Egypt Station – The Packaging

Now that the general public and the reviewers verdicts are in (all generally very positive btw), and now that Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station has entered the Billboard 200 at No.1, making it his first No.1 album on the US charts in over 36 years (the last time was Tug Of War in 1982), maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the cover art and design of the album – both in LP and CD form – because these too seem to have met with a very favourable reception from fans:

Explaining the album’s concept, Paul says, “I liked the words ‘Egypt Station.’… I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from.” The title is taken from the piece of art which is featured on the album cover. It’s a limited edition lithograph, the original of which Paul himself painted back in 1988:

“My original inspiration [for the painting] was….Egyptian symbols and shapes I got from looking at a reference book on Egypt. I was interested in the way they drew sunflowers, so two appear on the left and on the right. It was a nice shape, so I took that and then I also love the way they symbolize trees. I like the way they reduce a tree to just some very simple symbols.”  Paul McCartney

The art directors hired for the project are Ferry Gouw, an illustrator, graphic designer and video director based in London, and Gary Card, a set designer, illustrator and artist also based in London. They’ve taken McCartney’s original painting and extended out its themes and style across many panels (for both the CD and the LP) in a spectacular way.

At first the two seem an odd choice as on the surface they both appear to work in very different worlds to that of Paul McCartney. Gouw inhabits more of an out there, conceptual electronic dance music, skater/cartoon world. He’s also the in-house designer for James Blake’s record label, 1800-Dinosaur. This video is a little old, but it gives a taste of Gouw’s style:

So, you might wonder how Gouw got the McCartney gig. Then you discover that earlier this year Roxy Music hired him to produce a new video interpretation of their legendary song (from 1972), ‘Virginia Plain‘. Gouw says:

“I wanted it to feel like a kaleidoscopic holiday in glamorous, but surreal locations, that only exist in vintage posters and your imagination. The song is so dense – the imagery comes thick and fast, so they all have to pop up in a stream of consciousness. So I researched vintage holiday posters, Americana pin-up icons, art deco jazz posters, and re-drew all the elements to make up the video.”

It was Bryan Ferry who commissioned the piece after being impressed with Gouw’s work on a video for his solo album, Olympia. The result has been described as the creative rebirth of an iconic track in British musical lore:

On the other hand, Gary Card seems more into groovy and colourful pop sculpture of late. By way of example there’s this amazing eight foot high plasticine Christmas tree he made for a London hotel last holiday season:Both Gouw and Card have been on Instagram since the release of Egypt Station“After months of hard work this beauty is finally out in the world. So proud to see it everywhere, it’s a real privilege to be a part of this. Expect me and @garycard to be spamming Instagram with this for the next few years LoL” – Ferry Gouw

Woke up this morning to news that the Paul McCartney album we designed is number 1 in the U.S 👍🏻 here’s the full art work @ferry_gouw n me based around @paulmccartney‘s original painting #egyptstation” – Gary Card. He then posted this image of the  6-panel “concertina” style packaging they devised for the CD:

When folded up the CD cover is held in place with a bright red cloth fabric elastic band:

For the exclusive Target and HMV editions (which have two bonus songs) the elastic band is green in colour to help set it apart:

It’s not the first time that McCartney has employed elastic bands to hold together a cover. In 1999, under his The Fireman persona, he released a 12″ vinyl featuring remixes of a song called ‘Fluid’, taken from the Rushes album. That folded cover has a red rubber band to keep everything in place too:

The Egypt Station “concertina” idea for the CD is also used for the vinyl record, but only in the “Deluxe Edition” design. This is a three-panel gatefold and you can see Sir Paul holding an example of it here:The LP cover is quite spectacular in this larger format, with a beautifully textured feel to the paper used giving a high quality tactile feel. There’s also a tri-fold lyric sheet in a deep blue which fits within – also beautifully designed by Gouw and Card. Here’s one page from the lyric sheet:

You can see how the LP package folds compared to the CD version a little more clearly here:

The attention to detail extends further inside, with the labels on each side of the LP being individually custom designed as well. Another nice touch:

And that brings us to the vinyl colours. Egypt Station is offered in black vinyl (140 gram standard, and 180 gram deluxe); in blue and orange coloured vinyls for the deluxe version – only available via McCartney’s official site; in red vinyl as a Barnes & Noble store exclusive; and in green vinyl – offered to Spotify subscribers first, but for a period also available to all via the McCartney site as well.

