Until the early 70s, most centre labels were printed in two stages. The coloured paper label with company logo was printed in quantity, then the information specific to each release was overprinted. In the case of smaller labels, this was sometimes done with a hand stamp. Early Island records were hand-stamped and owner Chris Blackwell was among those wielding the stamp.
This overprinting was done with text alone, though increasingly, small logos of licensed labels from the USA might be overprinted too. There were few deviations from the company label design.
This 1977 centre for a dull BBC recording for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee reveals the process. The coloured labels must have been in stock in quantity, everyone of them pre-stamped with 45 rpm Stereo, and 1976. The trouble was that they hadn’t used up the stock by 1977, and the scintillating record (it included an after-dinner speech by the Lord Mayor of London after a “Guildhall Luncheon”) was long and boring, and ran at 33 rpm, NOT 45. And it was mono, NOT stereo. And it was 1977, NOT 1976.
Hence black rectangles had to be printed on top to obscure the wrong information.
This happened quite a lot with Pye pressed discs, such as when they changed their name to PRT, so perhaps Pye, the BBC’s then distributor, held the massive stock of pre-printed labels which had to be re-used. The A is unusual.
This is not a demo disc, but nearly all BBC discs then had push-out centres. When they decided to press some with closed centres, they had a black hole and the A neatly filled it.
By the late 70s, many centre labels were unique. They were one-off designs matched to a particular release. In retrospect, the one-off centre was applied far more frequently to British artists than American ones, and British-owned labels were more inclined to one-off labels than American ones.
There are several reasons. Musicians often didn’t see their singles from their own country, let alone the ones pressed abroad. Artists would get the LP, and if the single was derivative from the LP, might only see an acetate or demo to check the single mix.
American artists were less likely to pressurise British labels for elaborate designs which they might never see. Once some artists had got their one-off designs in Britain, other artists would say, ‘Hey! What about us? Hey! Queen got the custom centre, so why don’t we?’
Often the record company was too kind to point out the comparative sales of Bohemian Rhapsody versus the group’s new single, and a custom centre followed.
In the USA, a major hit from a major company was often pressed regionally rather than nationally, which inclined the companies against one-off designs. Also, because of the prevalence of the large hole centre, there was less space to play with, and far less opportunity for a pleasing design. With a hole that big, why bother? In Australia too, the standard company centres prevailed (except for AC / DC).
By the late 70s, the use of colour printing was spreading widely and there were more presses equipped to do it from around 1978. In the 80s, colour printing was getting cheaper and better at a rapid pace, and the number of copies required to get a reasonable unit cost was dropping fast. By then, each single release by major artists demanded custom centre designs, and often co-ordinated sleeves and centres.
The Bing Crosby 45 disc on Gala dates back to 1959, when the budget Gala label used photographic centres starting with Bing Crosby on a children’s record. Bing was not alone in having photographic centres back in the 1930s, but was the first on 45 rpm.
See also sections:
Paper or plastic
Custom centre designs