Shrink Wrapping

Shrink Wrapping

Case study: Yesterday & Today

Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 20.23.12

Yesterday & Today: The Beatles. Capitol USA. Sealed copy aka First state

The holy grail for record collectors is the US Beatles LP Yesterday and Today.It was pressed with the notorious “butcher cover” which was withdrawn after 750,000 had been pressed. Original copies are rated as First state.

As with all Beatles lore, there are conflicting stories. Capitol were in the habit of creating three albums from two UK Parlophone ones by adding singles and B-sides. In the case of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! there was ample opportunity, because the US releases were straight soundtracks with added orchestral material, whereas British LPs were half from the films, half new. Yesterday & Today was cobbled together from Help!, Rubber Soul, the 45 Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out plus three tracks from the as yet unreleased Revolver. Capitol also added fake processed stereo – the originals as produced by George Martin are strictly Mono.

The general opinion among US fans is that the butcher cover was the Beatles protest about Capitol “butchering” their albums. The photograph was taken in March 1966 by Robert Whitaker. In his account, Yesterday and Today was going to have a fold out sleeve with a collage of images The Somnabulant Adventure, with the front image being a string of sausages emerging from a woman’s “nether regions” and other images with false teeth and false eyes.

The meat is meant to represent the fans, and the false teeth and false eyes is the falseness of representing a god-like image as a golden calf.
Quoted in Mojo Special Edition, 2003. Article Meat is Murder in  “1000 Days That Shook The World: The Psychedelic Beatles 1965-1967

The photo of the Beatles as butchers was, Whittaker said, was destined to be a 2 1/4 inch square in the collage on the back panel within a Russian icon. It seems odd that Capitol were going to cobble together a cash-in compilation which the Beatles disliked, and give it an expensive gatefold sleeve.

The Beatles chose the image to be used at full size on the front. John Lennon and Paul McCartney said that it was a protest at the Vietnam War.

John Lennon: If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover.

George Harrison disagreed:

George Harrison: Sometimes we all did stupid things thinking it was cool and hip when it was naïve and dumb; and that was one of them.
The Beatles Anthology

So 750,000 copies were pressed for 15 June release. 60,000 were distributed to radio, press and Capitol regional offices. DJs across America were appalled, and Alan Livingston, the Capitol president called Brian Epstein and persuaded him that the cover had to be changed. Capitol recalled all promotional copies and posters. In the UK, the image was used in press ads for Paperback Writer.

The later inoffensive sleeve “slick” was pasted on top of stock. This is a Second State copy.

Yesterday & Today 2nd state

Yesterday and Today. Second State copy. or a “pasteover: If it is pasted on, some of Ringo’s black shirt from the original can be seen bleeding through to the right of the trunk.  You can also measure it – they had to shave 1/8” off the open end of the sleeve to do it. 

Collectors who are brave will try to peel this cover off to reveal the original.  When that later picture is removed you have a “peeled” copy. It’s risky. If it works reasonably there will be faint horizontal lines where the glue was. That’s a third state copy. If it doesn’t work at all this is what you get.


When peeling goes wrong …  

Here’s the thing. Some local distributors had already sent out copies to stores, and some went on sale on 15 June. The amended cover arrived on 20 June. 90% of copies produced were mono. Even unpeeled pasteover copies are sought.

In 1987, the same Alan Livingston who had nixed the sleeve revealed that he took a box of sealed butcher covers home with him in 1966, nineteen were mono, only five were stereo. They are known as “the Livingstone butchers.” In 2006 a stereo Livingston was sold on for $39,000. In 2016, another was resold for $125,000. Both were sealed. An unsealed copy, bought on 15 June 1966 by the seller, and looked after, has sold for $12,000.

Just to stress the bizarre world of obsessive Beatle collecting, part of the appeal of even second state copies is that three tracks are appallingly done electronically-processed stereo. So badly done were they, that later pressings had a better stereo mix. So the inferior mix drives up the price. Collectors can also see a code revealing the pressing plant on the rear. Capitol used four pressing plants: Los Angeles, Scranton Pennyslvania, Winchester Virginia and Jacksonville Illinois. So Los Angeles copies were coded 5 for Mono, 6 for stereo. The rarest is Jacksonville, because they were most assiduous in either returning copies, or committing them to landfill.

So, here’s the conundrum. If you have paid $125,000 because a record is sealed, you are hardly likely to unseal it, play it , and reduce the value to $12,000.

The Butcher cover is the most extreme example, but this will apply to a degree to other shrink wrapped American records. Let me stress AMERICAN.

Britain and shrink wrap

To the British, it’s all arcane because we never shrink-wrapped albums during the classic 50s, 60s or 70s era.

