October 9, 2013

Twelve Inch Single Jackets: 1979-1989

Fifteenth birthday: Boombox, turntable, and
the Peter Gabriel "So" LP.

My Intro To Vinyl, 1987

When I was a teenager I became a music fanatic. I got my first "Boombox" (a Sears model) for Christmas 1985, featuring AM/FM radio, single cassette deck, five-band graphic equalizer and detachable speakers! I dived into the Record and Tape Club, but soon cassettes weren't enough for me. Thirteen months later I asked for another boom box -- this time with a dual-cassette deck -- and a record turntable for my birthday. My dad bought a Radio Shack pre-amplifier so I could plug the turntable (which was "phono level") into the boombox at line level.
After I plugged in that turntable in 1987, I became a collector of 12-inch remix singles. Why? I never played music for dancing at parties; I can't really explain it other than I loved music, and I was fascinated with alternate versions, extended versions, and remixes of my favorite songs. The same way I am always interested in career-spanning box sets that include outtakes and remakes, I liked hearing my favorite music in a different way.
"Self Control", Laura Branigan; bought at the Flea @ MIT in 2013.
Post-Warhol collage Pop art was very big in the 1980s.

Industry History and Context

When a single was remixed and extended for playing in a disco, it was released on a 12-inch record. A twelve inch platter is a better thickness of vinyl, allows for more room for the grooves, longer songs will fit, and better sound mastering, especially thumping bass lines to dance to.
Many 12 inch singles simply reuse the five inch 45 rpm single sleeve art "blown up" for the 12 inch single, but if the record label did not want to pay to manufacture jackets for the 12 inch single, the disc was released in a plain black or white jacket (with a hole cut for the label to show through), or, the record label had a generic jacket design for any and all 12 inch singles. This gallery features nine examples of label-generic jackets from my vinyl collection. Most of these I bought when the record was new; the Seventies "Disco" singles I found here in the 21st century at tag sales and used record shops. Click on any photo to view a higher-resolution gallery.

A one-hit Canadian wonder;
a teenage pop singer named "Bryan Adams"
Saved from a curbside crate, Inman Square, circa 2011.
This A&M Disco jacket's charcoal-on-black design is SO Seventies!

Vinyl Was On Its Way Out

My hunger for music in every format came at a great moment in industry, or terrible, depending on how you look at it. Vinyl was on its way out in 1987. Within a few years Compact Discs would not only outsell vinyl, but CDs made vinyl look obsolete and worse, uncool. The industry positioned CDs as the awesome wave of the future, and hardly anyone noticed or cared that they weren't perfect. We all noticed that CDs were super-expensive, but we nearly had no choice but to upgrade or get left behind. Even into the early Nineties, I specifically remember the adult album alternative station WBOS offering a "upgrade" promotion, where lucky callers would win a CD upgrade: "Congratulations! we're going to replace your dusty copy of Sweet Baby James with a brand new Compact Disc!" Now we all agree that a early Nineties CD is not a huge upgrade in audio quality over a 1970s vinyl record.
A disco cover of the "CHiPs" theme song;
I bought it mostly for the jacket, although
It's a pretty bitchin' theme song

Culture Shock

When CDs first came around, it was completely novel to listen to your favorite album without a side flip in the middle. It seemed unnatural to have a band's music presented from beginning to end without an intermission. The new packaging included track numbers next to the song names for the first time. You could skip from song to song with a press of a button! The mid-80s CD players were dreadfully slow to skip from track to track, but we didn't know how much faster the hardware would get. The CD tray open-close mechanism was so slow, it was like the giant stone slab closing in on Indiana Jones and Marion getting shut into the Well of Souls...

"Sussudio", Phil Collins [1985]; although this jacket always reminds me of
a 12-inch Nu Shooz "I Can't Wait" single I used to own that went...missing?
Simply spectacular Eighties pop art jacket. Day-Glo stripes
criss-crossing in random directions were very big.
Thanks Warner Brothers!
Bought at the Mt Vernon VFD Auction, 2013,
This 1979 "disco" remix of the Grammy-winning
"What A Fool Believes" is deadly boring.
"Big Love" Fleetwood Mac;
Sometime between 1979 (Doobies) and 1987 (Fleetwood Mac)
Warner Bros stopped calling them "Disco" singles
and renamed them "Maxi Singles"... and redesigned
the jacket with this bizarre cuneiform clay design
"What You Need" INXS [1985]; An alternate Atlantic Records jacket.
Saxophones were big in the 1980s, especially for INXS.
"Obsession", Animotion [1984].
Am I the only one who loved "Something About You" by Level 42 [1985]?
Note the custom-cut non-round hole for the record label to show through.
Apparently Animotion (Mercury) and Level 42 (Polydor)
are both in the same conglomerate. Exciting!
On several of these singles you can see I wrote the RPM (33⅓, 45) and the song duration in Sharpie on the label. When you're a DJ, you have to be able to put the record down and cue it up quickly, and not always in the best lighting conditions. I wrote the RPM down because it's sometimes hard to spot whether a disc is 33⅓ RPM or 45 RPM, and it's pretty embarrassing to play it the wrong speed. I wrote the duration of the track nice and big because I didn't always know the remix well enough to be certain when it was going to end, and because it's hard to read the fine print on a disc when it's spinning! Back in the day there was a big LED timer that counted up from zero every time you clicked a Start button on the console- so if the timer read 5:30 and the remix of "Point of No Return" is marked "5:50" I know I have 20 seconds remaining.
"Point of No Return", Nu Shooz [1986];
Alternate Atlantic jacket, very Fifties retro!
XTC "King For A Day" [1989]