Can the music business survive coronavirus?

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    Can the music business survive coronavirus?

    For the first time in 89 years, the solid oak doors of Abbey Road Studios have closed. The north London recording studio has been at the reverberating heart of British music since its grand opening. It was here, in that inaugural year of 1931, that the ageing Edward Elgar conducted Land of Hope and Glory, and it remained open during the Second World War – Glenn Miller made his final recordings there in 1944. The Beatles made it famous in the 1960s. Kate Bush, Sting, Blur, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Ed Sheeran have all recorded there. But today the studio website informs all comers that: “In line with the strict measures introduced by the UK Government to limit the spread of Covid-19, the Studios are now closed for at least three weeks, with just our security team remaining in place.” And with Abbey Road’s technical wizards all in lockdown, even the studio’s online mixing and mastering services are no longer available.

    Abbey Road’s closure is emblematic of the near-total halt in activity across the music industry. Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), says that, before the pandemic, the nation’s music industry remained the world’s most successful exporter of music after the US and had been “reporting a strong performance in 2019, with revenues rising 7.3 per cent, the fourth successive year of growth”.

    But this spring’s growth has been nipped in the bud. “The most profound effects of the virus on the music industry have been cessation of all live performances and gigs, recording sessions and video shoots,” says Taylor. “This puts at immediate risk the livelihoods of thousands of musicians and other self-employed workers in music and across the creative industries more widely. We are very concerned about the impact on artists, venues and freelancers right across the music business. According to UK Music, which represents the whole music industry including the live sector, around 72 per cent of those who are work in the music industry are self-employed.”

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    While the arena-sized venues and major festivals might weather the storm, the smaller venues are in serious peril. Mark Davyd is CEO of the Music Venues Trust which represents 670 grassroots venues across the UK. “Of those,” he says, “114 describe themselves as ‘relatively secure’ for the next eight weeks, which leaves 556 under threat of imminent closure. That’s 83 per cent of the entire grassroots sector. The main problem for these venues is rent. The government action so far ensures they can’t be evicted, but all that does is defer the eviction order to the day the government changes the rules.”

    Venues in the major cities might be at greater risk. Businesses with a rateable value of under £51,000 can get access to a small grant of between £10-25,000. But businesses worth more than that do not qualify. This means that venues of similar capacity outside of the M25, for example, will qualify, but those of exactly the same type within it will not. Davyd sighs as he describes “a small, 120-seat jazz club with a £78,000 rateable value that looks doomed as things stand”.

    Davyd says the venues will also struggle to pay staff wages. “Although many can furlough their staff and claim the money back, they need to pay staff through March and April and they won’t be able to get it back until May. Most venue owners are either classified as directors of limited companies or sole trading entities, paying themselves by dividends, which mean they don’t qualify for self-employment help. Beyond that they have commitments to loans and suppliers.”

    While the Music Venue Trust is “appreciative of what the government has done… they’re offering blunt instruments at the moment which don’t suit the specific needs of the industry. We are working with the government and pressing them to move on to the detail very quickly. Over 200 venues have applied for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme Loan and, so far, none of those venues have been successful. They cannot persuade the banks – which are not used to dealing with the cultural sector – that they are a viable risk.”

    The second major area of concern is the physical music business. With the large retailers like HMV and independent shops closed, and online retailers such as Amazon (estimated to sell around half of physical music products in the UK) and supermarkets concentrating their efforts on home essentials and not restocking CDs, sales have fallen sharply. Taylor confirms that sales are “down by around 50 per cent with further falls likely over the coming weeks. Online mail order has been able to take up some of the slack, but there is the risk that reduced staffing and logistics constraints may affect the physical distribution chain as the virus spreads. Physical formats remain important for the UK business, generating £325m in retail spend in 2019, and for consumers, who love building a physical collection and enjoy the experience and community of browsing in a record store.”

    Del Day, who has been running Union Music Store in Lewes, Sussex, for the past 18 months with his business partner Danny Wilson, says that his shop is “as much a cultural community hub as a commercial enterprise. We thrive on people dropping in for a cuppa, having a chat, offering each other their views and picking up some new vinyl. We sell some quite obscure, left-field stuff and had also started a monthly album club. We’re lucky that, we have very accommodating landlords and that, because of the personal connection, a lot of our customers will either order online from us or wait to come into the shop once all this is over. But our online sales up until now only accounted for around five per cent of total sales and we won’t be ordering any new stock. We are obviously dependent on the Royal Mail to deliver those online orders and I do appreciate that delivery companies are obviously prioritising essentials over obscure vinyl cuts at the moment.”

    A member of the public wearing a protective mask walks on the iconic Abbey Road pedestrian crossing

    Last Wednesday saw the launch of the #loverecordstores campaign, encouraging music companies and high profile musicians to pledge support for independent shops like Day’s. Musicians, artists, actors and celebrity music fans around the world are being asked to film short video clips of themselves talking about, for example: what independent record stores mean to them, where their favourite store is, what records and artists those stores have helped them discover, and, most importantly, to encourage their fans to continue to shop online with their favourite stores wherever possible.

    Jason Rackham, managing director of independent music network [PIAS], who is leading the #loverecordstores initiative, added: “Independent record stores have played a key role in supporting and developing artists and their music for decades, so now it is time for music companies and the artists they represent to step up and give something back. We must support these small businesses if they are to survive this crisis and at the same time we can still play a big part in helping them to continue to introduce their customers to new music. By speaking directly to their audiences about the importance of record stores and encouraging music fans to continue shopping with them online, artists can play a big part in helping secure the survival of this vital part of our industry.”