The newspapers  one summer week in 2018 were full of warm season news about shrink wrapping albums, adding acres of thin plastic contributing to filling the Sargasso sea, polluting beaches in the Dominican Republic and causing the demise of butterflies in Tibet … I made the last one up.

There’s history to this.

UK albums generally had thinner cardboard sleeves which were laminated, while American LPs often had thicker card matt sleeves … which showed fingermarks etc much more easily. Laminate wipes clean. America shrink wrapped those often matt sleeves. The UK did not.

In Britain, LP albums were not shrink-wrapped. Every store put the empty outer sleeves out in racks, and kept the records in their inner sleeves behind the counter on shelves. It was for security and because it stopped people’s sticky hands marring the vinyl.

Inner sleeves were not just there to stop the rough card of the interior of the sleeve abrading the record, though that was one purpose. They were also what the record was stored in.

London early stereo inner copy

LPs stayed in inner sleeves behind the counter. Only the outer sleeves were on display.

You could also ask to listen to an LP in store. Mostly the stores had record players behind the counters, linked to listening booths. The plusher ones with closed doors were also snogging centres.

Other stores handed you the record and you put it on a turntable yourself. These are the surviving images on line, but most near my home put the LP on centrally behind the counter.  By 1970 they had listening posts with headphones instead.

Because Woolworths declined to play LPs, their own Embassy label had a tiny seal over the inner sleeve (which is where the disc was stored), with PULL GENTLY TO REMOVE SEAL.

Our best local Bournemouth store, Bourne Radio, had sympathetic staff so that local musicians could go in and play a track often enough to transcribe the lyrics (approximately) and get the tune and chords without buying the record. Zoot Money was a regular customer.

Even though it was a security measure, you would often find records in their underwear (the inner sleeves) in the January Sales, at W.H. Smith or Boots, as the outer illustrated sleeves had been nicked to decorate walls. I bought a couple, but such is the appeal of a sleeve, like most people, I didn’t really want them.

When CDs came in, the same system prevailed in the UK. Empty jewel cases were in racks, the actual CDs were in card cases behind the counter.

It was different in the USA. Shrink-wrapped LPs date back to the early 1960s at least, so that you see those ads for (say) The Beatles album Yesterday and Today with the banned and withdrawn butcher cover “still shrink-wrapped” or “sealed” so in mint condition. They had security guards maybe, or LPs were comparatively so much cheaper than in the UK that they could afford a degree of attrition.

In the UK …

From Steve Hoffman Forum:
Shrink wrapping by Virgin and EMI UK stores (not from factory) started around 1977. I only started noticing regular factory shrink wrapping about 10 years ago. Probably coincided roughly with the major pressing plants being sold off and run by independent companies. Now nearly all LPs come in shrinkwrap. This transformation could have been prompted by the demands of on-line retail. Just a guess but factory shrinkwrap as a norm coincides neatly with the decline of bricks and mortar outlets and growth of internet selling. Some EU based audiophile labels such as Speakers Corner have always wrapped LPs from around the mid 90s and it was becoming common on major label ‘audiophile’ reissues from the late 90s. Other LPs from the late 90s such as EMI millenium series and Simply Vinyl were packed in PVC wallets.
Classic Rock, 31 December 2014

Others on the forum turned up shrink-wrapped Virgin price-stickered albums from 1980. The question is manufacturer shrink-wrapping, which would be indicated by an external manufacturer sticker. A consensus seems to be mid-1980s,

American buyers beware: I have seen adverts in magazines offering “Original LP still shrink wrapped” applied to British collectable classic albums from the 60s and 70s. I’ve seen them on sale in the USA too. These records were never shrink wrapped originally. Anyone can buy a machine to do it.

We move into the 80s and CDs and American stores added the long box to CDs so that they were 12” tall like an LP.  They could carry 2 CDs if need be. Then they shrink wrapped the long box. America had security detection scanners in stores far earlier than Britain, but even in smaller stores, a longbox was harder for shoplifters to conceal. By 1990 musicians such as David Byrne and Peter Gabriel were declining to have triple packaging on their CDs (jewel case inside a long box in shrink wrap). There was a Trash the Longbox campaign and Longbox packaging was officially dropped in 1993. Some stores used generic longboxes with the store name (e.g CostCo) after that point. Allegedly CDs with custom longboxes are worth more, as the vast majority were ripped open and discarded. As in my house. There is even a market for empty longboxes.

CD long boxes copy

American Long boxes: on sale on eBay at $29.99 … without the CDs

Similarly, Japanese CDs are worth more if the translated card OBI strip has been kept along with the CD.

