Tee Up

Brighten those post-election blues with a nice new t-shirt. Available in a range of groovy colour options and, as usual, only $14 for the first couple of days.

I’m running out of clothing related songs so this is a bit tenuous. It’s a bloody great record though.

Download: Try On My Love For Size – Chairman of The Board (mp3)

Tees Up

New t-shirt designs on sale, what I call the “song” collection. As always they’re only $14 for the next couple of days so get them while they’re smoking.

Download: Pop Muzik (extended version) – M (mp3)

Sleeve Talk

The Cure’s 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys has what is probably my favourite Post-Punk album cover. I like it even more than Unknown Pleasures which might be design heresy but its candy-coloured surrealism is more my cup of tea than the cold minimalism of the latter. It’s enigmatic and avant-garde but in a very droll, suburban English way which pretty much sums up The Cure themselves at the time. I think I bought it back then just because of the sleeve.

Before Robert Smith became a lipsticked Goth icon the band were thought to be deliberately anti-image to the point of dull anonymity. The design takes that idea to the extreme of not having any photos of the band on the cover and having them be represented by boring household appliances. Apparently Robert Smith is the lamp, drummer Lol Tolhurst is the fridge, and bassist Michael Dempsey the Hoover.

Taking this wilful obscurity to another level, not only are there no band photos but there aren’t any song titles anywhere on the sleeve either. Instead, on the back are a series of pictures representing each track. You have to work out which is which, not easy when you don’t know the song titles in the first place and have to listen to the album to figure even that out. No Wiki or Discogs in those days.

Some of them were obvious (“Meathook”, “Fire in Cairo”) while others took a bit more working out (the split bags of sugar is “So What”). The puzzle is repeated on the record label with the pictures reduced to simple little icons.

I can’t remember if I found this clever or annoying when I was 17. Probably the former because an album cover that’s an exercise in semiotics is just the sort of thing to appeal to a teenager with pretensions. If nothing else it did make you listen to the album more closely.

The sleeve was designed by Bill Smith whose portfolio also includes nearly all The Jam’s albums and singles and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. I think it’s heavily influenced by the idiosyncratic work Barney Bubbles was doing for Elvis Costello at the time (like this and this) and has some very Bubbles-esque lines and squiggles on the inner sleeve.

Smith called Three Imaginary Boys the most memorable cover out of all the ones he’s designed over the years, but The Cure apparently weren’t too keen on it or the album itself. Robert Smith has complained that he had no control over the tracklisting or the design, and I suppose I’d be pissed off too if someone implied I had the personality of a lamp.

Download: Fire In Cairo – The Cure (mp3)
Download: Subway Song – The Cure (mp3)

Tees Up

Introducing the Music Snob collection, perfect for the smug hipster in your life — or maybe yourself. As usual they’re only $14 for a very limited time so buy one before everyone else does.

Download: Music – John Miles (mp3)

This 1976 hit is the Cecil B. DeMille of pop records: an overblown Pomp Rock epic that’s a bit stupid but also kind of glorious.

Designer With A Cause

I was very sad to hear about the death of designer David King last week. He was one of the greats of British graphic design and if you don’t know his name you certainly know his work, and may even have some of it in your house.

King was art editor at The Sunday Times Magazine from 1965-75 when it published serious, hard-hitting photojournalism by great photographers like Don McCullin (instead of the celeb/lifestyle fluff it goes in for now). King was always more interested in telling a story and getting a message across than he was in pretty design frippery so his layouts have a directness that still packs a punch today.

While working at the magazine King also designed album sleeves for Track Records. Just a little earner on the side that happened to produce at least two iconic classics. 

The Electric Ladyland cover only took 36 hours from concept to completion, and King’s intention was to produce an anti-Playboy image showing women as they really are in all their unpolished beauty. For his efforts, Jimi Hendrix said he had no idea what it was all about and the sleeve was banned in the USA.

