Those in close contact with me will be aware that I am squarely in Africa musically. I have been there for some weeks and am having trouble leaving the Lagos rabbit hole but I shall endeavour to provide a wider ambit of beautiful covers. Some of these will of course reflect where I am musically at the moment but I will make a special effort to cover a range of covers.
Fela Kuti – J.J.D – Johnny Just Drop – 1977
In his lyric for ‘J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)’, Kuti lampooned Nigeria’s “been-tos,” people who had been to Europe or America to work or study and then returned (“dropped”) home with European pretensions and an inferiority complex about African culture. Lemi’s front cover portrays a suited-up been-to, dressed like a cartoon British toff, as he parachutes into a Lagos street to the bemusement of the locals. Vinyl Factory
This is both an amazing record and amazing covers. On the back cover, the plane company of the plane from which Johnny drops is called ‘Ofersee Hairways’, a stab by Fela of the change in hairstyles which ‘been-tos’ espoused on their return to Africa. Just excellent this cover. The ‘been to’ sweating in his nice suit is a reference made in an earlier album, Gentleman, where Fela derides westernised locals for, as he saw it, having delusions of grandeur which cost them dearly in perspiration.
Transmission – The Music of Beverley Glenn Copeland 2020
Before my Afrobeats phase, I was squarely in the camp of the wonderful Beverley Glenn Copeland. Copeland’s ability to weave together beautiful harmonies with minimalist elements kind of melts my brain. I sent the live version of Erzilli, the final track of Copeland’s self titled debut album, Nick commented that the album art work of this album is very nice. and he is quite right of course. The stained glass window effect of this bird flying towards the light is gorgeous. This is a very pretty album cover indeed and an extraordinary album overall.
Bjork – Vespertine 2001
Bjork is bizarre in the most wonderful way. Her 2001 album Vespertine is no exception. The dress on the cover will be recognised from her unforgettable 2001 Oscar ceremony red carpet look, which remains one of the most famous Oscars looks of all time. The album also features an overlaid swan which has been deemed so excellent that it has been tattooed on numerous of her fans. Also seeing her in a state somewhat similar to that experienced by St Theresa in the famed Bernini sculpture is a lot of fun.
Bjork’s famous Oscar dress
Rush – Hemispheres – 1978
The album’s cover depicts the conflict between the two gods, represented as men atop opposite halves (hemispheres) of a large human brain. Apollo is on the left side, wearing a black business suit and bowler hat and holding a cane, while the naked Dionysus beckons to him from the right side. Rush Fandom
What more is there to say? This 1978 Rush offering is among my top three Rush albums. I love Rush and will always have a place for them in my musical pantheon. The fact they have used Greek mythology and created a frightening brain straddling story from this is very impressive to me. The album is also an astonishing feat and I recommend you listen at once!
Fame – Grace Jones – 1978
This was the third album in the Grace Jones / Tom Moulton disco trilogy, released when she was starting out in music. The cover art features a drawing of Grace along the lines of some of Issey Miyake’s sketches, Issey being a close friend of Grace at the time. I think it’s quite beautiful and of course, Grace can do no wrong in my eyes.
The back cover is excellent also and inspired me to get a tattoo in the style of this signature, eventually. See this below:
I shall see you again for Five Favourites August edition.
Where to even begin with this magnificent album? 1971, collaboration with Cream drummer Ginger Baker, which Fela pronounces most wonderfully. Fela Kuti has a rule that he would never play songs in his albums during live shows, which frustrated fans to no end but is a remarkable badge of consistency and integrity for the artist. Consequently we have an album of the month comprised of four original songs which were never to be performed again.
The first tune is called O l’oun t’awa se n’yara Je k’abere which means ‘let’s start what we have come into the room to do’
From the first this is a piece of astonishing energy. It bursts out of the gate like a prize horse. The James Brown esque bass underpins the majority of the opening floury. The sensational synth work in the bridge is reminiscent of the work of Francis Bebey in African Electronic Music – perhaps Kuti inspired him.