    Early endorser Paul Weller said: “I’d be lost without my favourite record shops: Rough Trade, Sounds of the Universe, Honest Jon’s and all the other independents. Let’s all keep them all going in this very strange time.”

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    1/30 30) The Strokes – Is This It

    Photographer Colin Lane met the Strokes in early 2001, after being commissioned to shoot them for The Face magazine. The album cover happened by chance – after hanging out on another shoot a few weeks later, Lane heard the band’s art director hassling them to choose an album cover. He’d brought his portfolio with him, which included the now-infamous “ass shot”.

    The photograph, Lane later revealed in interviews, was taken in either late 1999 or 2000. His girlfriend had just got out of the shower, while he was playing with an old polaroid camera. He found a Chanel glove and asked her to pose. “Shooting on a Big Shot isn’t easy: you can only shoot from a specific distance, and it’s really designed for head-and-shoulders portraits,” he explained to The Guardian. “But when she slid the glove on and bent forward, I knew it was the perfect shot – simple, straightforward, graphic and just so sexy.” For fans, the image represents one of the last definable scenes in music.

    2/30 29) The Notorious BIG – Ready to Die

    Biggie Smalls picked a baby resembling himself to star on the cover of his debut Ready to Die. By doing so, he summed up the album’s autobiographical content, which begins with childhood and closes with death. He also uses the notion of childhood innocence to foreshadow how our surroundings can have a lasting impact.

    3/30 28) David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

    It might not be the quintessential David Bowie album, or the one that introduced fans to Starman. But the face staring back at you from this particular album cover is, undeniably, the most recognisable Bowie look: red mullet; a gaunt, sombre expression and that famous lightning bolt across his face.

    4/30 27) Nas – Illmatic

    One of the greatest debut albums – and arguably the best hip hop record – of all time has a fittingly arresting cover image. A photo of a seven-year-old Nas was superimposed over Danny Clinch’s snapshot of one of the housing projects in the New York rapper’s native Queensbridge. Designed by Aimee Macauley, it was intended to reflect how the projects used to be Nas’s entire world, “until I educated myself to see there’s more out there”. But Nas was also inviting you to see through his eyes and into those very projects where he grew up, and feel immersed in that world via the power of his storytelling.

    5/30 26) Kate Bush – The Dreaming

    Years after its release, Kate Bush noted how The Dreaming was deemed by many to be her “she’s gone mad” album. Its multiple, disparate narratives and metamorphic production intertwine with movie influences, particularly music hall crime capers of Houdini’s era. On the sepia-toned album cover, Bush plays the role of the escapist’s wife, looking to the distance, rather than at his face, as though trying to contact him via a different medium than mere speech. The way she holds his face in her hands gives her an additional, mesmerising power and conjures the old-world, eccentric mysticism with which she was – and still is – associated.

    6/30 25) Oasis – Definitely Maybe

    Photographer Michael Spencer Jones had a task on his hands organising Oasis for what is indisputably their best album cover. It was different to what the band originally envisioned – Noel Gallagher had spotted a photo of the Beatles sat round a coffee in Japan, so thought Oasis could be photographed at the dining table of guitarist Bonehead’s house in Manchester. Jones didn’t see this working, so spread the members around Bonehead’s living room instead, and asked them to bring objects that were personal to them for decoration. Noel liked Jones’s idea of hanging an inflatable globe (brought by one of the roadies) from the ceiling. “Yeah, global dominance,” he said. Soon after the album’s release, that’s exactly what happened.

    7/30 24) Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

    Andy Warhol conceived the idea of a vinyl cover with working zipper that would reveal a pair of white briefs beneath the bulging jeans of a male model, who has to this day never been identified. Many fans assumed it was Mick Jagger, but people working on the shoot said several models were photographed and Warhol never revealed which one was used. It represented what the Rolling Stones quickly became famous for: an edgy, hyper-sexual kind of swagger.

    8/30 23) Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

    German painter Mati Klarwein – who also created Santana’s artwork for Abraxas – was behind this gatefold cover that served as an embodiment of Davis’s creative manifesto. The surreal and complex renderings mirror what Davis does with the music itself; challenging traditional notions of structure and juxtaposing concepts of passivity and aggressiveness, anger and love.

    9/30 22) AC/DC – Back in Black

    Back in Black’s all-black cover design fit the mood of a band emerging from dark times. In the wake of the death of vocalist Bon Scott, AC/DC had tracked down Brian Johnson, whom Scott had previously mentioned to the band. Certain people at their record label, Atlantic, weren’t so keen on the cover, but the band were insistent: it was a memorial to Scott. And now one of the most instantly recognisable and best-loved album covers in rock history.

    10/30 21) Blondie – Parallel Lines

    Visually striking and symbolic of what Debbie Harry was doing both as a woman and an artist in the music industry, Parallel Lines’ cover was shot by photographer Edo Bertoglio. It was apparently rejected by the band but later chosen by their manager, Peter Leeds. The juxtaposition between the band, who beam in their matching dress suits like a bunch of schoolboys at their senior prom, and Harry, who stands defiant in her white dress, hands on hips, is wonderful. “I’m not impressed,” her stance seems to say. “Try harder.”