Jesse Winchester CD obi strip copy

Jesse Winchester (CD), Bearsville. Japanese CD reissue with OBI strip

When so many CDs were moved out of plastic jewel cases into card sleeves, the card sleeves were often so badly designed that the card ripped when taking the CDs in and out, and shrink wrap was then needed to protect the matt card surfaces. If you see a few early card cases unsold in a shop with good back catalogue, they get very grubby through handling.

Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 20.19.19

Otis Redding: Dock of The Bay Sessions, 50th Anniversary. CD in jewel case with broken shrink wrap and security bar

Gradually larger UK stores like HMV moved over to security tags with a scanner at the door (enforced by a burly gent in a black suit). The tag was usually a thin bar, superglued to the wrap, so that CDs were left in their sleeves, shrink wrapped on the shelves. I’ve bought CDs with the bar stuck directly to the jewel case. It takes ages to get off, and whatever you use to clean it, marks the perspex case below.

Resistance is Futile LP copy

Resistance is Futile: Manic Street Preachers. New 2018 – LP in shrink wrap with price tag and info sticker on outer shrink wrap

When the LP was revived, stores found people only wanted untouched, unplayed vinyl so shrink wrapping was essential. Some stores sell both new and secondhand vinyl – curiously, the record labels don’t like that with CDs, but don’t worry about vinyl. For these stores, once the shrinkwrap is broken, the record is secondhand. There is a practical aspect to this. Nowadays many LPs have a piece of paper with a download code inside the sleeve. If the wrap has been broken, then someone could have used the download code, and you can use it only once.

Otis Redding Monterey

Do It Just One More Time!: Otis Redding & Booker T & The MGs Live at Monterey, Monterey International Pop Festival label, 2019

There’s a further aspect. If the shrink wrap has information – as above for Record Store Day 2019, it’s best to leave the shrink wrap on, but slit it so as to remove the inner sleeve. Even though it’s no longer “sealed” it does look as it did on Record Store day.,

The yellow circular SECURITY PROTECTED label is fast replacing the security bars.  These security tabs are designed to be impossible to remove. No one wants their LP sleeve marred by a great big yellow SECURITY PROTECTED sticker, and stores no longer separate record and sleeve. If you try to take the tag off, it will leave a torn hole in the sleeve. If you try it in the shop, the burly bloke in a black suit will twist your arm behind your back, rabbit chop you, and call the police.

Security protected sticker copy

Security sticker 2018. Sainsburys

Therefore some kind of wrap is essential. Newspaper articles predict some kind of biodegradable shrink wrap. However, Tesco tried that with carrier bags, and they biodegraded before you even got home. We had a stack in a cupboard and opened it and thought we had mice because the bags had biodegraded into powder all over the floor.

A good record shop prides itself on having a wide range of back catalogue, or better “deep catalogue” albums for sale, These do not turn over rapidly, and may stay on the shelves for many months or years. Before his branch closed, one HMV manager told me that 10% of stock generated 95% of sales. 90% of stock generated 5%, but it’s the presence of that 90% of stock that makes customers think “this is a good store” even if they then buy the Top Ten album that is also on sale in their local supermarket. Therefore, a biodegradable wrap will not work … the stock will be on the shelves long enough for the wrap to crumble.

The answer may be some kind of paper band. Who knows? But new albums will continue to require some kind of seal.

My shrink wrap story …

Record Store Day with its high priced shrink-wrapped special issues give buyers a conundrum. If it’s a high-priced limited numbered edition, breaking the shrink wrap immediately lowers the value. Record store owners hate selling records to be filed away, still sealed and unplayed.

Beatles No 1 nox set Capitol

Screenshot 2020-07-22 at 15.36.14

Advert at discogs (at £74.99). I think I paid £30. But mine is no longer sealed.

The Beatles Box Set 2011. Four Capitol Apple US singles. Sealed. Would you break the seal?

Beatles no 1 box set rear

Here’s the rear. Sealed. This is what you get if you break the seal (photos taken before I did). It was issued in America and this is an American copy.

A month after Record Store Day a few years ago I was in a well-known Portobello Road shop. I’d already bought several items when I noticed a brand new shrink-wrapped box set of 45s (The Action). I was looking at it and shook my head, ‘No, I’ve spent too much today already.’
She looked me in the eye, ‘If you had it, would you break the shrink wrap?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ I answered truthfully, ‘In which case you can have it for £10 off. It’s the last one. It’s a great set. I want someone to have it who’ll actually play it.’
That’s what I call a record shop.

Action singles box set

The Action: The Singles Box Set, Demon Records, 2014. The current “mint” value – so probably sealed –  is £60 in Rare Record Guide 2020. They haven’t appreciated far from £59.99 in fact. On the other hand the “median” sale price at Discogs is £79.99. The “highest” sale price is £99. Ones are on sale at £105 and £115.

This is to prove I opened it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s