Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The 10 greatest designs of 2010 (plus two)

1. Mall parking-lot stencil. Right side up: baby parking. Upside down: smoking Mickey Mouse.

2. The glowing, spiky balls of doom and pleasure, Lollapalooza.

3. The Flip Camera packaging that says, "Hug me!"

4. The iPad. I understand that it's beautiful.

5. The Bay's "part with your money here" floor stencil:

6. My friend's Pittsburgh Penguins' wedding ring. He and Crosby have never been happier together.

7. The Sunday dessert buffet at Shaw's Crab House, Chicago.

8. Berns & Black window treatment,  Main Street.

9. Tiffany Lachuta's CreCommedy Night poster

10. Gate Arm is Clos-ouch!, Chicago.

11. Mood-board collages, Advertising majors, Creative Communications

12. My own, personal logo I drew in the Glow Draw app. In case you were wondering: those are bad-ass flames shooting from the top of my initials. And, yes, I'm taking pre-orders for the T-shirts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The 10 creepiest designs of 2010

1. The cover of George W. Bush and His Family Paper Dolls. Please tell me that it comes with matches.

2. My student's rocket-ship design with a funny chimp in the front window and a creepy chimp in the back window.

3. The lovely couple about to welcome you - or is that burn you for witchcraft? - at the Saskatchewan German Club.

4. The ultimate dude with the Ultimate Warrior jacket.

5. The new Devo mask - glasses optional. The energy domes were a long, long time ago.

6. The wiener mascot at Dingo's on Corydon. Get that wiener some pants! No condiments jokes, please. Etc.

7.  My friend's wedding cake. The groom commits suicide as the bride marries her dogs. I assume.

8. The racially charged Side Kicks campaign. "Almost everyone's" creeped out by it.

9. The HMV "read" poster mashup; a nightmarish collage of hellish images and suspenders.

10. The Flaming Lips' concert. Why is the stage looking at me?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My favorite Winnipeg public art - '10

1. The giving tree (intersection of Corydon and Harrow)

2. The poll pole (Osborne Village)

Stick the green sticker on the place you like, stick the red sticker on the place you don't. That's one for Corydon and one for the airport, respectively. 

3. The curious pole (The Children's Museum, The Forks)

When is a pole not just a pole? When someone writes "penis" on it!

4. The evil bike rack (Broadway near Hargrave)

5. The skeletal dog (Club Regent)

Pirates of the Caribbean called - they want their dog back.

6. The Jetsons Walkway (Convention Centre to City Place)

7. The Bailey's stained-glass window

8. The Cable in Joint sidewalk flare (all around town)

9. Art you can see through (Hotel Fort Garry walkway)

10. The Bubbler of Princess St. (or is that the princess of Bubbler St.?)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The 10 best album cover designs

You've seen the rest, now here's the best:

1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

This is the album cover that got me into music. I remember finding it in my dad's record collection as a kid and being blown away.

"What the hell is going on here?! The album says it's by "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," but what are the Beatles doing here with Fred Astaire, Lenny Bruce, Tony Curtis, Bob Dylan, W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Marilyn Monroe, Oscar Wilde, and Dylan Thomas?" I wondered.

The cover was created by Robert Fraser and designers Peter Blake and Jann Haworth and the folks on the cover are the thinkers and figures influential to The Beatles - including the teenybopper versions of themselves,  the old-school equivalent of #ff-ing your own Twitter account on a Friday. I know of what I speak...

Although none of these people (Beatles aside) actually sing on the record, the cover is evocative of the music inside - the first concept album in rock with the best cover. Of course, the Beatles were first and best with everything they touched; trend-setters who proved that the supposed "trends" had staying power.

For their other classic album covers, see Abbey Road, Revolver, the White Album, and With the Beatles. The whole story behind this cover is here, and well worth the read.

2. The Velvet Underground and Nico

If you can't come up with a decent album cover yoursef, getting Andy Warhol to do it ain't a bad strategy.

The cover of VU's debut album featured a classic piece of Warhol art: a yellow banana and the artist's signature instead of the band's name; and you could peel away the banana skin to reveal a flesh-colored "banana" in the same shape. Dirty!

3. The Clash - London Calling

The best punk album of all time with the best cover: a photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass at the Palladium, New York, Sept. 21, 1979. My 12th birthday!

The cover was designed by Ray Lowry around a photograph by Pennie Smith. Q Magazine quotes Lowry claiming "plagiarinspiration." Great word!

Proving the adage that intelligence borrows and genius steals, the typography is lifted right off of Elvis Presley's 1956 album cover (another great album, by the way).

Smith's photo of Simonon (paying tribute to the Who's Pete Townshend) almost didn't make it. She thought it was too out of focus. Q quotes her: "I ducked. He was closer than it looks."

4. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks

Jamie Reid's iconic ransom note and newspaper-clipping style screams "terrorism," but the pink and yellow background screams "pop." Exactly right!

5. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

Mental illness has never looked so classy!

Designed by George Hardie with input from the band, the Dark Side of the Moon's cover supposedly represents the band's stage show, the album's psychedelic lyrics, and the band's request for smart simplicity.

Other classic Floyd album covers: Atom Heart Mother, Animals, and Wish You Were Here. The Wall? I dunno...

