Put the needle on the record

Hi Fi Sound test albumA pair of 1970s (well 1969 for the first) stereo test albums which still find a use today apparently.  Read more on the site. I wonder when we’ll see these Hi-Fi Sound records in 180gsm vinyl shrinkwrapped Record Store Day exclusives courtesy Music On Vinyl? (I mean come on, £25 for a Robert Plant 10″ single this year…!)

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On tape

Recording Studio Tape Boxes

One of the perks of working on repackaging recordings for CD is the chance from time to time to work with the old master tapes. Normally the critical information for a reissue project – track and recording information – is on the back. Yet the graphics on the box covers are visually interesting and many companies produced recording tape for studio use, which needed to be of a very high quality. It was only recently that I thought to photograph some of the tape boxes themselves before they needed to be returned.
A lot of the logo branding can be recognised having appeared on other products for the domestic market by the same firm. All these boxes are around 12″ square and contained 1″ recording tape.

Agfa studio recording tape sixties

The Agfa imagery might likewise might be familiar from older cameras, roll film and photographic paper marketed by the company, and they also made domestic cassette tape. This box is from 1973

BASF studio recording tape

The 1972 BASF box is typical; this logo appeared on blank cassettes, on tape recorders made by the company, and for a brief time there was even a BASF album label.

EMI studio recording tape

The Scotch brand is again quite old, and they used their own typeface which appears here in both the Scotch name, the 3M logo and the ‘Magnetic Products’ identification name. The plain black and white design is lifted by a simple line in a ‘tartan’ design in red. This box is dated 1969

.EMI tape box

Finally a great design from EMI also from about 1969, using an abstract version of a soundwave, with the arrows adding a nice dynamic.  The EMITAPE logo seen here also appeared on their cassette boxes, while the small oval EMI logo was much older and was used on the backs of all EMI sleeves through the sixties.  I was able to adapt some of these graphics on an EMI reissue package a couple of years back (the last I did for them before the company was destroyed by the private equity “industry”), although I am not sure the label knew where they’d come from!

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Playtime Records label

Playtime Records was an off-shoot of Columbia in America, and began back in the thirties as a 78 rpm label. Releasing dozens of children’s records, the catalogue moved over to a 7″ format probably around 1950, before ceasing in 1954 by which time they had over 100 releases on catalogue.  I say 7″ format but the discs were actually a bit smaller, and all their fifties releases appear to have been pressed on thin red vinyl.  The discs still ran at 78 rpm, but I assume were deleted when this format went into decline.  Many of the recordings were probably then sublicensed to other children’s label over the next decade.

Playtime childrens recordsThe Playtime singles came in picture covers. The illustrations vary in quality, a lot are (like the two shown above) are quite non-descript, but there are signs of a Steinweiss influences on the typography and the label’s paper hat motif.  What really struck me about these two examples I picked up recently though were the fabulous label designs.  These take an element from the cover but rework it in a much sharper graphic style.  So a fairly ordinary illustration of a fly becomes a much more abstract image, complete with dotted lines to indicate movement.

Playtime Records label Playtime Records label

I think it’s likely that the covers are from older editions, just reused, but someone had to come up with new labels for the reissues and that’s when these were done.

Columbia seem to have reactivated Playtime as a 45 rpm label in the sixties, with a jukebox logo design, but that was for pop releases (and is nothing to do with the Manchester based indie label of the same name.)

I liked the label illustrations so much I reworked them as t-shirt designs for a bit of fun. These have been added to the Easy On The Eye t-shirt shop, along with other weird vinyl related designs!

playtime records t-shirt

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Spanish for beginners

BBC Records spanish language lesson album 1964

I’ve already looked at the sleeves for language lesson albums on ST33 but this new find came my way the other day. It’s very typical of the smart BBC album sleeves of this genre; a monochrome snap courtesy of the Spanish tourist office and some eye-catching typography. The elaborate decorated S really grabs your attention, and the orange colour is then used for the background on the back of the sleeve. It was issued in 1964 to tie in with the lessons broadcast on the BBC Home Service.  No design credit sadly.

