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Some hand-some artwork

Capitol Classics CLCX047_20cm

Not too long ago I blogged about my recent acquisition of an Australian pressing of the Capitol Classics edition of Copland's 'Billy the Kid', performed by the Ballet Theatre Orchestra conducted by Joseph Levine. I quite love the cover and was keen to discover who was responsible for it.

I asked my mate Coatsie, who is an artist, as well as other artist and record collecting mates if they happened to recognise the style or know who the artist might be.

Coatsie suggested it might be Thomas B. Allen. Not a bad suggestion. Turns out Allen did provide the cover art to a recording of Copland's 'Billy the Kid'. But not this one.

His work adorns the cover of The Copland Album, a CBS Masterworks release (nowadays it'd be on the Sony Masterworks label) featuring the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, performing a number of Copland's pieces.

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In my travels, googling 'Billy the Kid', 'Copland' and 'Capitol Classics', I stumbled upon an excellent website belonging to Nori Muster, outlining aspects of the Capitol label's history. Nori's father Bill spent some years as Capitol's merchandising manager during the 1950s. In addition to being a working musician, her stepfather, Don Hassler, was a sales rep for Capitol for the better part of that decade, beginning in 1953. Given the Capitol Classics Billy the Kid album was released in 1953, this could well lead me to the information I was after. So I emailed Nori.

Sadly, Nori's stepfather passed away a few months ago. It's likely he would have known the answer but we couldn't put the question to him. Instead, Nori offered to put the cover on her site and ask the question there.

Her historian friend, Mark H.N., suggested it might be the work of Donfeld, "better known," according to Mark, "for his costume design for movies and television". I admit, I didn't know Donfeld's work. Or rather, I did; I just didn't know his name. Mark gave me an excellent example: Donfeld designed Linda Carter's Wonder Woman costume.

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Mark goes on to say Donfeld's first job, after graduating from college, "was as a designer and art director at Capitol Records starting in 1953, the year this album was released". He points out similarities in the Billy the Kid cover to some of Donfeld's costume sketches, "especially the upraised hand holding the gun":

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Mark offers, as an example, Donfeld's sketch of Sylvia Miles's costum in Evil Under the Sun.

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 I will admit my ignorance of the work of Donfeld. I love how, like Sting, Bono and Miles, he gets around with just the one name. Although a little bit of research reveals he was in fact christened 'Donald Lee Feld' and his film and television work is as extensive as it is varied. (Spaceballs and Prizzi's Honour!)

That means the thing by the showgirl's thigh that looks like a bit of a running writing on its side is in fact just filigree or ribbon, and not a stylised signature.

CLCX047_detail signature

I hope he produced more covers. I look forward to stumbling upon more of his work. Meanwhile, check out his portrait and see if you aren't drawn to his hands, which seem very similar to the hands that he's drawn.

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Call me now…

Doing the rounds on the interwebs last night was the link to Cellular Solutions' staff page.

It was awesome.

I thought it was a front for an escort agency.

You scroll down the page ofrow upon row of beauteous chicks, until you get to the upper levels of management. Who have every right to be smug.

Unsurprisingly, the site's currently down for maintenance, inundated with traffic, no doubt.

Wish I'd been clever enough to take some screen shots.

Thankfully Metro UK did.

(Thanks to Annemarie for pointing this out).

 

 

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Billy, Don't Be A Hero

Capitol Classics CLCX047_20cm

 

The other 50-cent album I picked up at Epping St Vinnie's, purchased, again, on the strength of the cover art, was a recording of Aaron Copland's 'Billy the Kid' - a piece of music I've heard of, but never heard. (However, everyone's heard Copland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man'; it used to be a particular favourite piece of soundtrack for certain items of bling in the Sale of the Century prize pool; it always gets cranked out for sports-related anthologies of music, even though it was designed for 'common' man rather than 'superhuman' man. While the piece was written for the Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Goossens - after whom a performance hall of the ABC's Sydney headquarters is named - my favourite version is by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.)

There are sleeve notes on the back - which is one of the things I love most about vinyl and even CDs over mp3s: something to read, along with artwork you can actually see, while you listen. The text for Billy the Kid provides the biographical details of Billy that are embodied in the ballet that we can't see, along with the music  we can hear. "Despite many fine qualities," we're told about Billy, "he soon developed a terrible talent for murder." Interesting turn of phrase. Turns out a townsman, Alias, fired a stray shot that killed Billy's mum, and that's what caused Billy to develop that talent of his.

The notes also tell us that the recording was made under the supervision of the composer, providing authenticity.

 

 

 

Frequently a 'serious music' album (on CD or vinyl) has more space than one piece of music can fill; the accompanying piece[s] are designed to complement the main one featured on the cover.

Accompanying  pieces often complement the main feature. They'll provide a broader understanding of the composer by presenting more of their work, or a better understanding of the ensemble and/or conductor by providing more of their repertoire. This album combines William Schuman's Undertow with Billy the Kid. I know nothing of Undertow, but love the notes:

"Its tortured hero, frustrated in his infantile love for his mother, writhes through the ballet, doomed to hate the women who most attract him. The story starts with the birth of the Transgressor. The mother immediately turns back to her lover, rejecting the son. Thus the neurosis is also born."

