Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gentle Giant: Octopus

Well I’m back from my reunion and a return to blogging as we head toward our fourth anniversary and our 1300th post – both of which occur next week. A few weeks ago I introduced a new feature called “Atypical Tuesdays” which looks at unusual packaging of albums. About a week ago someone on a Facebook site that deals with classic concerts in Charleston, West Virginia mentioned that Gentle Giant had once played there as well in Morgantown, WV. Since I’ve never featured this largely unknown prog rock band, I thought I would give it a shot.

Today, we feature a cut from their fourth album titled “Octopus.” It is said that Roberta Shulman, wife of horn player and vocalist, named the album as a pun on “octo” – eight and “opus” – musical numbers, as the album had eight tracks. While the European release of the album had a standard gatefold cover featuring the characteristic artwork of Roger Dean, the North American release was radically different.

While Columbia picked up the option from Vertigo to release two albums, “Three Friends” and “Octopus,” they decided on alternate covers for both. The North American release of “Three Friends” took the artwork from the band’s first album, as it had never been released here. The iconic image of a “gentle giant” was probably a good move.

I am not so sure on the choice of covers for the American and Canadian issues of “Octopus.” Dean was a rising star in the album cover business by the 1972 release of “Octopus” and certainly the art department at CBS should have recognized this.

He had already designed 20 album covers that included “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” by Yes and Uriah Heep’s “Demons and Wizards” that were recently ingrained in the minds of the record buying public. His covers of “Octupus,” the debut album by Osibisa, and Uriah Heep’s “The Magician’s Birthday” rank as my three favorite Dean album covers of all time.

For North America, Columbia turned to John Berg for a cover concept and design that utilized an illustration by Charles White, III. The artwork was coordinated by Fluid Design and employed Kenny Kneitel’s design and Michael Doret’s lettering. The finished product was a die cut album cover that resembled an octopus in a jar. The die cut cover contributed to the overall 3D effect for the cover.

While I would have stuck with the Dean cover, the North American artwork was quite good and certainly a cover “to be reckoned with.” Like all Gentle Giant albums in the US, its chart activity was dismal at best. Of the albums that charted (and there were some that didn’t), “Octopus” and its die cut cover had one of the poorest showings on the album charts as it only peaked at #170.

Way ahead of their time, Gentle Giant just never developed a following on this side of the pond – even though critics lauded them as one of the more innovative progressive rock bands. Today’s feature is “A Cry for Everyone” which sounds more like an 80s rock tune rather than 1972 prog rock song. It features the following Gentle Giant members:
  • Derek Shulman: lead vocals;
  • Phil Shuman: backing vocals;
  • Ray Shulman: bass, tambourine, and backing vocals;
  • Gary Green: electric guitars;
  • Kerry Minnear: piano, Hammond organ, and Moog synthesizer;
  • John Weathers: drums and bongos.

Although it is not credited, I swear there is a tubular bell hit on the last note. Take a listen and see what you think about this largely unknown band that had a very loyal and distinct following.

1 comment:

  1. I love this cover. The back of the cover is the reverse of the front, thus like looking through the jar. On the back there is also a diver in an old diving helme. If this diver were six feet tall, that would make the jar about twenty five foot tall ; giant. Also, great art work on the raised glass lettering on the jar.