    11/30 20) Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

    Dylan walks arm-in-arm with then-girlfriend and muse Suze Rotolo through the West Village in freezing New York, February 1963. Rotolo described the circumstances to the New York Times in 2008: “He wore a very thin jacket, because image was all. Our apartment was always cold, so I had a sweater on, plus I borrowed one of his big, bulky sweaters. On top of that I put on a coat. So I felt like an Italian sausage. Every time I look at that picture, I think I look fat.” Yet her memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time, also noted the cover’s significance, how it “influenced the look of album covers precisely because of its casual down-home spontaneity and sensibility”.

    12/30 19) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

    Led Zeppelin couldn’t have picked a better image to serve as a visual introduction to their fans. It’s an easy tactic – using a photo from a real-life tragedy, in this case the Hinderburg disaster, for shock factor. But it worked, and the cover went on to become one of the most indelible images in rock music.

    13/30 18) Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols

    “The album will last. The sleeve may not,” said the adverts for the Sex Pistols’ first and only studio album in 1977. The Sex Pistols were already controversial before the release of Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols. They’d caused nationwide uproar for swearing on live TV, been fired from two record labels, and been banned from a number of live venues in England. Using the word “bollocks” on the front of their artwork caused instant censorship, and more controversy that would only benefit its performance. Despite many major retailers refusing to sell it, the album debuted at number one on the UK album charts. Today, it is arguably the most recognisable punk album cover in music history.

    14/30 17) The Roots – Things Fall Apart

    For a limited time, The Roots’ Grammy-nominated album Things Fall Apart was available with five different covers, which reflected each of the world’s “greatest turmoils”. The most enduring was a photograph taken during a Civil Rights Movement-era riot – a stark black and white image showing riot police as they chase two terrified black teenagers.
    “This became the main artwork for a few reasons,” art director Kenny Gravillis told Complex magazine. “The cover felt like the urban community could really relate to it. Seeing real fear in the woman’s face is very affecting. It feels unflinching and aggressive in its commentary on society. I remember going to Tower Records and seeing it huge; it was just so impactful. I’m not sure that it would work today. I give MCA respect for pushing it out at the time.”

    15/30 16) Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

    Yes, Dark Side of the Moon, with Storm Thorgerson’s geometric design, is the most iconic of Pink Floyd covers. But the shot he conceived for Wish You Were Here – taken by Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell – is by far the more visceral. It shows two businessmen shaking hands, with one of them on fire, and to the band it represented the fear of revealing your true feelings for fear of “getting burnt”. Two stuntmen were involved, with one (Ronnie Rondell Jr) dressed in a fire-retardant outfit covered by a business suit, and his head protected by a hood, covered beneath a wig. Unfortunately, high winds meant he lost his moustache and eyebrows to the flames. Hopefully he felt the resulting shot was worth it. Fans definitely think so.

    16/30 15) Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

    Just two of Fleetwood Mac’s then-five members appear on the cover of their best-selling and arguably greatest album. Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood’s legs are entwined, which serves as a pretty good metaphor for the entanglement between band members that resulted in so many of the record’s lyrical back-and-forths. And really it’s just a gorgeous, classic image, photographed and conceived by Herbert W Worthington with the band, and designed by Desmond Strobel.

    17/30 14) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

    The instantly iconic cover of It’s Blitz! shows little but says a lot. There’s a sense of female defiance in showing the woman’s hand, nails in red polish, crushing the egg, a symbol of fertility. It also embodies what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did on this album, which is take traditional sounds, equipment and ideas and scramble them into something completely subversive.

    18/30 13) Madonna – True Blue

    This shot was taken by celebrated photographer Herb Ritts, who later teamed up with Madonna for the “Like a Prayer” and “You Can Dance” covers. It is one of her most recognisable images, inspired in part by Andy Warhol’s pop art and also by the iconography of Madonna’s idol Marilyn Monroe. Here, she invites fans to make the immediate connection between pop art and commercial value, making her the first to exploit the late Eighties concept of pop artist as brand.

    19/30 12) The Clash – London Calling

    The Clash paid tribute to Elvis Presley by mimicking the pink and green lettering from his 1956 self-titled album. Yet the image, one of the most iconic in rock history, blows that version of rock and roll to kingdom come: everything “safe” that the King had offered was replaced by Pennie Smith’s photograph of “the ultimate rock’n’roll moment – total loss of control”. Bassist Paul Simonon later told Fender that he’d smashed his guitar out of frustration with bouncers for not letting fans stand up from their seats at the Palladium in New York City. The captured moment is visceral, dangerous and anti-establishment – just like The Clash.

    20/30 11) Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley appears mid-belt on the cover of his self-titled album, clearly performing one of those iconic vocal whoops. It’s a visual introduction to rock’n’roll for his unsuspecting American audience, done 20 years before The Clash would replicate that classic pink and green lettering to do the same for their British fans.

    21/30 10) NWA – Straight Outta Compton

    Six guys stare down toward the ground, one pointing a handgun right at the viewer. This is the cover art for Straight Outta Compton, the pioneering debut by NWA. The photographer was a 28-year-old white guy, Eric Poppleton, who was struggling to make ends meet after graduating from art school. He and his art director Kevin Hosman spent a day following the guys around alleys in LA, until Poppleton found a spot where he got on the ground and asked NWA’s members to stand over him, with one holding “what was hopefully an unloaded” gun. He had no idea the photograph would become one of the most iconic images in gangsta rap. Poppleton would go on to shoot four other NWA album covers.

