The 33rpm Vinyl Long Player, or LP as we know it today, began its life in 1948 as a replacement for the more fragile 78rpm shellac discs. The main benefits of the vinyl LP were improved durability and the capacity to record up to 30 minutes of music on each side. However, it wasn't until the mid-1950s, and the birth of Rock N Roll, that sales of vinyl LPs began to escalate.
Pressings from the UK have always been highly regarded amongst collectors. This is especially true of LP's manufactured during the 60's and early 70's. The superior quality of the heavyweight vinyl, along with the technical skills of the cutting engineer, meant that sound reproduction was always of the highest standard. Genuine UK deep-grooved first pressings, direct from the master tapes, can now achieve huge prices and are much in demand in Mint condition.
The first stereo LP's became available in 1958, however these did not become really popular in the UK until the mid-to-late 1960's, making early UK stereo pressings, and late UK mono pressings, very scarce today. Many albums in the 60's were issued in both mono and stereo versions. Opinion is divided about which is best, with both recordings offering a different listening experience.
Picture sleeves on UK LP's evolved throughout the decades. Imagery progressed from simple band photos towards more imaginative designs that were sometimes more memorable than the musical content. Psychedelic covers were often as weird as the sounds on the record inside! Many collectors regard the sleeve to be just as important as the vinyl and UK album sleeves from the 60's & 70's can be sought after as much for their high standards of manufacture as their imagery. Many UK sleeves were laminated, and the strong flip-back construction has helped many of them survive today. They are pure works of art that the compact disc era has not been able to match.
From the late-70's and into the 1980's the packaging became more elaborate, often including printed inner sleeves, lyric inserts, a bonus poster or some other novelty. Record companies kept finding new gimmicks to help sell their product and many of these extras were exclusive to UK issues.
By the early 90's demand for vinyl albums was in decline; CDs were becoming the dominant format, to the point where many artists no longer released their albums on vinyl. When they did there was just an initial first pressing, limited in number and quickly deleted from catalogue. However, recent years have seen an upsurge of interest in vinyl, both new and old. Classic albums are once again being re-mastered and reissued, sometimes as limited edition audiophile pressings, although many collectors still believe the original pressings sound best. Whatever your preference, vinyl is here to stay, and although the debate rages on over the superior sound characteristic of vinyl compared to CD, there is no doubt that UK vinyl LP's are among the most desirable pressings of this superb format.
The entire region known collectively as 'South America' encompasses the highest volume of music sales in the world, largely derived from the umbrella of 'Latino Music', or, popular recordings in the Spanish language. The Colombian music industry began with the formation of the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901, followed by the more familiar Columbia Gramophone Company in 1903. From the early 1900's these companies made "overseas recordings" by sending teams of representatives to foreign countries with stacks of wax blanks and recording machines which, although rudimentary, were quite portable, and then imported back into Colombia. It was some years later before what we know as 'popular' music forged a path into the industry which had mostly been based around Rumbas, Tangos and Foxtrots! Pressings plants for vinyl were scarce and investment low, thus sound quality was quite inferior to vinyl from other parts of the world at the time. However, most Colombians were happy to play these on their imported American gramophones, crackles and all. Today, the most desirable aspects of Colombian vinyl are the variants of sleeve and label design and more eye-catching still, the much sought after colored vinyl pressings which were almost never issued elsewhere. Many sleeves would be printed entirely in Spanish, the native language. There would often be amusing, almost amateurish, but completely official and authorized, sleeve alterations to the original artwork with biography information and track-listings translated into Spanish. Label variations and collaborations throughout the 1970's and 1980's, such as those with Philips, were many as pressing plants diminished, stricken by the poor and corrupt economy. The paper quality used in sleeve manufacture would vary wildly and some labels would issue their records with built in plastic linings or outers, to help reduce wear and tear. Pushing sales often involved featuring an exclusive or bonus Spanish Version of an English track which would rarely make it onto other worldwide pressings of the same record. Colored vinyl pressings are few and far between, often only made and distributed to DJs or radio stations. The variety is endless, from bold one-color vinyl to some fantastic multi-colored 'splattered' pressings, where a base color or transparent vinyl is used with any number of alternate colors radiating across the disc from the label to the outer edge. Really, these have become some of the most elusive and valuable pressings to be found in Colombia. Once again, their pressing quality and condition vary massively since most vinyl ceased pressing entirely in the early 1990's, but they are incredibly sought after for their sheer visual impact. Labels rarely had the budget to reissue original albums and as a result, collectors and music lovers tend to hang on to their much-loved records. Colombia is most definitely a dark, very dangerous and mysterious place to go hunting for rare records. If you travel there, buy it when you see it, as you may never see another one.
