45 Record Label Designs: Ahh the smell of the incense burning in the record store. The racks behind the counter with the wall of fresh 45 singles that had static when removed from the paper sleeves. The other walls filled with new albums wrapped in plastic. The turntable on the counter with the latest 45 playing with that yellow clip in disk adapter in the center. The Top 45 green, blue, red, yellow or whatever color paper this week with the list of the current music being played on the hot radio station (“Hot Radio Station, Top 45 Singles, I know what you’re thinking) We used those lists as a reference to buying the latest 45’s. Your mother or father (“father” that concept is for the white readers only) probably embarrassed you by trying to sing a song they wanted to buy but could not remember who the artist was or the name of the song. So they made up words or said something like “He keeps saying ‘YOU’ throughout the song. You know what I’m talking about…” as the confused clerk behind the counter with a huge afro looks puzzled at the ridiculous request. Buy 5 get 1 free was the thing back east and every Friday I made my mother take advantage of that deal. We both loved going to the record store when I was a kid because we both loved music.
There was a science to buying records, it was an amazing experience that the last two generations of kids have missed out on. The inside sleeves of album cover used by the label to market their other product, the words to the songs included. Some people where I was from handled their records like jewels. Careful NEVER to touch ANYTHING but the edges and scraping the needle of the record player with their finger to get the dust off before gently placing it on the record. The sound of the needle on the vinyl, especially worn vinyl before the music was undeniable. I NEVER want to be one of those old bitter people who can’t move past yesterday and the reason I am writing this is that there is a new surge for vinyl to return per today’s generation. Oh, joy. Stories are popping up in various newspapers nationwide and those computer turntables have gotten MUCH more progressive and stylish…OK, I have one and I made sure I introduced my son to the concept (he likes movies much more). For this story, I wanted to take some of you fossils over 35 down memory lane to show you some of the best-designed record labels. I based this on the creativity because when I used to DJ my mother’s parties at 2 years of age on a stool, I could not read but I knew which record was which by the label. Ironically I remember her friends thought I was so cute and they would say, “He’s gonna grow up to be a DJ.” Yes, they cursed me. Why WHY? Enjoy, go to next page…Kev
45 Record Label Designs: Berry Gordy is nothing less than a genius and an icon. He does not get enough credit for the monumental achievement he made with this label. I met him once at a party for his son, that I almost didn’t go to. He casually walked in and I am rarely impressed with anyone (except myself) but this was a moment frozen in time. The great Berry Gordy? He was/is a visionary and a man WAY ahead of his time who had to go through insurmountable challenges to do what he did back in those days. His team and his creativity were exceptional. I would love to sit down and interview Berry for a couple of hours to get some insight first-hand on what it was like back then. Upon moving to LA in the early 90s, I also had a chance to meet Norman Whitfield and had a long conversation with him about the MOTOWN songs and legacy. Norman was another iconic producer. The blue MOTOWN label spoke volumes for smash hits. Arguably the most recognizable of all the labels, especially because of the Supremes who were the biggest group of Motown for a large part of the 60s and the Four Tops. I was telling my good friend music historian Scott Galloway that I have seen Supremes records on other labels besides MOTOWN at an occasional garage sale and he had a hard time believing that. Well, I managed to find not one but TWO labels online where the Supremes were on another label at Motown as well as Marvin Gaye… go to the next page
45 Record Label Designs: Marvin Gaye was almost exclusively on the Tamla label but low and behold look at this. Ironically the year is 1968 and this was during Marvin’s hit-making tenure with the late Tammi Terrell. I have never heard this song but I’m sure it’s incredible. Part of Berry’s genius was to keep things interesting by switching things up every now and then, that included recording the same single with several groups before he decided who would release the song (You can find some AMAZING MOTOWN history on YouTube with original versions of songs and other MOTOWN acts performing their versions of songs before they were released. I was on there one day and actually found a version of “I Want You Back” by David Ruffin. With all DUE respect to the late David Ruffin, he sang it but Michael Jackson KILLED it. Berry certainly made the right call on that one. I also managed to come across a much more gospel-tinged version of the 70s Supremes smash “Up the Ladder to the Roof” which I thought was better than the release. Why Berry switched labels on certain artists baffles me a bit, perhaps he was testing out his ability to brand but you just got used to seeing certain names on certain records and I preferred it that way.
45 Record Label Designs: I was not too crazy about this label, it lacks creativity and it’s not as spectacular as the other Gordy labels. What do you think? Were you one of those people who used to write your name on records? Why did people do that? Did people take 45s back then? I never had that problem. This is the other single I was talking about and another example of what I meant when I said Berry would have various artists sing one song to see who would release it. The only reason I can surmise Smokey Robinson released this song before the Jackson 5 is because the group was not on the label yet? Michael did a much better job of the song.
45 Record Label Designs: You know, I did not know The Contours recorded for Motown. I remember this interesting label the most from the parties I DJd because The Temptations “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” was on this label. That was one of my favorite songs. If I’m not mistaken Berry wrapped this label in the early 70s. I don’t recall any other groups on it… do you? Feel free to comment. A lot of this stuff was actually before my time.
45 Record Label Designs: James Brown was not only a spectacular entertainer, he was a brilliant and savvy businessman who wanted to own as much of his work as possible. Ironically his death on Christmas Day in 2006 is almost identical to rapper Heavy D’s recent death. Brown had returned from a trip to Europe and had contacted Pneumonia while there and he died of congestive heart failure in Atlanta on Christmas Day. The People label was an imprint that Brown took to Polydor as part of the deal and the label had some of his biggest hits with Fred Wesley and the JBs, Lynn Collins and others. The label was very interesting because of the “People” on the label. That was very rare for a label to see actual people on it and the purple background was also interesting.
45 Record Label Designs: When I was a kid DJ’ing parties I remember Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes a Woman” was on this label and the floor would get packed really quick. That was a great song especially the horns. Someone once told me that Brunswick later turned into MCA which was one of the LEAST attractive label designs. This design had great color coordination against a black background. If I’m not mistake the Chi Lites were also on this label.
45 Record Label Designs: Capitol repeatedly redesigned the label but I have to say this one was the most eye-catching. It didn’t last long but. I keep hearing the famous Capitol building in Hollywood is supposed to be converted to condos. What a waste. I’ll have a part two coming at the end of the week with more labels, stay tuned…