    22/30 9) Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA

    The Boss tells you everything you need to know about him with one image. An epitome of the blue collar American, Springsteen’s seventh album cover was shot by Annie Leibowitz and shows the artist’s from behind, dressed in worn blue jeans and a simple white t-shirt, with a red cap hanging out of the back pocket after a long day’s grind. “We took a lot of different types of pictures,” said Springsteen, “and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face.” Combined with the American flag in the background, the cover parallels the themes of Springsteen’s music.

    23/30 8) The Ramones – The Ramones

    An album cover that would inspire future generations of bands to slouch moodily against brick walls. The Ramones were near-impossible to gather together for a posed photograph, but Robert Bayley – a photographer for Punk magazine, managed to get a shot that captured the band perfectly. Wearing ripped jeans and leather jackets, they stare blankly at the camera through sunglasses, or fringes that half-conceal their eyes.

    24/30 7) The Beatles – Abbey Road

    Few album covers can profess to have literally stopped traffic, and it’s testament to the iconic status of Abbey Road’s artwork that thousands of fans have attempted to recreate it. The band, and photographer Iain McMillan, had just 10 minutes to get the shot, which was taken from a step-ladder while a police officer held up traffic behind the scenes. Six photos were taken, which McCartney later examined with a magnifying glass before making his decision.

    25/30 6) Grace Jones – Island Life

    Before he tried to “break the internet” with a nude Kim Kardashian on the cover of Paper magazine, Jean-Paul Goude took some of the most memorable images of the Eighties for Grace Jones’s album Island Life. She appears on the cover in what looks like an impossible pose; it is, in fact, a composite of her in different positions, cut and pasted together for one of the most striking images in music history.

    26/30 5) The Velvet Underground and Nico – The Velvet Underground and Nico

    Like the working zipper of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, early versions of The Velvet Underground and Nico asked the owner to “Peel slowly and see”, upon which they’d peel the banana skin to reveal a flesh-coloured banana beneath. MGM was happy to fork out for the additional costs of manufacturing the vinyl, with the assumption that its ties to Warhol would help boost sales. It’s one of very few albums where the person behind the album art, rather than the band themselves or the album title, are named on the cover.

    27/30 4) Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

    The cover art for Joy Division’s debut album was designed by Peter Saville, who had previously created posters for Manchester’s Factor Club in the late Seventies. The chosen image, which was picked by Bernard Sumner, is based on radio waves from pulsar CP 1919 – from the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy. “The duochrome Peter Saville cover of this first Joy Division album speaks volumes,” Susie Goldring said in a review for BBC Online. “Its white on black lines reflect a pulse of power, a surge of bass, and raw angst. If the cover doesn’t draw you in, the music will.

    28/30 3) Nirvana – Nevermind

    Nirvana – Nevermind
    This is one of the most recognisable album covers of all time, and makes a fierce, mocking statement about the value western society places on chasing wealth – and the way it passes that message onto future generations. Record label Geffen were concerned by the appearance of three-month old Spencer Elden’s penis on the cover, but Kurt Cobain would only accept a censor sticker over the image if it read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet paedophile.”

    29/30 2) The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

    With its star-studded cast and bold colour scheme, the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came to define artist Peter Blake and also The Beatles themselves. There are 88 figures in all, including the band themselves, on a set photographed by Michael Cooper. Blake collected a list of names from three of the four Beatles. The list included Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, and even Adolf Hitler (requested by John Lennon, and hidden behind other figures). If you bought the record, Blake later said, “you also bought a piece of art on exactly the level that I was aiming for”.

    30/30 1) Patti Smith – Horses

    Critic Camille Paglia once suggested that Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo of his former lover, friend and collaborator Patti Smith is the greatest ever taken of a woman, and seeing it, you feel inclined to agree. The godmother of punk herself said she thought she looked like Frank Sinatra, dressed in a crisp white shirt with a black ribbon around her neck. A black jacket with a horse brooch on the lapel is slung casually over her shoulder. “The only rule we had was, Robert told me if I wore a white shirt, not to wear a dirty one,” Smith told NPR in 2010. “I got my favourite ribbon and my favourite jacket, and he took about 12 pictures. By the eighth one he said, ‘I got it’.”

    1/30 30) The Strokes – Is This It

    Photographer Colin Lane met the Strokes in early 2001, after being commissioned to shoot them for The Face magazine. The album cover happened by chance – after hanging out on another shoot a few weeks later, Lane heard the band’s art director hassling them to choose an album cover. He’d brought his portfolio with him, which included the now-infamous “ass shot”.

    The photograph, Lane later revealed in interviews, was taken in either late 1999 or 2000. His girlfriend had just got out of the shower, while he was playing with an old polaroid camera. He found a Chanel glove and asked her to pose. “Shooting on a Big Shot isn’t easy: you can only shoot from a specific distance, and it’s really designed for head-and-shoulders portraits,” he explained to The Guardian. “But when she slid the glove on and bent forward, I knew it was the perfect shot – simple, straightforward, graphic and just so sexy.” For fans, the image represents one of the last definable scenes in music.

    2/30 29) The Notorious BIG – Ready to Die

    Biggie Smalls picked a baby resembling himself to star on the cover of his debut Ready to Die. By doing so, he summed up the album’s autobiographical content, which begins with childhood and closes with death. He also uses the notion of childhood innocence to foreshadow how our surroundings can have a lasting impact.

    3/30 28) David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

    It might not be the quintessential David Bowie album, or the one that introduced fans to Starman. But the face staring back at you from this particular album cover is, undeniably, the most recognisable Bowie look: red mullet; a gaunt, sombre expression and that famous lightning bolt across his face.