When he left The Times, King channeled his political beliefs into work for the Anti-Apartheid movement and Anti-Nazi League. It was his work for the latter that had the most impact and is probably the best remembered today, especially if you were around in the late 70s when the ANL teamed up with Rock Against Racism to help fight the influence of the NF on young people.

King attempted to create a visual language for the Left in England that was bolder and more memorable than the usual hand-made, photocopied flyer. Like his magazine work, these posters didn’t fuck around with niceties and instantly grabbed your attention. There’s no doubt that his posters helped the visibility of the ANL and RAR and you can still see their influence in the typography on placards at demos in London.

He brought the same bold style to his covers for London listings magazine City Limits which he designed for a year in 1982. Heavily influenced by Russian Constructivists like Rodchenko, he made the most of the limited budget the magazine had to produce eye-popping covers that leapt off the newsagent shelves.

King quit the design business in the 80s — not surprising, given his politics and the superficial, glossy turn graphics took that decade — to concentrate on building his collection of Revolutionary Soviet design and photography which he published several acclaimed books of.

The collection grew to be the biggest of its kind in the world and David licensed images to other publications. Because of this I had the pleasure of speaking with him on the phone about 10 years ago when I needed an image for a magazine article I was designing about an obscure Russian writer. His collection wasn’t online and you had to call David and ask him for the image which he’d mail you a slide of — that was old school even then. He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and it did give me a chance to tell him how much I’d loved his work over the years.

The first band that comes to mind when I think of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism is this lot.

Download: Ain’t Gonna Take It – Tom Robinson Band (mp3)


Some new t-shirts on sale. Couldn’t decide between “Glam” Bowie or “Low” Bowie so I went with all of them. I started working on a Bowie design last year so there was going to be one this Spring anyway, I just wish they hadn’t ended up being posthumous.

As usual they’re only $14 for a limited time so buy one now, or two!

If you’ve never heard this version before you should lend it an ear, it’s very different.

Download: Rebel Rebel (US single version) – David Bowie (mp3)


The leading songwriters of Punk were considered the voices of their generation but there were times you couldn’t figure out what they were singing because the records didn’t come with lyrics and the production values weren’t exactly models of pristine clarity. You would think that if you wanted to start a revolution it would help if the kids could understand the manifesto, right?

This was especially vexing with The Clash because of Joe Strummer’s phlegmy, mouthful-of-marbles delivery. I don’t know if The Westway Wonders considered lyric sheets to be bourgeois indulgences or CBS wouldn’t shell out for inner sleeves, but they didn’t include one with an album until London Calling which made the publication of The Clash Songbook in 1978 such a big deal — we could finally understand what Joe was barking about on “White Riot” and “Complete Control”.

It included the words and chords of every song on their debut album plus all the singles and b-sides to date, and we studied it like it was the Bible or Rosetta Stone. To us, Strummer/Jones were way better than some poncey “poet” like Bob Dylan and I remember loving how snappy, sharp, and even jokey a lot of the lyrics were.

In retrospect it might not seem very fan-friendly to make them shell out £3.50 (in 1978 money) for a book of lyrics they could have got free with the records — especially for a value-for-money band like The Clash — but it was a nicely-done project and worth buying. According to the book’s designer Pearce Marchbank (best known for his design of Time Out) the band supplied all the images and even created the type which makes me imagine Mick and Joe staying up all night with a stencil kit and a Dymo Labelmaker.

Nowadays you could just look the words up online but that’s kind of boring when you can get this terrific print artifact for a reasonable price at the usual places since it was reissued a few years ago. Volume Two designed by artist Derek Boshier is excellent too.

Here’s a couple of those b-sides in the book.

Download: Jail Guitar Doors – The Clash (mp3)
Download: City of The Dead – The Clash (mp3)

Commercial Break

This ad from 1981 is one of those rare occasions when advertising is touched with genius.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com