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The swinging sixties beckon

Before any record hits the shops, special advance "promotional" copies get sent to radio stations, PR agencies and the press, so that they may be reviewed and played to generate interest before the official retail release.

Promotional copies of records are often referred to as "white labels" because vinyl pre-release records would be distinguishable from retail copies by their plain labels. In the days before specific sleeve or label artwork for each record, it was still necessary to indicate that these copies had not been sold to a member of the public in order to enable the record company to escape paying a "mechanical copyright" fee on the pressing.

All normal retail copies of a record attract a mechanical copyright fee, payable to the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society), who remiburse the artists who have performed on the recording.

07 S F 1962 Single Promo Time Beat

On the right is an example of a Parlophone "white label". A large red A signalled to disc jockies "which side was up", so that they would promote the intended hot new number.
These days it indeed seems strange that normal retail copies of EMI records didn't state which was the A-side. But then, neither did Decca in this era. Pye marked their sides '1' and '2', but this was rare in the industry.

All EMI group promo labels had a similar design - the label name in the Gill Sans Ultra Bold font, and the words "DEMONSTRATION RECORD - NOT FOR SALE" underneath.

In all other respects the label details resembled what would appear on normal copies.

08 S F 1963 Single Beatles

In mid-1963 a cold wind swept through the corporate design department at EMI (sorry, if you recognise that phrase from another website, I couldn't resist it - it sums the era up perfectly) getting rid of the various label colours and intricately-designed sleeves for each 'brand' in the group.

The kaleidoscopic sleeve that had been used during 1961/2 gave way to this very basic-looking one-colour design, in what became Parlophone's signature green colour for the remainder of the 60s.

EMI's other labels received sleeves of a similar triumvirate, HMV's being orange then later purple, and Columbia going through various single colours - light green, then royal blue, then orange.

One of the most famous images from EMI Records' history was introduced with this label design - the striped, angular '45' logo. This was to grace all EMI group labels and probably became a more instantly-recognisable brand image than the label logos themselves, including the name 'EMI'. Like the Sgt. Pepper album cover, it has received its fair share of affectionate parodies and has become a visual shorthand for the boom era of British Beat records.

09 S F 1961 EP Fairuz Baalbeck

Although the silver/black '45' label design became the standard for many years on Parlophone in the UK, this wasn't so for the rest of the world. Most European countries either used one of the concentric designs from the 1950s (Greece, in particular, continued with the silver-on-pink variant) or released Parlophone records on the Odeon label (in particular, Germany, Spain, Japan and South America).

Middle-eastern and Far-eastern countries lagged behind even further - India, for example, continued to use 78s as their primary 'singles' format during the 1960s, using the same label design that was used in the UK by Parlophone, and Arabian countries continued using the 'swirly' Parlophone logo shown on the example above which dates from the early 1900s up to the tail end of the 1940s - known mainly for appearing on the many Jazz 78s issued by Parlophone under license from Okeh Records in the early 20th Century.

The above record, by a popular Arabian singer Fairuz, was actually pressed in Britain but for the Middle-eastern market, and hence has a very retro-style label. It purports to be an EP, yet only contains one track each side - admittedly each one longer (around 4 minutes in length) than a UK single would be known to contain during the 60s.

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