    4/30 27) Nas – Illmatic

    One of the greatest debut albums – and arguably the best hip hop record – of all time has a fittingly arresting cover image. A photo of a seven-year-old Nas was superimposed over Danny Clinch’s snapshot of one of the housing projects in the New York rapper’s native Queensbridge. Designed by Aimee Macauley, it was intended to reflect how the projects used to be Nas’s entire world, “until I educated myself to see there’s more out there”. But Nas was also inviting you to see through his eyes and into those very projects where he grew up, and feel immersed in that world via the power of his storytelling.

    5/30 26) Kate Bush – The Dreaming

    Years after its release, Kate Bush noted how The Dreaming was deemed by many to be her “she’s gone mad” album. Its multiple, disparate narratives and metamorphic production intertwine with movie influences, particularly music hall crime capers of Houdini’s era. On the sepia-toned album cover, Bush plays the role of the escapist’s wife, looking to the distance, rather than at his face, as though trying to contact him via a different medium than mere speech. The way she holds his face in her hands gives her an additional, mesmerising power and conjures the old-world, eccentric mysticism with which she was – and still is – associated.

    6/30 25) Oasis – Definitely Maybe

    Photographer Michael Spencer Jones had a task on his hands organising Oasis for what is indisputably their best album cover. It was different to what the band originally envisioned – Noel Gallagher had spotted a photo of the Beatles sat round a coffee in Japan, so thought Oasis could be photographed at the dining table of guitarist Bonehead’s house in Manchester. Jones didn’t see this working, so spread the members around Bonehead’s living room instead, and asked them to bring objects that were personal to them for decoration. Noel liked Jones’s idea of hanging an inflatable globe (brought by one of the roadies) from the ceiling. “Yeah, global dominance,” he said. Soon after the album’s release, that’s exactly what happened.

    7/30 24) Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

    Andy Warhol conceived the idea of a vinyl cover with working zipper that would reveal a pair of white briefs beneath the bulging jeans of a male model, who has to this day never been identified. Many fans assumed it was Mick Jagger, but people working on the shoot said several models were photographed and Warhol never revealed which one was used. It represented what the Rolling Stones quickly became famous for: an edgy, hyper-sexual kind of swagger.

    8/30 23) Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

    German painter Mati Klarwein – who also created Santana’s artwork for Abraxas – was behind this gatefold cover that served as an embodiment of Davis’s creative manifesto. The surreal and complex renderings mirror what Davis does with the music itself; challenging traditional notions of structure and juxtaposing concepts of passivity and aggressiveness, anger and love.

    9/30 22) AC/DC – Back in Black

    Back in Black’s all-black cover design fit the mood of a band emerging from dark times. In the wake of the death of vocalist Bon Scott, AC/DC had tracked down Brian Johnson, whom Scott had previously mentioned to the band. Certain people at their record label, Atlantic, weren’t so keen on the cover, but the band were insistent: it was a memorial to Scott. And now one of the most instantly recognisable and best-loved album covers in rock history.

    10/30 21) Blondie – Parallel Lines

    Visually striking and symbolic of what Debbie Harry was doing both as a woman and an artist in the music industry, Parallel Lines’ cover was shot by photographer Edo Bertoglio. It was apparently rejected by the band but later chosen by their manager, Peter Leeds. The juxtaposition between the band, who beam in their matching dress suits like a bunch of schoolboys at their senior prom, and Harry, who stands defiant in her white dress, hands on hips, is wonderful. “I’m not impressed,” her stance seems to say. “Try harder.”

    11/30 20) Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

    Dylan walks arm-in-arm with then-girlfriend and muse Suze Rotolo through the West Village in freezing New York, February 1963. Rotolo described the circumstances to the New York Times in 2008: “He wore a very thin jacket, because image was all. Our apartment was always cold, so I had a sweater on, plus I borrowed one of his big, bulky sweaters. On top of that I put on a coat. So I felt like an Italian sausage. Every time I look at that picture, I think I look fat.” Yet her memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time, also noted the cover’s significance, how it “influenced the look of album covers precisely because of its casual down-home spontaneity and sensibility”.

    12/30 19) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

    Led Zeppelin couldn’t have picked a better image to serve as a visual introduction to their fans. It’s an easy tactic – using a photo from a real-life tragedy, in this case the Hinderburg disaster, for shock factor. But it worked, and the cover went on to become one of the most indelible images in rock music.

    13/30 18) Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols

    “The album will last. The sleeve may not,” said the adverts for the Sex Pistols’ first and only studio album in 1977. The Sex Pistols were already controversial before the release of Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols. They’d caused nationwide uproar for swearing on live TV, been fired from two record labels, and been banned from a number of live venues in England. Using the word “bollocks” on the front of their artwork caused instant censorship, and more controversy that would only benefit its performance. Despite many major retailers refusing to sell it, the album debuted at number one on the UK album charts. Today, it is arguably the most recognisable punk album cover in music history.

    14/30 17) The Roots – Things Fall Apart

    For a limited time, The Roots’ Grammy-nominated album Things Fall Apart was available with five different covers, which reflected each of the world’s “greatest turmoils”. The most enduring was a photograph taken during a Civil Rights Movement-era riot – a stark black and white image showing riot police as they chase two terrified black teenagers.
    “This became the main artwork for a few reasons,” art director Kenny Gravillis told Complex magazine. “The cover felt like the urban community could really relate to it. Seeing real fear in the woman’s face is very affecting. It feels unflinching and aggressive in its commentary on society. I remember going to Tower Records and seeing it huge; it was just so impactful. I’m not sure that it would work today. I give MCA respect for pushing it out at the time.”

