Rare Record Collector Publication / UK / 2014
Label discographies have been around for ever and a day. I never quite got into the urge to track down labels myself, and tended to favour the collecting individual artists approach myself. However I can quite see the attraction when it comes to some of the more esoteric labels of the 60s and 70s such as Harvest, Vertigo and the subject of this new book, Charisma. Back then even within majors there were A&R people who knew their stuff and could bring to a label an interesting array of artists, with support staff willing to spend a bit of extra time and effort in presenting the releases. The theory being that if you made a label interesting enough, people would be prepared to investigate albums they might not otherwise risk.
Whether in the days of downloads there will ever be labels which attract this level of interest again is hard to say, given much of today’s market is artist driven. But that’s for some researcher to worry about in the future. Right now there are still people prepared to spend quite hefty sums of money to put together collections of rare label albums, and if Charisma is your thing, then I’m sure this book will have ‘buy me’ written across it from the moment you see the cover.
The approach is just what collectors would want really. An introduction to the label, then a catalogue sequenced romp through the albums followed by the singles. Each long-player gets a full page for the front cover (the book is nicely sized at the size of a 7″ record), and a second page for the back or inner gatefold (or both). I’m not really sure why a third page is devoted to a twice life size image of just one side of the label, as this seems a bit OTT (especially when in the singles section there are often four labels to a page.) The fourth page for each title is given over to text, track list and other comments. Some of these are longer than others. Being written by a designer, little comments about the type styles etc. are inevitable and a nice touch, as is the discussion of the label colour – actually magenta not pink (we even get two pages about the second Charisma label design which I appreciated, though it seems nobody knows who put it together even though the design is signed.)
The covers are nicely photographed throughout and you can forgive the very occasional jpeg images liberated from the web which creep into some of the text pages.
If there is a gripe it would have to be that the book is only available via ‘print on demand’, with all the attendant issues of print quality and colour fidelity this technology raises. Given our own experiences with publishing a couple of niche market books lately I can readily see why this publishing route offers a no-win no-fee sort of option for publishers but I can’t help thinking all this work justified some nice matt art paper and a four colour litho press!
As for the actual sleeves, there are just thirty album in the original series. For my money at least half are either good or better in design terms, while others are at least interesting. There are some great Hipgnosis covers here for example, some of their earliest work was for the label. Early examples of both their stagey hand-tinted portraits appear on the Audience covers, while two of their more ambiguous photo shoots also found an outlet on sleeves for The Nice (my favourites in the book overall). Poor quality painting let a few covers down, I’ve always disliked the art on Genesis sleeves of this era with a passion, and quite what Audience were on when they did their first sleeve is anyone’s guess! Pick of the covers for me is probably Five Bridges by The Nice from 1970. Given that it was about the bridges over the Tyne, anyone else would have carefully photographed all five bridges. Hipgnosis go for one wide angle infra red film image and then repeat that five times instead. Sleeve in the book I don’t have? That would be the strange Jackson Heights cover (again by Hipgnosis). All treated colour photographs of skies and washing machines montaged together Jack Kirby style. One to look out for at the next record fair. There’s a nice mint copy up for grabs online at £50 right now…
I would like to thank Neil at Rare Record Collector for generously sending me a review copy. Neil’s site www.rarerecordcollector.net is well worth a visit for great images of many rare album sleeves, and he’s preparing a couple of follow-up books to this one as we write. Details of how to order this book are also on his site.