Twenty Years Of 7″ Record Design

Earlier this week I got an email via Gavin at Stickfigure asking for my assistance on a book being released about seven inch record design. After inquiring if I could cast a wider net via the freaks, they agreed. Here’s their spiel:

"Soundscreen Design
is currently finishing a book, tentatively titled Touchable Sound: Twenty Years of 7” Record Design.

For our research, we’re trying to compile lists of people’s suggestions of the best DIY 7"s, in terms of design and packaging, as this is NOT about music or nostalgia. We’re looking for lists of people’s twenty (or more) best 7"s from roughly 1986 through 2006. Records where either the packaging is handmade or you can see the hand of the creators in the work (even in something that wasn’t handmade, but extra work was put into its creation—like, say, the Black Dice 7"/book on 31G). We’re very interested in the role local communities and record collecting had on the design, and therefore are interested in hearing about stuff that would definitely be off our radar—examples of local records that never really got much distribution, tour version records, non-hardcore/punk/indie records (we do not want to limit ourselves by genre), foreign releases, etc. It doesn’t have to be a super formal list, we just want to make sure that we’ve got all the really good stuff covered, and you all know more than we could possibly research on our own.

Please send lists (with photos, if possible), noting: band, label, city or region label is from, and details you think we need to know about the design here.

Thank you very much, your help is invaluable, and we hope you’ll enjoy digging in your crates as much as we’re going to enjoy seeing what you’ve got."

A few of the 25 boxes I blew through for this endeavor…..

Here’s what I sent back. Please bear in mind that this was a quickly assembled list (Billy doesn’t believe me that I did this in 30 minutes) and can easily be improved upon. Please also note that I threw in a couple graphic designer notes keeping in mind that this was intended for a fellow designer…….

Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet
"Wedding Single" (released by Albini)- The sleeve was a wedding napkin for the marriage between John Mohr (TAR) and Beck Dudley (MOTO) and was recorded by Albini and given out by him for guests at the event.

Shellac – Uranus/Rude Gesture (Touch & Go) – Probably a bit of a no brainer. The die was made and thousands upon thousands were made. The word "SHELLAC" was printed with a spot varnish so when it was brushed over with root beer extract, it acted as a resist. I know of at least ten bands that paid off debts at Electrical (and/or Steve) by assembling these in his living room and/or studio.

Tsunami – Matchbook 7" (Simple Machines) – Sleeve is oversized and looks like a matchbook. The records didn’t hold up very well (either physically or musically) due to no real inner sleeve, but it stands out nonetheless.

Revo 7" (Pop Bus) – Record in a bag with a retail-like hanger on the top. The hanger is letter pressed. Clever design.

Strangulated Beatoffs
– 2×7" (Skin Graft) – A comic book with an outside clear plastic overprint in green that lays on top of the artwork. Really clever for 1993 or whatever year it came out.

Rapeman – Hated Chinee (Touch & Go) – The printing is rather simple 2/c with a blind emboss, but the bass player used the insides of the sleeves to do his calculus homework.

Jessamine – Houdini (Thingmakers) – Hands down one of the most insane packages I’ve ever seen. Cardboard with glued on paper (4/c with 2 spot varnishes and two foil stamps!) and the whole thing is locked in with a real FUCKING LOCK! The key is inside the sleeve. You just have to see it, but good christ, it’s retarded. Thingmakers did incredible stuff, but were/are insanely flaky. Additionally, the Sub Pop single (screwed in place) and the self released 7"s (with foil paper, blind embossing, etc etc) are also tits. (Postscript: This single is still available for SIX FREAKING DOLLARS at the Barsuk site!)

Bruce Lee, Heroin & The Punk Scene – 3×7" comp – Kinda hard to describe. In a box. a bunch of esoteric shit thrown in. Genius.

Wingtip Sloat – I have four different singles by them and I know people who have the same ones and none look the same. Individually assembled and packaged with tons of weird shit (one of mine has 5 feet of chopped up audio tape). Brilliant.

Various Artists – Jabberjaw 4×7" – The second comp series that came in a gorgeous oversized cigarette box.

Lake of Dracula/Monitor Radio split
(Carcrashh) – Each copy came with a dental x-ray that was individually glued in there.

Karl Hendricks Trio/Mothra split
(Egg Yolk) – Beautifully assembled. Very handmade. The sleeves were flocked so they have a very tactile feel. The sleeve is to look like a shirt being unbuttoned.