(The record was first published in the US in 1953 - at the height of the post-war rise of psychoanalysis and the beginning of the ever-growing male identity crisis.)

Sadly, the CD release of the Levine conducted Ballet Theatre Orchestra's recording of Billy the Kid replaces Schuman's  Undertow with Morton Gould's Fall River Legend and Elmer Bernstein's Facsimile.

Sadder still, the sleeve notes don't mention the cover artist.

But I love the cover: Billy's cowboy hat has an incredibly wide brim. The brim could almost be the work of Saul Bass - but none of the other art, to the limited experience of my untrained eye, seems to be.

CLCX047_detail hat

Although, maybe that hand - doing gunslinger tricks with the gun - may be a precursor to the golden arm… And note it's the left hand doing the fancy gunslinging - making Billy a southpaw, artistic, not to be trusted.

Southpaw arm

Combined with it the floral print shirt and flamboyant waistcoat, suggesting Billy's 'yeller' maybe; certainly arty. The sleeve notes have already established him as somewhat of a mama's boy.

CLCX047_detail shirt wastecoat

The 'crowd' is pretty cool though. It's hard to tell if it's two legal dudes holding one of Billy's floozies 'hostage' or if it's Billy's accomplices manhandling a 'tart with a heart'.

CLCX047_detail crowd

My copy is an Australian pressing, but I'm guessing an early one since it's on the purple 1950s Capitol label, and rather than naming EMI as the parent company, credits instead The Australian Record Company Ltd, 29 Bligh Street, Sydney. Rather than the US catalogue number, P-8238, it carries an Australian one: CLCX 047.

Maybe an original US pressing or a current CD pressing will carry cover art credits. Meanwhile, I'm having a hard time determining who the cover artist is. I thought perhaps the show girl's filigree might be a stylised signature - like a Hirschfeld 'Nina'.

CLCX047_detail signature

I'll be honest. I can't make out what, if anything, it says. Perhaps a Russian emigre, by the name of 'Minin'? That'd be a nice irony, given the uber-Americana embodied within the contents of the record.

I've asked the collectors and artists (and collector-artists, and indeed, artist-collectors) if they've got any ideas. None do.

ADDENDUM:

My mate Simon Coates (awesome Aussie artist, currently in Canada) suggested it's Thomas B. Allen, but it turns out it isn't.


Nuts about the Nutcracker

Polyphon 2542 007_Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

Another one of the records from the Epping St Vinnie's. Only, I liked this stupid cover enough to splash out and pay 50¢ for it.

In the first place, I'm not one to collect classical music on vinyl or otherwise. I own the odd disc (vinyl and CD) but it's down to the composer and/or performance ensemble. So there's quite a bit of 'modern' composer in my collection: Michael Nyman - and not just the Peter Greenaway soundtracks; Stravinsky - particularly the recordings he conducted or supervised; Webern because I felt like I should; stuff conducted by Pierre Boulez and Kent Nagano because they'd worked with Zappa so I felt I could trust their choices; Varese, of course, because of Zappa; heaps of Philip Glass, some John Cage and Gavin Bryars; even some Ades when he was the Next Big Thing in the serious literary mags towards the end of the last millennium - but mostly because he was my age and a celebrated genius while I was just some schmuck reading about him on public transport to soul-destroying day jobs… I never could get through a whole Ades disc.

 

 

 

What I do know about classical music, from a lifetime in music retail and my brother's own extensive collection, is that classical releases typically have artwork on the cover, or serious photos of the performers - either in performance, or in high quality portraits.

This record was different. It's cover was a photograph that was ironic and silly. It was on the 'Polyphon' label, of which I know nothing, except that, since the second part of the word is 'phon' rather than 'phone', it's probably European. (The Parlophone label, for example, was 'Parlophon' is non-English parts of Europe.) The rainbow motif above the name reminded me of a local cheapie classical label, 'Rainbow'. What does cheap classical label mean? Old recordings, probably not remastered, on thin vinyl pressings with not a lot of dynamics when it comes to volume or frequency range.

Nutcracker detail_cat and comp

But I don't care: I'd never listen to it. I was buying it for the cover.

Which is awesome: crosseyed dude in a '70s perm, buried up to his head in walnuts, with one in his mouth. Get it? He's just vomited a mountain of walnuts. He's sick. He's nuts. He's crackers.And it's a recording of a popular ballet, Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite'.

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It's a 1972 recording of the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Leitner (of whom I'd never previously heard). It's distributed by  Phonogram, which by the late-'80s, would become PolyGram, the Australian distributor of Polydor and Phonogram and associated labels. (This company would eventually become the Universal Music Group conglomerate). The sleeve notes are in English, but not particularly well-written. There's a reference to Tchaikovsky bucking the nationalistic trend of his time, "prefering to follow the German symphonic tradition", but the 'p' has been left off; so he spent his career "refering to follow…".

