If there’s one thing better than the feeling of sliding a record out of its sleeve, it’s having that sleeve packaging magically unfold like origami to reveal all sorts of ridiculous artwork and trinkets, but sadly it’s an experience that’s fallen by the wayside in recent years.
Back in the day, bands took pride in how they presented their album. One need only to look at the famous ‘peel slowly and see’ sticker on The Velvet Underground & Nico, or the infamous working zipper on the front of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, to see the proof.
Nevertheless, there are many bands out there still who take pride in how their music is presented physically, so we’ve decided to take a look at some of the best and most ridiculous record packaging we’ve seen.
The Seedy Jeezus & Isaiah Mitchell – Tranquonauts
We kick things off with a new record that fully-embraces the joy of old school album trinkets with an array of strange additions. Firstly, the Tranquonauts record comes packed in a hand-silkscreened packaging evoking a worn retro-future kitsch, containing a sleeve with gorgeous ’70s-style sci-fi art and a pressed silver seal – but it’s inside the packaging where the goodies lie.
Stick on one of the custom fabric patches as you sign up for a cosmic adventure through the rift. The record comes complete with an entire board game, which tasks you and your fellow adventurers with avoiding a series of bad ‘trips’ inspired by events that the band members have encountered throughout their careers, such as “Someone hands you a note asking you to stop playing your horrible music” (ouch) or “You get upstaged by strippers, bad trip bro”.
All the misadventures are worth it though, as the winner receives a damn pretty prize – the Future Sonic Wars medal – in a black presentation box.
Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Not content with releasing one the 1990s’ most acclaimed albums in a conventional way, England’s Spiritualized took the release of their third album to another extreme.
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With the album artwork already designed to look like a box of medication, complete with ‘dosage’ recommendations listed on the outside, the special edition of the album kept this theme and ran with it. Each individual song was released on its own three-inch disc, with each disc then being blister-packed into what looked like a sheet of pills, with each ‘dose’ needing to be popped from the packaging to be listened to. Crazy.
Shout Out Louds – Blue Ice
After an almost three-year absence, Swedish indie-rockers the Shout Out Louds decided to celebrate their 2012 single ‘Blue Ice’ in a rather unconventional way. In addition to a regular vinyl release, the group released an extremely limited run of box-sets to select fans and press outlets. The box itself contained a liquid solution, a vinyl mould, and instructions on how to make your own Shout Out Louds record made of ice. Yep.
The band released an instructional video on how you could go about creating the world’s first record made of ice, which also included footage of the record being played, just to prove that it could actually work. Whether the number of box-sets released were intentionally kept low so as to spare as few record needles as possible is unclear, but what is known is that the group certainly made a name for themselves with this one.
Jack White – Lazaretto
A man whose name, and love of vinyl, need absolutely no introduction, Jack White has certainly released a few cool records in his time. From his ‘Sixteen Saltines‘ single which was filled with liquid, to a ‘triple decker record‘, to the world’s first 3RPM record, Jack White’s love of vinyl and innovation are well documented. His 2014 album Lazaretto saw him cram as much of that together as he could.
The ‘Ultra LP’ version of his album included numerous goodies, such as double grooves that play different intros to songs, or one side playing from the inside out rather than the standard outside in. There’s an etched hologram of an angel that spins as the record does, and a hidden song on the inside label of the record. Jack White went all out as only he could to deliver to his fans a record that truly showcases his love of vinyl.
Public Image Ltd – Metal Box
The year after he’d made one of punk’s quintessential albums as the singer of the Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten reverted to his birth name and emerged as Public Image Ltd, a band whose alternative and experimental nature has inspired countless bands for years. Following their aptly-titled debut, First Issue, Lydon continued his blunt approach to music and released PIL’s sophomore album Metal Box.
In one of music’s best examples of ‘does what it says on the tin’, Metal Box was released in a metal film canister. Surprisingly inexpensive for their record label, it was somewhat of a nightmare for fans, who had trouble getting the tightly-packed discs safely out of the canister.
Blood Duster – Kvlt
Blood Duster are no stranger to taking an unconventional approach to things. One need only to read the tracklist of one of their albums to know that they’re not ones to conform to the mainstream.
This one isn’t so much the packaging that makes the release unique, but it’s a very notable one nonetheless. Their 2012 release Kvlt saw the band take one of the strangest approaches to releasing a record, by destroying it right off the press That’s right, completely ruined. 60 copies of the record were made, exclusively on vinyl, before every copy was scratched with the album title and a pentagram, making it completely unplayable.
The band states that even digital recordings of the record were destroyed, meaning that no one could have a functional copy of any song on the record. Nevertheless, five songs from the album’s sessions were released online as the Svck EP.
The Durutti Column – The Return Of The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column were one of those Manchester bands who had friends in all the right places. Formed by members of various disbanded groups, The Durutti Column were signed to Factory Records, the record label famous for releasing Joy Division and New Order, and for being the subject of the brilliant film 24 Hour Party People.