    15/30 16) Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

    Yes, Dark Side of the Moon, with Storm Thorgerson’s geometric design, is the most iconic of Pink Floyd covers. But the shot he conceived for Wish You Were Here – taken by Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell – is by far the more visceral. It shows two businessmen shaking hands, with one of them on fire, and to the band it represented the fear of revealing your true feelings for fear of “getting burnt”. Two stuntmen were involved, with one (Ronnie Rondell Jr) dressed in a fire-retardant outfit covered by a business suit, and his head protected by a hood, covered beneath a wig. Unfortunately, high winds meant he lost his moustache and eyebrows to the flames. Hopefully he felt the resulting shot was worth it. Fans definitely think so.

    16/30 15) Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

    Just two of Fleetwood Mac’s then-five members appear on the cover of their best-selling and arguably greatest album. Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood’s legs are entwined, which serves as a pretty good metaphor for the entanglement between band members that resulted in so many of the record’s lyrical back-and-forths. And really it’s just a gorgeous, classic image, photographed and conceived by Herbert W Worthington with the band, and designed by Desmond Strobel.

    17/30 14) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

    The instantly iconic cover of It’s Blitz! shows little but says a lot. There’s a sense of female defiance in showing the woman’s hand, nails in red polish, crushing the egg, a symbol of fertility. It also embodies what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did on this album, which is take traditional sounds, equipment and ideas and scramble them into something completely subversive.

    18/30 13) Madonna – True Blue

    This shot was taken by celebrated photographer Herb Ritts, who later teamed up with Madonna for the “Like a Prayer” and “You Can Dance” covers. It is one of her most recognisable images, inspired in part by Andy Warhol’s pop art and also by the iconography of Madonna’s idol Marilyn Monroe. Here, she invites fans to make the immediate connection between pop art and commercial value, making her the first to exploit the late Eighties concept of pop artist as brand.

    19/30 12) The Clash – London Calling

    The Clash paid tribute to Elvis Presley by mimicking the pink and green lettering from his 1956 self-titled album. Yet the image, one of the most iconic in rock history, blows that version of rock and roll to kingdom come: everything “safe” that the King had offered was replaced by Pennie Smith’s photograph of “the ultimate rock’n’roll moment – total loss of control”. Bassist Paul Simonon later told Fender that he’d smashed his guitar out of frustration with bouncers for not letting fans stand up from their seats at the Palladium in New York City. The captured moment is visceral, dangerous and anti-establishment – just like The Clash.

    20/30 11) Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley appears mid-belt on the cover of his self-titled album, clearly performing one of those iconic vocal whoops. It’s a visual introduction to rock’n’roll for his unsuspecting American audience, done 20 years before The Clash would replicate that classic pink and green lettering to do the same for their British fans.

    21/30 10) NWA – Straight Outta Compton

    Six guys stare down toward the ground, one pointing a handgun right at the viewer. This is the cover art for Straight Outta Compton, the pioneering debut by NWA. The photographer was a 28-year-old white guy, Eric Poppleton, who was struggling to make ends meet after graduating from art school. He and his art director Kevin Hosman spent a day following the guys around alleys in LA, until Poppleton found a spot where he got on the ground and asked NWA’s members to stand over him, with one holding “what was hopefully an unloaded” gun. He had no idea the photograph would become one of the most iconic images in gangsta rap. Poppleton would go on to shoot four other NWA album covers.

    22/30 9) Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA

    The Boss tells you everything you need to know about him with one image. An epitome of the blue collar American, Springsteen’s seventh album cover was shot by Annie Leibowitz and shows the artist’s from behind, dressed in worn blue jeans and a simple white t-shirt, with a red cap hanging out of the back pocket after a long day’s grind. “We took a lot of different types of pictures,” said Springsteen, “and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face.” Combined with the American flag in the background, the cover parallels the themes of Springsteen’s music.

    23/30 8) The Ramones – The Ramones

    An album cover that would inspire future generations of bands to slouch moodily against brick walls. The Ramones were near-impossible to gather together for a posed photograph, but Robert Bayley – a photographer for Punk magazine, managed to get a shot that captured the band perfectly. Wearing ripped jeans and leather jackets, they stare blankly at the camera through sunglasses, or fringes that half-conceal their eyes.

    24/30 7) The Beatles – Abbey Road

    Few album covers can profess to have literally stopped traffic, and it’s testament to the iconic status of Abbey Road’s artwork that thousands of fans have attempted to recreate it. The band, and photographer Iain McMillan, had just 10 minutes to get the shot, which was taken from a step-ladder while a police officer held up traffic behind the scenes. Six photos were taken, which McCartney later examined with a magnifying glass before making his decision.

    25/30 6) Grace Jones – Island Life

    Before he tried to “break the internet” with a nude Kim Kardashian on the cover of Paper magazine, Jean-Paul Goude took some of the most memorable images of the Eighties for Grace Jones’s album Island Life. She appears on the cover in what looks like an impossible pose; it is, in fact, a composite of her in different positions, cut and pasted together for one of the most striking images in music history.

