I’m going to try a new series, not sure if I’ll have a new series each month but I’ll initiate it here. Record Crack is all about my love of all that is vinyl records, the different quirks, a bit of turntable information… basically a mixed bag of anything and everything.
This new series is called P.S. I Love You, which is the title of a Beatles song, but amongst record collectors, the term PS stands for “picture sleeve”, usually in reference to sleeves that are sold with 7″ 45rpm singles. P.S. I Love You is a subtle way of saying that I love picture sleeves, and I do. In the last 17 years, we have moved from caring about album/CD cover artwork, to wondering if it looks good as a forum avatar. Music fans often celebrate artists, songs, albums, and videos with a clever avatar, but as the MP3 has opened the virtual door to an endless stream of musical content, they may not realize that for earlier generations, singles and albums were represented by specific images. Many of them were represented by picture sleeves that were mass marketed and sold to the public, and a lot of times they were treated like a bag of potato chips/crisps, thrown on the bedroom or living room floor as the record played over and over until there were too many skips, surface noise, or someone stepped on it.
With music fans, seeing a picture sleeve often brings back a nostalgic feeling. For record collectors, it’s interesting to see how those songs/singles and albums were represented in other countries, who would often release records with sleeves that was unfamiliar to people outside of the home country of the release. The Beatles made it possible to discover the differences between US and UK releases, but one song could have been released in multiple ways with completely different sleeves. In many instances, countries would release singles that were not released in the US or UK.
P.S. I Love You is not going to be a series about every single different picture sleeve out there. This series is about some of my all time favorite picture sleeves, a mixture of records that were/are in my collection, or sleeves I may have seen in books, magazines, websites, or blogs. Each entry will feature a brief story, and while some of these are well known to fans of these songs and artists, there are some who will be seeing these for the first time, as the image is not one they see in their minds when thinking/hearing of the song. It’s simply another voyage into the cool and wacky world of record collecting, and there are many collectors who will do anything in their power to obtain that special picture sleeve, their “holy grail if you will”. There are even collectors who don’t want the records, it’s sleeves and sleeves only.
For my first installment of P.S. I Love You, we go to Japan.
My childhood was filled with a good share of hard rock and heavy metal, either from uncles who praised bands like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, or a father who never held me back from listening to whatever I wanted. My first Led Zeppelin album was a Taiwan pressing of Led Zeppelin III, with its cheap-ass flimsy paper/plastic cover and blue label. Incredibly scratchy unlike the Atlantic pressing my uncle had, but it was still Led Zeppelin. I grew up with the albums, but would read articles on how the band refused to release singles in their home country. Meanwhile, Atlantic in the U.S. insisted on releasing singles, as they were promotional tools not only to promote the act, but to help sell the album. There’s a side of Led Zeppelin’s legacy based on what Atlantic released as potential hit singles: “Black Dog”, “Rock’N’Roll”, “D’yer Ma’ker”, “Trampled Underfoot”, “The Immigrant Song” (with its praised non-LP B-side “Hey Hey What Can I Do”) and a few others. Each of these songs were not big hits on the pop charts, but remain classic rock staples today.
The release of Led Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969 showed Atlantic that these New Yardbirds could sell some records, but at the time they were targeted to college kids who loved that abrasive “heavy blues”. The band may have been signed by Atlantic in the hopes they could be as hit-worthy (or teen sensations) as The Yardbirds were in some circles, but Jimmy Page wanted to try something new when his New Yardbirds settled to become something much mightier. When the band came out with Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic U.S. chose to release the opening track as a single. “Whole Lotta Love” is hugely influential today, but back then the song was considered too weird because of its avant-garde mid-section. Some felt the guitar feedback and moans from Robert Plant was a bit too sexual, and that lead to Atlantic creating a radio friendly version which eliminated the mid-section. That seemed to do the job, as the song would gain a bit more airplay and find time in jukeboxes across the country.
Other countries would take a cue and release “Whole Lotta Love” as a single. When record store customers saw the single, that was the song to pay attention to. The single was king, and that attention and awareness could lead to concert ticket sales if that band played in other countries.
Atlantic Japan released “Whole Lotta Love” as a single, and while there are many different LZ picture sleeves to choose from, I always liked this one because it features an action shot of the band that is fairly uncommon. If you read articles about the band, you’ll see the same set of photos over and over. This one consists of nothing but Plant letting out a wail while Jimmy Page is seen in the foreground. You don’t see nothing but his arm, his hair, and the neck of his guitar, complimented by the band name and song title in kanji and the obligatory Atlantic Records logo. That’s it.
When people think of “Whole Lotta Love” and have to come up with an image, it’s usually of the Led Zeppelin II cover, or perhaps a photo from the first album. This picture sleeve shows the kind of care Japan put into making their products stand out, an aesthetic that not only was a standard for all of their music, but one that can be seen in all of their products. It just looks cool because it’s different. Awesome.