Thursday, August 31, 2006

You can judge an LP by its cover

When the phenomenon that was 'punk rock' hit the UK, I was completing the latter part of my secondary education at Latymer Upper, Hammersmith. It wasn't long before my Genesis and Pink Floyd albums were being traded in for the latest releases by the Jam and the Skids.

Each Saturday morning I would make my weekly pilgrammage to Sellanbys record store and exchange my paper round money for vinyl. Usually I had a good idea what I wanted, but on two occasions I was seduced by cover artwork. Serendipitously, they are two of my favourite albums to this day.

Ultravox! (1977) was the eponymous debut of a band created by vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist John Foxx. The exclamation mark was (allegedly) an homage to the influential German band Neu!

Ultravox! (pre-Midge Ure) were inspired by and shamelessly plagiarised (early) Roxy Music, New York Dolls, Bowie and Hawkwind. Their debut album was released in February 1977. It was co-produced by Brian Eno (who next worked with Bowie on the Low album) and Steve Lillywhite (Peter Gabriel, U2, Coldplay). Sales were poor, the album and singles failed to enter the UK charts.

The lyrics are by turns extravagant, hilarious and pretentious (e.g. My sex, Waits for me, Like a mongrel waits, Downwind on a tight rope leash. My sex, Is a fragile acrobat, Sometimes I'm a novocaine shot, Sometimes I'm an automat).

My vinyl version of the album bears the scars of teenage parties and worn stylii, and I bought it on CD a few years ago. I was appalled at the sound quality, so much so that I went back to digitising the original LP to try and recover some of the original energy. The CD has recently been remastered however, and the quality is much better on this one (yes, this sucker DID buy it, AGAIN!).

The second album I bought for its cover was Wire's debut, Pink Flag (1977). It has also been recently re-mastered, and although I haven't succumbed to buying it yet, I probably will. Wire were a weird blend of art-school, and punk (they were even on the same Harvest label as Pink Floyd).

Pink Flag's 22 tracks are a frantic and ambitious mixture of styles, with some lasting less than a minute. It has proved to be a very influential recording. REM covered 'Strange' (badly) on their Document #5 LP. Elastica's 'Connection' was so close to 'Three Girl Rhumba' that it resulted in an out of court settlment, and they also performed a straight cover of '12XU'.

More recently, post-punk bands from Bloc Party to Interpol have acknowledged their debt to the album.


ConradGempf said...

Ultravox was not an eponymous debut by John Foxx but eponymous by John Foxx's band, Ultravox.

brett jordan said...

Thanks Conrad, fixed :-)

Major Look said...

I was about to state that as well, thanks Conrad.