


The chilly collage of images and text was created by Stanley Donwood, who has designed all the Radiohead covers.


As for the album's title, Yorke said, "We did this promo trip to Japan, and on the last day, we were in a record shop and this one kid shouted at the top of his voice, 'OK COMPUTER!' really, really loud. Then he had 500 people chant it all at once. I got it on tape. It sounds amazing. It reminds me of when Coca-Cola did 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing,' that amazing advert in '70. The idea of every race and every nation drinking this soft drink. It's actually a really resigned, terrific phrase."

11. A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Coldplay
Design by Sølve Sundsbø

In 2002, singer Chris Martin was flipping through a back issue of Dazed & Confused magazine when he fell in love with a face. Or half a face.


Looking like some graphic novel version of an ancient Greek head bust, the striking image had been produced by fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø. When the magazine asked him for a portrait with a "technological feel, something all white," Sundsbø swapped his camera for a 3-D scanner (of the kind often used for industrial design and prosthetics). The computerized machine couldn't read color, so the model's cape resulted in motion-like spikes. And since the scanner also had limited range, the top half of the model's head was lopped off.

Sundsbø went on to do more designs for Coldplay. And in 2010, his cover design was chosen by Britain's Royal Mail for one of their "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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