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If You’re Old Enough to Remember Album Covers, You Won’t Recall These

Ever since puny CDs supplanted foot-square LPs in the marketplace, many fans and label art directors have lamented that the world of album art just isn’t as much fun as it used to be, with creative cover design diminishing in proportion to the size of the product.

Michael Ochs is doing something about it.

The Venice archivist, whose vast collection of music-related art and artifacts is the preeminent pop-music resource for books, movies, TV shows and album reissue packaging, is recruiting renowned visual artists to design what they call “The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were.” Ochs and project partner Craig Butler have put together a roster of nearly 100 artists for the project.

“We’re asking them to pick their favorite recording artist and do the definitive cover for that artist at any point in their career,” Ochs says. “We’re not asking for alternate covers to real albums--there’s no way to redo [the Beatles’] ‘Revolver’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ But they could do the Beatles during the ‘Revolver’ period, for example.”

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The results will be assembled in an exhibition that will debut with a five-month run at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in September 2003, and then travel around the country. A coffee table book will also be published. Artists will retain ownership of their pieces, but Ochs hopes most will be donated and sold for charity. He will give updates about the project through his Web site, www.michaelochs.com.

Artists range from John Van Hamersveld (designer of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” covers) to political poster artist Robbie Conal. Their list of musical acts is just as broad.

“I thought I’d have to channel [the selection of artists] more to cover the complete gamut of music,” says Ochs. “But it goes from Robert Johnson to the Blue Man Group.”

Van Hamersveld, who hasn’t done an album cover since Public Image’s “This Is What You Want” in 1984, has chosen Ray Charles as his subject and is excited to have another go with a free hand. There isn’t even input from the musician, let alone label executives.

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“The demise of the album cover via CDs and the emphasis on MTV images ruined it for me,” says L.A.-based Van Hamersveld. “I haven’t done one in so long that I’m taking pleasure in doing one in the larger format, which gives that dynamic of how people lived through that kind of singular image.”

Public Image’s John Lydon “found me and confessed that the ‘Exile on Main Street’ cover was used as an example of ways of conveying and communicating their punk movement in 1976. When people talk about that kind of stuff, it’s very powerful.”

John Dismukes, who moved from doing album art for such rock bands as Y&T; in the ‘80s to designing everything from the “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” logo to a Britney Spears marketing campaign, also jumped at the chance to do a fantasy cover. He picked Ozzy Osbourne.

“It’s going to be fun,” he says. “A lot of times when you’re working on projects there are restrictions. If you’re selling in Kmart, you can’t put bloody skulls or something. This has no restrictions. The concept I’m doing is the history of Ozzy, from when he was a little kid to today, trying to put that all into one canvas.”

NONSECULAR: P.O.D. is known as a Christian presence in the largely heathen hard-rock world. Now the San Diego band is starting its own record label. But don’t expect it to insist that its acts hold prayer sessions before shows or anything. There will be no litmus test of belief for the label, says P.O.D. manager Tim Cook.

“I suppose on a personal level, they wouldn’t sign anything directly against their faith,” Cook says. “But that hasn’t been said to me.” In fact, the yet-unnamed label’s first signing, Swedish band Blindside, stemmed from the rock evangelism of P.O.D.'s fans.

“P.O.D. has this huge network of fans around the world called the Warriors,” Cook says. “Blindside’s been a band for seven years, and P.O.D. has been following them for five years. [The interest] was driven by the kids, and P.O.D. wanted to be part of it.”

Blindside’s U.S. debut album, “Silence,” is set for release Aug. 20 in a partnership between P.O.D.'s label and Elektra Records. The band can already be seen in a cameo in P.O.D.'s current video, “Boom,” cast as the Swedish pingpong team.

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LAW AND ORDER: Microchips are being put in pets to help identify them in case of loss or theft, and there’s talk of doing the same for children.

What about guitars? That’s the aim of a new venture called Snagg.

With Music Trade magazine reporting that more than a million musical instruments are stolen annually, the program offers an easy way for law enforcement to identify and recover such goods.

Under Snagg, the brainchild of musician Don Baskin (singer of the ‘60s band Syndicate of Sound) and music publicist Jeff Albright, small chips encoded with ID numbers are embedded in instruments, and owners pay a registration fee. The chip can be read by a hand-held scanner and the number then matched via the registry.

Albright says that Fender Musical Instruments began implanting the chips in new guitars late last year, with 30,000 already done. Distribution of scanners to police departments around the nation will begin shortly, as will a program through which music stores can install chips in older instruments.

SMALL FACES: Tom Waits put together a band featuring Primus’ Les Claypool on bass, Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz on guitar and Casey Waits (his 16-year-old son) on drums to record “The Return of Jackie and Judy” for the Ramones tribute album being overseen by Rob Zombie. “We’re a Happy Family,” which also features U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and the Pretenders, among others, is due this summer from Columbia Records.... A new Brian Wilson recording of a previously unreleased Beach Boys song, “California Feelin’,” will be featured on “Classics ... Selected by Brian Wilson,” an album of the group’s hits hand-picked by the primary composer and designer of the music. Choices range from the obvious (“California Girls,” “Good Vibrations”) to the obscure (“Time to Get Alone,” “We’re Together Again”), with Wilson’s liner notes explaining his picks. The Capitol release is due July 2.... With the Black Crowes on indefinite hiatus, guitarist Rich Robinson has produced a live album using recordings of the group’s final two shows in Boston last October. The set is due in August from V2 Records. His brother, singer Chris Robinson, is working on a new project using the name New Earth Mud.... Josh Homme of the Queens of the Stone Age has written and performed a new song, “All the Same,” for the movie “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.” It was directed by his friend Peter Care and is scheduled to open June 14 in L.A. and New York before going national. Soundtrack release plans are not finalized yet.

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Steve Hochman is a regular contributor to Calendar.

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