Apr 24 2012: A Gallery Showing Six Generic Soviet Union Paper Record Sleeve Designs (Melodija, 1960s)

These paper record sleeves, produced by various regional branches of the Soviet Union’s state record label, Melodija, were made to provide generic covers inside which pretty much any type of music might be housed, whether classical, folk, jazz, pop or Red Army choirs. In some respects, these generic sleeves are the equivalents of the 7″ company sleeves of CBS, Decca, Pye, Epic, Parlophone, A&M, Motown and others, in which 45rpm singles were mostly issued in the West. The difference is that these are mainly 12″, with a few 10″ examples mixed in, and so destined to contain long-playing records of the kind the West generally saw fit to release in specially designed covers, something different for each recording regardless of the risks posed by low sales or overproduction of the relevant sleeves. The Soviet model, by contrast, allows covers unused by one pressing to be simply reallocated to the next, an efficiency that nonetheless makes looking for specific Soviet LPs something of a headache for the non-Cyrillic listener. The music in these sleeves, all purchased pretty much blind, ranged from folklore choir to string quartet to the Shadows-esque beat music of the Singing Guitars, but the covers themselves are mainly inscrutable: one might be taken to suggest jazz, with its silhouettes of saxophones and clarinets, another the more pastoral scenes of what might have proved either an indication of hippy pop or a neutrally presented Classical orchestral work (it was, of course, the latter). These sleeves, nevertheless, spell out a particularly utopian project, suggesting that the generic design was deployed as a means of eliminating the traditional heirarchies of musical composition, equalising all forms of performance under the single rubric of interchangeable design, with no need for advertising, either on or off the covers of the records themselves.

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