January 30, 2012

80s Cover Art is Celebrated in Put the Needle on the Record

Journey with me, if you will, back a few decades. Back to the time of Pac-Man, Pee-Wee Herman and parachute pants. The decade of rubber bracelets, Rubik’s cube, and Reaganomics. Now go ahead, fire up the ole iPod and reflect on the music that provided the soundtrack for all that.

One problem though. You can use your iPod to listen to your 80s music, but it can't provide the experience of picking up your old 45s and enjoying the original sleeve artwork while you listen.

That problem has been solved (somewhat) by Matthew Chojnacki's Put the Needle on the Record, a 272 page book celebrating the artwork of 45 and 12-inch singles from the 1980s. In addition to the original art, the book provides the visions and stories behind the images and offers plenty of first-hand commentary and other information about the individual recording artists, graphic designers, and art directors involved.

And they're all here. Retrospectives on the cover art for singles by Cindy Lauper, Duran Duran, The Clash, Madonna, Pat Benatar, the B-52's, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and of course, The Smiths (remember all their retro black and white covers?)

The book left me with an uncontrollable urge to go into my closet, dig out my old singles and reminisce. So I did. Still waiting on my copy of Put the Needle on the Record from Amazon, so to whet my appetite, I recently spent time studying the cover art of my personal collection of 45s from The Pop Culture Fiend Archives. Here are a few faves:

Quintessential 80s chick Patti Smyth was pouty on the cover of Scandal's "Beat of a Heart".

The artwork for ABC's "Be Near Me" was as stylish as a band itself.

The "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" cover superimposed the Pet Shop Boys with an old photograph of blue-eyed soul soul legend Dusty Springfield.

It was a huge collaboration that created a smash hit single, but the cover shot of Paul and MJ looks pretty amateurish and informal -- like it was hastily taken just outside the recording studio.

Madonna plays peek-a-boo on this original pressing of "True Blue", which was a limited edition single issued on blue vinyl.

Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" from 1984's Streets of Fire used the same graphic art as the movie poster.

January 3, 2012

Why Pop Culture?

I got asked that question recently. There are a million blogs out there and a fair amount of them are devoted to popular culture. But when I was asked why I started PopCultureFiend.com, I thought it was important to reiterate my feelings on the subject. (It's a great time to do it, what with this being the first post of the new year.)

So first and foremost, when I write about pop culture, I'm following the old adage, "Write what you know."

So then the next logical question is, "What is pop culture and why is it important?"

Over the last 30 years or so, American movies, music, books, magazines, TV shows, celebrities, fashion, toys and games, advertising, etc., have been elevated from being merely just frivolous diversions that (entertaining though they may be) have little or no lasting significance. Instead, these things are reflecting and indeed shaping our society, as they underscore who we are and what we care about, and bind us together through a common experience and shared appreciation.

By examining our popular culture, studying it, you create a window into the hearts and minds of American society and see concrete examples of what we've come to value, accept and embrace.

Think I’m overstating things? Why then, is it our popular culture that continues to endure and permanently etch itself into our memories, even as other, seemingly more consequential things, pass away? Why are movie quotes like, “Show me the money,” as easily recognized as “Ask not what your country can do for you…”?

How is it that most people know more lines from Caddyshack than they do bible verses?

And why are events from the 80s like Iran-Contra and the US invasion of Grenada -- events that had not only national, but global implications -- practically forgotten, while movies and TV shows from the same era (like The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Miami Vice, Footloose and Die Hard) are still beloved and continue to live on remake after remake, sequel after sequel?

Because it's the miscellanea of popular culture that’s providing cohesion for us in this, the most diverse society on the planet. So many of us are of different races, religions, economic statuses. We live in vastly different geographies, have different political ideals, enjoy different cuisines; and the list goes on and on. Because of this, any given American’s experience can be completely foreign to that of the next. And yet we’re able to find common ground in our shared remembrance of a popular TV show, song lyric, music video, or children's game. Or in our recognition of a funny movie scene, or a one-liner delivered by a stand-up comedian. Or in our mutual admiration (or disdain) for a particular celebrity.

Popular culture has now moved beyond fad or trendiness, beyond the realm of the short-lived, and beyond the moment. It has ingrained itself in our society and now influences the way we communicate, how we act, and what we value.

And we're certain to continue perpetuating our pop culture the same as we do our religious rituals, political history, family traditions, and all the other things that make up traditional culture.

And finally, through all of this, pop culture continues to be one more thing… uniquely and undeniably just plain fun. Enjoy...