HMV had greetings records before World War II.
Pre-dating the Flexidisc, Valentines Greetings cards issued “Wonderdiscs” which are printed on cardboard AND they play. However, “Hi-Fi” is pushing it more than a bit. Some greetings cards suggested you could get a sound out of them with a sharp pencil, but these were supposed to be played on a record player. I haven’t dared test them. Styluses (stylii?) are too precious.
Gallery: Greetings card records… click to enlarge
Aladdin: disc, sleeve – Charmer’s Cards by Hallmark, 1977, This is a Birthday card which someone has personalized for Christmas with sellotape and cut outs. The disc is a 6” flexidisc at 33 rpm
I Think of You. The front of the card itself is playable at 78 rpm. Melody Cards MC 110
Rock A Boogie Birthday Rock. Melody Cards MC100 1957
Many Happy Returns MC104
Jingle Bells MX 13
The greetings card idea wasn’t exactly hot. There must be many attempts we haven’t found, because they would have been discarded as greetings cards so often are.
Decca introduced the “Greetings record” in the mid to late 50s. Decca’s Brunswick label had a special Bing Crosby sleeve for Merry Christmas-Vol 1. It’s hardly inspiring, and only ran to a splash of festive red on one side. They may have done more than one choice in any year, but it was limited and fixed.
Another Decca example has Sibelius’s Karelia Suite (with its normal Decca classical sleeve inside), and the whole looks more like a deep condolences card than a greetings card. The Karelia Suite isn’t exactly jolly, and Sibelius on the sleeve looks a grim old bugger.
Christmas records were an annual Decca event. In 1957, they had four artists (their biggest of the year too), each greeting you on the back. This wasn’t done as a write-in card, but the Christmas series had non-glossy sleeves, so were easy to write on.
In 1961 they did An Album of Christmas Music by Mantovani with the same concept and much the same sleeve design … gate fold sleeve with space to write a dedication. The EP was volume 1 from the LP. I know, I’ll give you Volume 1 if you give me Volume 2!
EMI came up with an idea for a special Christmas gift sleeve in 1958. It’s an idea that had to wait until CDs and DVDs to be used again. The sleeve folds out to form a Christmas card with greeting and has a cellophane liner covering the centre hole too. Any record could be inserted. The example has an RCA record (Belafonte’s Silent Night / Twelve Days of Christmas) which has been with it for many years. This would imply that these elaborate fold-out sleeves were sold by retailers as an extra, and in this case, the EMI card was paired with a Decca group record. Perhaps they were a promotion so they’d give them to you if you bought a Christmas themed single.
In 1958, Decca’s London label did a Merry Christmas Pat Boone EP with a realistic-looking autograph on the back and space to write a greeting To … From…).
gallery … click to enlarge
1958 was the year for it. Elvis’s EP Elvis Sings Christmas Songs is mainly found in a glossy single pack EP, but there was a gatefold version in October 1958, printed on matt paper with a message space inside. The one illustrated has Postman Postman don’t be slow. Go like Cliff. Go man go. Incongruous, but we can only assume it’s a reference to Cliff Richard. RCA was distributed by Decca in the UK.
Philips offering in 1959, Here Comes Santa Claus by The Ray Conniff Singers, was a single, not an EP, in a then most unusual picture sleeve with room to write in To … and From …..
In 1961, Decca tried it again with a gatefold 25th Day of December EP by Bobby Darin. This was an early London Atlantic release, and unusually has ATCO on the cover. The reverse looked like a normal EP, the gatefold front formed the greetings card. Darin was obsessive about proving his versatility, and excelled in rock, easy listening, standards, gospel, folk and country. He added Christmas carols for this one. The message inside is simply To … From …, on the inner flap, with standard EP rear info on the right.
Max Bygraves had several Christmas Greetings discs. The 1964 A Christmas Dream is on the ‘Lake View’ label, pressed by Lyntone. It’s a curious disc, much thinner than normal, but not thin enough to be a flexi. It comes in the requisite fold out sleeve with write-in space.
