Home Read Features Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel: Nah, Put It On. It’ll Be Fine.

Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel: Nah, Put It On. It’ll Be Fine.

Track 90 | What's wrong with this picture?

I hate picture discs. Back in the late ’80s, on a sleepover snack run, I found a picture disc of Elton John’s Single Man album at a Becker’s convenience store. I think it cost $3.99. I thought I’d scored something really cool and unbelievable. When I got home the next day, I put it on and immediately noticed it sounded awful. Then I saw the fine print about how it would sound inferior to regular pressings. Ah well, I slid it into my growing collection and forgot about it until two years ago, when I first started cataloging my collection on Discogs. It was worth an incredible $5 now! I should have just bought some Big League Chew and a slush instead.

Stupid picture discs. Personally, I buy albums to listen to them, not to look at them or prize them. That said, I do regularly post photos of my home “album wall” which features floating shelves for 11 different records which I present as a collective theme. As I write this, the current theme is “lasers.” Album covers with lasers on them.

I do own a few picture discs, either gifts or ones where there is no other option like two of the three Dope Lemon albums I have. They’re zoetrope picture discs, which means they have motion animation when you put them on your turntable. They’re also really great-sounding albums.

Anyway, what I don’t have in my collection are non-traditional vinyl shapes. I have lots of non-traditionally shaped sleeves, like the silver coin one which houses Grand Funk’s E Pluribus Funk, or Alice Cooper’s desk-shaped School’s Out and wallet-shaped Billion Dollar Babies albums. I also have a cool tobacco tin copy of Small FacesOgdens’ Nut Gone Flake and a stop sign-shaped copy of Stop by The Eric Burdon Band. Oh, and that Monty Python album which folds into a cube shape, designed to appear to be a modest record collection. It’s kind of like the fake stereo equipment at IKEA which is just printed cardboard boxes.

Yeah, I have loads of that stuff in my collection — but no weird-shaped vinyl discs. And there’s loads of them to be had, because it turns out they’ve been making picture discs since the 1930s, and these die-cut shaped discs started to gain prominence in the early 1980s.

I believe the first one I ever saw was the 7″ single of Barnes & BarnesFish Heads. It’s shaped — you guessed it — like a fish head. This was issued in 1982. It sells for around $25, but maybe that has something to do with the other songs on the record: I Had Sex On TV, Party In My Pants, Work The Meat and Swallow My Love.

Speaking of sea creatures, four years later The B-52’s did a special release of their song Rock Lobster — a rectangular shaped 12″ with a picture of a lobster on it. It was actually one of a three-records-over-three-weeks promotion. The first week you could get a rock, the lobster on the second week and a Planet Claire planet on Week 3. The first one came in a three-sleeve wallet designed to hold all three discs. Some of these are well over $200 US each. Pass the tanning butter!

In 1983, Thompson Twins also did a three-record set of shaped vinyl, but theirs were as three different puzzle pieces which — when all three were acquired — fit together into a skateboard shape displaying a map of the world. Despite the fact that all three discs are different, they all have the same tracklist — You Take Me Up backed with Passion Planet. Also in 1983, Barry Manilow did a cover of Meat Loaf’s flop single Read ‘Em And Weep — on a 7″ shaped like his head. Manilow’s head, not Meat’s.

In 1984, Tangerine Dream issued a version of Warsaw In The Sun on vinyl shaped like Poland. I’ve never seen either of those, but I have seen the 1982 special double-sided Toto single of Africa and Rosanna. It’s shaped like the African continent and was re-released in 2017 for Record Store Day.

In 2007, Snow Patrol’s single Signal Fire was issued on a spider web-shaped 7″ — because it was used in the Spiderman III soundtrack.

David Bowie is the best thing about the movie Labyrinth, even if his songs are rather bad. One of them, Underground, was issued on a special head-shaped 7″ featuring Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King. I have seen the Ghostbusters logo-shaped version of Ray Parker Jr.’s movie theme. There’s probably loads of those around, even though it came out in 1984.

Still on the subject of film, when the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure came out in the ’80s, a promotional Pee Wee-shaped 7″ by Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) and Allee Willis was issued. The 1985 treasure will probably set you back more than $100 in good shape. So who’s Allee Willis? He was a songwriter and multimedia artist. He co-wrote Earth Wind & Fire’s Boogie Wonderland, Neutron Dance by The Pointer Sisters and the Friends theme I’ll Be There For You. But this — this must have been his proudest moment. Holy shit, it’s awful:

The same year, ZZ Top issued a version of their single Sleeping Bag on a 7″ single shaped like a pharaoh’s head — wearing sunglasses. This was off the Afterburner album — about as far from La Grange as you can get and still be the same band. I was 12 when it came out and I always thought the chorus was “supersonic sleeping bag” and not “slip inside my sleeping bag.”

One I actually would like to get is Talk Talk’s 1986 single Living In Another World, in a limited-edition tiger/butterfly shape. Like Thompson Twins, there are other puzzle-piece discs, and at least one other skateboard-shaped singles. Gang Green did one for We’ll Give It To You in 1987.

Some bands have shaped singles of their logo. Queensrÿche has one and so do The Police, for Message In A Bottle. Issued all the way back in 1980, it’s shaped like a police badge. The Rolling Stones have one of the best-known logos, so of course they have a single using the shape of the red lips and tongue. Except, it’s not exactly Brown Sugar or Satisfaction. The single is She Was Hot, issued in 1984 from 1983’s Undercover album.

So, who did it first? Well, it might be a band I’ve already mentioned: Toto. In 1979 they issued a version of their single Georgy Porgy on octagon vinyl. Ten to 20 bucks will get you a copy. And your little dog, too.

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.