Virgin and Stiff were pioneers who rapidly multiplied the number of individual labels, so that by 1979, a stock Virgin label was a rarity. By 1979, many Virgin releases had one-off custom designs. While standard Virgin centres lasted till 1990, more and more releases got the custom treatment. The custom treatment went as far as removing all reference to Virgin apart from the VS catalogue number. All of these came in picture sleeves, which poses the question, ‘Why bother with the elaborate centres?’
Gallery … Virgin centres … click to enlarge
By 1989 – 1990 they had decided not to. There was an early flourish of design input in 1979-1984, which helped mark the end of the dedicated ‘company sleeve and centre.’ Virgin were more active than other labels in promoting one-off designs, and were a major player in the move to well-designed picture sleeves with artistic input (along with Stiff). As with Stiff, the impression is that not only did they have a dedicated art department, but they listened to them. The singles have their own identity, reinforced by the one-off centre designs.
Stiff gallery … click to enlarge
Stiff’s one-off centres were running at the same time as Virgin but with a greater sense of humour. So “Stiff Aussie Records” naturally had to be upside down.
Other labels followed, and for major releases the custom design was becoming standard, though Bruce Springsteen stolidly stuck to base CBS / Columbia centre labels and eschewed all this custom frippery.
By the late 80s the “matching tie and handkerchief” (to borrow Monty Python’s LP title) was appearing, with a centre design for an individual release relating to the outer sleeve design.
Often this meant different labels for the A side and B-side as with U2’s Angel of Harlem in 1988.
Collector labels like Acid Jazz could afford to set cover prices to reflect the care over the contents, as with The Two Sides of Fleurs De Lys in 2009, where the A-side shows Tony Mead and Sharon Tandy, who the band were backing on the two tracks on Side A, while the B-side, which has two tracks by the band themselves, shows the four guys in the band.
By the 21st Century and Record Store day and other special editions releases, the custom one-off centre was common.