Who better to revive the fold-out greetings card format than Max Bygraves again in 1989? Wishing You A Very Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year it says in the fold out, and you get Hokey-Cokey on the B-side to singalongamax to. I’ve always had a soft spot for Max as one of the first shows I ever saw on TV at a neighbour’s house was his. Then he used to broadcast segments from his clifftop house at Alum Chine, Bournemouth … a building we see on beach walks several times a week. On one much later Parkinson show he described his upbringing in the East End of London, in a neighbourhood which was so mixed up between Jewish and Irish Catholic, that for years (he said) he used to think the religious song was Oy Vay! Maria. On the other hand he was notorious with Bournemouth taxi drivers for expecting a free ride. One told me that he got in his cab and said, ‘All the local drivers take me free.’ My driver retorted, ‘OK, if you sing me the whole of Tulips from Amsterdam, I’ll take you free … on second thoughts if you promise NOT to sing me Tulips from Amsterdam, I’ll take you free.’ Max laughed and paid him.
Greetings embraces commemorative? There has to be space for EMI’s royal wedding commemorative mug tea towel EP, Here’s To The Couple. This exercise in corporate obsequious vault-mining serenaded the newly-weds with White Wedding by Sheila Southerns and the Michael Sammes Singers (The normal “Mike” was too informal) from 1962; Good Luck, Good Health and God Bless You by Ruby Murray, Michael Holliday and Eddie Calvert from 1956; Here’s To The Couple by The Spinners from 1973 (so far so good); then the dreadful She Wears My Ring by Solomon King from 1968, his very name upstaging the groom.
Blur in 1996 produced Stereotypes as a special Valentine’s Day card edition. Inside the gatefold it said To Someone Very Special with space to put xxx. The message was undermined by the computer dating form on the rear sleeve with the slogan Wife Swapping is The Future.
In 1967, Sonologue did a record that turned into a postcard home from London when you re-folded the triple section sleeve. The sounds included “A Bobby on patrol”, “Billingsgate Market gulls squeal as fish carts clatter on cobblestones” and “street hawkers: a flower girl and a vendor of toy spiders.” Thrilling stuff.
Swiss Hit were square and had a space for a stamp too. This example has a nasty crease across it, though as no stamp was applied, it must have been sent in an envelope. I hope that snow was not a coded message from Helvetian drug traffickers.
Birthdays and years
Patience Strong wrote a verse every week in Woman’s Own and The Sunday Mirror and issued an EP in a gatefold sleeve called Happy Birthday (undated). It was on the Delgado label which also published her Christmas cards and calendars. She read out her timeless verse to the accompaniment of Guildford Cathedral’s organ. You got ten tracks of uplifting ditties.
Records Personalized had worked out a system for slotting names into existing songs, and capitalized on it in 1982. A perfect birthday gift? It’s printed on sleeve and label too. It would be very easy with 2010 technology, but fiddly back then.
It works very well with “Claire” but the singer says “This is (very slight pause) Claire’s (slight pause) birthday” so leaving room for say “Sally’s”, but I think they’d be stretched at squeezing in “Amanda’s” and “Alexandra’s” greeting and “Maria-Guadalupe” is a challenge. Whether the Claire who received this copy for her 13th birthday liked the kiddy lyrics about “having jelly and fun” we won’t ever know. If they had had any sense they just recorded whole sentence with the twenty or thirty most common names and left it at that.
In 1980, Noel Edmunds released a whole series of records for “your special day” a nicely vague description covering birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s day etc. This ploy was soon adopted by supermarkets … you may note that they long ago stopped selling ‘birthday cakes’ in favour of ‘celebration cakes.’ One side was Noel chatting plus “The Day They Remembered”, the other side a licensed in hit, such as (on LB20) A Whiter Shade of Pale. They were all issued by RCA.
In your local greeting card shop, bookshop or garden centre, you will find rotating spinners of CD greetings cards with songs from the year of the recipient’s birth. The trouble is I don’t really like the music of my birth year and I have had about three over the years.
They became more expensive when they switched to DVDs, and you’d only want to watch a DVD once, whereas a CD should bear repeated listenings of at least some tracks.
The latest manifestation is the cheapest to manufacture … a card with a download code. I find download codes on new vinyl have about a 50% success rate at best. Hopefully the cards are better.