Nice to see my old RPM label co-founder Mark Stratford get the ‘collectors’ page in the new edition of Record Collector magazine. This regular feature looks at different vinyl collectors each issue and what makes them tick. Mark, myself and Roger Dopson founded RPM back in 1991 to try and forge a reissue label putting out CD packages as we wanted to see them, rather than the often indifferent way the majors handled their archives. Mark is still at the helm, the label now operating out of Cherry Red’s indie empire. I bailed out to restart Purple Records and Roger teamed up with the guys at Sequel, but RPM keeps on truckin’ and the article gives a nice flavour of Mark’s undiminished enthusiasm for the scene. We’re currently working together on a book of rare American Blues photographs for publication early in 2017, and hopefully an exhibition to go with it.
Here is one of the first three RPM CD designs from 1991; if I recall Mark and Roger didn’t get any say in this whatsoever! We did plan vinyl editions (I may still have the mock-ups somewhere) but sadly the market was in free fall at that time and we just didn’t have the money to do both.
I’ve babbled about the passing of Robert Vaughan on pop culture site Easy On The Eye, but The Man From Uncle, which was required viewing as a young kid, was not only great to watch, but the music by Hugo Montenegro fitted the slick look of the action so well. And in America as the show became so popular they went with a whole soundtrack album on RCA Records, packaged with a great shot of the show’s two heroes pondering a femme fatale, all plunging neckline and silver cigarette holders. The album sold so well that a second volume quickly followed, the cover looking like it was photographed on the movie lot, with the actors posing in a vintage car dealer’s nightmare shot of a trashed MG. These LPs were far too sophisticated for me as a young fan of the TV show, but proved impossible to resist in second-hand form years later (happily before their values began to escalate.)
There was also an album from the spin off show Girl From Uncle. And the show clearly exported right round the world as these rare spin off singles I found on the web show. I do have a Japanese pic sleeve myself (the b-side is by The Clee Shays!), but it is different to these. It looks like several beat groups there must have covered the theme music.
I do like these old 78 rpm record boxes, though they don’t turn up that often. This one gave nothing much away as to it’s possible vintage, but I spotted a few old issues of Country Life from the Twenties recently, and there on the back of one was a nice HMV advert with the exact same typography and decoration, so I assume something like 1927 for this.
It’s a really tough box too, but then it had to be to protect the more fragile 78s of the time. It must have been printed by letterpress, but there is hardly any indentation of the type on the surface, so it was done with some skill.
It’ll do nicely for keeping my 78 sleeves in while I’m sorting them out, so £3 well spent. I have posted images of a similar box for Columbia Records 78s on the site, here’s the link.
Often garish and done with no eye on design whatsoever, the K-Tel and Arcade hits album covers are the antithesis of sleeve art, the washing powder packets of the vinyl world. Primary colours and plenty of them! Yet they can throw up some fun covers, and I pick them up if I see them cheap and in good condition. This collection titled Rocket (Arcade ADFEP17) is one of the better examples. The sleeve artist is not credited, but clearly they must have used a British comic illustrator of some talent, as the background image is fantastic and really well drawn. It’s a pity they felt the need to cover it in the names of the artists although these are clearly hand-drawn as well; today someone would simply dial up one of the digitised ‘comic’ fonts. There is even a different illustration across the back, where puzzlingly the artists and tracks are buried in some tiny font for some reason (I bet Polly Brown threw a strop when she realised they’d missed her off the front!) It dates from 1975, arguably the peak period for these TV advertised compilations.
Arcade must have kept the rocket illustration separate, as different countries used it but changed the names and content as the Dutch version shown below indicates. Hopefully someone is out there collecting and documenting all this stuff properly!
There are a few K-tel heavy metal sleeves on the site.
How you can come up with such a dull cover for a book about vinyl I’m not sure, but Aurum Press have managed it with The Art Of Making Records. However it’s not all bad news, and if you get down to HMV you can pick it up for half price which ST33 reckons is worth a trip. Read the full review on the site, and there are more vinyl art book reviews if you scroll down the ever growing menu
This sleeve stood out when it turned up in a Manchester shop the other week during a vinyl expedition with a friend (hello Chris!). There was a vaguely updated Vortiscist feel to the illustration, but it also looked very Eighties too (it turned out to be from 1983.) The rhubarb and custard colours, the nice grey shadow and the white background all make for a cover which is very much of the time. Bill Summers is an Afro Cuban Latin Jazz percussionist and group leader, which probably influenced the exaggerated Cuban dance wear as well.