There's some illustration crowbarred into the top of the back cover, of a mouse attacking a toy soldier, in as much space as the poorly written sleevenotes allow.

Nutcracker detail_back cover illo

I don't know terribly much about Tchaikovsky, although Monty Python tells me he was homosexual. Cartain parts of the sketch that traces his life (a 'special episode' of 'Farming Club') makes me cringe now, but what I can say about it is Michael Palin's particularly camp arts show host is a parody of someone who dressed as flambouyantly and had as fluffy hair (and as fluffy and flambouyant a voice) who was presenting such programming on the BBC at the time. Don't remember his name. I've just seen footage of him in old docos, and can see why he'd be a perfect character to send up. Palin's characterisation is funny without knowing the original.

Given this profile of Tchaikovsky, I can't help but want to make a comment about the dude on the cover whose got the composer's nuts in his mouth.

Meanwhile, comedy lovers may well be familiar with the idea of the cover. There was a very popular comedy album by Allan Sherman called My Son, the Nut.

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I should probably point you to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite online. Here's my favourite version of it - a musical comedy version by Spike Jones that adds lyrics to tell the story (cos while you can listen to the music, you can't 'hear' the story the ballet is illustrating). Again, the dated material makes me cringe in some places, rather than laugh; that racism is not funny anymore.

To complete the post, here's Allan Sherman's complete My Son, the Nut. It's chock-full of foolish lyrics added to recognisable tunes and styles. Like the letter home from camp, to 'The Dance of Hours', that we now know better as 'Hello Muddah, Hello Fudduh!' (This album also has one of my favourite comedy tracks ever, certainly my favourite by Sherman, which I've blogged about before: 'Hail to Thee, Fat Person'.)

 

 


In front of Liberace

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A factoid I knew as a kid but never thought much of is that Liberace came to Australia, 'discovered' the talents of a local kid, and took him to America.

I remember this factoid being reiterated during a music lesson. By an old man who used to teach English.

Let me back up a bit: Mr Barrington was an old codger who could have been a granddad. But he had a teenage kid. He spoke like an old man - not a cranky old man, more a Sandy Stone type. He had a tendency refer to students as 'young rabbits' - as in, 'settle down, you young rabbit!' Or maybe he didn't - maybe that was an 'elementary, my dear Watson' line attributed to him in impressions. He'd also hand out Butter Menthols to keep kids on side, apparently. But he had a teenage kid, to which, whenever someone brought it up in conversation, I'd have to exclaim with a Harry H. Corbett impression nobody could possibly get (Steptoe & Son hadn't been on telly for a long time, nor was it currently available on video, and DVDs had yet to be invented), "you dirty old man!"

 

 

 

One day our music teacher was away, and Mr Barrington supervised our elective music lesson. We were supposed to be composing some piece of music or other in a specific key… and he insisted that if we couldn't hear it in our heads, we weren't real musicians. We got into a discussion about favourite musicians, and Mr Barrington brought up the young singer who had been taken to America by Liberace.

I must have known this already, because Mr Barrington couldn't remember the singer's name, but I could: it was Jamie Redfern, a 14-year-old with the voice of an adult opera singer, and an original member of Young Talent Time's Young Talent Team.

I hadn't thought about it again.

Not even when I went and watched Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra.

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The film is based on the memoirs of Scott Thorson, a young man who became Liberace's paid companion at age 16. Surely Jamie Redfern must have become 'of interest' to Aussie journos when Behind the Candelabra was released.

But I didn't think about it, hadn't remembered Jamie Redfern.

Until the other day, wandering through Epping, when I came upon a St Vinnie's a block away from Station and succumbed to that constant urge to browse through old vinyl in charity shops.

And I saw a copy of a Jamie Redfern album with Liberace on the cover with him. Of course, the cover image is at the top of this blog post, but I've included the hastily snapped, out-of-focus image of it here too.

Worth noting: Liberace doesn't seem to perform on the album - his only appearance is in the publicity photo appearing on the cover.

Turns out Jamie Redfern was briefly of interest to Aussie journos this year, on account of the Liberace biopic. He says nothing untoward happened, apparently.

A more in-depth interview with Jamie Redfern was conducted as part of a profile on the ABC show George Negus Tonight, back in 2003.

Oh, and speaking of 'elementary, my dear Watson' moments - I was disappointed that Liberace never got to say, 'I wish my brother George was here' in Behind the Candelabra.

 

Jamie Redfern album

 


C'mon Barbie, Let's Go Party

Doing the rounds right now is this clip of 'the truth behind modelling'. Why don't we just dispense with people altogether? Latest fashions will fit mannequins better than people anyway.

 

- Watch More Funny VideosPhotoshop Makes Anything Possible

 

This vintage fragment of fumetti - featuring a young John Cleese, for the magazine Help!, which Terry Gilliam worked on prior to Monty Python - seems more like reality now than every before.

 

 

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