Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jack Davis Collection

A while back I wrote about illustrator Jack Davis' staggering amount of commercial work, specifically album covers, and just recently somebody commented to say they collect them, too, and have been Flickr'ing their collection for quite some time.

It's unbelievable just how much stuff Davis has done — records, magazine covers, ads, books, it makes his Mad-magazine days seem like a blip on the screen, even though that's his most recognizeable work. The guy has done so much, everybody online who's got his work has something different - I doubt you can ever have a complete Jack Davis art collection.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Behold The Mighty Army

I stumbled into this baby on Saturday during thrift shop excursions.

A select group of records, each with sticker prices higher than the LPs in the regular rack, sat at the wrap desk. I poked through them and while I could wrinkle my nose at most of them, this one stuck out both for its comic cover design (as in 'looks like a comic' -- tho, I admit it is comic in other ways) and for its hefty (for me) price tag. $8.99? I've paid much less for a box full of records. In fact, I don't think I've paid this much for a record since they were the only other way to buy them other than cassette tape... And I didn't even know what this one was or who made it.

New Birth? Featuring Leslie Wilson? Behold The Mighty Army? And why did the thrift shop think this was worthy of such a price? Was it the slit-open but largely intact cellophane? Well, curiosity and nice looking vinyl won over and I brought it home.

Turns out New Birth was a concept band. The brainchild of Vernon Bullock, New Birth was a touring company comprised of several groups who could each perform separately as well as part of the larger group. They were formed in 1963 with some help from Harvey Fuqua, and signed with RCA, but it wasn't until 1971 that Leslie Wilson (and his brother Melvin Wilson, Ann Bogan and a few others) joined.

New Birth recorded five albums for RCA. Then, in 1975, they split with RCA, Harvey Fuqua and their management and signed with Buddah Records where they made two records.

At Buddah, Melvin created a new stage presence for New Birth's rebirth. Bill Witten made stage costumes for the group, which had come to Marvin in his dreams. The group also incorporated the use of rear screen projection and had films commissioned to run as part of their performance, which was also a first for R & B artists. (

It was during these "Buddah years" that the band "all lived together in a mansion in the famed Hollywood Hills that they dubbed 'the band house'."

Also during this time, in 1976, they released Love Potion. The album had award-winning cover art, designed by Melvin Wilson and photographer Norman Seeff, which featured all 12 band members posing together naked.

In 1977 they released Behold The Mighty Army, which was the last album. In-fighting & bickering over money, creative differences (and likely who used who's toothbrush) brought the New Birth to the same old death.

New Birth's songs have apparently been covered (or sampled) by K-Ci & Jo Jo, Notorious BIG, Something for the People, and De La Soul, to name a few. So some of it may sound a bit familiar.

As for the sound of the LP, it's classic soul mixed with old school funk and it doesn't disappoint.

New Birth still exists -- with Melvin & Leslie Wilson. But that's not the New Birth that Bullock had in mind, now is it.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

How the 1950s Saw Themselves

In 1958, RCA Camden released "Hits of the '50s", just 1/5 short of the actual decade's end. Not that they were missing much -- the hits for the rest of the decade echoed what's on this record: light popular music, with just a touch of rock-and-roll. This is a 'cover' album in the traditional sense, new versions of popular music performed by B-list musicians rather than the one who popularized the song. The Honeydreamers, Connie Haines, Dave Martin and the Strollers, they had names outside of this album, and are a step above a studio band. The songs are actually pretty good: Peter Ricardo's version of the Banana Boat Song takes from the Tarrier's version, and is a bouncy alternative to the rather somber Bellafonte version.

However, the cover is excellent:

That space helmet kicks ass -- remember, in 1958, sending a person into space was still a sci-fi fantasy. Once we started popping people out of our atmosphere, space helmets stopped looking like this one, opting for a more stark, aviation style.

The antenna on top is a classy Googie, Jetsons thing -- with radio and television dominating the world, everything in The Future would need an antenna, even your head (they were actually pretty close). Back in the fifties, though, putting airtight plastic over a kid's head was preparation for their spacefaring futures -- their flying cars were only a few years away. Until then, though, Dad dons his porkpie hat, mom wears her opera gloves, everyone hops into the Volkswagen to drive it to the farthest star. Make sure the canvas roof is closed, though. That cloth sunroof, incidentally, warranted a credit on the back of the cover: Volkswagen Sunroof supplied by Fifth Avenue Motors, New York City. The photographer's name, the models' names? Nowhere to be found.

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