    26/30 5) The Velvet Underground and Nico – The Velvet Underground and Nico

    Like the working zipper of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, early versions of The Velvet Underground and Nico asked the owner to “Peel slowly and see”, upon which they’d peel the banana skin to reveal a flesh-coloured banana beneath. MGM was happy to fork out for the additional costs of manufacturing the vinyl, with the assumption that its ties to Warhol would help boost sales. It’s one of very few albums where the person behind the album art, rather than the band themselves or the album title, are named on the cover.

    27/30 4) Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

    The cover art for Joy Division’s debut album was designed by Peter Saville, who had previously created posters for Manchester’s Factor Club in the late Seventies. The chosen image, which was picked by Bernard Sumner, is based on radio waves from pulsar CP 1919 – from the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy. “The duochrome Peter Saville cover of this first Joy Division album speaks volumes,” Susie Goldring said in a review for BBC Online. “Its white on black lines reflect a pulse of power, a surge of bass, and raw angst. If the cover doesn’t draw you in, the music will.

    28/30 3) Nirvana – Nevermind

    Nirvana – Nevermind
    This is one of the most recognisable album covers of all time, and makes a fierce, mocking statement about the value western society places on chasing wealth – and the way it passes that message onto future generations. Record label Geffen were concerned by the appearance of three-month old Spencer Elden’s penis on the cover, but Kurt Cobain would only accept a censor sticker over the image if it read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet paedophile.”

    29/30 2) The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

    With its star-studded cast and bold colour scheme, the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came to define artist Peter Blake and also The Beatles themselves. There are 88 figures in all, including the band themselves, on a set photographed by Michael Cooper. Blake collected a list of names from three of the four Beatles. The list included Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, and even Adolf Hitler (requested by John Lennon, and hidden behind other figures). If you bought the record, Blake later said, “you also bought a piece of art on exactly the level that I was aiming for”.

    30/30 1) Patti Smith – Horses

    Critic Camille Paglia once suggested that Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo of his former lover, friend and collaborator Patti Smith is the greatest ever taken of a woman, and seeing it, you feel inclined to agree. The godmother of punk herself said she thought she looked like Frank Sinatra, dressed in a crisp white shirt with a black ribbon around her neck. A black jacket with a horse brooch on the lapel is slung casually over her shoulder. “The only rule we had was, Robert told me if I wore a white shirt, not to wear a dirty one,” Smith told NPR in 2010. “I got my favourite ribbon and my favourite jacket, and he took about 12 pictures. By the eighth one he said, ‘I got it’.”

    Geoff Taylor says that “the BPI is determined to help protect the sector as much as it can, but revenues will obviously decline in the short term, and we are concerned that the crisis may threaten the ongoing viability of some physical music retailers. The support for the high atreet announced by the government is encouraging but more needs to be done, and we are writing to the chancellor to suggest a temporary freeze on VAT for physical music once stores reopen, to help the sector get back on its feet.”

    Labels face different challenges according to their size and the profile of their business. “The major labels are of course part of bigger global concerns,” says Taylor. “Sony Music, for example, is part of Sony Corp, which has just announced a $100m global relief fund to bring help to those impacted by Covid-19. While major labels all have well-developed streaming businesses, and so do many independents, some indies cater to fanbases which are heavily dependent on physical product, often producing lovingly curated deluxe edition box sets of classic catalogue releases. Those labels will be hardest hit by the ongoing store closures.”

    One such is the small, Exeter-based Occultation Recordings, run by Pete Flatt since late 2008. “In 2015 we released seven albums, and all did well but in mid-2016 costs rocketed and UK sales fell,” he says. “2018-19 was disastrous – impossible to take decisions with constant cliff-edges so we were in suspended animation. 2020 was to be 11 months of relative certainty, enough to run a proper release campaign and see results. We’re due to release the new Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus album in June. The band were planning dates in the UK and EU – they’ve a cult following in the US and northern/eastern Europe. We’d already started the PR campaign, investing most of what money the label has, and paid for recording, mastering, vinyl cutting, manufacturing of CDs, PR and a vinyl manufacturing deposit. We’re all under huge stress.”

    Flatt says that in small businesses like record labels, “most of us self-employed, [we] are left to fend for ourselves. There are things we can do: we rush-released a Rev Army track called “Prayer” as a free/pay-what-you-like download on Friday. For now, we’re still able to ship mail order, although we’ve already reduced this to shipping once a week maximum and are still waiting to find out what local Royal Mail arrangements are. However, we’ve no idea when – or if – Rev Army LPs will be manufactured or whether it’ll be possible to ship them to purchasers, let alone distribute to retail. We won’t survive if we’re not able to sell them. Digital income has been negligible since the advent of streaming. The whole point of 2020 was that we were going to give it all we had in an attempt to expand our audience, whereas now at best we may be able to sell to the converted.”

    Peter Duckworth, who has managed the nation’s beloved brand of Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation albums for three decades says that physical sales of the recent albums (often bought in supermarkets and petrol stations) are already down 10-15 per cent and the release of Now 105 – originally scheduled for last week – has been delayed. “It’s the first time we’ve delayed an Easter release since the 1980s. We launched a new streaming app recently and we’ve made that free to access – with families in lockdown streaming more music from the 1980s than other decades.”

    Taylor hopes that streaming helps to insulate many labels. “Many fans have switched from physical formats to streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music,” he says. “Streaming now accounts for around 60 per cent of revenues and, with its digital supply chain, can keep functioning through the crisis more easily than the physical music sector.”

