Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Art Imitates The Beatles

Does art imitate life? Absolutely. Some Beatles fans would define life as The Beatles.
Ken Orth's "Meet The Look-Alikes!" Display at Walnut Ridge, AR

This past September, I had the grand pleasure of meeting Ken Orth, a collector & writer who has one of the most unique collections of Beatles material in all likelihood, the world. Enjoy reading about this eclectic display & feel free to contact me or Ken if you have any questions or comments about his work!
For those who are excited about the new cd "The Art of McCartney," check out my review below.

What is “Meet The Look-Alikes!”?

“Meet The Look-Alikes!” is a collection of commercial artworks that resemble The Beatles’ record covers. Not only did The Beatles give us some of the greatest music of our time, but they wrapped it in some very cool artwork. Four half-shadowed young faces emerging from the dark. Four confident figures in brightly colored uniforms among a sea of faces. Four men striding through a crosswalk. Now, just as musicians cover their songs and are inspired to write new ones, we can also find photographers, graphic designers and other visual artists who continue to reimagine The Beatles' record cover art. The Beatles’ iconic legacy lives on in all these works.
“Meet the Look-Alikes!” is my collection of this reimagined art.  It contains a unique educational and entertaining experience about parody art as part of The Beatles’ legacy.  Think of this art as visual puns, covers of covers, critiques, tributes, spoofs, and homage - all in the spirit of The Beatles' album artwork. These images appear on not only music-related formats, such as LP and CD covers, but also on book jackets, book jackets, magazine pages, posters, t-shirts, videos, digital files and a variety of other formats. 
The collection started over thirty years ago and has grown to around 1,600 pieces with almost 2,000 different look-alike images.  So far I’ve discovered look-alikes for almost every British and American Beatles’ LP, as well as parodies of many of the bands’ singles and post-1970 compilation and solo career records. Images that look like the “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road” front covers together account for about half of the total collection.

So, is “Meet The Look-Alikes!” a record collection?

It certainly started that way but soon expanded when I found parodies on non-music formats like magazine covers and T-shirts. Along the way I’ve found examples of Beatles look-alike art in some pretty unexpected places, such as on postage stamps, billboards and beer and wine bottle labels.

How did you get started?

I’m a first-generation Beatles fan.  I saw them in Kansas City on September 19, 1964, and played the usual covers of Beatles songs in several bands. I bought all their records as soon as they were released, and carried on with their solo releases, imports, bootlegs and other related oddities after the breakup. 
Orpheus Records, now sadly gone, was a popular local record store in the Georgetown section of Washington DC. On a stop there in late 1982, as I was routinely flipping through the record bins, there it was: Jun Fukamaki's synthesized LP tribute to “Sgt. Pepper.” And there I was: not listening, but staring, and thinking: darned if the cover didn't look a lot like that brilliant hippie stained-glass-like Beatles album cover – always one of my favorites. So I took it home, not for the music but for the cover. For the art!  That was the first time that happened, but not the last.   

How do you find this art?

Early on there were plenty of record stores and frequent record shows - similar to the vendor rooms at the Fest for Beatles Fans. There were also magazines, such as Goldmine, and Beatles fanzines that ran ads from sellers and collectors all over the world. There weren’t many look-alikes out there, but it was always fun to find the few that were. And I was searching for something that most others never gave a second thought about – art rather than music – so I pretty much had the field to myself. Today I still search out the remaining brick and mortar record stores and occasionally a thrift shop, but I find most new material online, on eBay and a few digital record stores, and through Google image searches. 
And then there are my stringers – family and friends who understand what I’m up to and send along sightings or actual artworks. I’m especially grateful to Bruce Carlson and Carol Sanders for their many, many tips and contributions since the earliest days. And it’s always great to have a new contributor. Thanks to all who’ve supported the collection.

Has anything interesting turned up in all of this artwork?

Yes, the collection has offered up several fascinating stories. For example, we can see generations of visual families that evolved over time. Just for fun, let’s say the artwork of an original Beatles album is the parent in a family of images (“image zero,” if you like). Occasionally I’ll find look-alikes created before the original, and we can think of these as grandparents (some are true ancestors, some are just coincidental.) But the vast majority of look-alikes in my collection were created after the original, and we can call them the original’s children. Then there are some look-alikes that more closely resemble another look-like rather than the original, and we can think of these as the original’s grandchildren (a look-alike of a look-alike). Here’s an example of what the generations of artwork for the “With The Beatles” LP front cover look like, where, in this case, the common visual thread among the generations is something called “chiaroscuro”, meaning strong contrasts between light and dark:

1958, Frank Sinatra, “Only The Lonely.”  A grandparent, but only by coincidence.

1962, Robert Freeman, a photo of three British designers.  Freeman later photographed the “With The Beatles” cover and called this image the “prototype composition” for that LP, making it a true ancestral grandparent.

1963, The Beatles, “With The Beatles.”  Photo by Robert Freeman.  The parent original artwork.

1976, Roogalator, “All Aboard With [the] Roogalator.”  One of “With The Beatles” many look-alike children.


2006, Gisela Giardino, “With the Alieness.”  A look-alike child of “Roogalator," and visual grandchild of “With The Beatles.”

Other stories include those about serial parody artists (artists who create look-alikes for more than one Beatles cover), reprise parody art (look-alikes created by The Beatles or the original cover artists), look-alike quality (rating how well a parody resembles the original), outtakes (photos that didn’t make it), and artwork themes (babies, zombies, cartoon characters and many more.)