When the images for Egypt Station first began to appear many likened the cover to George Harrison’s 1982 outing, Gone Troppo:

Yes, there are certain similarities in the colours and the pastiche style used, but Egypt Station‘s artwork goes far beyond. It harkens back to the days when albums really were works of art. They could be folded out and explored and enjoyed as an immersive experience in themselves, quite apart from the music contained within. We think Ferry Gouw and Gary Card should be congratulated.

Interesting peice of trivia: In 2004, when Paul headlined the Glastonbury Festival in England, the same Egypt Station artwork from his original painting adorned the pre-show curtain:

There is a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package of the year. In 2018 there was a tie for first place and so two winners were recognised (click here to see the list and scroll down to Award Number 65):

Above on the left is Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy (Deluxe Edition) – Sasha Barr, Ed Steed and Josh Tillman, art directors.

On the right is Magin Díaz’s El Orisha De La Rosa – Carlos Dussan, Juliana Jaramillo, Juan Martinez and Claudio Roncoli, art directors.

There’s a good article about both albums and their cover art here. There’s further information on both here also.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until January, 2019 to see if: a) Egypt Station receives a Grammy nomination for its extraordinary packaging, and b) it wins!

Paul McCartney always puts a lot of effort into the design and presentation of his albums. Two excellent examples are the totally integrated concept for his Electric Arguments release as The Fireman in 2008/09, which saw the standard CD right through to an extraordinary limited edition deluxe box set executed with aplomb; and his album New from 2013. You can find the story behind the cover art for that one here.

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George Martin Biography – Part Two: Sound Pictures

The second installment in an exceptional two-part biography of Beatle producer, the late Sir George Martin, has just hit bookstores in the US and the UK.

We reviewed Part 1, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), back in January and have been hanging out to get our hands on Part 2 ever since.

Now, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016) is finally here.

Like the first book in the series, there are different covers for each market. Here is the US jacket:

And here is the cover for the UK:

Author Kenneth Womack really has created the definitive biography of the man widely regarded as The Fifth Beatle. In this second volume he takes up the story from 1966, when the Beatles have just released their Rubber Soul album to huge audience and critical acclaim: “At this point, the Beatles were in the midst of riding a winning streak in the UK, with eleven consecutive number-one singles – the latest being the double A-sided “Day Tripper” backed with “We Can Work It Out”, which was released in December 1965 and had rung in 1966 atop the UK charts. The pressure was definitely on to maintain the Beatles’ commercial dominion in their home country, and the group’s principal songwriters took the competition very seriously indeed, with John and Paul regularly vying to see who could land the next A-side.”

In those sentences Womack sums up the huge weight of expectation that was on the band, not only to keep on coming up with the goods in the form of hit records, and to maintain their hectic performance and appearance schedule, but also internally to keep moving forward creatively, to stretch themselves, try out new sounds and new ways of doing things.

In Sound Pictures we get a birds-eye view of the Beatles at their most creative. With the decision in late 1966 not to tour anymore but instead to use their albums to talk to their fans, they set a course that led to the release of four consecutive LPs that always make it into any ‘Best Albums of All Time’ lists: Revolver 1966, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967, The Beatles (The White Album) 1968, and Abbey Road 1969. When the Beatles decided to use the studio as their instrument it was Sir George who was there to guide them – and we’re all the luckier for it.

