Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #9 - Black Flag - "Damaged"

Black Flag's mammoth debut long player (which I talked about at length over here) is notable not only because it is one of the finest (or, in my opinion, the finest) hardcore punk albums ever laid to tape, but also because of the iconic photo of singer Henry Rollins putting his fist through a mirror taken by legendary punk rock photographer Edward Colver. One of only a few releases by 'Flag that doesn't feature artwork by guitarist Greg Ginn's brother Ray Pettibon, the image of young Hank reaching a boiling point and destroying things fits perfectly with the destructive mood of the music found within. The band created the perfect soundtrack for frustration, alienation, and abandonment, and Colver captured those same emotions on film, showing just how in tune he was with the musicians and their vision.
Don't Panic!

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #10 - Green Day - "Kerplunk"

Green Day's second album for Lookout! Records, which would also be their last released by an independent label, is a charming pop punk romp which hides a surprising level of musicianship behind bubblegum-y melodies and a lighthearted, devil-may-care sneer. When I was in my early teens and first being exposed to punk rock, the two indie albums from the East Bay's most famous punkers were practically unavoidable. I always preferred Kerplunk because the lyrical content was slightly stronger (fewer simple love songs and more introspective brooding, something that suited me perfectly at that age) and also, I have no doubt, because of the striking cover art. I must have sketched that smiling potted flower on the cover of nearly every text book I had between 9th and 10th grade, and to this day the spare, barely colored drawing is one of my favorites.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #11 - The Mothers Of Invention - "We're Only In It For The Money"

This fantastic image, which Zappa intended as a "direct negative" of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was created to be the cover of the Mother's third album, but was relegated to the interior gatefold because of legal action by Paul McCartney and Capitol Records (further proof that McCartney is, and always has been, a scumball).

The album itself is a brilliantly crafted lampooning of 1960's culture, and I am hard pressed to think of a way to portray that intention that tops this image. Though it was initially hidden within the album, a reissue years later would place this image in its rightful place as the cover of the album.
Doc Brown

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #12 - Screaming Trees - "Uncle Anesthesia"

Screaming Trees' major label debut features artwork by Mark Ryden, whose work is always beautifully crafted and mildly unsettling. Ryden would go on to design a more high profile album a few years later, but the acid-drenched hard rock kaleidoscope that is the Trees' sound suits the tone of his art much better.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #13 - OFF! - OFF!

OFF!'s debut full-length is the second album on my list to feature the artwork of Raymond Pettibon, who cut his teeth designing album covers and promotional material for Black Flag, Minutemen, and other prominent punk and hardcore acts in the 1980's. His distinctive sketches (which always come accompanied with captions that simultaneously add clarification and make the works more enigmatic) were an integral part of the punk rock scene in days gone by, so it is unsurprising that OFF! requested that he contribute art to their releases (this isn't his first piece for the group) as they are a super-group consisting of alumni of hardcore punk acts. OFF! has been making a splash for a few years now by proving that age is only a number, and with the right attitude even older punks can make some of the best music in the land. Similarly, Pettibon's art on this release is leaving offerings by people half his age in the dust.

The Residents - Not Available

Several years ago a co-worker of mine was looking to clear some space in one of his closets when he came across a crate of records someone had forced upon him. The titles this friend of his had insisted he listen to had not appealed to this co-worker of mine in the least, so he put them in storage and basically forgot about them. When he came across this crate years later, he offered them to me, knowing that I am a big music fan. I was expecting a lot of crappy titles that I couldn't even sell at the local record shop, but was absolutely delighted to find that it was a small collection of punk and new wave in reasonable condition. Fear's The Record, Germs' GI, Minutemen's Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, a few Lene Lovich 12" singles, and a number of other great stuff was suddenly mine!

Among these titles was a record by a band called The Residents with some very odd artwork and the enigmatic title Not Available. My knowledge of this band included the fact that they were covered by Primus on their Miscellaneous Debris E.P., and . . . well, that's about it. I put the LP in a protective sleeve, filed it on my shelf, and basically forgot about it for several years. Until this morning.

While doing some cleaning around the house, I decided to work on a project that I chip away at from time to time: taking my vinyl and ripping it to CD so I can file it in my iTunes where I can listen to the songs whenever I want without damaging the records. Today's choices included Madness' debut One Step Beyond . . ., and that strange looking album by that band that I didn't know much about. While One Step (which is a phenomenal ska record, by the way) was recording, I took to the internet to find out more about Not Available, and The Residents in general. It turns out that I have been missing out on a beautiful and challenging record with a great story around it.

The Residents are an art rock outfit from (possibly) Louisiana that have had a staggeringly prolific career since the mid-1970's. They firmly believe that the best art is created when the audience doesn't focus on things like the artists' appearance, race, gender, or basically anything that isn't the art itself. For this reason, The Residents have kept their identities absolutely confidential, performing on stage in eyeball masks and only communicating to the media through spokespeople (who may or may not actually be members of the band, though they deny it).

In keeping with this Theory Of Obscurity (as they refer to it), the band followed this line of thought to its logical end for what was their 2nd recorded album: what better way to create art that is free of the constraints of commercialism than by recording an album that the band has no intention of ever releasing to the public? Or, at the very least, as long as the members of the band remember what is actually on the recording. So they headed into the studio, recorded an album, and placed it in a vault never to be touched until such a time arose that even the members of the band couldn't remember what they had done. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the band's record label became impatient with them when they were behind schedule on a record just a few years later, and they pulled the masters for this album that was never meant to be available (hence the title), and released it without the band's consent. Which, strangely, keeps the Theory of Obscurity intact, as the band didn't intend for the music to be released, and yet it was.

