Winner takes all

Winner Records 78 rpm labelIs this where the phrase Disc Jockey comes from? This horse rider, dashing for the last furlong with a record in each hand, was painted for an early label called Winner Records, and appeared on their labels for twenty years or more between the wars.  This gallery showcases four of the variations of the label, simply because they all turned up in a shop recently and were too good to leave behind!

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Art By Mark

I Start Counting Mute Records STUMM 30

This sleeve plays with the conventions of an album cover and stood out in a rack of bargain vinyl I leafed through recently.  I’d not heard of the band, an electronic synth pop duo called I Start Counting, but this was their debut album from 1986 on Mute Records. The label had only been going a couple of years at the time but had signed artists like Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure so could afford to be creative with packaging new acts.  Mute often did interesting sleeves, and this is no exception. I thought it was a 12″ single at first, but they call it a mini LP; at around 34 minutes it’s as long as a lot of regular vinyl albums.  The letters are all made from shapes cut out of magazine pages which have been given a colour wash with paint first, then pasted up to make the final design.  The art even includes the retail price at a time when label or bands tried to ensure fans were not overpriced for a record they may well have taken a reduced royalty on to hit the lower price break (otherwise shops were tempted to try and charge more).  The album is called My Translucent Hands and is pressed in clear vinyl as a play on this. Although I don’t have it, the CD cover –  the format was fairly new at the time – uses the same design but with CD where Mini LP is on the vinyl.

I Start Counting Mute Records STUMM 30

The cover designer looked to be a bit of a mystery; “Art by Mark” didn’t offer many clues. Yet a bit of research showed this to be Mark Higenbottam, designer at Town & Country Planning Design, who did quite a lot of work for Mute. T&CP were later taken over by Stylorouge, an agency responsible for many very stylish sleeves (there is a review of their book on the site).  The back cover is less griping, black with just a few torn shapes and small montage in the corner.

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shop sleeve single selection

Sydney Scarborough Records, HullA gallery of workmanlike 7″ card sleeves produced for local record shops in the fifties and sixties, which have been serving serving as singles storage for over fifty years. Handmade type and vintage logos abound on these provincial offerings from Reading Co-Op, Canns in Sheffield, Jeavons in Newcastle, Sydney Scarborough in Hull, Savilles in South Shields and Vallances in Leeds.

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TV Times

film and tv theme albumsIndividually these budget TV themes albums may not add up to much, but bring them together and a whole world of illustrations and cover versions opens up before your eyes. They may lack the subtlety of full price rock album art but at least one of these was done by film poster artist Tom Chantrell. One of his original posters would set you back a couple of hundred pounds, the vinyl should cost you no more than a pound. Check out the sleeve gallery and read more about the designers.

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Beverley Minster

Minster Records beverleyA nice new vinyl shop in East Yorkshire makes Beverley worth stopping off in (as if the quaint town, old style market square, Georgian buildings and an impressive old Minster were not enough already!).

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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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