Japanese vinyl releases are premium quality pressings, much sought after by audiophiles and collectors alike. In the 1960s Toshiba pioneered top quality red vinyl pressings using their trademark 'Ever-Clean' process. This utilized a special ingredient intended to prevent the build-up of static electricity on the vinyl. Japanese pressings are synonymous with quality - the vinyl shines like no other vinyl - everything about their releases feels special. When US audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab first released their series of high quality pressings the records were manufactured in Japan. The sonic quality of Japanese pressings is considered to be among the best in the world and, in addition, they are beautifully presented, their covers usually printed on better quality heavy stock paper and often including a bonus lyric insert with dual language Japanese & English text. Nearly all Japanese LPs were issued with an 'obi' strip- literally translated this means 'sash' and is derived from the obi (sash) worn around the traditional kimono dress. This delicate paper strip, usually wrapped around the left side of the album cover, often contains marketing information and album content details, all printed in Japanese kanji and kana script. Obi designs can be as varied as the LPs they adorn, and some series of obi designs can be as collectable as the artists' albums they decorate. 'Hankake' (3/4 length obis) are nearly impossible to find, and the 'Rock Age' series of obis are especially rare and valuable. Obis make a unique, attractive addition to the overall package and are becoming increasingly rare, especially on LPs from the 1960s and 70s. Their delicate and disposable nature meant that very early obis were routinely discarded, so that now they can often be worth several times more than the record they accompany. In addition to Japanese pressings of regular albums there are numerous Japanese-only releases. Labels and artists often issued exclusive records timed to coincide with their Far East tour, or they re-released back catalogue albums with a re-designed obi, displaying revised graphics and other consumer information. Regardless of your musical taste, Japanese records make a stunning addition to any collection. Audibly and visually they present the collector with a feast of delights. Genuine mint condition records, complete with inserts and obi, are becoming rarer every day. Whatever the digital age throws at you there is still a valid opinion that says vinyl sounds best; with Japanese records you get top quality pressings, a tactile picture sleeve that looks stunning and you can sing along from the lyric insert. This is the real alternative to a download!
UK 12" (or 30 cm maxi) singles began their meteoric rise in the heady disco boom of the 1970's, although it was during the 1980's that they really began to transform the singles chart. Usually playing at 45rpm the extra dimensions gave more scope to create longer versions of the standard 3-minute radio-friendly chart single, leading not just to an extended version, but often to fully-produced remixes. The format was a perfect marketing tool, enabling you to buy different versions of the same single, giving rise to a higher or longer chart presence for that record; during its 1980's heyday it was not unusual for there to be two, three or even four different 12" releases of the same single, all with alternate mixes or exclusive content, and often a different picture sleeve. The UK led the world in this arena. Unlike today, singles used to be million-sellers and the 12" format was largely responsible for this. Remix culture is now firmly established and is a thriving industry in its own right. With some of the earliest 12" singles now approaching 30 years old, and mid-1980's classics now in their 20s, their rarity is always increasing. These records are meant to be played and enjoyed, and nearly always offer something different to their regular 7" counterparts. Ever wondered why a 5" CD single may credit a 12" mix? Well, this is where it all began!
The UK 45-rpm 7" single - a classic format if ever there was one. Since its creation in the early 1950's it has lent itself to all manner of musical tastes and styles. Far more durable than the 78-rpm shellac discs it replaced, and with greatly enhanced sound quality, it has become an iconic format of popular music culture. Each decade has seen an evolution in the way the humble black plastic 7" disc has been used; from the 50's and 60's issues with their jukebox/multi-stack friendly push-out centers, to the 70's solid-center creations and the gradual introduction in the UK of eye-catching picture covers, to the 80's excess of colored vinyls and limited edition packaging in all its glory. Their gradual slide in popularity during the late 90's has now taken an upward turn in the 2000's, with hip Indie artists choosing to return to this classic format and many labels again issuing exclusive limited editions aimed specifically at collectors.
By definition all but the very latest releases are long out-of-print, and new releases are often only available for a very limited period of time. As the longest lasting single format the 7" still has its ardent followers. Long live the 7" single!