The Fossil Records
When it comes to Australian music, I must admit to being pretty ignorant. I'm a huge fan of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (the best live band I've ever seen), and various associated acts like The Dirty Three and The Birthday Party, but after that I know next to nothing about alternative rock culture Down Under. Before starting this blog I had never heard of Hoodoo Gurus or their seminal 1984 album Stoneage Romeos. I think it is fair to say that I had been missing out.
Hoodoo Gurus formed in 1981 in Sydney, and their debut outing is an absolutely cracking blast of new wave, psychobilly and garage rock with some fantastic pop tunes. I have no idea why it isn't better known in Europe. It also has a stunning sleeve - a Day-Glo version of Ray Harryhausen's Allosaurus from the film One Million Years B.C., menacing a cowering cave-woman, while pterosaurs wheel through the sky.
Bizarrely, for the US and several other international releases, this wonderful cover art was replaced by bland images of stylised dinosaurs (by Donald Krieger). The band's frontman Dave Faulkner referred to this as "bad coffee table art, very anonymous and boring". I would agree, which is why I recommend buying the original Australian edition.
Stoneage Romeos takes its name from a short 1955 comedy film, Stone Age Romeos, featuring the slapstick team The Three Stooges. This takes me back to my childhood years, watching old black and white Stooges films on TV on Saturday mornings. In Stone Age Romeos, The Stooges aim to prove that cavemen still exist, and fake the evidence needed to do so.
The artwork for the original Australian release of Stoneage Romeos was designed by Yanni Stumbles, a Sydney-based artist who produced screen-prints in the early 1980s, before moving to move in the areas of management and production design in the music industry. You can read more about her, and see more examples of her work here.
Several singles were released from the album, including I Want You Back, which has an excellent music video, stuffed full of wonderfully crap stop-motion dinosaurs.
There's lots of other examples of fun dinosaur imagery associated with Hoodoo Gurus, including concert posters, a 2005 tribute album called Stoneage Cameos, and the cover of the 2010 album Purity of Essence.
If you want to buy the original release of Stoneage Romeos, you can find it on Discogs here. It comes highly recommended.
We'll start this blog with something well outside my comfort zone: prog-rock. As someone who grew up listening to a lot of British and Northern Irish punk, I've always avoided prog. But for music/palaeontology crossovers, prog is potentially fertile ground.
The Flock formed in late 1960s Chicago, and Dinosaur Swamps was their second album. It's a mess of a record that veers stylistically from classic rock to psychedelic, country and jazz, with lots of typical (and, to my ears, somewhat annoying) prog elements, such as a lyrical 'concept' (apparently about some kind of a journey - go figure) and extended drum solos. Even the reviews that I've found on specialist prog sites aren't very positive, so I don't think I'm missing much through my ignorance of the genre.
The outer record sleeve is a gatefold, and the outside cover of the sleeve is a reproduction of a mural of pterosaurs (flying reptiles) at the American Museum of Natural History, painted by Constantine Astori and A. Brown in 1942. It shows a host of pterosaurs flying and clinging to cliffs above an ancient beach, with several different species, clearly including Pteranodon, Pterodactylus, Rhamphorhynchus and Dimorphodon. Fish carcasses litter the cliffs, and pterosaur footprints cross the beach.
Into this iconic piece of palaeoart, the band members of The Flock have been inserted. One stares up at the pterosaurs overhead, and screams with horror, one stares towards heaven with his arms outstretched, while a third (rather Jesus-like in appearance) crawls across the beach, pointing to something out of sight. The remaining four members of the band look remarkably calm, bored even. The inside of the gatefold has a map stretched out on what appears to be the desk of a pirate - the map shows a series of islands that have the same names as some of the album tracks (e.g. Uranian Sircus, Hornschmeyer's Island). It lacks any clear link to the pterosaur scene on the outside cover, but perhaps this beach is one of the bands' stops on their mystical journey.
It's unclear to me exactly what links the music on the album to the prehistoric world on the cover, or why the album is called Dinosaur Swamps. As palaeontological enthusiasts will know, pterosaurs are not actually dinosaurs (they are close relatives of dinosaurs, within the group Ornithodira), and so there are no actual dinosaurs on the cover. As far as I can tell from the album's lyrics, there's no obvious mention of prehistoric creatures, although the second track (Big Bird) is apparently about being carried away by a "Big Bird" to "another land", so perhaps this is a reference to the pterosaurs.
Musically then, I'd skip it. But it's a great example of a palaeontology-themed record cover, and thus not a bad place to start this blog.
There's more information about Astori's mural at the AMNH here. You can find Dinosaur Swamps on Discogs here, and you can listen to the entire album on YouTube.