Language lesson sleeves gallery

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generic disco

capitol-squareand I don’t mean the music!  Many major labels developed their own generic 12″ single sleeves in the late 70s and 80s.  This saved them the expense of printing special covers for each single, but did give the releases an extra presence.  Some were really good too and evoke the genre and time well thirty years later.  This gallery shows half a dozen of the most interesting.

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Black Sheep Of The Family

Quatermass Black Sheep German sleeveI’ve got around to looking at one of my favourite Hipgnosis sleeves at last, the Quatermass album.  Although I don’t have it, this German single sleeve I found on the web lifts the Pterodactyl’s from the front sleeve of the album.

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Home Sweden Home

Home Sweden-Home-Decca-1959Home Sweden Home, featuring Egon Kjerrman Orchestra and soloists.
This charity shop find struck me a quite ‘seasonal’ cover (it even has a track on it called Black Rudolf!). Issued in America in 1959 on London Records, I have seen two editions of this album, which seems to have been released in conjunction with SAS Airlines, whose logo and advert appear on the back. The album was first issued in a sleeve featuring an SAS stewardess in 1958 (see below), then reissued in this more homely cover.
Clearly aimed at lonely Swedish ex-pats, or travellers to the country, the sleeve here features a very typically made up fifties woman in a Swedish traditional outfit. The painted wooden horse is also a traditional folk tradition, from the Dalarna region of the country. Despite the date, my copy has a decimal import tax sticker on the back and is a deleted cut-out, perhaps indicating a poor seller which was then off-loaded at ex-warehouse stock.

Home Sweden Home 1958 London Records

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Trevor Kelly IS Elvis

Trevor-Kelly, Belfast
With the opening of the Elvis Presley exhibition at the O2 Arena, I figured here’s one album which might have escaped the curator’s attention!  It’s another privately pressed album, this time by Trevor Kelly, “architect and entertainer”.  Resident compare at the Belfast Abercorn Club, he did an Elvis turn which according to the sleeve note had “all age groups drooling over him”…  This album was made to sell at the club, so that “all you ladies have a chance to take him home!”  The notes were penned by none other than Gloria Hunniford, who first saw Trevor “wooing hundreds of women in Belfast.”
The album was actually recorded in Manchester, and released in 1979 on MPA Records (MP071). Trev doesn’t actually look much like Elvis facially (or tonsorially) – more like Russ Abbott in fact – but clearly has gone to a lot of trouble with the jump suit and the cover photograph, which (while uncredited) is a lot more professional than many of the genre. Starburst filters rule!
There is a new fourth page of private pressing sleeves on the site, covers which seem to attract a sort of strange fascination amongst many record collectors.

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metal threesome

Gillan, Rainbow, Whitesnake Metal ExplosionA contrasting trio of covers for heavy metal collections circa 1980, from the sublime to the ridiculous perhaps!  It’s a music genre that threw up many real horrors cover wise but occasionally they aspired to something greater as one of the three demonstrates.

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Fancy knit-wear


The Clancy Brothers were a four piece Irish folk group who mostly found fame in America, where they were known for their trademark off-white Aran jumpers which one of their mothers had knitted back home in Ireland one winter and posted out during a cold spell. On this groovy 1968 sleeve someone had the idea of posing four girls in the same Aran knit-wear the blokes wore, a play on the album title (which itself was a nod at their 1962 album The Boys Won’t Leave The Girls Alone.) The resulting image is very like knitting pattern covers of the time.
The photograph was taken by Stanley Matchett, a Belfast photographer.  It was just a credit on a sleeve to me, but Stanley is a very respected news photographers who has won a number of awards, culminating in the MBE a few years ago (and a retrospective just last year). Locally he is remembered for his coverage of the Beatles shows in Belfast in 1963. I have dropped him an email to see if he recalls the session.  The cover also uses one of my favourite decorated Futura stencil fonts, very redolent of the time.
It turned up in two second hand shops I visited recently, the copy I bought seems to have had an international history.  The album itself is an Australian pressing on EMI Parlophone, the sleeve is printed in England, and the album was originally issued in Northern Ireland by Emerald Records, but distributed by Decca in London.
Emerald was one of the first labels to cater for the Irish showbands, very popular over there. Founded by a guy called Mervyn Soloman in 1964, they had offices in Dublin and Belfast. The label is still going but has moved into traditional music and reissues of their back-catalogue under the name of Emerald Music.

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