Everything But the Music

When Peter Saville created the artwork for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures he’d never even heard the album now wrapped in what is arguably the work for which he is best known. He also claims he’d only heard a couple of their songs prior to that—and didn’t care for them.

So if the cover had little to do with the music (at least then), do Unknown Pleasures T-shirts (so pervasive today; thank you Urban Outfitters) have all that much to do with the band they supposedly advertise? Given that many versions of the shirts omit the band name, perhaps “JOY DIVISION SAY RELAX” would have been a better way to go, and the once-struggling band may very well have agreed.

» Listen to “Disorder” at Ear Farm

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The lesson is if you’re in a band and you want people to know who you are: Make T-shirts. When he was in high school my brother was in a band called the No-Names, and even though they had no name, they had T-shirts created from old undershirts and Sharpies. (Our mother wouldn’t let him make shirts for his first band, the Roach Clips.) They might not have had a huge following, but people knew who they were—the guys who wore pit-stained undershirts with writing on them. PUNK ROCK.

Though not exactly in the same class in terms of album sales, R.E.M. made its first serious dot on my radar the day after they’d come through town on their tour for Green. The next day at school everyone wore concert T-shirts that were printed inside-out (a reference to the song “Turn You Inside-Out” from the same album, as I later deduced). Since there was no obvious name on them I had to ask: What’s that from? Snorts erupted.

» Watch collected R.E.M. videos at marathonpacks

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A girlfriend purchased Mogwai’s Young Team based purely on album art alone. It’s a great cover, true, though I’m not sure either of us expected it to actually be so good. This is why record stores that serve beer are as bad an idea as a good one, and why the new era of downloading is about as fun as drinking alone. Take that how you will.

» Listen to “I Do Have Weapons” at Blown by the Wind

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When I was in high school I was in a number of cover bands, one of which played—and lost—our school’s Battle for the Bands. (Though I have little doubt any bands I’ve been in would have fared the same.) Our closing number was “After Hours,” a song we’d originally seen performed by R.E.M. in a tour video. To learn the song we did what everybody did before the internet but after MTV: We tuned our guitars to the television and figured it out. What we didn’t figure out (again, no internet) was that it was actually a Velvet Underground song. After our defeat, a girl I was trying to impress walked up to me and said, “I really liked the Velvet Underground song.” Not sure what she meant, I grinned and wondered if being in a cover band was proving too complicated.

In The Science of Sleep Gael Garcia Bernal sings a song so reminiscent of “After Hours” that if you were to go up to him and say he stole that from the Velvet Underground, he might have no idea what you meant. But: You should still make out with him.

» Listen to “If You Rescue Me (Chanson des Chats)” at You Ain’t No Picasso

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The cover art for Sunny Day Real Estate’s second album is a pink color field with white type that reads “Sunny Day Real Estate.” But because the album may or may not have ever been given an official name, when referring to it people will sometimes call it LP2 or Pink or Sunny Day Real Estate or even “their second album… the pink one.” Others make the obvious connection and call it The Pink Album, until somebody finally came up with a perfect name for it, but by then the band had broken up.

» Listen to “Red Elephant” at Music for Kids Who Can’t Read Good


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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