Ever fallen in love (with a record sleeve you shouldn't've)
There’s a twee-indie song called Wouldn’t Trade My Records For You by a band called Cheap Clone that … I rather like.
Fey vocals, jangly lightweight guitar and snappy drums, a super-sprightly 1.28mins duration, it’s pure twee pop. And the lyrics are also classics of the genre: “There’s lot of things that I would do / But I wouldn’t trade my records for you … / So I took her to some fancy dive / But I spent all my money on 45s”.
Check it out - you’ll love it! I’m a sucker for this kind of pop-will-eat-itself drollery, but it’s also a tiny bit serious at the same time. Because, for old fogies like me (as well as fogies of all ages), records can mean a lot.
Some examples. You’ve got those people banging on on Facebook about “The first record I ever bought” (telling you where and when, and what colour tank-top they were wearing when they made that fateful purchase). You’ve got people scouring Discogs and eBay and other collector sites trying to get rare copies of Genesis’ third LP, the one with an extra track erroniously present on early pressings (or something!). You’ve got full-on vinyl fanatics, busily putting down anyone who listens to music in digitally compressed form. And, well, you’ve got people who just like music in general and see vinyl as an immensely important part of the whole music scene. (Naturally, given the blatantly slanted way I wrote that last part, I think of myself as fitting into this latter category. Ahem).
OK, so people get passionate/obsessive about music, fine. But, as the Secret 7” music project realises (an interesting art/music event this year benefiting Amnesty), people also often care about the artwork that the music comes wrapped up in. Though I can remember the days when 7” records often came in plain white or black paper sleeves (boring!), for most of the last 40 years your little bit of new music (single, LP, cassette, CD) has almost certainly been delivered to you in something colourful, powerful or clever, or at least something that wasn’t white paper. (Even MP3s have artwork to go with them and so do streaming services).
To your average music obsessive this certainly matters. Back in 1981 a 17-year-old purchaser of a Dead Kennedys record (me!) was almost certainly going to be poring over the sleeve looking for any scrap of information and design feature which would in some way “elucidate” the music still further. OK, you had Jello Biafra’s warbley-weirdo voice and the ominous pile-driver hardcore-y sounds of the band, but … what on earth was that incredibly scary looking photo on the cover of Holiday In Cambodia? And what was that photo of the cars on fire on their Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables LP? (Fun fact: when I watched the YouTube video of Holiday In Cambodia just now I had to wait for an ad from … lowcostholidays.com! And naturally all the on-the-page ads on the Google page were about luxury holidays in Cambodia. Truly, irony died with automated digital advertising).
So, back in those pre-internet days every detail mattered. I recall looking at the super-dense John Heartfield-like Gee Vaucher collages on Crass records and feeling as if I was trying to decode a secret, highly-charged language. We were post-punk teenagers deciphering anarcho-punk hieroglyphs! And, of course, there was just the pure pleasure of seeing things like Malcolm Garrett's fluttering hearts Buzzcocks sleeve (“After Marcel Duchamp”) to Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) or the always-interesting Peter Saville designs for Factory records. I should even add that the record companies’ own sleeves were sometimes reasonably well designed - the Phonogram one in the photo to this post for example.
The Secret 7” thing is tapping into all this, sort of. It invites artists to have a go at designing sleeves for specific singles and then … it sells ‘em all. (Now I think about it, I wonder why I didn’t draw things on the white “paper bag” sleeves that I used to get my early singles in. It could have been kind of ... creative. I think, strangely enough, I was too reverential - this is how they’re sold, this is how I should keep them, maybe I’ll just neatly write the artist and song title in the top-right corner here …).
As I say, music can mean a lot to people (just a few notes never mind a whole song), and so can the images that are attached to the music in question. In my own flat, frustrated librarian that I am, I’ve got quite a lot of tapes (TDK C90s mostly) onto which I’ve recorded about a thousand albums down the years. They’re on neat white shelves, looking vaguely like one of Damien Hirst’s “pharmacy-period” installation things. By contrast, though, I’ve got my records arranged with some sleeves facing outwards so I can see them every day. Currently those I see include Tony McGee’s amazing “melting faces” image for PiL’s Second Edition (aka Metal Box) LP and Bill Smith’s vibrant pop art-ish cover for The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry LP. Cool, no? (No!? Well it’s all highly subjective!)
Meanwhile, as any self-respecting fan of Robert Smith’s music knows, the Cure were for many years on Fiction records. And what does Cheap Clone’s aforementioned twee mini-masterpiece have to say about Fiction records? Well …
“But she understood my addiction / Has every album from Fiction / And they’re all in first condition / Oh me, I gotta mission / I can share my records with you / Try to share my records with you / There’s lot of things that I would do / But I will try to share with records with you …”.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.