The great back story aside, Not Available is a dense, haunting recording that vacillates between semi-tonal wailing, minimalistic chanting, and eerie ballad-like moments. It is presented as a rock-opera of sorts, though the story line is so obscure it makes Joe's Garage seem positively fluid in its narrative. The story is more or less the tale of a young woman named Edweena who heads to college with a porcupine named Knowledge, where she meets the Enigmatic Foe and a character named Catbird. Frankly, the plot (or, in this case, lack of one) isn't really important, since the music itself paints a vivid picture of confusion, uncertainty, and potentially impending doom while attempting to determine one's own identity (which is a fantastically accurate portrait of what many people experience when heading to college).

Not Available is an album that simply demands the listeners undivided attention (with a copy of the lyrics in front of them), and is absolutely unlike any other recording one is likely to ever hear.

Not Available - 8 out of 10

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #14 - Mudhoney - "Superfuzz Bigmuff"

Featuring alumni of the first grunge band ever (Green River), Mudhoney's first E.P. slated them as progenitors of that grimy, slow, metal-punk hybrid that their city would become famous for in a few years. Named for the distortion pedals guitarists Mark Arm and Steve Turner were using, Superfuzz Bigmuff has a boozy swagger and a defiant sneer permeating its six tracks which leaves the listener's ears ringing and desperate for more.

The cover art is a photo of the aforementioned guitar players on stage, and it perfectly embodies the wild, drunken antics the band was famous for in concert in those days. This is easily one of my favorite live shots of any band.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #15 - The Beatles - "Revolver"

Beginning with (roughly) Help!, and culminating with (roughly) Revolver, The Beatles' middle era is my favorite. These recordings still exude the air of camaraderie and light-hearted playfulness of their early recordings, but it is balanced with the musical sophistication of their later works, and some hints of the psychedelic influences that would eventually come to fruition. It is really the era where all of their strongest aspects are at work at the same time. While I enjoy all of the music from this period, Revolver is unquestionably the pinnacle of not only their career, but one of the best albums ever laid to tape.

The artwork was created by Klaus Voorman, an old friend of the band. The blending of ink drawings and photographs of the band was incredibly groundbreaking in its time, and this unique piece of pop art on the cover must have drawn quite a few eyes in record stores and helped add to the already significant sales of the album.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #16 - Minutemen - "Double Nickels On The Dime"

Although nearly every song recorded by the Minutemen was a brief burst of inspired genius, few would argue that Double Nickels on the Dime is the crowning achievement of (singer / guitarist) D. Boon's short, yet prolific career.

After cutting their teeth on the underground music circuit in and around their hometown of San Pedro, California, and releasing a surprising number of singles and short albums in a brief time period, Boon, Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley set down to record Double Nickels, an album named as a typically Boon-esque stab at Sammy Hagar's infamous song about his inability to drive the newly instated federal speed limit. They found speeding to be a trite form of rebellion, and Mike Watt was quoted as saying, "The big rebellion thing was writing your own fuckin' songs and trying to come up with your own story, your own picture, your own book, whatever. So he can't drive 55, because that was the national speed limit? Okay, we'll drive 55, but we'll make crazy music."

Originally conceived as a single LP, upon hearing Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, a sprawling, double LP punk masterpiece, the Minutemen decided to expand their most artistic recording to compete with their contemporary's broad scope. Comprised of a staggering 45 songs, Double Nickels isn't just an album, it is an in-depth manifesto, and the fact that it was all mixed in a single evening and cost $1,100 to make is further evidence of the Minutmen's philosophy of "jamming econo" (economically).

For the cover art, Mike Watt drove down the local highway in his VW Beetle with a photographer in the backseat, and when they got to a sign marking the exit for San Pedro while Watt was driving exactly 55 M.P.H., the photo was taken and history was made. The usage of this image on the cover along with the title of the album help to define the unifying concept of the album, which is the Minutemen's cars. (There are even several tracks included on the record titled "car jams" which are nothing more than the sound of the guys starting up their respective vehicles).

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #17 - Pavement - "Wowee Zowee!"

Despite being a bit of a disappointment for the band in terms of sales and critical accolades (at least when compared to the adoration fans and critics alike heaped on their first two albums), Wowee Zowee holds a special place in my heart, in part because it was my introduction to the band, and partly because many of my favorite Pavement songs are found on this album. And I honestly might never have heard any of them if the artwork hadn't drawn me to it.

Pavement's reputation as the most innovative, quirky, and downright fun indie band had reached my circle of awareness by 1995 when Zowee hit the shelves, but I had never actually heard any of their music. Spending $15 on a CD by a band I had never heard a song by was not a practice I made a habit of in those days, but three factors made the decision for me. 1) The buzz around this band was incredible, 2) several people whose opinion I trusted absolutely adored them, and 3) the artwork for their latest release was just the kind of bizarre stuff that my 15 year old tastes went for. This third element was really what ended up pushing me over the edge and purchasing the album, and 18 years later Pavement is still one of my favorite bands, and Wowee Zowee is one of the most important records in my collection.

The art is by Steve Keene and it is a stylized take on a photograph from a 1970's issue of LIFE magazine which depicted two women sitting in dark robes near a goat. (lead singer) Stephen Malkmus chose this particular piece out of over 50 paintings that Keene produced at a live painting session.