The South Bank Show: The Making of Sgt Pepper

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Here come the anniversaries again, driven by nostalgia and the imperatives of corporations to flog you another version of that thing you already own. Anniversaryism grew out of the CD reissue boom, with one of the first significant incidents being the debut release on CD of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album in 1987. This week you can walk into a shop and buy the album yet again in a variety of formats, the 50th anniversary now coinciding happily for legions of accountants with the current boom in overpriced vinyl.

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This post is complicit, of course, just as Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention were complicit in reinforcing Sgt Pepper‘s status as a cultural monument even while carping at it; satirists always end up attached to what they attack. The latest round of retrospective attention had me wondering whether Alan Benson’s excellent South Bank Show documentary about the making of the album was on YouTube. It isn’t (but it is available elsewhere), probably because there’s a documentary in the new Sgt Pepper box set that seems to be the same film. The South Bank Show documentary was broadcast in the UK in 1992 for another anniversary, the year being the 25th since the album’s release. This is one of those television productions crafted to deliver maximum content with a minimum of fuss, so there’s no hyperactive editing, and no pointless Reactions To The Great Work from minor pop celebrities. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are all present to discuss the creation of the music, from the first song of the sessions, Strawberry Fields Forever, through to A Day In The Life. In the film’s real coup, George Martin sits at a mixing desk in the Abbey Road studio pulling faders up and down to show how the songs were pieced together; he also explains how some of the album’s more unusual effects were produced. The film runs just under 50 minutes, and it’s notable that nearly all the songs being discussed are by John Lennon even though this is an album dominated by Paul McCartney’s voice, and the initial concept was McCartney’s. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lyrical Substance Deliberated
The Fool album covers
The Sea of Monsters
Tomorrow Never Knows
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
Heinz Edelmann
Please Mr. Postman
All you need is…

The psychedelic art of Nicole Claveloux

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The psychedelic quotient is emphasised here since Nicole Claveloux has had a long career in France as an illustrator and comic artist only part of which embraces a psychedelic style. This work is very much in the post-Yellow Submarine Heinz Edelmann style, of course, but Claveloux wasn’t the only artist to pastiche Edelmann, and the massive impact of The Beatles ensured that watered-down traces of Edelmann graphics could still be found in the mid-70s. The images here are from this post which features more Claveloux art in this style, together with some drawings from her own take on Alice in Wonderland, the style there being closer to Peter Blake. The picture below is a page from a rather stunning children’s book, Alala, Les Télémorphoses (1970) by Guy Montréal, more of which may be seen at Animalarium.

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Nicole Claveloux has an official website here (in French), and a related site here devoted to her wide-ranging and witty erotic art.

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Did You Get Your Pill Today? (1970).

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Romeo and Juliet (1971).

Update: Added two posters.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Elaine Hanelock’s Hollywood stars
The art of Marijke Koger
David Chestnutt’s psychedelic fairy tales
Yellow Submarine comic books
Heinz Edelmann

Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman

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My mother thought well enough of The Beatles in the 1960s to buy two of their albums—Beatles For Sale and Help!—and she continued to enjoy the Fab Four’s songs up to the point when (in her words) “they went funny”, by which she meant the period after Rubber Soul when they dropped the beat stylings, picked up sitars and took to recording drums and guitars in reverse. They were also taking drugs, of course, hence the funniness, and this rapid evolution—from loveable moptops to freaked-out weirdos in a matter of months—is the subject of Rob Chapman’s huge study of psychedelia as a cultural phenomenon, the period from around mid-1965 to late 1969 when Western youth “went funny” en masse.

This isn’t an undocumented era but Chapman’s book provides an overdue counterweight to the American focus of earlier studies such as Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (1987). Psychedelic art evolved in San Francisco but it’s an irony of the form that many of the wildest, most typically psychedelic concert posters were promoting acts that were only marginally psychedelic in their sound or, in the case of the older jazz, soul and blues acts, weren’t psychedelic at all. Chapman is more interested in the multi-media light shows than the poster art, and he reaches back in his early chapters to the origin of the San Francisco light shows in the avant-garde art of the Modernist era (especially László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator of the 1920s) and the art schools of the 1950s; he also traces the familiar journey of LSD from the Sandoz laboratories in Switzerland and the clinics of America to the front pages of newspapers and magazines. One of the most remarkable and unlikely aspects of psychedelia was the way in which a short-lived poly-cultural phenomenon maintained an aura of danger and illegality late into the 1960s even while psychedelic aesthetics were filtering into every facet of mainstream life: films, fashion, decor, advertising, even children’s television—all bloomed briefly with vivid colours and melting typography.

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Playboy gets hip to the trip, December 1967. Art by Wes Wilson.