Who knew cow bells could add so much to a tune? The driving consistent energy of this track is very exciting to me. This is Afrobeats at its best, driven, harmonious, spontaneous and intrinsically rhythmical. the way it picks up at the back end of the song, pauses and launches back into the opening refrain is astonishing. A sense of completion washes over the listener.
Black Man’s Cry
Fela sang most of his songs in Nigerian Pigdin English but some are in the Yorumba language. I believe Black MAn’s Cry is one such song.
Again, the opening moments are so effortlessly excellent. I can’t imagine this in Western pop. The combination of that magnificent bass guitar, the relentless drums of Ginger Baker and the trumpets is so exciting. I am finding it hard not to tear myself away from the keyboard and dance along.
The production of the album and the quality of the recording really shine through here. Despite being 1971 the recording is crystal clear. And it’s live!
I think the Black Man’s Cry refers to one of joy. I certainly feel boundless happiness listening to Fela. The saxophone at 3 minutes in!
The Manzerek-esque keyboard is superlative also and goes with the central recurring motif established in the opening moments of this track. The way he screams the cry at the end of the long and ad libs the rest of the track is just fabulous. He is lost in the abandon of making music. What a crescendo in the last minute!
Ye Ye Di Smell
Ginger doesn’t smell, really he takes his bath
Another 10 minute + track of unsurpassed brilliance. Ye Ye Di Smell talks about “it is a friendly thing, when your friend does not do the things they are supposed to do, then they smell”.
The understated guitar of the opening of track is swiftly brought to standard by the incredible drumming and keyboard going on. The Doors would be proud. I bet Jim Morrison was in the audience. The call and response between Fela and the band is incredible. His mumblings form the basis of his orchestrating the band to follow. It is surreal, natural, intrinsic. Fela is the music here. He and the music are in symbiosis.
The crescendo bridge in the fourth minute is the stuff of goosebumps. The false end at 4.35 followed by a redoubled keyboard section is awesome. One gets so carried away with the rhythm, it feels like it will never end, and thankfully there are 7 minutes left of the track.
Fela is known for staggering introductions followed by crushing lyrics. Listen to the below for an example. This is the first track he released after a trip to the West where he was able to access incredible resources and literature. He read up on colonialism, the Empire and the past of Nigeria and Africa and came back a changed man. The lyrics are incredible.
Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants, Kuti’s music became increasingly politicized. He exhorted social change in such songs as “Zombie,” “Monkey Banana,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Upside Down.” Britannica
Man alive the drum solo at 8 minutes is bonkers. Rejoined by the keyboard handing the track throughout. The keyboard which has been almost stalking the other instruments and chasing them along. Superb.
And the final minute floury of action is hard to believe. It just keeps going up and up and up, drums more frantic. Big trumpet finish. Breathtaking.
Egbe Mi O (Carry Me)
It means carry me, I want to die
I believe this is the last track on the official track listing before a spontaneous drum sesh.
Listen to those drums and trumpets at the beginning! Notice how Fela envelops you with the main theme at the start of each track? Oh and the James Brown bass is great. The first half of the long goes by too quickly. It washes past you. The second half picks up with more lyrics.
“Egbe Me” in Yoruba language means: Carry me. In this song, Fela is singing about the different kinds of things that happen to you while you dance. How could you go into trance while dancing? How in a state of musical trance, the traditional beads women wear under their skirts break without the woman noticing. How a man’s hat would fall off his head while dancing without him noticing. All kinds of things happen to you doing the dance — but you are not alone! ‘…be ke iwo nikan ko’. Fela ends this track with a general chorus calling everybody together with the band: Egbe Mi O! AfrobeatMusic
Three minutes at the end are a superb demonstration of call and response with the audience and parallels that Fela did with the instruments in a previous track. The violence of the drums is very well placed. What an exciting ending!
