John Cale :: Paris 1919

caleTuesday, while walking through the hallowed halls of Capitol Records’ studios, in Hollywood, surrounded by decades of recorded musical history, I had a conversation with a friend regarding album art: the power it can wield, and its demise over the past 20+ years, thanks to, first, compact discs, and more recently MP3s (guilty). This got me thinking about the relationship between music and its presentation, both visually, and in the sense of the packaging itself. Despite the ease, and immediacy, of digital music I still love the tactile sense of a physical album in my hands, be it vinyl, or, to a lesser degree, the booklet of a CD.

Keeping with the Lou Reed/John Cale kick of late, I am reminded of Cale’s 1973 solo LP, Paris 1919; an album I was drawn to, at least in part, because of its cover art. Already a longtime Velvets convert, and Lou Reed fan, I was interested in investigating other VU offshoots, and Cale was top of the list. It was the cover of Paris 1919 that drew me in, with its whitewashed matte finish, and the shot of a pensive Cale, dapper as always, dressed in all white. Between the album’s title, its font, and the cover art, my imagination drifted into some sort of Left Bank, early twentieth century, boho-sphere that most definitely influenced my first exposure to the LPs recorded contents.

That being said, now, with digital downloads at an all time high, we have at our disposal an enormity of music, but are consuming it, and therefore appreciating it in a different way. In iTunes, does the albums matchbook size artwork have the power to color our experience with the music? And if so, in what way? I know for certain that a first time listener to CSN & Y’s album Deja Vu, via MP3, will never know the marbled, cardboard feel of that album’s jacket, which, 15 years ago, colored my perception of the music before the needle even touched the vinyl for the first time.   That, dear reader, is something I miss.

In the comments: Hit us up with albums that you were either drawn to via the cover art, and/or albums whose artwork, in some way, affected your listening experience.


MP3: John Cale :: Child’s Christmas In Wales
MP3: John Cale :: Paris 1919
Amazon: John Cale – Paris 1919 (Reissue)

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20 thoughts on “John Cale :: Paris 1919

  1. there is something much different about digital music packaging – almost as if something is missing. That’s all I consume now, of course, but I miss the whole album “experience.” On the other hand, now I’m getting music I like based on the music. Unfortunately, I have in my collection of old vinyl more than a couple of really crappy records I bought because the album art was so great!

  2. I love the album cover to T. Rex’s Electric Warrior. I love the stark black on gold appearance. I don’t know if I’ve ever bought an album purely for cover art, but they certainly do add to the experience. I like the creativity that bands are going to lately to try and make CD art worth owning. Menomena’s album from last year, with the rotating disc that lined up the track number and song title, was awfully snazzy. A friend and I had a discussion awhile back about how movie posters have become so bland. This discussion kicked off over the drawn cover art for his VHS copy of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. Album art is often just as bland these days – of course, as you said, with the ITunes/MP3 shrink-sized cover art, why should they care?

  3. To keep with Cale, I love the album cover of Fear. That high contrast, black and white image of him demands your attention. Also, I love the Blue Note albums of the 50s and 60s. The photography by Francis Wolff and design by Reid Miles really complemented the music. One album that sticks out in my mind is Blue Hour by Stanley Turrentine and the 3 Sounds.

  4. Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (loved that zipper!)
    Led Zep: Physical Grafitti (loved those windows!)

    And you are right on about the feel of Deja Vu!!

  5. Check out Mike Herons early 70s album it was produced by John Cale I believe he even played on it with a hand full of all star musicians

  6. as a kid, i was pretty fascinated with my dad’s stones albums, specifically let it bleed and hot rocks. also, the beatles white album, with the poster inside. the stark packaging didn’t make sense to my over-saturated young mind, but it was a draw that i grew to appreciate. i always liked the enormity of the double-album.

    as far as tapes and cds, pearl jam’s (i know, you aren’t a fan, sorry) liner notes always added so much to the actual album tracks. i emulated the doodles in my own lyrics in high school.

