Friday, 3 September 2010
International Note: All design descriptions that follow relate to records released in the UK and yes, I know they are often different in other countries.
In the days when I was an impoverished singles buyer, the combination of record label and sleeve was part of the fun of music collecting. My first 7-inch single was on the RCA label, a black and silver affair with a stunning pinky-red and white sleeve. All RCA releases were the same and thus were instantly recognisable. Then there was the deep blue and silver of Decca, the bright orange of CBS, the cool green of Columbia and the maroon of London, each a joy to behold. In the 70s I owned a complete set of Abba singles with their mesmerizingly vivid yellow Epic labels and sleeves – such a shame when Epic changed to orange with a spiral pattern.
Once I’d graduated to buying albums, a whole new set of labels beckoned and each label ‘stable’ held a clue to its contents. The vomit-yellow and green of the Harvest label told of underground progressive bands – the ones you’d want to be seen carrying. The shocking pink and white Island label promised a touch of the exotic whilst the yellowy-orange riverboat of Reprise said ‘classic’.
Labels eventually became artier like the Apple ‘skin and core’ graphics of the Beatles’ releases and the beautiful butterfly motif on the Elektra label or the Asylum ‘barred door’ on a white background but they always had a ‘house’ design that said ‘these are my acts and if you like one you might like the others’.
These days I have not a clue which label releases what as a) there are about 32 trillion different labels which come and go at will, b) they are all owned by about three companies anyway and c) they have no graphic representation by which to identify them. A file download won’t tell you the label identity and even CD inserts fight shy of this fact. Somehow the individuality and fun has gone out of this aspect of music collecting and will probably never return. It’s like the great labels of the past like Stax and Atlantic, Parlophone and HMV never existed. But just give me a black labelled Tamla Motown single in its shit-brown sleeve and I’ll be happy.