    Last year 75 per cent of UK music consumption was via streaming. Taylor explains that 2019’s 7.3 per cent rise in record label revenue was largely attributable to the “continuing increase in streaming income, which leapt by 21.8 per cent to stand at £629m. That’s the highest level of annual trade income in well over a decade going back to 2006 (£1,162m), though it is still down by about a fifth on the post-Millennium peak of 2001. We were starting from a relatively healthy place, but obviously we expect the 2020 figures to be affected by the present crisis – we will not know to what degree for some months.”

    Although pundits were initially predicting a rise in music streaming, Taylor says that “as yet we are seeing this only to a limited degree on advertising supported services such as YouTube, but not on music subscriptions, which are much more important economically. So far it looks like the boost on home consumption more directed towards TV and radio. Any increase at home is being counterbalanced by the lack of listening to music during a daily commute.”

    More people than usual have been tuning into the radio. Mike Read – the former Radio 1 DJ who now streams shows online with United DJs Radio – says that “people really are turning to the familiar voices of DJs like old friends. Our streams are up. We also try to play a good variety of music, including new songs, to ensure we give coverage and royalties to the artists who are struggling right now.” That said, he acknowledges that radio plays don’t translate into many banknotes. Radio stations don’t pay artists directly. Artists must apply to either the Performing Rights Society (PRS) or the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) to collect their royalties, which vary depending on the listenership numbers for the station. Recent estimates showed that the PRS was collecting £13.63 per minute for music played on Radio 1, £24.27 per minute for Radio 2 and £5.25 per minute for Radio 6 Music.

    Because of the closure of studios and the cessation of video shoots, many artists are now delaying album releases until the late summer or early autumn. Others – like Dua Lipa and Pearl Jam – managed to put records out last week as scheduled.

    Canadian electropop star Kiesza (best known for 2014’s multi-million selling dance anthem “Hideaway”) phones from New York to tell me that the crisis has forced her to “get creative” as she steams ahead to get her third album – Crave – out in June. “I’ve made a video of me dancing around my apartment to one single. I spent last night editing footage we had already shot on my computer – I’m learning how to work on effects and all sorts of stuff I hadn’t done before. I’ve had to cancel all the live performances scheduled to promote the record and I’m losing sleep worrying about all the musicians, roadies, dancers, directors and venue owners who are losing their livelihoods because of it. The A-list stars, like Taylor Swift [who just gave her favourite Nashville record store enough cash to keep it afloat for three months] have pockets deep enough to support their teams. But I started my own label – Zebra Spirit – last year and it’s a challenge.”

    Kiesza was dropped by her “unsupportive” label after a 2017 car crash left her with a traumatic brain injury. “I have spent a lot of time in bed, in my own form of isolation,” she says, “So I am more prepared for this than some people. And I came through the experience feeling more appreciative of what I have. Crave is a joyful album and I want it to lift people through of this strange scary time. I’m looking at doing online gigs, hopefully with my guitarist, whose entire summer schedule has fallen through. He was going to be touring with Lenny Kravitz and… now what? I want to help.”

    Artists who have never tried online gigging before can take notes from experts like Janet Devlin, the Northern Irish singer-songwriter who hit the mainstream via The X Factor in 2011. She tells me she began performing online around six years ago via the StageIt site, which combines facets of ticketed gigging and busking by allowing viewers to purchase pay-what-you-can digital tickets to streamed concerts, whist also allowing for monetary digital “tips” paid during performances.

    “It was a bizarre concept at first,” she says. “I made the mistake of pricing tickets too high and only made about £25. Then I learned to set the ‘admission’ low and let people tip if they were enjoying it. That way I could make £4-5,000 for a good gig.”

    Devlin has struggled with anxiety and says the platform has allowed her “to connect more deeply with fans who also struggle with their mental health. There are nights when people need music but cannot face getting up and out of the house, having strangers jostle up against them.” She also says the interactive nature of online giggling means that “while you only catch the odd shouted sentence from fans at a live show, online people can type out their emotional responses and you can see their thoughts flashing up on your screen. It’s a different kind of intimacy.”

    Devlin says there’s no way she would have been able to make her upcoming album, Confessional (out in May), without the revenue raised by online gigs. Her new single, “Away with the Fairies”, was produced by Jonathan Quarmby (Lewis Capaldi, Tom Walker, Benjamin Clementine) and written by Janet and multi-platinum songsmith Paul Statham (Dido, Kylie Minogue and Sophie Ellis-Bextor).

    The hope is now that artists can keep themselves – and others – afloat emotionally and financially during the pandemic. Mike Read – who presents a weekly show about songwriters on United DJs Radio – says this might also be a great time for aspiring songwriters to send material to big name stars looking for new material while lockdown restricts their other activities.

    Taylor says that, longer term, the BPI is pressing the government “to help companies and individuals to bounce back as soon as things start to normalise. One simple but potentially hugely beneficial idea for music stores, for example, would be to temporarily remove the VAT on CDs, vinyl and other physical products, treating them equally with books. This would give them to leeway to bring prices down to encourage consumers back into retail stores and start generating some much-needed sales. It is essential that [the] government completes a favourable UK-EU free trade agreement, then moves on to trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Government should prioritise protecting the strong UK Intellectual Property Protection framework, creating the conditions for greater investment in the UK into new content (through new tax credits for investment in music in the UK and appropriate regulation of digital platforms), and strike a bold new partnership with the industry to promote UK music overseas. If it does this, the next few years can still be enormously positive for British music and we can make a bigger contribution than ever before to the UK economy.”

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