By Thomas Quillfeldt
1877: Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
1948-1949: 45 rpm and 33 1⁄3 rpm vinyl formats go head to head to replace the 78.
1975: Vinyl sales peak in the UK; ABBA are popular.
2015: UK vinyl sales climb to 2.1 million units—a 21-year high and an 1024% increase on 2005.
2016: Vinyl is alive and well and there is some cool shit out there if you know where to look...
The interstellar traveller
Voyager Golden Record (NASA/Ozma Records)
In 1977, NASA staff thought that aliens would be desperate for some new tracks to play on their turntable and tasty bi-wired speakers. That’s why they created a gold-plated copper disc of recordings selected to showcase mankind’s awesomeness, stowing one copy on the Voyager 1 spacecraft (now nearly 13 billion miles away from the nearest Audio Technica AT-LP5) and another on Voyager 2.
There was a Kickstarter (already funded) to have the record meticulously reproduced. To hear what audio is on the disc, NASA posted the contents on SoundCloud.
Herbie Hancock – Thrust (Columbia)
As far as I know, there are no Herbie Hancock recordings aboard any spacecraft out there but the spectacular artwork for most of his records will take your brain to another dimension.
Nightcrawler - Strange Shadows EP (Nightcrawler Music)
We get the sense that Nightcrawler might just be ever so slightly enamoured with 80’s pop culture. Just a hunch. The Strange Shadows EP, an homage to Italian Giallo and horror cinema came in a double saw blade-shaped 7”—sadly sold out.
Superman: The Animated Series (Mondo)
Don’t leave this die cut single lying around near a bitter enemy—they might just take your eye out with it. Alas, Kryptonian superheroes who might be able to come to your rescue in the blink of an eye are the stuff of 30’s comic books.
Specimen – Returning From A Journey (London Records)As far as I’m aware, you have a statutory obligation to don glam rock make-up and climb atop 10-inch platform boots before spinning this record from one of the artists that heralded the birth of the Goth.
Batman: The Animated Series (Mondo)
This 12” single exists because of course it does.
Via @brenchu on Instagram
Yoko Shimomura & co – Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack (Brave Wave)
Who said punching people to near-death in the streets couldn’t be a colourful affair? Previously sold out, Brave Wave have just announced a new pressing of Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack.
Northlane – Singularity (We Are Unified/Distort)
There are plenty of splatter vinyl out there but it requires taste and restraint to make the whole package work. This is one of a number of variants of the Aussie metalcore band’s second album, released to celebrate Record Store Day.
Via @brenchu on Instagram
The fancy schmancy cover
Soft Machine – The Soft Machine (ABC Probe)
Soft Machine’s 1968 self-titled album has a die cut gatefold cover depicting the internal mechanisms of a clock which can be rotated… and the odd bottom.
John Williams – Home Alone (Mondo)
This reissue has some lovely touches with the gatefold art showing the front, booby-trapped innards and back of the McCallister house from John Hughes’ 1990 Christmas classic. A disc sleeve can be removed, effectively turning off the lights off.
Tame Impala – Currents (Fiction)Rachael Steven writing for Creative Review said of this Best Art Vinyl Award nominee:
“Robert Beatty’s psychedelic cover art for Tame Impala’s currents [was] inspired by diagrams of vortex shedding, turbulent flow and the way liquid and air flows around objects, which were given to him by the band’s frontman Kevin Parker”
Zombi – Shape Shift (Relapse)
Staring at a Google image search of this album cover is guaranteed to give you a headache. This horror-synth/metal album from Steve Moore that sounds like a soundtrack (but isn’t) has an arresting cover and several disc colour variations—our favourite is the purple/punk splatter.
Harry Manfredini – Friday the 13th (Waxworks Records)
Only 100 copies of this blood-filled vinyl were released into the wild. It was created by Brooklyn-based artist Curtis Godino, interviewed earlier this year by Gramovox, who was inspired by oil wheels—liquid-filled discs which are mounted to projectors to create trippy visuals.
Brian Reitzell – Hannibal (Mondo)
It turns out too few people watched the sublimely produced, now cancelled, TV reboot of Hannibal. Production design, cinematography, editing and audio (including Brian Reitzell’s pitch-perfect score) were all superb—the starkness of this vinyl editions’s front cover reflects the quality and restraint that ran through the whole show.
Just plain raunchy
Peeping Tom – Peeping Tom (Ipecac)
2006 album Peeping Tom is the result of Faith No More’s Mike Patton collaborating with the likes of Norah Jones and Massive Attack—by means of sending tracks through the post (Dropbox didn't launch until 2007). For people who enjoy silhouette nudity on their picture discs.
[Various] – Golden Axe I & II (Data Discs)
No one ever explained to me why sections of Golden Axe games were soundtracked by chiptune new jack swing but there you go. The outer sleeve of this recent, and recently sold out, release features rare artwork from SEGA’s vaults and if there’s one thing you don’t expect from Golden Axe characters, it’s clothes. Data Discs have popped a couple of remastered sample tracks on SoundCloud.
The full monty
Jack White – Lazaretto (Third Man/XL)Jack White is nothing if not committed. “The Ultra LP” vinyl edition of his 2014 album has a number of tricks up its sleeve: Side A plays from the inside out; one of the songs has an alternative intro that can be activated through deliberate needle placement (the rest of the song plays as normal either way); both sides end with locked grooves (a la Sgt Pepper); and most impressively, the dead wax area of Side A features a hand-etched hologram by Tristan Duke, who repeated the trick with the Star Wars: The Force Awakens vinyl.
El Huervo – Vandereer
Niklas "El Huervo" Åkerblad, noted for his musical and artistic contributions to Hotline Miami, more or less pokes your eyes out with his paintbrush. His artwork for his own albums may be hyper-colourful visually but it’s disturbingly dark thematically.
Mastodon – Once More Round The Sun (Reprise)
Has anyone seen that bit in Gremlins 2 when one of them turns into a vege-gremlin with tomato pustules sticking out of its cheeks? Classic. Skinner, who created the artwork for Mastodon’s sixth album, calls his work “psychedelic nightmare paintings”. He has a point.
Hotline Miami: Collector’s Edition (Laced Records)
Look, I know this is cheating and I wouldn’t normally stoop to such a shameless plug (Laced Records produced this vinyl by way of a Kickstarter in early 2016) but just LOOK AT THIS BEAUTY featuring the artwork of Niklas "El Huervo" Åkerblad and Protski.
Here's an interview with El Huervo about his cover art and artistic philosophy.
Check out part 2: "Gotta collect 'em all: More weird and wonderful vinyl".
There are some brilliant round-ups of classy or just plain odd vinyl—Coloredvinylrecords.com has unearthed 25 examples of novel discs, whilst the Guardian recently pulled together the greatest record sleeves as chosen by modern album cover designers. Coming up soon is the Best Art Vinyl Award, which Creative Review covered in 2015.