Drum instrumental with Ginger Baker and Tony Allen
This is a bonus track from the live show in 1978 and includes Tony Allen and Ginger Baker having a sort of drum off against each other. It is 16 minutes so optional to listen to. Nothing like the magnificence before.
Overall I think my key reflection is that I would have loved to have been there. How excellent must it have been to be in the audience for this magnificent triumph of a live show. This is an album which will stay with me for the rest of my life. I cannot encourage you enough to listen to it.
Have you noticed that I go through phases of music? My most recent phase has been Afro beats and Afro funk but I am rather passionately in support of Kate Bush and feel that I must include this as June’s album in the month. Never For Ever was Kate’s 1980 superb offering to the altar of pop and includes some of her best work.
The album opens with one of her great hits, Babooshka. This track is well known but much like the Police’s Every Breath You Take, the subject matter is oft ignored. This track tells the tale of a wife who is saddened by her husband’s lessening attentions toward her. Taking matter into her own hands, she disguises herself as another woman, seduces her husband and makes him fall in love with her again. It propagates the idea that outer beauty is finite but inner beauty, the original foundation of her husband’s love for his wife, is eternal. Equally, the track itself is a real whopping great pop track. Try and get it out of your heads!
She signed her letters All Yours! Babooshka Babooshka Babooshka yeah yeah
Delius is an interesting one, I have read that it is a tribute to the god Apollo, and I have read that it is an ode to the English composer Frederik Delius. The latter is likely to be more accurate on account of the lyrics describing a grumpy old man and the shifting from the I and IV chords mimic those for which Delius was famed. Paddy Bush and Ian Bairnson are singing back up here which is just superb. This is an excellent track and a testament to her excellent pipes.
Built on a verse that primarily shifts between the I and IV chords of B (B major 7th and E), “Delius” is melodically simple, working in rigid parameters to homage its subject. Providing an understated biographical statement of the composer without describing any of his life’s events, it conveys the cadences of Delius’ legacy with parsimony and depth. Kate Bush Songs
Blown Away was the first song chronologically, written for this album. The song was inspired by the death of Bill Duffield, a sound engineer for Kate’s band killed tragically on the first night of Kate Bush’s then only tour. It is beautifully produced and simply orchestrated. It speaks of death and consciousness. I find it deeply evocative.
All We Ever Look For is a meditation on the limits to and primacy of the role of the family. Kate Bush sings about searching for meaning in a world rife with possibilities. The piano refrain after the bridge in the latter section of the song is just beautiful.
Still from the Egypt video
Egypt is a lovely track. In terms of context, at the time of writing this track, the PM of Egypt Menachem Begin signed the Israel Egypt Peace Treaty which ended the Israeli occupation of Sinai. Israel agreed to withdraw from the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel subsequently withdrew in several stages, ending on 26 April 1982. Egypt was also selling vast amounts of oil to Israel. This track is quite extraordinary in the way that Kate acknowledges a violent conflict in a land far away. She embodies this in several chilling screams throughout the track.
The Wedding List has the be the catchiest murder-suicide track ever written. It tells the story of an aggrieved bride whose husband was murdered on their wedding day. In this sense we could call her a widow but I believe matrimony is a precondition to this term hence she may just be called a rather peeved party. This has to be one of my favourite Kate Bush tracks. It embodies everything which is awesome about her, she represents a vexed lady, a quartile not necessarily well presented in 1980, getting her revenge on the men who have wronged her. The production is as aggressive as the substance matter of the track, which is another terrific facet of this track. For me this is the best track on the album.
Violin takes a theme consistent in Bush’s works – the idea that there is inherent magic in the universe and that we can use this as a source of catharsis. Kate was forced to take violin lessons at St Joseph Convent Grammar as a kid, this is the source of this track. The track makes use of the multi faceted possibilities of the instrument and indeed almost abuses the violin while screaming in deranged anger, mimicking how she must have felt at school. The frustration in this track is palpable but ends up being quite magical.