But the big story is this: “Meet The Look-Alikes!” shows what succeeding generations of visual artists have made of The Beatles' artistic legacy, demonstrating that the band’s original album covers still inspire and live on in look-alike art.

Do you have any favorites?

 A few, sure. Jun Fukamaki's “Sgt. Pepper” cover got me started. Finding it was one of those right-thing-at-the-right-time events – thanks Jun.  

An “Abbey Road” parody T-shirt showing Pope John-Paul II, George and Ringo in the crosswalk always makes me smile. I think it’s the image and the wordplay together, which I’m sure would have greatly amused The Beatles, too.  And the Abbey Road Studios’ webcam is always entertaining. What other album cover has a gadget that delivers new look-alike art instantly worldwide, 24/7?  Check it out at http://www.abbeyroad.com/crossing.
Ken Orth & the Amazing "Meet The Look-Alikes!"

What's next?

Over the past several years I’ve staged three exhibits of “Meet The Look-Alikes!” The first presented “Sgt. Pepper” parodies at the Ashmore Art Gallery in Savannah, Georgia (October 2012.)  The second was for a professional conference – the International Beatles Conference – at Penn State University, Altoona, Pennsylvania (February 2014,) and featured artworks that illustrated many of the look-alike stories. Most recently, a selection of “Abbey Road” and “Sgt. Pepper” parodies were shown at the Beatles at the Ridge Music Festival at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas (September 2014). Each show had over 200 look-alikes on display and a total of well over a thousand people got to see them.
While each venue attracted a different audience, the exhibits got great reviews. But what struck me is how people at all the shows reacted to the art. For most, there was an initial surprise that this kind of art even exists, and that there is so much of it. Then, after a few moments, the act of viewing seemed to be addictive, almost in a can’t-turn-away-from-the-crash-site way. People wanted to see and touch the smallest details in the art, searching for someone or something familiar among the thousands of faces on display.  You could almost hear them thinking “Who are all those people? ... I remember this record!”  The shows were highly engaging.  So, in the near term, I’d like to continue to share the collection with the public in more exhibits.  “Meet The Look-Alikes!” is, as far as I know, the only show of this type of material in the world!

Do you have a website?

Not a traditional website, but there’s a “Meet The Look-Alikes!” Facebook page:
(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Meet-the-Look-Alikes/289886207779863) where I post new parody images once or twice a week.  I’ve also posted short videos on YouTube of the shows at Ashmore Gallery and Penn State (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdETUXmOXB0; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L317rM2_-pc).

There are a few good websites that feature music-related parody artwork, such as:
“Am I Right?  Actual Album Cover Parodies”, at http://www.amiright.com/album-covers/index_b.shtml
“Rate Your Music, Album Cover Themes: Beatles For Sale”, at http://rateyourmusic.com/list/monocle/album_cover_themes__beatles_for_sale/
“Rate Your Music, Album Covers Spoofing Album Covers”, at http://rateyourmusic.com/list/M_Patton/album_covers_spoofing_album_covers/

Any parting thoughts?

Ken Orth & Lanea at Walnut Ridge
Here’s the visual brain-hook I like to pass along:  Over the next week, pay attention and see if you can find at least one Beatles parody image in a magazine, on a T-shirt, on a website, or anywhere else. I'm betting you will. But be warned: several have said that once they started they now see Beatles record cover look-alikes everywhere.  
And isn’t that a good thing?

Thanks Lanea for the chance to share the story of “Meet The Look-Alikes!”

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The Art of McCartney ~
A Review....

In theory it sounded like a grand slam...outstanding artists performing McCartney. In reality.....grand slams are few & far between. 
This collection of highly regarded musicians contributed their covers of McCartney songs & admittedly, I couldn't wait to purchase it. But after about 10 songs into the first disc, I realized that just because you CAN sing it, doesn't mean you SHOULD sing it.
My two favorite songs on the disc were not well received at first. However, Brian Wilson & Jeff Lynne won my affection with their versions of "Wanderlust" and "Junk," respectively. Wilson actually produced a better version of the song in my opinion.
When I was a kid, I made a grave mistake while purchasing an 8-track tape. The tape label screamed "Today's Biggest Hits" & it included terrific disco releases... However, Today's Biggest Hits were NOT performed by 'today's original artists.' They were in fact performed by studio musicians, who in all honesty, did a fair job of playing the song, however, it wasn't the real deal, nor did it contain even 'artsy renditions.' 
That is precisely what I heard on this 2-cd set. A lot of the songs sounded like watered-down karaoke productions & some weren't even done that well. The promotion of the set hooked me because I didn't think Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr., Roger Daltrey, etc., would deliver something that made me cringe.
I did ask myself the question "who is this producer - Ralph Sall & what is his motive for doing this cd." Turns out he won a Razzie Award for the worst original song for a movie: "Addams Family Values" - for the song "Whoomp!" & while I didn't look up the song, I have a hunch it was a well-deserved award. I do not know his motive for the project, however, I suspect working with these artists is a notch that he can add.

I was impressed by The Airborne Toxic Event's artsy adaptation of "No More Lonely Nights," which was precisely what I was expecting for this collection.
1 Fork out of 5

While I gave this CD a rating of 1 fork out of 5...I took the lone fork & stabbed myself in the eye so I could concentrate on that pain instead of the pain of hearing Owl City sing "Listen To What The Man Said."
In summary, a Beatle purist may not enjoy the disc, but if you don't care that Dion sounds like Ozzy .... knock yourself out. But don't say I didn't warn ya.

Peace & Love,

Lanea Stagg
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