In 1980, using an idea left over from Public Image Ltd’s Metal Box album, The Durutti Column released their debut The Return of The Durutti Column in a sleeve made of sandpaper, designed to ruin the sleeves of the records placed next to it – now that’s just mean. Inspired by Guy Debord’s book ‘Memoirés’, the album’s sandpaper cover was actually glued and assembled by members of Joy Division.
The Flaming Lips – The ‘Gummy’ Series
The Flaming Lips are known for being just a little bit out there, and they certainly held nothing back with their ridiculous series of 2011 releases. It kicked off in April with the Gummy Song Skull, which had a four-track EP on a USB drive – encased within a brain-shaped gummy, within a brain-shaped skull. Truly the Venus De Milo of gummy. Gummy Song Fetus followed in June, containing another USB drive – this time in a gummy-shaped foetus. No thank you.
Finally, 24 Hour Song Skull arrived in November, this time containing a single 24-hour song, but eschewing the gummy aspect altogether, instead settling on a real human skull. Limited to a run of 13, it set you back US$5,000.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F# A# ∞
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are one of the world’s best known post-rock groups, and simultaneously one of the world’s most mysterious. Following their 1994 inception, and having recorded one of the world’s most sought-after demo tapes, referred to as ‘the holy grail of post-rock‘, Godspeed released their 1997 debut album F♯ A♯ ∞ to much critical acclaim.
Released in a handmade sleeve, the record featured a photo glued to the cover, with no mention of the band or track titles. The sleeve included inserts with drawings by band members, blueprints, photocopied album credits and, most famously, a Canadian penny that had been crushed by a train.
Following a limited release in their native Canada, the group’s sudden fame meant they had to mass produce a version of the record to meet demand. While they aren’t handmade anymore, they still contain the inserts and the crushed penny.
Tristan Perich – 1-Bit Symphony
While he probably isn’t known to many folks out there, Tristan Perich is highly regarded by fans of the niche genre of 1-bit electronica. Not quite an album, but more of a sound project, his 1-Bit Symphony wouldn’t sound out of place in a video game.
Released in a CD case, it’s basically its own self-contained music player, featuring an actual circuit system, a headphone jack, a button to turn the music on and off, and even a button to skip the track. The project was designed a means to show music as it is created, meaning it’s one of the very few pieces of music you can listen to as it’s being performed – impressive stuff.
Lemon Jelly – Soft/Rock
Lemon Jelly are known to most as being a mainly electronic music duo from London, but one of their first singles was actually a double-header called Soft/Rock, and was a mash up of just that – popular soft songs and popular rock songs merged with their trademark electronic sound. In fact, these songs were mashed up so obviously (and without copyright clearance) that the single actually had to be released without any form of credit in order to avoid copyright hassles.
They released the single as a limited vinyl release with a rather kooky packaging. Instead of your run of the mill record sleeve, the group took inspiration from The Rolling Stones and released it in a hand-stitched segment of denim jeans, but took it a step further by placing an actual condom in the pocket.
TISM – Defecate On My Face
Another band who were never scared to take themselves too seriously were Melbourne’s TISM, and their first publicly-available release saw them enter the public consciousness with a big bang.
Their first single, the controversially titled ‘Defecate On My Face’, was released on 7 inch vinyl, in a 12 inch sleeve – before all four sides of the vinyl were glued shut. This of course meant that if you actually wanted to justify the spending of your cash and listen to the record, you’d have to tear the sleeve open just to listen to it, ruining it in the process.
Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door
At first glance, this Zep record looked pretty drab, with an outer sleeve designed to make it look as if you were carrying a bootleg record in a brown paper bag. Even when that sleeve was removed, the record still didn’t look anything that specials, with the inner sleeve adorned with some fairly standard black and white artwork.
The magic happened when the inner sleeve was exposed to water – generally something to be avoided with your record collection – which permanently turned the artwork into a full-colour piece. Take a look.
Monty Python – The Monty Python Matching Tie And Handkerchief
In typical Monty Python style, this one was intended to confound from the outset. For one, the packaging was designed to look like an actual tie & handkerchief set, but the confusion didn’t end there.
Both sides are labeled as ‘Side 2’, with only the matrix numbers to identify which is actually which, and one side of the record is double-grooved, so one of two different recordings will play depending entirely on where the needle is dropped. Considering there was no tracklist, the listener were probably genuinely confused as to what was happening.
Boys Noize & Erol Alkan – Lemonade
As you’ll see below, this one is a mind-bender at first glance. Not only did the packaging resemble an oversized blank CD-R case, but the record was also a picture disc designed to look like a CD-R as well. All told, it looks very strange sitting on a turntable platter.
The A-side looks like a bootleg CD-R, complete with scrawled permanent marker, while the B-side is stylised to resemble the reflective side of the CD. Completing the illusion of a rough demo, it also comes with a note written on hotel stationery.