Chapman touches on all of this but the bulk of his study is concerned with the music which was always the core of psychedelic culture, even if many of the artists involved were only following a trend (or, to be less charitable, jumping on a bandwagon). American groups are given their due, and Chapman has some smart things to say about the often neglected surf boom of the early 60s; as noted here last month, the first piece of popular music to use “LSD” in its title was LSD-25 (1960), a surf instrumental by The Gamblers. Surf bands and garage bands mutated into psychedelic groups but there was often little change in the overall sound beyond adding an effect or two to the instrumentation. Adulterated or processed sound is what I usually look for in psychedelic music, the psychedelic experience being one of distorted or exaggerated perception. Adulteration (or lack of it) is the most obvious factor that differentiates American psych from its British equivalent: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is a great song (its final line is fixed to every page of this blog) but is psychedelic only as a result of its lyrical context. Musically, the song is a simple rock bolero next to which Strawberry Fields Forever sounds like a broadcast from another planet.

Continue reading “Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman”

Elaine Hanelock’s Hollywood stars

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The essay I wrote about psychedelic art for Communication Arts earlier this year had a word limit so there was little mention of the way the psychedelic style was swiftly co-opted by advertising and commercial art as a means of reaching a youthful audience. This is a really a subject in itself, the way in which an aesthetic that was countercultural in 1965 was becoming mainstream by 1968, and was still rippling through the world of graphic design in the early 1970s.

Elaine Hanelock’s posters of Hollywood stars of the 1920s and 30s were published by Royal Screen Craft Inc, Los Angeles, in 1968, and combine two trends: psychedelic art and the nostalgia for old Hollywood that emerged in the mid-60s. There are ten posters in the set: The Marx Brothers, Clara Bow (the “It Girl”), Mae West & WC Fields, Laurel & Hardy, John Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Will Rogers, and Wallace Beery & Marie Dressler. Nobody seems to know anything about Elaine Hanelock’s career elsewhere but her posters continue to find an audience among collectors.

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Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part One

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Blame these things: the Jon Savage booklet, and Mojo Presents Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers (design by Phillip Savill).

One of the commissions for the New Year is psychedelia-related so to get in the mood I’ve been listening to the six CD compilations of psychedelic songs I made some years ago. I must have spent about five years gathering everything on these discs which comprise 132 selections in all, three for UK music and three for the USA, covering the years 1966–1969. The impetus was an annotated booklet listing “100 mind-expanding masterpieces” that Jon Savage had compiled for Mojo magazine in 1994; a revised list was published in 1997 along with some debatable contemporary additions. Things came to a head (so to speak) in 2001 when Savage and fellow Mojo journalists put together a four-CD collection of prime UK psychedelia for EMI, Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers, which included many of the songs from Savage’s list. That collection and the Rhino Records Nuggets box began the mania to accumulate everything on Savage’s list. Once I’d started burning my own compilations the Savage 100 quickly expanded when I realised that I ought to include more favourites of my own.

To start the year, then, I’m uploading all six compilations to Mixcloud beginning with the UK selection. Despite all the effort and the number of songs this still isn’t a definitive collection. As Savage observes in his notes, the late 1960s was a time of massive over-production by record companies with hundreds of singles released, especially in the UK. Many one-off releases by obscure bands are as good as those that topped the charts which is why psychedelic compilations are so numerous, and why omissions are unavoidable.

With that proviso here’s the first part of the UK collection covering the years 1966 to 1967. The tracklist below indicates in bold the songs from the Savage 100 with notes about my additions. The listing is by order of release although this isn’t strictly accurate throughout. I’ll be uploading the rest of the compilations over the next few weeks.

UK Psychedelia, Part One by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Dialogue — Alice In Wonderland (From Jonathan Miller’s BBC film, 1966.)
The Beatles — Tomorrow Never Knows
The Rolling Stones — Paint It Black
The Creation — Making Time
Craig — I Must Be Mad (A ferocious single by a band that only released one other 45 before splitting. Carl Palmer is on drums.)
Donovan — Season Of The Witch
The Yardbirds — Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
The Misunderstood — I Can Take You To The Sun (An American band who moved to London in 1966. This was their second and final single, and one of John Peel’s all-time favourites.)
Cream — I Feel Free
The Beatles — Strawberry Fields Forever
Pink Floyd — Interstellar Overdrive (Savage has the version from Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London which runs for almost 17 minutes. The version here is the shorter one from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.)
The Smoke — My Friend Jack
The Poets — In Your Tower
The Move — I Can Hear The Grass Grow
The Troggs — Night Of The Long Grass
Traffic — Paper Sun
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Are You Experienced?
Tomorrow — My White Bicycle (Savage has a later single, Revolution, but I much prefer this earlier 45.)
John’s Children — Midsummer Night’s Scene
Dialogue — Yellow Submarine
The Beatles — It’s All Too Much
The Attack — Colour Of My Mind
Small Faces — Green Circles

Previously on { feuilleton }
What Is A Happening?
My White Bicycle
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
Tomorrow Never Knows
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all