The Infant Kiss is perhaps an echo of This Woman’s Work. I find it a tad sentimental but the message is powerful – talking about the fear of losing a child, putting motherhood, rightly, on a pedestal. The orchestration matches the mood of the piece and this is put across impeccably, again.
Night Scented Stock is an a capella track showing off Kate’s extraordinary pipes. The harmonisation is beautiful.
Army Dreamers was at a point my least favourite track on this album but I have come to enjoy it very much. It was banned in the UK along with a number of other tracks during the Gulf War for its sentiments questioning the necessity of war and highlighting the bereavement of families who lose loved ones to conflicts. The music itself goes back to Kate’s Irish jig proclivity which we see fully developed in Jig of Life on Hounds of Love. SeetheUK7″cover below, which I think is wonderful.
The album ends on Breathing, following in the theme of motherhood. This track, amazingly, is about a foetus in the womb of a woman living through a nuclear holocaust, aware of the happenings of the world outside. The tone was inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Kate was of course discovered by David Gilmore of Floyd. The spoken word, the simulation of breathing through lyricism, the production and sheer subject matter all make this for a fascinating end to a stunning album.
Breathing her nicotine, breathing the fallout in out in
My favourite post of the month is back. Thanks again to Nick for suggesting this, though he did not realise at the time that this would be a recurring post. Please see below the five favourite album covers for June. These may be covers which I have loved for some time or new albums which I have come to love over the last month.
Weasels Ripped My Flesh – The Mothers of Invention
Now, I know what you are thinking – ‘Zappa, here?!’. Yes I too had doubts. On the whole I find Mr Zappa innovative, charismatic and polarising. His music straddles the thin line between genius and horror music. Which side of the line you fall on is entirely dependent on your personal taste. I shall reserve comment on where I fall on the matter. This cover is fantastic, however. It reminds me of the comic book chic of Thomas Dolby’s Aliens Ate my Buick. I love the colour choice, the classic well to do gentlemen and the absolutely bizarre weasel inflicting gore on him.
Curtis by Curtis Mayfield
What a year 1970 was. We do not deserve 1970. 1970 gave us, among other things, Brian Davison, Neil Young, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Funhouse by the Stooges, Morrison Hotel, Abraxas, Loaded by the Velvet Underground… I could go on. But this sensational year for music also gave us Curtis Mayfield’s debut album. The smooth soul chic in the music is matched only by the extraordinary cover. A low angle shot of Curtis wearing a matching yellow suit and flamboyant shirt with beaded necklace, looking forlornly into the sunset (or sunrise). This is just so very cool and stylish. An effortless cover.
Psychedelic Sanza 1982 – 1984 – Francis Bebey
If you have yet to hear the excellent Cameroonian stylings of Francis Bebey, please listen to this album. It follows the extraordinary African Electronic Music 1975-1982, which some consider his best.
That clash and exchange of ideas is exemplified in the chiming, twilit dialogue of opening cut, ‘Sanza Nocturne’, and the strange fusion of Baroque pipes and kicking groove to ‘Africa Sanza’, or to strangest degrees in the freakishly noisy, yet utterly compelling ‘Tumu Pakara’, while we find the more mellifluous Bebey crooning away in the Pygmy Polyphonics of ‘Bissau’ or the deeply spiritual ‘Forest Nativity’. To be fair, it’s unnecessary to draw any lines betweent he material – it’s all the work of a singular genius – but for those more familiar with the last compilation, this set really steps it up and out a notch or three to spellbinding new zones. Boomkat
The cover is also spectacular, three presumably Pygmy people carrying a globe through the jungle with Africa front and centre in the frame. The sky is covered in what looks like zebra print. Aside from anything else it is a beautiful piece of art.
