Don’t tell me you missed Round One. Seriously. Journey back in time one post, if you did. Or else this whole enterprise will fall around our feet in ruins – and we’ll wind up with enough egg on our faces to make a two-egg omelet.
Here’s where 32 becomes a mere 16…
Patti Smith’s Horses beats Anatomy of a Murder
A straight fight between two minimalist approaches, but a win for Horses because it took a slightly bigger set of balls, I think. A ragged debut album, and Patti Smith still had that uncanny New York confidence to look the camera straight in the lens and say, this is me – take it or leave it. Tough break, Saul Bass, but, hey, you were probably just ripping off Mark Rothko, right? (Or he, you? Search me…)
Badlands beats Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’
Super-iconic photo and all that… but maybe Freewheelin’ is, after all, a touch too wholesome to capture the angry energy of a young Bobby D. He mostly just looks cold. Badlands, on the other hand, is my all-time favourite film – and where would this pointless exercise be without my shameless bias easing it along?
Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew beats Chinatown
Two thoroughbreds. Miles by a nose because – wow! – even without Jack Nicholson smoking and wearing a fedora, his cover is still the more arresting image. And Bitches Brew is a phenomenal thing to call anything, let alone a peerless jazz album that wants to chew your leg off like a rabid dog.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run beats Dirty Harry
If only Clint Eastward didn’t become the director of fairly boring films (ok, I’ll give you Unforgiven), and talker-to of empty chairs, we could still think of him like this. (“He doesn’t break murder cases. He smashes them.”) But that didn’t happen – and we all know who Bruce is leaning against, now, don’t we?
Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here beats Fargo
For all that Pink Floyd seem a pompous bunch of snots (boo hoo hoo, my teachers were awful mean to me at school, you know), in this instance there’s one simple fact you can’t really argue with: the man on the right… is on fire! The Fargo poster teases us with its enigmatic narrative in a very pleasing way. But it can’t compete with that.
Il Conformista beats Blondie’s Parallel Lines
Ah, that elusive search for cool… You get a killer band together, hone a great look that fits it perfectly, and then put Debbie Harry upfront and center. What could possibly go wrong? The guy on the end, that’s what – doing jazz hands and looking like a massive dork.
Sun Ra’s Space is the Place beats Man On Wire
Two crazy weirdos, perfectly captured. Just one tiny thing to split them both apart: you can see what ‘man on wire’ is up to (even if it does seem mindlessly mental), but… Sun Ra?! He probably didn’t have the faintest clue, and don’t you just want to go on delving deeper?
Manhattan beats Harry Nilsson’s Schmilsson
Tough one this. Yes, Manhattan truly is an iconic image for the ages, while Schmilsson is – essentially – laughably crap. And yet… you have to admire the shear chutzpah of fronting such a brilliant album with a no-thrills snapshot of its wayward creator in a dressing gown. And: “Schmilsson.” Surely only Pet Sounds, before or since, has even come close to matching such epic disregard for quality packaging. Well played, sir.
Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica beats Midnight Cowboy
More-or-less everything about Midnight Cowboy, this poster definitely included, is brilliant beyond improvement. (If you watch it without crying wet tears at the end, then you, my friend, have a gapping hole where the rest of us have a heart.) But, hey, neither is it a man with a trout for a face.
North by Northwest beats The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street
On a bus back from the Virgin Megastore once (before Virgin became Zavvi and Zavvi became nothing), I took the plastic wrap off Exile on Main Street and looked at it for ages (read: “the duration of the bus ride back to Wallington”). A gallery of oddballs and freaks, it was a whole giddy rush of fun. The best Rolling Stones album and their best sleeve to boot (Sticking Fingers coming a close second, I guess). And yet – this time around – what it is isn’t is Cary Grant being chased by a motherfuckin’ plane.
Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen… beats Once Upon a Time in the West
“There were three men in her life. One to take her… one to love her – and one to kill her.” Clearly Once Upon a Time in the West is a work of extraordinary genius… but, sorry, that poster tagline can’t help but sound a little silly. Sure, it’s one possible way of describing the movie. It just isn’t one that makes any sense. (The dead husband wasn’t one of the men in her life? – even with those lovely sideburns?) Ladies and Gentlemen…, in contrast, is what an ad man would probably call “a good idea, well-executed.” Don’t hold that against it, mind.
The Clash’s London Calling beats Pulp Fiction
Look! Uma Thurman is reading a booked called “Pulp Fiction!” And the poster’s all frayed around the edges and that… plus, see, the movie only costs “10¢.” (Cast list ain’t too shabby either.) Yep, this particular public notice sure did a lot right to get on so many student walls. I’m still gonna plump for the Clash, though. Because the photo really is historically awesome, and, as everybody knows, it’s ‘doing’ the King, isn’t it?
Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures beats Singin’ in the Rain
Sorry Gene, Debbie, and Donald (you look pretty chirpy, so I don’t suppose you’ll mind): see Patti Smith above. Related question: which is greater, the no-bullshit confidence of a native New Yorker, or the rain-soaked confidence of a gob-shite Manc?
The Cameraman beats Suede’s Suede
Another perfect statement of intent, first time around – this time from the band harebrained America calls The London Suede. Is either one of these people a lady or are they both, like, totally gay? Oh, how mysterious and sexy. Nevertheless, a win here for the great Stoneface – ably assisted by that most winning thing, a cheeky monkey, and pursued by that most amusing thing, a policeman with a truncheon. I love you Buster, and always will.
The Exorcist beats Primal Scream’s Screamadelica
One of these images is satisfyingly spooky. The other, if we’re being totally honest, looks like the kind of thing the parents of young children stick on the fridge. It gets your attention, and gets it quite effectively, but what exactly does it do with it? Now I think about it, the album’s really lightyears better.
Trainspotting beats The Specials’ The Specials
I’m tired and want to go to bed now… Close call, but Trainspotting, if only for the delirious and barmy Empire quote along the top: “Hollywood come in… your time is up. Trainspotting is here and it’s toe-curlingly good.” (Well, the second bit is true.)
Now then, now then. So far, advantage album covers. And yet still so much to play for. (Hey, just go with it…)
Here’s Round Two – thanks, once again, to the unholy power of selecting random pairs.
See you again tomorrow. Right around the time you can’t be arsed to do something or other at work (I’ll be there).