Saturday, July 5, 2014

Columbia LP Covers, 1957-62

This is part 3 of a series devoted to branding changes at Columbia Records in the first fifteen years or so after their successful launch of the long-playing record in 1948.  See also part 1 and part 2.

At the end of Part 2 I showed that the cover branding arrived at by Columbia, around the spring of 1957, looked like this:


This very attractive branding was usually placed at the top right corner of the album cover. By the time stereophonic LPs were introduced by Columbia in September 1958, the arrangement had been modified slightly, with the "LP" component moved up and to the right of the Eye:


...a modification which enabled the trademarks to be displayed flush with the "stereo" indicator at the top of the cover:


(For monaural releases with a stereo counterpart, the trademarks were displayed at the bottom of the cover.)

This basic setup remained unchanged until about the summer of 1960, at which point, the trademarks lost their top-of-the-cover status on stereo issues, and they were reduced markedly in size:


The next major change to the trademarks occurred in the summer of 1961 - the "Lp" portion, presumably by then considered redundant, was dropped, and the Eye transformed into its final form with three concentric rings:


This branding lasted only a few months. By the end of 1961, new albums were featuring this greatly simplified configuration in the upper left part of the cover:


This basic design remained in use, with minor changes in typography and placement, through the late 1970s on Masterworks releases (the entire classical division of Columbia was rebranded "CBS Masterworks" around 1980), and continues in use to this day for Sony's Columbia popular releases. (Incidentally, ML 5746, a recital of French piano music by André Previn, was one of the last releases to be issued with the old "6-eyes" label - in the summer of 1962.)

So why did Columbia, having found a seemingly satisfactory formula for displaying its trademarks on album covers from 1957-60, feel the need for another change? A possible answer is hinted at in an article in the August 29, 1960, issue of Billboard Magazine headlined "Columbia, Philips in New Long-Term Pact Talks." It seems that Columbia had become dissatisfied with having Philips issue its product in Europe, and wanted its own label presence there, as RCA and Capitol already had. Since the Columbia name could not be used there, as EMI owned it, the proposed new label was to be known as "CBS Records." (Philips, for its part, did not relish the idea of giving up popular American product on its label, which is why Philips purchased Mercury Records in 1962.) My guess is that Columbia wanted to update its Eye trademark to fit a new international image. Certainly by the time CBS Records was launched in Europe in 1962, the Eye logo had assumed its new look and was being used to identify the new label.


4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Merci ! for these covers series !!!

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  2. Do you know the year of the earliest issues on CBS in the US? I remember a number of LPs conducted by Boulez, and Carlos Chavez conducting his own works. The branding was similar to the European product. Did they have a transition in mind for America? Eventually they abandoned this line, and the records they wanted to keep in the catalog became Columbia Masterworks, or in some cases Odyssey.

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    1. The CBS set with Chavez conducting his six symphonies dates from 1967, according to worldcat.org. It has an eight digit catalog number without a prefix (with spaces, in the grouping xx xx xxxx), similar to those of Odyssey issues of the same time.
      I remember reading somewhere, when I was poring through the Billboard issues, that Columbia Records in the US did in fact consider renaming itself "CBS Records" - for pops as well as classical - but unfortunately I failed to make a note of the date of the article! It was in '63 or '64, but nothing, obviously, came of it at that time.

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    2. The first US CBS issue appears to have been of Copland conducting "Music for a Great City" and "Statements" (32 11 0001 mono/32 11 0002 stereo). It was reviewed in the Aug. 27, 1966, issue of Billboard. In the same issue, a 2-page ad for Epic's new budget line Crossroads appears, and an article elsewhere in the magazine mentions that the Odyssey line is scheduled to debut in January 1967. Earlier in the month Columbia had a 2-page ad introducing their 8-track cartridge line, which also featured 8-digit catalog numbers, as did Crossroads and Odyssey. (The Copland CBS record was reissued four or five years later as Columbia M 30374.)

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