Add to that amazing list of LPs a string of Number 1 singles (like ‘All You Need Is Love’/’Baby, You’re A Rich Man’, ‘Hello, Goodbye’/’I Am the Walrus’, ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lady Madonna’/’The Inner Light’, ‘Hey Jude’/’Revolution’ and ‘Something’/Come Together’ to name but a few) and you start to get an idea of the wave of creativity being unleashed between 1966-1969. George Martin was central and influential in each and every recording.

Sure, as the Beatles became more confident in the studio the dynamic between the band and their production team changed throughout this period – especially around the time of The White Album (and Womack goes into this in some detail) – but they usually found their way back to George Martin for guidance in some form or other. It’s a trend that continued right through the eighties with the release of the Beatle catalogue on CD for the first time; the huge Anthology project; and right up to more recent releases like the Beatles Love, where many of their songs were remastered and radically remixed. As well as having helped create it, Martin was closely involved in caretaking the legacy too.

Throughout the timeframe of Sound Pictures, Sir George was working as an independent producer, arranger and composer. He started up his own company called AIR, and established his own recording studio facilities as well, so in the book we get to learn about the huge catalogue of artists he collaborated with alongside some of the significant musical productions he was associated with. George Martin has worked with performers as diverse as Cilla Black, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney as solo artists, America, Celine Dion, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin. It extends right up to his passing in 2016, and goes well beyond his work with the Beatles.

This is an excellent book, a great read, and Kenneth Womack should be congratulated for the depth of his research and the engaging way he tells the story of one of the greats of the music business. Highly recommended.

If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany these two volumes as you read you could do worse than getting hold of the six CD set, Produced By George Martin – 50 Years In Recording. It was released in 2001:

‘Egypt Station’ – Available on Cassette

The Paul McCartney Official US Store is now offering McCartney’s new Egypt Station album on cassette:

You can buy it (with a digital download included) for US$9.98! It’s the sixteen track version – no bonus tracks.

This is not the first time McCartney has dabbled with what some might view as a redundant format. Last time was for Record Store Day 2017, when a 3-song cassette of Flowers In The Dirt demos with Elvis Costello was offered as a limited edition:

The cassette of Egypt Station takes the number of different variations of the album for collectors to seek out to eight. That’s five different vinyl editions, two different CDs, and now the cassette. And there is still a super deluxe edition in the pipeline. No details on what that will contain have been released to date.

Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – A Review

One of Australia’s leading music critics has given Paul McCartney a big thumbs up for Egypt Station, released last Friday.

Veteran music journalist Bernard Zuel writes:

“…this is what you get when a man who was brilliant in his 20s and 30s and stumbled into mediocrity a bit too often in his 40s and 50s, shows [that] the creative rejuvenation of his 60s continues at a fine pace….

It works. But then he’s Paul McCartney, we’re not, and that’s the deal…..”

You can read Bernard’s full, track-by-track review at bernardzuel.com

The respected UK newspaper The Times has also given the album high praise, with a four out of five star rating:

“…..here he is, aged 76, with his most emotionally satisfying work in decades….Egypt Station displays McCartney’s unique ability to write songs that are direct and sophisticated. Who else could construct the minor key piano melody of Hand In Hand from just a few notes nobody thought of arranging that way before, and then set it against words about sharing your life with someone, that are conversational yet poignant?

Likewise with Dominoes, which chugs along with the lighthearted rock’n’roll Wings did so well, but comes with a philosophical message about accepting the here and now. As with so much McCartney material, it is more profound than it seems.” 

Hey Jude/Revolution – If It’s Re-issued Should This Be The Look?

Loved this Tweet yesterday by Canadian Beatle aficionado and author, Piers Hemmingsen:  

It made us think that if (and it seems to be very likely) there are plans to re-issue a physical ‘HeyJude’/’Revolution’ single as part of the forthcoming Beatles White Album 50th Anniversary, then it really should come in a white sleeve like the 1968 Canadian issue.

What do you think? Does this…..

….look better (and more appropriate) than this…..

Piers Hemmingsen is the author of The Beatles In Canada – The Origin of Beatlemania!

McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – Yet Another Vinyl Version Available

There was another twist yesterday in the increasingly strange and frustrating story of the number of different versions of Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be-released Egypt Station.

Spotify subscribers who were somehow determined to be dedicated McCartney streamers were sent this email:

Now, that’s kind of odd. Firstly, offering people who mostly consume their music digitally the only access to an exclusive green vinyl double LP was seen by some avid collectors as, well, strange: The popular Super Deluxe Edition page and the Daily Beatle quickly weighed in, as did many followers on McCartney forum pages, asking why such an exclusive physical product would be offered to a fan group that – potentially – had little interest in such a thing, while collectors who love getting hold of actual product were excluded.

Then, within 24 hours, the story took another turn.

It seems the limited Spotify green vinyl wasn’t as “exclusive” as it was first portrayed. Anyone can now log on to the official Paul McCartney online store and order a copy…..

The green vinyl joins the Barnes and Noble exclusive red vinyl:

And the Paul McCartney site-only orange and blue Deluxe Vinyl Edition: 

Has the marketing of this LP now run to too many versions, both on vinyl and on CD? There’s still a Super Deluxe version to be announced. No one knows yet what that will contain.

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine – The Ultimate Collection’

Today the John Lennon camp finally announced the full details of the forthcoming Imagine – The Ultimate Collection in deluxe box set, double vinyl (black and clear), double CD, and single CD editions.

Here’s the official press release from Geffen/Universal Music:

John Lennon’s Imagine – “The Ultimate Collection”

The legendary singer/songwriter’s most celebrated solo album honored with a number of special audio releases on October 5 – via Geffen/UMe.

The six-disc Imagine – The Ultimate Collection includes a brand new remastered stereo mix, Raw Studio Recordings, Outtakes, Extras and an Audio Documentary that explores the Evolution of each song, plus new surround mixes on Blu-ray and an updated Quadrasonic mix for The Ultimate Deep Listening Experience.

The Imagine and Gimme Some Truth films are also restored and remastered with exclusive, never-before-seen extras for home entertainment release on October 5, via Eagle Vision.

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 23, 2018 /PRNewswire On October 5, Geffen/UMe celebrates the apex of John Lennon’s solo career with a six-disc box set, Imagine – The Ultimate Collection. This historical, remixed and remastered 140-track collection is fully authorized by Yoko Ono Lennon, who oversaw the production and creative direction.

Spread across four CDs and two Blu-ray discs, this truly unique expanded edition offers a variety of listening experiences that are at once immersive and intimate, ranging from the brand new Ultimate Mixes of the iconic album, which reveal whole new levels of sonic depth, definition and clarity to these timeless songs, to the Raw Studio Mixes that allow listeners to hear Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s original, unadorned performances, to enveloping 5.1 surround sound mixes, and a Quadrasonic Album Mix, presenting the original four speaker mix remastered in Quadrasonic sound for the first time in nearly fifty years.

This ultimate deep listening experience, which features scores of previously unheard demos, rare outtakes and isolated track elements, also includes The Evolution Documentary, a unique track-by-track audio montage that details the journey of each song from demo to master recording via instructions, rehearsals, recordings, multitrack exploration and studio chatter. The comprehensive nature of the full Imagine – The Ultimate Collection is the absolute best representation of a career artist working at the top of his creative game.

Imagine will also be released in concurrent multiple physical and digital configurations,  including as a 2CD Deluxe Edition, 1CD remaster, and 2LP 180-gram heavyweight black vinyl edition, as well as 2LP limited edition 180-gram clear vinyl.“Imagine was created with immense love and concern for the children of the world. I hope you enjoy it,” says Yoko Ono Lennon in the preface of the 120-page book that accompanies the box set.

