Group Identity sleeves

A cautionary tale. I was browsing in a secondhand store, and the assistant (owner’s day off) had been given the task of sorting out and matching sleeves, a bastard of a job without this website. 

A discarded pile was building up. The Pye International sleeve had been removed from Cameo-Parkway, generic Phonogram removed from blue MGM, black RCA sleeves from Salsoul records, WEA sleeves from Asylum discs and Pye Nonesuch from early Pye singles. The problem is they were all correct. These were the group sleeves the records had originally been sold in.

Group sleeves were ones used for a number of different labels within the same group, or on records manufactured for other labels by that group.  

The concept was more popular in Europe than Britain initially, with Philips of Holland introducing the standard “Philips- Fontana” sleeve which was used for Philips, Fontana and Riverside records in the early 60s. 

In Europe, it was common because single-country distributors often had to handle several different British and American labels, and perhaps French and German labels too. A single all-embracing sleeve was the answer. 

Hey, Baby! Bruce Channel: Mercury, in EMI Ireland group sleeve

This is why they appeared in comparatively small countries like the Netherlands and Ireland first. Smaller markets made it less cost effective to individualize sleeves.

Dolce Paola: Adamo, HMV, distributed by N.V. Bovema, Netherlands, who also namecheck Liberty, Pathe, Imperial, Columbia, Capitol, Stateside on the sleeve

N.V. Bohema from Holland distributed the EMI labels (HMV, Columbia, Capitol, Stateside, Liberty) as well as the US label Imperial directly and the French Pathé label. They also distributed Parlophone, but their sales of Beatles singles made it worth doing a Parlophone sleeve. The 1965 sleeve with colour artist pictures is an idea you would have expected another label to imitate. The German Electrola label had a similar range of distributed labels listed on the sleeve in the 1950s. Italy used a combined EMI sleeve, with Capitol, Columbia, Stateside, HMV (or LDV … La voce del padrone) plus Pathé. As in other markets, The Beatles meant Parlophone, and so it was kept distinct.

Disques Vogues in France and Belgium licensed several labels, and while sometimes (but not always) retaining the original centre label and logo, used generic International Hits sleeves.

British group sleeves … click to enlarge

1 Palette label in Pye group sleeve 1960
2 Fontana label in ‘Philip-Fontana’ shared sleeve 1962
3 Piccadilly 1965 in Pye / Pye Jazz / Pye International / Piccadilly shared sleeve
4 Columbia, in EMI “LP advert” sleeve advertising LPs from Columbia, HMV, Parlophone and Capitol labels
5 MGM in Action Replay sleeve, used on Polydor-pressed series from Atlantic, Kama Sutra, MGM
6 MGM in Phonogram group sleeve, used on Philips, Polydor, Mercury and a dozen other labels

Pye were somewhat mean with sleeves. When designs changed, they used up existing stock, so the early yellow Pye centre labels were in the previous pale blue sleeve, which doesn’t match. There’s an early white and pink one that advertises Nonesuch on one side and Golden Guinea on the other, but which appears randomly on Pye, Palette, Pye Jazz and Pye International records. Then, when Cameo Parkway was split off as a separate label, early discs were put in pale blue Pye International sleeves (they still had a few left over, as the yellow sleeve for yellow Pye International was in existence). From 1965, Pye introduced common centre label designs with just the logos changing, and the pink “Pye / Piccadilly / Pye International / Pye Jazz” sleeve. This continued when they shifted from pink to blue designs, then to the graded pink to purple design. Pye used them for the  four central labels, but never for outside labels they were pressing or distributing.  

EMI tried the group idea briefly in Britain in 1967 to 1968 with the advertising sleeve, which came in two versions “group” and “Tamla-Motown only.” The group one carries adverts for LPs from Columbia, Capitol, HMV and Parlophone, so could be used on any singles from those four labels. The vast majority that turn up are on Columbia singles, and Cliff Richard and The Seekers most of all. It’s odd that they never expanded the idea as so many of their associated companies did so outside Britain. In the 70s, with so many labels under EMI distribution, they either produced a marching sleeve or plain white. An EMI group sleeve would have been useful, but when the “EMI sleeve” appeared, it was basically replacement Columbia and was only used on “EMI label” records.

Polydor introduced an Action Replay sleeve, circa 1971-1972. Singles from diverse companies which Polydor distributed had a black Action Replay band, and sometimes (but not always) came in an Action replay sleeve. So the same sleeve can be found on unrelated labels: Atlantic, Kama Sutra, MGM. 

In the 70s Phonogram (see also Phonogram), the successors of Philips, were manufacturing and distributing so many smaller labels that they found it convenient to introduce Phonogram generic sleeves. These appear more sparingly on actual Polydor or Philips singles, tending to be reserved for the distributed labels. There are three varieties.

WEA group sleeves … click to enlarge

WEA group followed with four different generic sleeves over the years, used both on distributed and base labels. The gallery shows the “standard” sleeve circa 1980 with the labels it was wrapped round. Several of these were in the same box at a record fair, all near mint, so possibly a promotional batch.

RCA did the same, and RCA-distributed soul labels were often released in straight RCA sleeves. Later Island used the simple black Island sleeve for sub-labels such as ZTT.

American group sleeves … click to enlarge

In the USA, Motown had found that a plethora of labels enabled them to get around airplay restrictions on the number of records played from one label. They introduced the”Hitsville USA” sleeve to cover the lot. They continued with the advertising “Sound of Young America” series (which was constantly updated and showed LPs).  The Hitsville USA sleeve is a frequently seen replica (in black, rather than the brown of originals) on import copies as it apparently matches any Motown group record … Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul, VIP, Melody. In fact its time scale is 1963-65 at the most.

US Chess went for group rather than label identity with their “Chess / Checker / Cadet” sleeve.

London (Decca USA) had one sleeve for London, Deram, Parrot and Phase 4. Parrot was used for British Decca recordings as US Decca was a different company (distributed as Brunswick in the UK).

Australia and New Zealand … click to enlarge

Smaller markets meant that several UK or US labels had to use the same pressing plant and distributor. The New Zealand London-Decca sleeve even has arch-rivals EMI and Decca in collaboration. The sleeve says “Made for Decca Record Co. London by His Masters Voice (NZ) Ltd”. In Australia and New Zealand, the Festival label handled both EMI and Decca.

Other group identity sleeves … click to enlarge