shapes of things

shapes of things.where not so rare is a relative thing…

by Art Chantry (

Back in the 1930′ & 40’s, there was a record company called “vogue” records. every release they did was a picture disk. they were really amazing beautiful full color illustrations to go along with the music. a lot of their releases were great early jazz, too. really cool stuff. in fact, one of the records used an illustration that was supposed to be a likeness of my mother. but, i’ve heard a few different stories about that. i used to have a copy of it, and it sure looked like her as a young woman. but, who really knows?

Vogue didn’t invent the picture disk. that seems to have emerged from the children’s record industry – pictures of cartoon images imbedded into the durable plastic needed to survive handling by the kids. the children’s recording industry spawned a large number of curious innovations in the packaging of recorded sound.

One of my favorite innovators of record packaging was the ‘red raven’ record company. their strange little idea was to print a series of ‘animation’ frames around the outside edge of the over-sized label (the records themselves were like 8 or 9 inches in diameter (red or yellow or green plastic). you could only play them on the official ‘red raven record player’ – which looked like a carousel and had a small fixed mirror attached to the back edge of the turntable. as you played the record you could watch the reflection of the animation art work printed on the sleeve reflect in the mirror and see a repeating “tape loop” style cartoon! it was a record that came with it’s own cartoon strip!

Shaped records also emerged from this fertile territory. by the time most of us ever saw picture disks and shaped records, however, it had become the province of punk and new wave. when the big label companies were trying to desperately promote a music style that refused to sell more than a dozen copies of any release, then they resorted to novelty packaging to make it seem ‘safe’ (like those charming old toy records of our childhood.) just about every label and every band imaginable had a shaped picture disk or colored vinyl released. there is a certain faction of record collectors that ONLY collect this turf. it’s selection is endless.

The example i reproduce here i found recently in a trashed-out junk store. this thing is broken (as you can plainly see) and it, in fact, having been rudely folded in half, ┬áis unplayable. yet, it is still intact! a very tough little item. i’ve never seen this release before and it’s a really terrible looking design, if you ask me. a perfect reflection of the taste of the times. or have you forgotten all those terrible style and design choices you made back then?

One of the interesting things about the picture disk is, because it literally has a printed piece of paper ‘sandwiched’ in-between two layers of clear plastic, it’s far more durable and less fragile than a single slab of vinyl. however, they are prone to warping (the seals between layers fail if the manufacturing temperature is off even a little). Also, the recording fidelity on these things was terrible for years. but they eventually fixed that problem as technology advanced. nowadays, because the colored and clear vinyl is ‘virgin’ (many old records get recycled and remelted back into the pressing process. All that dirt and crud goes back into the molten vinyl and often comes through on the ‘non-virgin’ black vinyl in use. so, the clear and colored vinyl was ‘cleaner’ and sounded better.

Sadly, i’ve never had an opportunity to make a picture disk. i’ve done every color vinyl you can imagine (including two-tone “pinto” vinyl on a Reverend Horton Heat 10″). but, i’ve never had the chance to play with this odd medium.

There are two ideas i’ve always wanted to try: the first is that i’ve always wanted to created a happy face in the vinyl itself, using yellow with black vinyl ‘dots’. it would be very hard to do (because of the way the process works) and would probably be best to ‘cheat’ it with a picture disk. but actually making a smiley vinyl record is a dream denied to me at this point.

The closest i’ve come is a 7″ vinyl record for dave crider at estrus records. it was a single called “punkin'” by the legendary band ‘jack o’ fire’. the design was a die-cut jack o’ lantern (aka ‘jack o’ fire). the eyes and mouth were die cut to reveal glow-in-the-dark vinyl. when you turned out the lights, the jack o’ fire would light up like a jack o’ lantern. and even more fun was if you slid out the 7′ record, and placed it on your turntable, the glowing eyes and mouth (the parts exposed to light through the die-cuts) created a happy

glowing in the vinyl itself. that’s as close as i ever got to a happy face vinyl.

AC: i brought a single vogue picture disk into a used record store run by a friend. it was in a batch of old stuff i didn't want any more. when he saw it, he started to tear up! he said, "all the years i've been in this biz, i've always dreamed of the day when somebody would bring a vogue picture disk to sell. this is that moment." this guy had been running used record stores for almost 30 years! so, "not so rare" is a very relative thing.

the other idea i’ve always wanted to try is to simply , instead of placing a pre-printed pice of die-cut paper between the two clear layers of the plastic – why not put something else? i figgered a bright clean crisp $1 bill sandwiched inside the vinyl would drive everybody crazy. maybe, even toss in a 10 or a 20 every so often, just to see what happened? would people buy the record and crack it open to get the money?

then there is the ‘cigarette butt’ idea. nobody liked that one at all….

of course, i never found any client in the indie world (who are the only folks who would even consider such an idea) who could actually AFFORD to spend an extra dollar per disk of a vinyl release. commercial suicide. but a cool ideas just the same…

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