6. Ramones

The police lineup from hell: Johnny, Tommy, Joey, and Dee Dee, as photographed by Roberta Bayley for Punk magazine.

Described alternatively as "dumb defiance" and the "ultimate punk statement," this album cover preceded the Ramones wherever they toured, to the point that many of the band's fans believed they were in a street gang and were afraid to meet or speak with them.

My favorite part: despite the tough-guy stances, Tommy is on his tippy toes to look taller and Joey is hunched over to look shorter.

7. The Who - Sell Out

Like the Beatles and Pink Floyd, the Who mastered the art of making their cover art match the music - hence some pretty great covers for Quadrophenia, Tommy, Who Are You, and - this classic - The Who Sell Out.

The band's album concept, as illustrated on the cover, included joke ads between songs, or "selling out" in the parlance of the times - back in the old days, the simpler times before Pete Townshend sold the entire Who catalogue for use as CSI theme songs. Sigh.

8. X - Los Angeles

An X on fire - or is that a burning cross knocked over on its side? - reflecting the band's gritty take on sex, love, and life in LA and, in the album's title track, the girl who leaves it behind for all the wrong reasons.

9.  New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies

Classical art meets the floppy disk: this cover features a reproduction Henri Fantin-Latour's "A Basket of Roses" and, in the top-right corner, a color-based "alphabet" designed by Peter Saville for the band, mimicking a floppy disk, which Saville had just seen for the first time.

According to Wikipedia:
"It is said that the owner of the painting (The National Heritage Trust) first refused Factory Records access to it. Tony Wilson, the head of the label, then called them up to ask who actually owned the painting and was (told) that the Trust belonged to the people of Britain. Wilson then famously replied, "Well, the people of Britain now want it."

10. Monty Python - Another Monty Python Record

Take that, Beethoven!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The 10 worst album cover designs


The day after I posted this blog, I heard from Mom's Apple Pie by email - the very band mentioned in the blog post - thanking me for the publicity. I love the Internet, and I love - ahem - Mom's Apple Pie!

1. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Two Virgins

I've looked at love from both sides now. And I feel a little sick. 

Coming out in 1968, the Beatles still together, this album cover was a surprise departure to say the least. Released in a brown, paper bag in the U.S. in the few stores that would stock it, the album united music and non-music fans alike in its ability to make one and all feel nauseous.

2. Mom's Apple Pie

A matronly woman presenting us with a dripping slice of apple pie, which reveled itself on close inspection to be a vagina. Classy and clever!

3. Blind Faith

Who among Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker thought it would be a good idea to put a topless, prepubescent girl on the cover of their only album?

So reviled in its day, the album was called back to the record company and reissued with a somewhat more tame photo of the band.

Afterward, it was revealed that the girl was the photographer's 11-year-old sister, who was paid about $50 for her trouble. The cover led to all manner of protests and led to the urban legend that the band kept the girl chained up as a sex slave.

You can't buy publicity like that. Thank God.

4. Boxer, Below the Belt

Below the belt. Get it? Another shitty album, another shitty album cover. Release, recall, reissue, repeat.

5. Prince, Lovesexy

In 1988, we learned that Prince's own, personal vision of Heaven is everyone else's own, personal vision of Hell. Nothing "lovely" or "sexy" about it, the flowers sued for sexual harassment - and won!

6. The Beatles, Yesterday...and Today (original cover)

The most valuable Beatles' collectible is also the most stomach-churning: the boys in blood-smeared butcher smocks, raw meat, and plastic dolls.

The Beatles, apparently, had had enough of Capitol records "butchering" its British albums for their American release and decided to use subtle wit on their next album cover to express their displeasure. The irony was lost on retailers who sent the records back to the record company, making an unsealed copy worth $20,000 or more - that's a lot of steaks and plastic baby heads.

7. Kevin Rowland, My Beauty

The greatest love of all...is not the Come On Eileen dude's decision to appear on his album cover in heavy makeup and drag.

Appearing in the same getup at Glastonbury and Reading music festivals, Kevin Rowland was pelted with garbage and sold a reported 500 CDs - worldwide! - for his trouble.

After, Rowland put the knickers away, and they were never seen again - except on YouTube, where his cover of the Greatest Love of All has an incredible 1,600 views.

8. Scissor Sisters, Night Work

The thong remainth the thame - but the wedgie?

This might be a tribute to Loverboy's Get Lucky, Springsteen's Born in the USA, or Eagles of Death Metal's Death by Sexy, or it might just be a dude with a wedgie. Which may explain the falsetto...

9. Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland (British cover)

Released in England, and promptly redesigned for North American release, the sleeve is a collector's item much in the same way as the Beatles' butcher cover.

The Hendrix family has resisted attempts to repackage the album with the original cover, preferring the swirling, fiery Hendrix head to the ladies of questionable repute, for some odd reason.

10. Foreigner, Head Games

I want to know what love is, I want you to bl... aww, forget it.

Back in 1979, everyone's favorite MOR band decided the way it wanted to package its music was by featuring "a worried young woman in men's toilets" on its cover, as Wikipedia nicely describes it. 

Featuring the hits "Head Games" and "Dirty White Boy," and protested far and wide, it was only two years later the band suddenly found its romantic streak with "Waiting For a Girl Like You," followed by "I Want to Know What Love is," and "Say You Will."