Various Artists – Neo Metro 3×7" comp (Simple Machines) – 3 singles featuring artists from each city (Bmore, Richmond, DC) and designed to look like Neopolitan ice cream. Even came with an ice cream spoon!

Various Artists – Working Holiday box set (Simple Machines) – kinda way ahead of the curve. Taking a page from Sub Pop, you got 2×7"s every other month celebrating each month with special songs by Codeine, Tsunami, Crackerbash……A LOT OF BANDS. After all was said and done, you got a special super sturdy box to put them all in and a special bonus 7", a letter pressed calendar and a specially written Duplex Planet. Genius.

Aerial M/Azusa Plane split 
(Monstertruck) – split single housed with duct tape inside two pieces of particle board and held together with velcro. Personalized pictures on the cover of each and all info hand placed with clear labels.

Unrest – Pretty much anything they did before 1991 or so. Especially the Catchpellet 7".

Von Hemmling (Elephant Six) – Individually constructed sleeves made out of construction paper. Hand stamped and written on.

Tar – Play To Win (No Blow) – Individually hand stamped records on a custom made bingo card. Die cut and glued. Fancy shit for ’89.

Various Artists
– Earworm Soup (Earworm) – End of the record label. Each record comes with pieces of the stampers for previous releases.

Cop Shoot Cop
– Piece Man (Vertical) – each sleeve was splattered with pig’s blood. No two the same.

Floor – Goddard (Rhetoric) – Interesting packaging for such a simple design. Innovative die cut.

Fugazi – Sub Pop single – Velum. metallic inks. Very unlike any other Fugazi release.

Candy Machine
(DeSoto) – Encased in Carboard. Hard to describe, but the sleeve had to be destroyed to open.

Die Slaughterhaus Box set – 3×7" by Black Lips, Tabitha and the Lids. Boxes spray painted and stenciled by hand. Tons of homemade-ness in this.

Melvins – Tora Tora Tora tour 3×7" set – Sturdy. Bolted together. A sight to behold.

MOTO – Where The Love Lives (Hi-Ball) put out by the Coctails kids. Gorgeous.

The Melvins Tora Tora Tora 7″ box (with Bun E. Carlos)

Obvious stuff:
The entire Pushead singles club. I know a couple people with those collections (I sold mine years ago) and the printing/packaging is fucking retarded.
Halo of Flies – Tom was a completely self taught designer who did shit working at the copy shop in Seattle while he was still a marine. So much of it looks incredible for the time and just seems confounding to take into a print shop in (say) 1988. Overprints and crude trapping abound. I should also mention that he was extraordinarily instrumental in the larger implementation of 7" as art/official release than he’s ever given credit.
Les Savy Fav – 9×7" series where all the sleeves were assembled to create a larger piece.
The Locust – Puzzle 7"
Polvo – Celebrate the New Dark Age 3×7" – Really gorgeous letter pressed job from Merge.
Piper Cub – 7" on Sub Pop. Unreal packaging ala the Revo 7".
All the singles by mid-90’s hipster band Fuck. Every single was very personal, very hand made.

Personally released singles worth mentioning:
The Olivia Tremor Control "Giant Day" (Drug Racer) – Every copy was hand colored BY THE BAND. Hand stamped. The sleeves were letter pressed. Came with two enormous posters as well.
Man or Astroman? "UFOs and the Men Who Fly Them" (Drug Racer) – The sleeve turned into (no shit) a flying saucer.
Servotron "Servotron 9000" (Drug Racer) – Yet another idea I’d never seen before. You have to destroy the sleeve to get to the record which is inside a die cut, blind embossed 2/0 piece of art. Honestly. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS.

There’s one other singles series that I did that’s a bit more complex. I have done three singles that have served as TICKETS for shows I’ve done in town. All exclusive tracks. Available only at the local record store. THAT’S IT. Exclusive tks by Diplo, Black Lips (which I recorded actually), Deerhunter, Carbonas, Dark Meat and many others…. The ticket was perforated along the top side and served for entry into the show featuring the bands on the single.

So…..with all of that spiel outta the way, get in touch with them! I’d also be thrilled to hear what everybody else would recommend. You know where to put ’em (in the comments section, duh…)

One of the best designs I’ve ever seen, the Jessamine “Houdini” 7″ (note the padlock)…(with Dave)