  7. I always loved John Lennon’s “Imagine” for its artwork … so much going on, the swirl of photos on the inside sleeve, the dreamy cover, and the wicked little jab at McCartney in the infamous pig photo.

    And what about John Prine’s “Bruised Orange?” You peeked inside the cardboard sleeve and it was pure orange.

  8. Ryan Adams’ “Cold Roses” vinyl cover of textured thorns and roses of pure blue was worth the money I had to shell out to buy it from the record dealer. Inside, the art reflected the moody rock that made that album Adams’ greatest.

  9. I don’t know if it makes me buy the music, but Arts and Crafts always have thoughtful and beautiful album art work. Also, I was curious about the The Glow Part 2-The Microphones for a long time and then I bought the album. Which l loved, art work and music.

  10. I originally bought Pixies “Bossanova” in a downtown store in my homwtown of Bogota Colombia where we couldn’t get about 95% of rock music that was happening abroad, but this obscure record shops were importing these cassettes and cds that were so alluring. I did not know anything about the music. I didn’t know who these guys were. Nothing. Just that red plastic planet caught my eye. Saved the pesos, bought, got home and truly thought this was the devil’s music. Turned it off immediately after listening to Rock Music. Very, very scared and with a guilty feeling. Today I am huge fan, love the pixies. The internet, tv, etc have destroyed the anticipation and surprise of discovering something new…

  11. I’ll never forget being shocked by the cover of King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King. Of course I was drawn into the bands that chose Roger Dean to Illustrate their covers as well.

  12. My first album was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and is still one of my favorite to look at, not only for the cover, but also for the great illustrated words on the inside. I bought the first four X albums my freshman year of college for the music and the artwork. I still think early punk albums (late 70’s, early 80’s) had some of the best, most arresting covers ever to grace a piece of music. Then again, those were my formative years, so I guess that’s my bias talking….

  13. don’t forget to get ur ears onto the final fantasy (owen palette) cover of 1919
    its pretty awesome

  14. The striking and memoralble cover on Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” is pretty wild. The comic scene from “Jail Break” by Thin Lizzy is also pretty cool. I’ve also always fondely recalled the cover of The Waterboy’s “Fisherman’s Blues”, I think because I heard it first visiting my brother while he was living in a loft in Athens, GA. I couldn’t help but feel as though I had been, at a very young age, let in on a very hip secret.

  15. Along with Matt above, I distinctly remember purchasing The Waterboy’s “Fisherman’s Blues” for the album cover alone…this in turn led to what is an almost 20-year old love affair with the record – one I’ve purchased numerous times for myself and others.

    The other that comes to mind is from my father’s incredible vinyl collection, but it wasn’t the cover that intrigued me…it was the actual record itself. Dave Mason’s “Alone Together” had a marble-like, splattered pressing which amazed me as I child. As and adult I learned that music within the grooves ain’t too shabby either. See for yourself here:

  16. I really enjoy Petra Haden’s “Petra Haden Sings The Who Sells Out.” A great parody cover of an already great cover. Captures both the essence of the tribute as well as the original.

  17. Great point on the albums comment, as a collector I feel very close to all of my albums and I feel a personal connection to the music…

    Talking Heads – “More Songs About Buildings and Food”
    (Great concept designed by Byrne featuring hundreds of Polaroid’s of the band)

    Roxy Music – ANY OF THEIR COVERS! (pushed the envelope and create a style that was unique to the band)


  18. I went to the record store to buy Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti sometime around 1980 but spotted the self-titled Clash album and bought it solely because of it’s cover art. It completely changed my life…

  19. for the longest while all you could get by The Remains was this tacky-looking, blazing yellow-covered collection of sorts that was essentially a reshuffling of their debut record. looking at the sleeve, and entitled Barry & The Remains, I would marvel at how a band this cheezy sounded sound hot. It wasn’t until I saw the original cover on the reissue that I realized they were bad ass from the beginning.

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