Imagine the scene. It’s a youth club in a church hall in the summer of 1962. It’s seven o’clock, and the youth club leader, a hearty Christian called Howard, has plugged in the Bush record player and placed the youth club’s only single, a two-year old copy of Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers, next to it. The record player is on the edge of a splintery wooden stage. The first arrivals straggle in. Cathy’s Clown goes on the turntable, and the autochanger arm is lifted and moved to the side until it clicks … this means the record will replay automatically.
By half-past seven, and the tenth rendition of Cathy’s Clown, a few more teenagers have drifted in. Keith has a collection of Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran singles and EPs in a neat carrying case, a collection which will be worth a small fortune in fifty years.
Ivan races to the stage, dropping fag ash over the record player. Ivan is sixteen so allowed to smoke on the premises. He rips off Cathy’s Clown, slings it onto the stage, and puts on The Young Ones. Ivan always carries The Young Ones single with him. He’s already seen the film nineteen times, and will eventually see it sixty-two times. Ivan has stitched up the pockets on his trousers because that’s what Cliff does to maintain a neat shape round his hips. Sadly, Ivan is missing out on Cliff’s exhortation to live, love while the flame is young. He won’t realize he’s gay for another five years. Ivan has not printed his name on the single, as everyone knows it could only be his.
Andy, pustulating with spectacular acne arrives and adds his Elvis singles to the growing pile next to the record player. He’s even brought two LPs, GI Blues and Pot Luck, the sleeves spoiled slightly by greasy marks from Valderma spot food. Andy makes a coarse and derisory remark about Cliff Richard. That’s what Elvis fans do. He’s itching to get Rock-A-Hula Baby on the record player. Its subtitle is “Twist Special” and Andy’s ready to dance.
Barbara adds her singles, with Bobby Vee’s Please Don’t Ask About Barbara … she finds it hilarious every time … on top. Bobby Vee is so clean and neat with such a sweet smile and a nice pullover. Barbara’s sure that he wouldn’t try to take advantage.
Ken adds his Shadows singles and EPs. Ken knows the catalogue number of each of them by heart. Forty years on, he will have every Shadows record ever released, including foreign copies from Khazakstan and Bolivia (picture sleeves).
Jackie proudly adds three of the current Top Ten … she’s only fifteen in spite of her huge billowing breasts, and is already working at a motor wholesalers for £2. 15s a week (her mum takes 10 shillings) so she can keep right up to date by buying one record a week. Each 6s 8d single has a gleaming embossed exuberant pink J in nail varnish in the centre.
Judith quietly puts her Helen Shapiro records, marked with a much neater, smaller J and a number sticker, next to Jackie’s pile. Walking Back to Happiness is number seven. She’s hoping for at least two more singles for Christmas. She keeps them in a gold wire Selecta rack from Woolworths. The thirty spaces are numbered, and you get a sheet of numbers to lick and stick on the records. You have to write the corresponding number on the sleeve, which Judith does neatly in the white box already there.
The copy of Mike Sarne’s Come Outside was brought by Ray (Number 122; Ray’s older sister has a lot of records). Ray brings it along every week, and when he puts it on, gazes longingly at Jackie’s luscious appendages, hoping that she’ll get the hint from the lyrics (Come outside, there’s a lovely moon out there …) and follow him into the dusk by the bike shed. To no avail. Ray is fourteen and too young for her. Or as Wendy Richard sang on the single, Go and ask Lil. You can go off people. Belt up!
Auto-changer (but six or so years later by discs!)
Over the next two and a half hours, records will be shuffled (on the splintery wooden stage), assembled into piles of six or eight and placed on the autochanger. This shuffling into piles causes the light scuffing marks on the vinyl. The ring of serrated plastic around the label on early 60s records is there to help the records grip those above and below. You have to rotate them against each other to line up the holes to get them on the spindle … this causes the small abrasions around the holes that most old singles (and old couples) have.
Once or twice a record will drop prematurely from the autochanger onto the tone arm, driving it deep into the record below and marking it forever. All the records sound scratchy, unsurprisingly, but that’s what everyone’s used to. There’s no budget for replacing the sapphire stylus. Peter slinks at the side … he decides not to commit his Joey Dee singles to this communal pile.
So that’s why old singles are usually named. As eight records are assembled on the autochanger, eight (at least) are out of their sleeves simultaneously. At youth clubs and parties people mix their records promiscuously. Numbers on record and sleeve help marry them up. Autochangers are generally used at home too, and many people just can’t be bothered to match the records back to sleeves afterwards. Those who do will number the record and the sleeve.
This, for the archaeologists of the 45 single, is the best way of knowing which company sleeves were actually used on each single when it was new. Some people put the single back in any sleeve that was to hand. Others put any Columbia record back in any Columbia sleeve. Others match blue-ish sort of centres to blue-ish sort of sleeves. Secondhand shops and charity shops mix sleeves at random. One shop owner told me ‘I always match the sleeves if they’re worth over a fiver.’ And proudly showed me a black centre copy of All You Need Is Love in a 1958 Parlophone sleeve, which was four sleeves out in time. Well, it’s all old, I guess.