While sifting through boxes upon boxes of the original tapes, engineer Rob Stevens  discovered something truly remarkable that had gone unnoticed all these years. “Early 2016, during the gestation period of this project, I’m in the Lenono archives with my people going through tape boxes that have labeling that’s unclear, misleading, or missing entirely,” says Stevens. “There’s a 1” 8-track that says nothing more on the Ascot Sound label than John Lennon, the date, and the engineer (Phil McDonald), with DEMO on the spine.  No indication of what material was on the tape. One delicate transfer to digital later, the “Imagine” demo, subsequently enhanced superbly by Paul Hicks, appears within this comprehensive set. It was true serendipity.”

This completely never-before-heard original demo, a sparse home recording of Lennon on piano and vocal playing one of his most famous songs, globally launches Imagine – The Ultimate Collection today.

Also on October 5, Eagle Vision will release two films by John & Yoko, Imagine and Gimme Some Truth, on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms. Both films have been hand-restored from the original film reels and remastered in HD, and their soundtracks have been remixed in surround sound by triple GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer Paul Hicks. Both physical releases feature exclusive, never-before-seen extras including previously unheard “raw” studio mixes, and a fascinating insight into a photo shoot with David Bailey. All are also available for pre-order at: http://imaginejohnyoko.comImagine will also have a limited theatrical run highlighted by an exclusive, immersive Dolby Atmos mix of the music in selected theaters, with further exclusive extra material.

In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono conceived and recorded the critically acclaimed Imagine at their Georgian country home, Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England, and in the state-of-the-art studio they built in the grounds, as well as at the Record Plant in New York. The title track’s universally appealing lyrics were inspired by Ono Lennon’s “event scores” in her 1964 book Grapefruit, and she was officially co-credited as a writer on the track in June 2017. Upon release, the album went to #1 in six countries – Australia, Japan,  Netherlands, Norway, U.K. and the U.S.

The best-selling single of Lennon’s solo career, the titular song was famously written as a plea for world peace. It remains one of the most legendary songs of all time and has earned numerous accolades. BMI designated it one of the top 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century, the Recording Academy inducted it into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted it into their 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Additionally, the Guinness World Records British Hit Singles book named it the second best single of all time and Rolling Stone ranked it number three in their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The song has been covered by everyone from Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Ray Charles, Madonna, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock and Joan Baez.

This new edition takes listeners on an incredibly personal journey through the entire songwriting and recording process – from the very first writing and demo sessions at Lennon’s home studio at Tittenhurst Park through to the final co-production with Phil Spector – providing a remarkable testament of the lives of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their own words.

The original Imagine album has been faithfully remixed from the ground up by the aforementioned Paul Hicks at Abbey Road Studios under the supervision of Yoko Ono Lennon. Hicks utilized high-definition 24-bit/96kHz audio transfers of the album’s original first-generation multitrack recordings for the task and the result is that the instruments and vocal now have a completely new level of clarity, especially when it comes to the surround sound mixes on Blu-ray Disc 1. As Hicks reveals in the book included in the Ultimate Collection, “Yoko was very keen that these Ultimate Mixes should achieve three things – to be totally faithful and respectful to the originals, be generally sonically clearer overall and should increase the clarity of John’s vocals. ‘It’s about John’ she said. And she was right. His voice brings the biggest emotional impact to the album.”

Additionally, Hicks remastered the original four-speaker Spector/Lennon/Ono mix of Imagine in Quadrasonic sound, the first time that particular quad mix has been touched since the original release.

The stereo version of the Imagine album proper and its related remixed singles and extras, such as the politically charged “Power To The People,” “God Save Us,” “Do The Oz” and the holiday classic “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” comprise Disc 1. Both album and singles outtakes encompass Disc 2 alongside a quartet of what have been dubbed Elements Mixes, including strings-only versions of “Imagine” and “How?” as well as the vocals-only version of “Oh My Love” and the piano, bass, and drums instrumentation for “Jealous Guy.” The Elements Mixes have been created from a few basic elements from the original multitrack recordings to reveal deeper levels of detail and clarity in the sources used for the master mixes that were either buried or summed to mono in order to open them up and present them on a wider, clearer, and brighter soundstage.

