at better record shops everywhere?

When a collection of 45s from the 1960s comes in my pulse begins to race. Boom boody boom. I love singles you see. But there is a problem in that all too often they come in all higgldy-piggledy in a box and worse still they are nearly always in the wrong sleeves. It happens naturally when you’re listening to singles and I do it myself often during a listening session. The discs get taken out of their sleeves to be played and to save time when you change records, you don’t immediately re-sleeve the record you have just taken off. At the end there are records everywhere and you just want to protect them before going to bed so you stick them into the nearest sleeve. This was much more likely to happen when six at a time could be stacked on a Dansette multi-changer or when swingers were bringing them to parties in the 1960s. They rarely come in looking neat and tidy like this:


When you’ve been around singles for a while you start to notice the major differences with the company sleeves. And then there are the minor differences which is why you shouldn’t do what I have started to do. The Rare Record Price Guide has long informed collectors on the particular Parlophone sleeve variation that each Beatles single belongs in. -The Beatles are a well-documented special case. Unfortunately, I have since found a website that documents virtually all of the UK company singles sleeves and when they were used. If you collect singles, for your sanity, don’t look at it.

The Secret sleeve site.

With a collection of 100 records I can easily force VoxBox Andy to spend a tedious half an hour reuniting artists with their label sleeves. The Beatles with Parlophone sleeves and the Rolling Stones with Decca Sleeves and Cliff and the Shadows with Columbia. The Pye sleeves with Donovan and so on. The blue Pye ones are particularly fragile and had a tendency to hold onto grime. You don’t usually end up with a complete match either. Although a self-contained collection should in theory have the right records and sleeves somewhere among them, it is not always that simple; you can easily end up with a stack of 45s without sleeves and a bunch of spares leaving you wondering what the real story behind the collection is. It can seem that if your records weren’t stolen or ruined in the 1960s , you weren’t there. (The last box of 60s singles to come in arrived in a suitcase and had no sleeves at all!)

And then, if indeed they are in the right company sleeve; if say a 1963 Cilla Black single is there in a collection with a 1964 Billy J. Kramer one and both are of course on the Parlophone label and they each should have a different sleeve variation. Then I could look at the website and check what is probably right –which single belongs where. Or I could simply sod them both, put them in plain white sleeves for the Backroom and harvest the Parlophone sleeves so that two divorced or bereaved (and more valuable) Beatles singles can be happily re-married to the matching pair. Some sleeves will be even be worth more than the record inside them and no doubt, many a Mint condition Adam Faith single sleeve has run away with an original copy of The Beatles’ Love Me Do. Another cruel blow as his successful ballading career was effectively destroyed by the Fab Four’s arrival.

Adam Faith -Love Me Don't

Adam Faith -Love Me Don’t?

For some bands, it matters a lot less… Firing The Shadows’ singles into random different styles of Columbia sleeve for the Backroom I can totally accept but for the front shop records it presents a quandry. I like them to be perfect you see. For some sleeves I don’t yet know the company that made it, let alone the band that it belongs to but armed with the knowledge of what is and is not right, it is becoming much more difficult to unite a nice company sleeve with an otherwise naked single. To knowingly put a record into the wrong sleeve feels like being an accomplice to infidelity. Especially so if it is a rarity.

Admittedly, some of the sleeve differences are so subtle as to be utterly tedious. For instance I draw the line at making a distinction between the seven CBS variations between 1972 and 1979 but would still like the records before 1972 (eg. Dylan, The Byrds, The Tremeloes) and after 1979 (Blue Oyster Cult) to be in their right, more distinctive sleeves. It’s not an exact science at all as sleeves and records weren’t produced in equal numbers so you do get overlap. Also the companies at the time didn’t know people would be bothered by this so the record keeping is not great. In fact, some differences can be as subtle as the way the sleeve is glued or if the paper at the top is wavy or straight and the site can’t actually tell you which records went into Columbia sleeves 9 and 10…

Spot the difference, sleeve 9 on the left

Spot the difference, sleeve 9 on the left

It seems that if you were a band in the 1960s then in order for your records to still look good sixty years later in the VoxBox record shop, it will help to have been on a record label that had some very popular artists that have since become unfashionable. For example, there is no excuse for any Animals record to have an untidy sleeve as shops will tend to throw out the Cliff Richard records (sorry Cliff) and keep his Columbia sleeves for… basically the Animals or the Yardbirds or the impossibly rare Vashti Bunyan Train Song single that virtually no one bought. (Red wavy top hairdryer Columbia in case you’re checking)

Vasti Bunyan Train Song

Labels that had a greater proportion of artists with kudos longevity have sleeves that are harder to come by, especially in Excellent condition. Favourites include the Ex-Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label with the wonderful typeface and cheeky “at better record shops everywhere” tagline (Humble Pie, Small Faces), Vertigo has a swirl that makes my dealer friends incredibly excited (Black Sabbath, Juicy Lucy) and Harvest (Deep Purple) with its Roger Dean designed logo. Trojan and Chess don’t turn up very often either. So many have become iconic (if only to a select group) and can even now be found on T-shirts.

(Still available) at better record shops everywhere

(Still available?) at better record shops everywhere

So, keep an eye out for a nice sleeve but please don’t do what I do. – It takes ages. Some super purists will buy their record an appropriate company sleeve but still want to keep the original one even if it is tatty to the extent that it’s falling apart. They’re crazy right? They themselves are probably single but as so often is the case, I’m sure if we look hard enough, there will be a match for them somewhere.

* Praise to Erling Mehl (a Scandinavian!) who did a phenominal amount of research and created the website. Sadly, Erling died last year so the archive is not yet complete. Could it ever be? Lucky for us it is kept ongoing by BigBoppa, a company specialising in selling sleeves.

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