I have always liked the typeface used here, which is Blanco, dating back to the early Fifties. I’ve used it myself on jobs (although if I recall rightly I had to scan an old type book and make up the words as it wasn’t digitised back then!), and it on sleeves by the Bobs Marley and Dylan (and more.)
The back cover is also nicely done, with a smartly designed panel of credits and fully justified text titles, suggesting early photo-typesetting skills. The cover lettering is repeated but with the colours switched around. The whole sleeve has a very subtle cream tint and a bit of a paint splatter going on in the background as well.
The design is by Norman Moore, not a name I was familiar with. Born in Scotland but working in the US, he has done at least 300 album and CD covers, starting back in the mid-Seventies. It’s a huge output and includes some great sleeves and big names too. Many are photo portraits, with Norman adding sharply designed logos, shapes and washes to compliment the images, but others are more illustration based. I shall have to do a bit more digging.
The Bill Summers cover was for MCA Records. Norman did a similar sort of cover the same year for a US synth pop outfit called Industry which I don’t have but is worth showing for comparison.
Away from the big name sleeve designers, I’ve always been interested in the work of those who toiled at or for labels, mostly uncredited and forgotten. But when you bring some of these covers together they start to tell their own story. We all have our own often stereotyped images of people from other lands, and the sleeve designers were no exception. As it is holiday season, and having just got back from doing a bit of work / sight seeing in Switzerland (where I was dismayed by the lack of alpine meadows, milkmaids, dancing cows and cheese with holes in it), I thought to dig out one from my ‘so bad it’s good’ box, The Sound of Switzerland, which quickly led to me putting together a selection of similarly stereotyped covers.
You can view the full gallery on the site, and let me know of any similar sleeve you have! Meanwhile, I’m back down the travel agents to get my money back.
The title of what looks to be a really fascinating new exhibition in London devoted to “exploring the experience of the 20th century through shellac and vinyl, celebrating the history of Jewish inventors, musicians, composers, music producers and songwriters. See early examples of phonographs and gramophones and immerse yourself in the sounds of the 20th century; from Jewish folk music to Yiddish theatre songs, from Broadway musicals to rock‘n’roll via the rebels of punk and psychedelic rock.”
What most interested me (and gets it a mention here) from the preview was the display of some 500 records and covers, and if you like seeing unusual graphics and images on your sleeves, and how vinyl art was approached in a different country, then this looks like being a must. You can read more about it on the Jewish Museum’s website, and download the exhibition brochure there as well. I think the exhibition originated at the Austrian Jewish Museum.
It runs from July 14th to the middle of October
This Howie B single is an elaborate package for a 12″, with a diecut printed inner sleeve, but a dirty great sticker on the front which ruined the designer’s work for me, so I spent half an hour carefully removing it from my copy. The dilemma of whether to leave a sticker or not is one which troubles some vinyl collectors. Personally I feel if the designer or musician didn’t want the information from the sticker printed on the sleeve, then it shouldn’t be there, especially if as is the case here it spoils everything. My only worry is can it be removed safely, or will it – especially when it has been on the card for a couple of decades – leave a mark. Others may argue that it is much part of the purchase as the label or the inner bag. Anyway, this is what it looks with and without.
Howie B (and his label) put a lot of effort into packaging this single, with various promotion versions, one of which was actually hand stencilled. These are covered on the site.
As for the other leave or stay debate – I’m just old enough to have voted in first time around and still feel the same today. When I ran a full time record label we ended up pressing in Europe as it was our best market, we even ran a bank account in Euros. Our main distribution people were in Germany and we made friends there, and enjoyed being part of something much bigger than would otherwise have been the case. So for the sake of existing and future small businesses everywhere I’d like to keep those opportunities and freedoms open.
I moan about The Guardian as much as any other longterm reader, but can’t see me going anywhere else. And not sure which other paper would publish a set of photographs documenting how a vinyl album is pressed. I think they’ve been taken for one of the big photo agencies rather than organised by the paper itself (by Brian Cahn) but this series of photographs covers everything from cleaning up the master tape to printing the sleeves. I rarely buy reissues but they do seem to be a huge part of the vinyl market these days, and this is a low-key Blue Note album cover they’re working on. I love the shot of a lady actually polishing off the dust from the sleeve sheet before it gets cut and formed, reminds me of my days working at a printers (nothing as glamorous as album covers sadly). The shot below shows the pressing plant’s test copies stacked up.