July 20, 2011

"The way records were sold was ridiculous... The covers were brown, tan or green paper."

"They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal."

Alex Steinweiss, the man who invented the album cover in 1939, has died at the age of 94. And here it is, the first album cover:



Lots more images, here. I especially like this one:

Alex Steinweiss album cover for Boogie Woogie

ADDED: I decided to post that "Boogie Woogie" cover before I saw that the first name on it is Meade — Meade Lux Lewis. Meade notices and, after some Googling, informs me that Meade Lux Lewis is mentioned in Chapter 81 of Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle." Indeed, it is:
Newt now put a long-playing record on the large phonograph in the room off the terrace. He came back with the record's slipcase, which he handed to me.

The record was called Cat House Piano. It was of unaccompanied piano by Meade Lux Lewis.
Here, you can buy "Cat House Piano," which looks like it might have a cover designed by Steinweiss. I like the song title "Meade's Mambo." And here's Meade Lux Lewis playing "Low Down Dog":



Over at YouTube, the top-rate comment is: "There will never, ever be a cooler name than "Meade Lux Lewis." Now, have I wandered off topic? "If you find  your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons... that person may be a member of your karass."

18 comments:

Judith Brodhead said...

What I liked about this obit was the photo. Other than the cigarette holder, although it's a 1947 photo, it could have been taken yesterday: the pushed up sleeves, glasses on the head...a very modern casual look that reads as modern, at least to this viewer.

gadfly said...

Hot Jazz from Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines! They are auctioning that album cover, complete with 78 rpm records here.

Ann Althouse said...

@gadfly Interesting that that old Armstrong/Hines album has a song called "Muggles" — a Harry Potter word.

Here, you can listen to it. Wikipedia says:

""Muggles" is the title of a recording by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra, recorded in Chicago on December 7, 1928. The title refers to the use of the word "muggles" as a slang term for marijuana amongst jazz musicians of the 1920s and 1930s. Armstrong was an enthusiastic user of marijuana, which was legal in most American states at the time."

Marijuana, eh?

gadfly said...

So we now know that Louis Armstrong's girlfriend's name was Mary Jane Muggles? But things didn't go well since Louis first become enraptured by the Beatles singing "Mother Mary" -- but that was soon followed by followed by "Got To Get You Out Of My Life."

gadfly said...

Oops - I think I am being "followed!" Sorry about the fat fingers.

phx said...

Great cover. And Cat's Cradle - I just reread that last year for the first time in almost...well a LOT of years. See the cat? See the cradle? I was all prepared to scorn Vonnegut but it was a really good read.
I don't think I'll read anything else by him again, however. I think Cat's Cradle was probably his best.

sorepaw said...

Very nice article on Steinwess and his contributions.

"Muggles" was recorded before there were Federal laws banning marijuana.

However, Louis Armstrong was busted in Los Angeles in 1930, receiving a suspended sentence for possession of marijuana. The club where he was appearing was doing regular radio broadcasts; rather than draw attention to Louis' temporary absence, the club management had a younger trumpet player named Red Mack impersonate him on the air for a few days.

Much later, Armstrong wrote a letter to President Eisenhower, advocating the legalization of marijuana.

edutcher said...

So it didn't start out as a marketing thing, but in response to a technical issue between 33s and 78s.

Steinweiss just made it look pretty.

And turned it into a big marketing thing.

Good for him.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hazy Dave said...

I probably came across the name Meade "Lux" Lewis on an ELP album or single some 35+ years ago with "Honky Tonk Train Blues"...

Tasty wv: nomim

chr1 said...

Wait, wasn't that the year that Aunt Elsie came out from Ohio?

...No that was the year Rex Lange hit it big with the Moonshine Rag...

...Oh yeah all the kids doin the potato hop after dark at Hoolihans...the year we had that big winter when Albert died?

...some winter

...yep

Chuck66 said...

I love going to used record stores just to look at the album covers.

Almost anything circa 1967-1980 is goofy. For that matter 80s also.

Lots of soft focus around 1970.

LYNNDH said...

Notice the apartment. Very Middle Class. What happened to that?

Phil 3:14 said...

That video was racist and sexist...

and I liked it!

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

How can you mention Vonnegut without tying him to Madison, in the great scene from Back to School.

You, a Madison Resident!

Clyde said...

Most of the slang terms used in jazz and other forms of music like rock and roll were about sex, drugs and booze. Indeed, both "jazz" and "rock and roll" were slang terms for sex. Music, intoxicants and sex make for a good party.

49erDweet said...

Spent time listening to Meade Lux Lewis on YouTube. Truly remarkable left hand v. right hand counter-rhythm artistry. Almost as if his hands were attached to different bodies. This one lacks video and begins with line hum, but after 4 seconds turns into remarkable dynamite.