Engineer Rob Stevens helmed what are known as the Raw Studio Mixes on Disc 3. These mixes capture the exact moment John and The Plastic Ono Band recorded each song raw and live on the soundstage located at the center of Ascot Sound Studios at John & Yoko’s home in Tittenhurst. The tracks are devoid of effects (reverb, tape delays, etc.) and a far cry from the finished product. Highlights include the extended renditions of iconic Imagine tracks like “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die,” “How Do You Sleep?” and “Oh Yoko!” On Blu Ray Disc 2, the Raw Studio mixes are presented in 5.1 surround sound for a unique enveloping listening experience that puts the listener in the center of Ascot Sound Studios with Lennon in front and the band playing all around and behind.

Meanwhile, Disc 4 presents the audio version of The Evolution Documentary, as engineered by Sam Gannon in mono. This documentary tells the full story of each Imagine song as it goes on its own specific, individual journey from demo to master take via instructions, rehearsals, recordings, multitrack exploration, and studio chatter.

On the first Blu-ray disc, Hicks’ masterful high-resolution surround sound mix of both the Imagine album proper and its related singles takes center stage alongside the updated Quadrasonic mix, in addition to hi-res stereo mixes of the singles and outtakes.

The second Blu-ray disc is subtitled “In The Studio and Deeper Listening,” and it features both surround sound and stereo mixes of the extended album versions, outtakes, and Elements Mixes found on the CDs. It also plays home to DJ and longtime family friend Elliot Mintz’s loving 29-minute tribute to the artists, consisting of his revealing, philosophical, honest and humorous interviews with John & Yoko.

Meanwhile, both the Imagine and Gimme Some Truth video releases coming from Eagle Vision have been frame-matched to the original negatives, with every frame hand-cleaned and restored, and the respective soundtracks remixed and remastered in 5.1 surround sound.

The Imagine film is a cinematic collage of color, sound, dream, and reality. Produced and directed in 1971 by John & Yoko, who — along with numerous guest stars, including George Harrison, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, Jack Palance, and Jonas Mekas — all create a world of imagination as rich and moving as the music that accompanies it.

Shooting began during the summer of 1971 at John & Yoko’s Tittenhurst home in Ascot, England, as they began recording sessions for the Imagine album. Shooting continued across the pond in New York where the album was completed at the Record Plant, with Phil Spector co-producing.

The Imagine film is widely regarded as one of the first “video albums,” since it features a different visual treatment for every song on the record. The limited theatrical release of Imagine benefits from a spectacular new and wholly immersive Dolby Atmos mix, along with cinema-exclusive, never-before-seen extras from the recording of the album.

Gimme Some Truth is the groundbreaking, GRAMMY® Award-winning film that chronicles the creative process of how the Imagine album came into being, in turn providing a glimpse into Lennon’s creative genius and including many striking, special moments between John & Yoko. The progress of the making of the songs featured on the album is followed through from their inception to the final recording process in Gimme Some Truth, with the film serving as a stunning, fly-on-the-wall document of how one of the most iconic and important albums of the rock era came into being.

Finally, Thames & Hudson (UK) and Grand Central Publishing (US) are set to publish Imagine John Yoko by John Lennon& Yoko Ono on what would have been Lennon’s 78th birthday, on October 9. Personally compiled and curated by Yoko Ono Lennon and packed with exclusive, previously unpublished material, Imagine John Yoko is the definitive inside story — told in revelatory detail — of the making of the legendary album and all that surrounded it: the locations, the creative team, the artworks, and the films, in the words of John & Yoko and the people who were there.

John Lennon is one of the world’s most celebrated songwriters and performers of all time. Lennon has been posthumously honored with a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY® Award and two special BRIT Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Lennon in the Top 5 of the magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers Of All Time” list. With a message as universal and pertinent today as it was when the album was created, Imagine secures John & Yoko’s collective place in cultural history.johnlennon.com

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If you are a mad collector, here’s the entire selection of what is on offer:                                (as usual….click on images for larger versions)