Investigation

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Johnny Sharp  |  Jan 04, 2022
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for The Who's late '60s album The Who Sell Out

If you want an illustration of just how quickly pop evolved in the 1960s, you only have to look at the first two years of The Who's recording career. That was the stretch of time between their flinty, mod-informed R 'n' B rock debut LP – 1965's My Generation – and a cheekily post-modern third album that seemed to mock the very idea of pop music as anything more than a vehicle for commerce.

Johnny Sharp  |  Dec 03, 2021
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for David Bowie's early '70s album Aladdin Sane

If you want to go to a fancy dress party as a rock star, there are plenty of different ways that you could 'do' David Bowie. But probably the easiest would be to paint a red, blue and silver lightning flash over your right eye. Kapow! Instant Bowie. Fancy paying tribute to the great man on your Facebook profile? A lightning flash should do the trick. You might even get away without dying your hair red or growing a mullet.

Johnny Sharp  |  Nov 02, 2021
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for Alice Cooper's early '70s album School's Out

When Alice Cooper's single 'School's Out' swept across America in the spring of 1972 then went on to become an international smash hit, it offered a ready-made shoutalong anthem for a generation.

Johnny Sharp  |  Oct 05, 2021
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for Fleetwood Mac's pivotal late '70s album Rumours

The '70s had no shortage of puzzling LP sleeve imagery. But if the image that adorned Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album Rumours was among the more perverse and baffling, that might have been because the band that made it had been driven to the edge of sanity while doing so.

Johnny Sharp  |  Aug 03, 2021
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for Roxy Music, the band's debut album

If ever there was a band that arrived on the scene fully formed, it was Roxy Music. Before they were even signed to a label, they had a startling, glitter-flecked, faintly androgynous image, and a unique hybrid sound. This blended stomping glam pop with jazz-inflected avant-prog and experimental electronica, drawing influences from show tunes to war movies and torch songs while adding dashes of sensuality, camp and black humour. And it helped, of course, that they threw some highly memorable tunes in there.

Johnny Sharp  |  Jul 12, 2021
Johnny Sharp on the creation of the artwork for Hot Rats, Frank Zappa's second solo LP

The '60s were coming to a messy, slightly bitter end, and so were Frank Zappa's The Mothers Of Invention. Deep in debt after six studio albums and fed up with paying the wages of a nine-piece band who didn't always seem to be fully on board with his creative vision, Zappa was starting to become disillusioned.

Johnny Black  |  Jun 15, 2021
Johnny Black on the creation of the iconic artwork for Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon

Apiece of art that can today be found in 45m homes around the world was kick-started by a simple, none-too-detailed instruction to 'do something clean, elegant and graphic'. The instruction came from Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright, and was given to Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, the founders of Hipgnosis, a London-based art and design group whose first sleeve design had been for the Floyd's 1968 album A Saucerful Of Secrets.

Ken Kessler  |  Jun 04, 2021
Looking for albums that will challenge your system's strengths but which are musically rewarding too? This month Ken Kessler recommends a score of must-own titles on vinyl

As with my list of Top 20 CDs [HFN Feb '21], choosing 20 LPs from my collection of around 12,000 is tough. But there is one rule I stick to, no matter what: I do not listen to LPs for their sonic worth alone. With this selection, each is a release I cherish, and though my logic for choosing these 20 may be shaky, here goes...

Barry Fox  |  May 28, 2021
Barry Fox brings you his pick of the books that offer insights into audio

There are enough books about rock and pop music to capsize a cruise liner. So for this third part in my series on good books that connect music to hi-fi I have picked a few of the lesser-known reads. Arguably the best starting point for pop industry insight is George Martin's 1979 biography, All You Need Is Ears in which Martin shares his jaundiced views on the Apple organisation (unrelated to Apple computers, of course), which The Beatles set up in the mid '60s.

Johnny Black  |  May 04, 2021
Johnny Black on the creation of the iconic artwork for the sleeve of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's

The real story', said Paul McCartney in 1995, 'is that I was coming back from America on a holiday trip. I was in a very laid-back mode and dreaming away, and I started imagining this idea of The Beatles as another band, to be liberated, as liberated as I felt on this holiday'.

Johnny Black  |  Apr 05, 2021
Johnny Black uncovers the unlikely beginnings of celebrated songs

Many moons ago, raking around in a secondhand book emporium, I came across a dog-eared but irresistible tome called Inspirations. Written by Michael Randolfi, Mike Read and David Stark, it offered up the inspirations behind popular songs, including the taxi cab accident which inspired Leo Sayer to write his 1974 hit 'One Man Band' and the phone call behind The Cure's 1997 single 'Wrong Number'. As someone who loves to know what songs are about, I plunged in with delight but, fascinating though it undeniably was, very few of the inspirations really surprised me.

Barry Fox  |  Mar 09, 2021
Barry Fox on books with insights into the personalities behind the podium

Before my local bank branch closed, someone in head office came up with a cunning plan. Shut half the counters and pipe in classical music to soothe the nerves of customers seething at the longer wait for service. Played just loud enough to be recognisable, but too whispery to be enjoyable – like the tizzy spill from someone else's headphones – the noise just simply annoyed.

Ken Kessler  |  Mar 03, 2021
Ken Kessler turns to his pile of permanently on-hand CDs to bring you his pick of the discs that will shine a light on your system's performance

Like asking to choose your favourite food or movie, narrowing down 15,000 CDs and SACDs to a mere 20 is torture. The brief was to cite those I use regularly for reviewing purposes and which can reveal the qualities of a component or system. That said, this is also the stack of CDs which never gets filed with the rest, sitting there ready for action.

Tim Jarman  |  Feb 09, 2021
Tim Jarman on the tools and techniques you'll need to restore classic kit

In the early days of hi-fi it was common to make one's own equipment, either as an economy measure or as a matter of pride. Today's equivalent may be repairing and restoring vintage hi-fi units at home, a potentially rewarding endeavour which can make the subsequent listening even more satisfying.

Barry Fox  |  Feb 02, 2021
Barry Fox on the music books that bring insights into audio

Polymath Humphrey Lyttelton not only played as he pleased, he wrote as he pleased in many excellent books on music, once appealingly disparaging sound engineers he suffered on tour as 'Marconis'. The reason? They couldn't stop fiddling with the controls, so destroying the natural balance of his live band and adding electronic distortion.

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