In 1988, my friend Francis at Chrysalis Records asked me to travel to Detroit to photograph one of her new bands. It was a half Jewish, half black soul funk band called Was Not Was. I met them in Greektown and shot a bunch of pictures. When I got home, a CD was waiting for me in the mailbox. WOW!! Some of the best stuff I had heard in years. I still, to this day think they were one of the greatest bands I had ever heard, both recorded and live. Over the years, I spent a lot of time with the band, starting with a shoot at the old Tigers Stadium in downtown Detroit for a travel piece for Rolling Stone. Over the next few years I went to several events, including a record release party in downtown Los Angeles, featuring guest stars Elton John and Iggy Pop, and a rehearsal for Farm Aid 4 with John, Hiatt, Iggy Pop and Bonnie Raitt, all of whom the band backed up the next day at the concert. Meanwhile, Don Was became one of the most famous producers on the planet (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Iggy Pop, etc.). The band went on the back burner as Don became a producer full time, and David started doing music for the “X Files”. The band still plays occasionally, and they are as good as ever.
Last month, Don did a blog for the Detroit Metro Times concerning the idea that when people download songs from the iTunes they are missing finding out many of the things that can only be found in liner notes.
Since I started making records 30-some years ago, we’ve always made a point of mentioning the recording, mixing and mastering engineers along with the musicians, arrangers, songwriters and producers who contribute to the records. When those credits were printed on a 12-inch album jacket, the letters were large enough to actually read. Fans got a real sense of both the collaborative nature of recorded music and of all the work and dedication behind every album. Subsequently, smaller CD booklets necessitated an almost illegible print size. These days, the nation’s largest retailer of music – the iTunes store – has essentially eliminated credits, liner notes and printed lyrics from their digital packaging. I’m at a loss to explain Apple’s ambivalence about upholding the quality and value of the product that has fueled the success of their hardware. For those of us who grew up in Detroit, this kind of corporate cockiness should have a certain ring of familiarity: It’s an early symptom of the same shortsightedness that brought down the Big Three automakers and sent the city into an economic tailspin.
This reminds me of the day I received a copy of the first album I ever shot a cover for- a record by a local band called Pezband. Holding that piece of cardboard in my hands was one of the proudest moments of my young career- it was a substantial depiction of my work. A 12 inch square allowed creativity by a whole team of people- photographer, art director, designer- to make a lasting impression (and great sales tool) for the band. All of this was diminished when CD’s took over the market, and the need for an album cover hardly exists at all in the digital age.
I still have about 3000 vinyl discs in their great artistic sleeves, and when I look at them it leaves me longing for those days when creativity ruled. Also. If you had a double fold out cover, it was still the best utensil to clean pot with!!