Bebey became the first African musician to place synthesisers, electric keyboards and programmable drum machines at the centre of his music. Vinyl Factory
Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren
If any of the readers have spent more than five minutes in my presence they will be aware that Todd is a firm favourite of mine, in fact he is likely the only man in my pantheon of favourite artists (Grace, Joni, Todd being the top 3 I think). Feta Kuli is making his way up there. Anyway this album is quite different from Todd’s Runt (another 1970 diamond album). This album was released in 1971 and contains songs of a quite different nature to its nomenclature predecessor. Now, the cover. The ides of someone playing piano with a noose is wild to me. Is this his final wish? Todd’s last meal as it were? To play the piano as a final act before being hung is quite a powerful image. And of course it is reminiscent to me of Mel Brooks’ excellent Robin Hood Men in Tights, particularly the scene where the noose breaks as Robin is about to be hung.. “well you know what they say…”
Living My Life – Grace Jones
Finally I should like to close on one of Grace Jones’ Jean Paul Goude covers again. We will eventually get through all 14 of her albums. This is one of my favourites. Following Goude’s image of Grace, he created this precise aggressive cover. This simple, angular cover seeks to maximise Grace’s androgynous beauty. He wrote in Jungle Fever “the ambiguity of her act was that she herself looked like a man. A man singing I Need A Man, to a bunch of men”. This was shocking in 1977, when the single I Need A Man was released and followed by Grace’s debut disco (!) album Portfolio. The beads of sweat only add to what is a striking remarkable cover.
Join me next month for the following instalment of 5 Favourites.
History is apt to throw up curious ironies. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the definitive album in the “Americana” style should have been produced by a band, 4 out of 5 of whose members haled from Canada and not the U.S.A. I speak of course of the Band’s second studio effort, released in September 1969, a true gem of its kind, and my choice for album of the month this May.
I was first drawn to this album by the cover and then by one of its standout tracks “Up on Cripple Creek”. It is fair to say the cover is totally lacking in all pretension. In the centre is a black and white photograph of the Band’s five members stood side by side, staring ahead like sullen mules. Looking at them, one could be forgiven for supposing the very first “Lockdown” occurred in 1969, so in need are these five musicians of a decent haircut and shave. Framing the photograph is a plain brown (perhaps the least commercial of all the colours) background. At the top is emblazoned the name of the album and the name of the group: “the Band”.
The subject matter on “Up on Cripple Creek” is equally lacking in pretension. The song relates the thoughts and happenings of a truck driver and his down to earth lover, “little Bessie”. But if the album cover was startling in its artlessness, the music-making in this track is anything but. What stands out immediately is Garth Hudson’s funky clavinet playing during the verses (a whole three years before Stevie Wonder’s Superstition) which he interchanges masterfully with organ during the choruses. Levon Helm’s funky backbeat drumming and folksy vocals are similarly delicious. As always, the Band’s members meld together on this song to create a truly unique and delectable sound.
Garth Hudson (left) and Levon Helm (right)
Once I heard that track, I was hooked and my appreciation for the album has only grown in the proceeding months. It is full of compelling story telling, thanks in large part to Robbie Robertson, the Band’s main songwriter. One prime example of this is the song “the night they drove old dixie down”. Here we have a poor white Southerner’s account of the end of the American civil war and the Confederacy’s downfall. This is a difficult song to praise at a time when the impetus seems to be to “cancel” certain aspects of American and European history which are troubling to our modern sensibilities. This song, however, is of course not written in support of the Confederacy’s cause but is rather an attempt at capturing an ordinary man’s perspective at a pivotal moment in American history.
They say history is written by the winners, in this song, we have the story from the perspective of the vanquished. We hear first-hand about the harsh winter of 1865 when food supplies were scarce, about the humiliation of defeat and about the bells that rang all evening announcing that final calamity. I think Levon Helm’s delivery helps takes the song to another level, his vocals are extremely affecting and authentic. The rest of Band contribute brilliantly, and the overall effect is deeply moving.
