Labels …

When you look at old record charts, there are five pieces of information on every one of them. First is the position this week, second is the position last week. There are enough good books telling you that. Third comes the artist. You can read biographies or rock encylopaedias. There are shelves of them. Fourth comes the title. There are books arranged by the best-selling or seminal titles of each year too. This section is organized on the fifth business. The fifth column.  The bit in brackets. The label. It’s there on every chart:

New Musical Express 24 December 1962

The main subject is the vinyl 45 rpm seven-inch record, single or EP. We’re not particularly interested in catalogue numbers, though there are books listing those too for the most collectable labels, and they are sometimes mentioned for clarification. The site loses steam and peters out pathetically from the late-eighties, because by that point the CD single was taking over. The singles charts switched from listing vinyl sales to CD sales in 1992. 

Is it accurate? It can’t be. There will be mistakes. You can’t be an expert on every label and researching this has brought us into contact with people who are experts on individual labels. We have no way of catching up on their years of knowledge, and to any of them the entry on their favourite label will be far too short and will have missed things. Information is scanty on sleeves and labels, and sometimes the only option was to deduce. Errors can be corrected if there are subsequent editions.

We also don’t attempt to seek out only the obscure hidden treasures. There’s nothing worse than being told that you just haven’t heard soul jazz (for example) until you’ve tracked down a copy of Smokey Joe’s La-La by the Googie Rene Combo on Atlantic. You won’t find one. It’s worth fifty quid mint if you do.

We’re trying to give an impression of each label. We mention the big hits, but also the interesting things that didn’t succeed. You’ll find that the major labels have the bigger hits listed, so Pye is a series of top tenners. When you get to a minor label, you’ll find #33 and #58 hits are still worthy of note. If we’d done that with the major labels it would have taken pages. The feel of a label is the intent, so with labels like Fly (with a mere twenty releases) more than half are listed.

We hope there’s nostalgic pleasure in just looking at the changing designs. For the collector, and the record store, there’s also a reference guide on which single goes in which sleeve. They’ve been mixed up for years.

The heroes of the book are the anonymous designers and illustrators who created the labels and sleeves.