With every Record Store Day marks a new batch of records, pimped in brand new jackets that are either tastefully grand or horribly gaudy. This tradition, while amped up on the internationally observed day, still extends through the year — applying to certain new releases and reissues of classic or long-forgotten albums — and has been a practice as long as labels knew how to make extra profit off devoted fans.
We're kidding, of course, because we know there are artists who've deliberately spent time on packaging to make sure that consumers are getting a little something extra. We list the releases that have, over the years, impressed, puzzled and downright even shocked us.
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THE NATIONAL | A LOT OF SORROW
‘Sorrow’ is definitely one of our favourite songs by The National, and they’re a band we’re willing to watch as many times as possible, but even we have to admit listening to the High Violet track repeatedly for six hours would be an incredible test of patience. As part of a collaboration with Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, the band performed the song for six straight hours at MoMA PS1 in 2013. Now, the entire performance will be pressed on clear vinyl in a limited boxset — featuring a staggering total of nine records. Despite the overall minimalistic design of the release, it’s hard to soak in the ridiculousness of this set. Remember, nine records, all featuring the same song. Priced over US$100, this is clearly one of the avid National collectors.
THE FLAMING LIPS | THE FLAMING LIPS AND HEADY FWENDS
It’s hard to pick just one insane record package from a band who released an EP, saved in a USB drive buried inside a life-sized gummy skull. However, their joint collaborative effort The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends definitely takes the cake. While commercially released on boring regular vinyl, 10 special sets were produced for the 2012 album that featured artists such as Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Ke$ha, Erykah Badu and Nick Cave. These sets had records which had actual human blood pressed inside. Not just your average person’s blood though, it was the blood of most of the artists on the project. These sets were sold at US$2500 a piece and hand-delivered, you know, because we doubt any postal service would be able to handle them adequately at all. Whoever has these sets now might hold the key to cloning Erykah Badu in the future. Just saying, that’s pretty tight.
THE GREAT GATSBY
The recent F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation offered a stylized look into the excesses of wealth in the 1920s and its soundtrack release by Jack White’s label Third Man Records presented a similar kind of indulgence. Pressed on two “metalized” records — one coated in real platinum and the other in gold — it’s topped off with a laser-cut wooden jacket and aluminium spines. Already what we can imagine would be a laborious and time-consuming process to make these, these sets were priced at US$250 and were quickly sold out. We’re too afraid to even touch it.
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD. | METAL BOX
For this band and the next, they were not masterminds of luxurious packaging but rather, crafty artists — one removed from the aggression of punk rock but much closer to its wicked sense of humour. For Public Image Ltd., the brainchild of former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, their second album Metal Box was a statement in many ways — the avant-garde songwriting, the infamous “metallic” guitar tone and of course, the packaging which was a single metal 16mm film canister. Inside, it houses three 45rpm records packed tightly. In what could have been a snarky reflection of the music content, the records were difficult to access and many people ended up accidentally scratching them in the process.
THE DURUTTI COLUMN | THE RETURN OF THE DURUTTI COLUMN
Another infamous band of the glorious post-punk era, The Durutti Column are mad geniuses or simply devious individuals depending on how you look at the devious release of their debut album The Return of the Durutti Column in 1980. The original 3600 copies of the LP had sandpaper sleeves on the jackets. Unbeknownst to the record-buying public and their fans, its sandpaper sleeve could effectively scratch and ruin other LP jackets when put next to them. The sandpaper sheets were assembled by hand by the band and their friends, one of them even being late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. God forbid you pack it in with any other records when moving. Remember to get an outer plastic sleeve.
Special edition packaging can be enticing but even we know when to say no, with wallets firmly grasped, when record labels go a wee bit too far. Case in point? Stay Puft, the 12” release in celebration of the 30th anniversary of sci-fi/fantasy film Ghostbusters. The same single got released on a prior RSD as a glow-in-the-dark single but this proved to be an even more excessive release. A 12” white vinyl single containing two tracks, lenticular images, a puffy gatefold jacket meant to simulate real marshmallow. And hey, it also smells of real marshmallow! While we have no doubt 80s nostalgists and Ghostbusters diehards grabbed this at the first second of availability, I think we’ll settle for actual marshmallows and a DVD of the movie.
FATHER JOHN MISTY | I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR
While initially known as the former member of folk group Fleet Foxes, singer-songwriter J Tillman aka Father John Misty has comfortably shaped his own promising career beginning with 2012’s impressive Fear Fun. With his sophomore effort I Love You, Honeybear, he went all out to impress with both improved songwriting and presentation. His label Sub Pop prepared a “Dioramic Meta-Musical Funtime Gatefold Jacket”, mimicking one of those old childhood pop-up books complete with music, except with Father John Misty’s deranged sense of humour. What wasn’t intended, unfortunately, were the multiple warped copies fans got when they arrived. Turned out the pop-up art was very thick and applied a little bit too much pressure to the records. In an extensive and sympathetic apology note, they ended off with a semi-passive aggressive but hilarious statement: “We promise to be less ambitious in the future.” Thankfully, we received no such warp in our less ambitious but equally awesome copy by record club Vinyl Me, Please.