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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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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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