All five members of the Band
Another impressive song is “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”. The song structure is interesting here: alternating an eery and muted chorus section, with a lively, jolting verse section. The song relates (again from a first-person perspective), the fate of a down on his luck sharecropper as he struggles on despite his situation. Richard Manuel’s vocals convey brilliantly the desperation of the narrator, while Robbie Robertson’s wiry guitar-work fits the disquieting feel of the song well.
Overall, I consider this to be a truly great album, melding American styles from country to blues, folk to gospel. The arrangements are original, the lyrics always interesting, and the musicianship compelling. There is no tendency for any one individual member to showboat or wallow in their own virtuosity. Moreover, the album has a consistency of themes that make it a truly satisfying whole. I am very happy to nominate it for AOTM and as I am to once again contribute to this most august segment.
The third edition of the Cedric Suggests 5 Album Favourites is here, and not a moment too soon. Below find 5 of my favourite covers from albums I have been enjoying throughout the month.
Love – Forever Changes 1967
You’ll be aware that I reviewed Forever Changes to be album of the month in March. This was premature of course, it should be album of the year. But that small regret aside, the cover is superbly cool, featuring all members of this diverse band together, in trippy multicolour, in the shape of a heart. Now tell me that’s not excellent. I imagine those enjoying the full psychological and visual effects of the Summer of Love will have spent many an hour transfixed by this cover.
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different 1974
Betty Davis is a funk monster of indescribable talent. This record is in the running for album of the year, it is steeped in filth and wonder, but we are not here to speak about the music. The cover is excellent, bearing in mind this is 1974, and Ms Davis is featuring a terrific futuristic funk look which borders on drag. Her long glass pseudo chopsticks are also marvellous. And of course who does not love a furry boot? The cover projects the image of a formidable woman who marries her weird with grace and unrelenting originality. One need only listen to the album to be confirmed in this view. Did I mention she was married to Miles Davis?
As legend has it, Miles grew jealous of Betty’s friendship with Hendrix (which Miles allegedly suspected may have been more than that), but Betty’s place in the middle of this intersection of geniuses apparently resulted in more than just divorce filings. By popular account, it was Betty who turned Miles on to Sly and Jimi, which in turn may have been the catalyst for Miles’ most radical musical evolution: the still awe-inspiring Bitches Brew, released in 1970, a year after his separation from Betty. Pitchfork
Camel – Mirage 1974
Nimrodel… I’ll say no more. Playing this for my father ended up with him introducing me to Marillion, for which I am eternally grateful. This cover for me is really excellent and worthy of framing. Aside from being considered one of the greatest prog albums of all time, the cover is so much fun. It is based on the logo for Camel Cigarettes, much loved at the time by GIs and consumed by gangsters in Hollywood movies.
The Original Cleanhead – Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vincent 1969
Blues mastermind Eddie Vincent was likely saddened by his very clean head, but he did not fail to capitalise on it. Men often think baldness makes them less desirable but Eddie rallies against this idea, in his Cleanhead Blues describing exactly why he is bald:
If it wasn’t for you women I’d have my curly locks today
If it wasn’t for you women I’d have my curly locks today
But I’ve been hugged kissed and petted
Till all my hair was rubbed away
So there you have it! The album is spectacular of course but the cover is also worth your attention. We have an awful lot to thank Flying Dutchman for (Super Black Blues for example), so I am not mad at this commercialisation of cover art. The text is subtle and understated and the whole thing is on Eddie’s very bald head. I just find the whole affair wonderful.
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing 1981
Another Jean Paul Goude masterpiece of photography. This is one of my favourite Grace covers. The obsidian skin, matched only by the beautifully dark Armani tailored suit and precision haircut. The only bright spark in this cover is the cigarette Grace is smoking (perhaps echoed in Goude’s later Grace cover of Hurricane). The red eyes and lips, the piercing gaze and the lazer cut hairstyle all make up for an extraordinary, Other and striking cover.