A new idea?
There’s not only a photo on this 1937 centre label, there’s a different one on the B-side.
Bing Crosby and Carmen Miranda were selling enough records to justify it. Sweet Leilani was one of the biggest hits of the year. World War II stopped such expenditure, and Brunswick seem to have been alone.
Gala started using photo centres on its budget discs in 1959. This meant their cover version discs looked more expensive than the original by The Browns. Sound was a different matter.
Gallery … The Three Bells
It took until November 1971 for a major hit to use a photo centre, with T Rex’s Jeepster on Fly Records. The photo was from the same reel that produced the album cover, with Marc looking to the side rather than forward. Either Marc Bolan is standing on a box or Steve Peregrine Took is standing in a hole.
EMI (who had distributed Fly) continued the trend. Next T Rex had its own label and sleeve. This isn’t having a one-off, but starting a label. Other EMI artists would naturally ask for more of the same.
Jeepster is also innovative as an early example of printing a picture on the A side and all the information for both sides on the reverse. One or two labels did it the other way around (e.g. CBS records by King had the pictures on the B-side).
Vertigo had already set a trend by having the A side as a pattern with no lettering on it in 1970. Charly were one of the few labels to follow by having an entirely pictorial A-side as its overall standard design.
The Beatles were naturals to introduce one-off labels. They had loads of money, they owned the label, they were all interested in art and design. Lennon started it off at Christmas 1972 with the photographic centre design for Happy Xmas (War Is Over) which shows John and Yoko morphing into each other, then the other three Beatles competed for one-off designs throughout 1973.
Also in 1973, in a fit of exuberance, The Faces got a one-off photographic centre for Cindy Incidentally. Once the Pandora’s Box of photo centres had been opened the slippery slope to Dollar was inevitable. You can hear the photographer for Mirror Mirror (Mon Amour), ‘Now, now darlings, look at the camera … part your lips slightly … make a grrrr noise … that’s it. Lovely. Reeks of passion, but spotlessly clean.’ It’s not strictly a one-off either, because it was used for all the 1981 singles.
This was a Paul McCartney ploy also; that is, to have a special design and run it for all the singles from an album.
Virgin was the premiere one-off label (see Virgin) so that by 1980, generic Virgin centre designs were rarer than one-offs.
Stiff (see Stiff) was design-led in both sleeves and centres, and again there are as many one-offs as generic centres. There’s a category of “Stiff-like” indie labels from 1979 to 1983 or so, all of which were highly design-conscious and which invested money in art, design, picture sleeves and centres.
By 1983 or so, colour printing was cheap, and catalogue systems in shops no longer relied on assistants knowing which label was in which conglomerate, which meant that artists could easily ask for vanity labels with special designs within a major label.
Then we were into full size printing under the grooves on picture discs. These were not bought to play. The consensus is that picture discs sound poor, but they’re items of decoration. They really should be OK … transparent vinyl is fine. It’s just a picture below it. The point is that no one expected them to be played so no one took a lot of trouble over sound.
When you get to artistes like Madonna or Bowie, picture discs get seriously collectable. It is the picture you’re buying.