Hello again. I have been spending a little time trying to put together a simple buyers guide to buying 4AD from the second hand market, particularly of course the first ten years of 4AD's existence. It can be very frustrating when you think you have found one of those lovely original 12"s, only to find out much later that it's a re-release or a second print and actually isn't that rare at all. So I have been going through what I have acquired so far to try and find some pattern in the releases from 4AD in the UK between 1980 and 1990.
It turns out to be a very interesting decade. I know because I was a new consumer in that decade and things were changing so very fast. I remember seeing a TV programme called "Tomorrow's World" that highlighted the newest technology. I saw the now famous episode that introduced the new format, the Compact Disc and demonstrated that you could eat your dinner off it and it still played afterwards. Of course, we now know that you can eat your dinner off a Compact Disc and it will play, but don't get a fingerprint on it or a dog hair becasue that will completely bugger it up!
In the eighties, the 12" remix became king. While it cost about £7 for a new vinyl album, it cost about £15 for a new CD and that was those fortunate enough to be able to afford a CD player in the first place. Cassettes became commonplace and the 8-track disappeared. Then the trend for everything see through came into fashion. Cassettes followed the trend of Swatches (or was it the other way around?) making the mechanisms of technology observable by changing whatever the tech was clothed in transparent. Plastic see through watches and plastic see through cassettes.
Strange represenatations of a zebra's back started appearing on products everywhere. The struggle to find a price at the checkout at the store was replaced with that annoying beeping sound as barcodes took over the world.
CD sales went up, taking vinyl sales down and loads of second hand record fairs became more popular as fair traders struggled to get rid of the masses of stock bought at rock bottom prices from people swapping their record collections for CD's. Folk didn't want their turquoise lettered Led Zeppelin LP anymore, they wanted it on crystal clear CD instead. You could buy masses of rare vinyl for next to nothing by the late eighties. Record companies must have really thought they were onto a winner as people took even less care of their CD's and cassettes than they did of their vinyl. CD's were bullet proof, you could eat your dinner off them and cassettes were very convenient. It was not until the nineties that folk realised that CDs didn't last forever and that they had lost all those albums on cassette becasue their Sony Walkman or in car cassette player had chewed every cassette tape up.
The portable cassette player was a bit of a joke. Adverts with joggers and their hip strapped portable cassette player were common place in the late eighties. The adverts failed to warn you though that the tape would also jog around inside the player and wrap itself around the pinch rollers that guided the tape across the playing head. Everyone had tapes where on a particular track the music would go all whirly and druggy as the previously crinkled tape had been pulled back in a botched repair attempt. Those cassettes were the lucky ones. Many times they had to be thrown away because the tape had unraveled so much you couldn't get it all back in, like some war wounded soldier with his intestines spilling out. If the cassette unraveled in a car stereo player, you had little chance of salvage. The tape would bounce around in the jossle of the car on the road and get stuck around those pesky pinch rollers and get wrapped around them so many times that if you were lucky enough to get the cassette ejected out of the player, there would be a black spaghetti like trail dragging back into the teeth of the machine, and like a dogs locked jaws, it was never going to give you your tape back. Portable in car cassette players were thrown away left right and centre because of mangled cassette tape around the pinch rollers becasue the players were so portable, you couldnt get inside them to remove the tape and sometimes the whole cassette without breaking the whole player. It's a miracle that any cassette tape survived the eighties at all.
So, I've scrutinsied the best I can of the stock I have so far and looked to see any patterns from the changes in that first decade of 4AD releases. Some of this info may be wrong and if I find it is, I will come back and update it from time to time. There are quite a few signposts that can help a collector figure out what's genuinely original and what's a re-release. It was a useful decade for collectors becasue of the many changes.
In the begining....
As we know, 4AD started its life as AXIS. So in 1980 the first four UK releases had the AXIS red labels on them, all 7" singles
For the rest of 1980, the blue and white 4AD square box was on the labels of all that years releases. This also meant that the Bauhaus Dark Entries 7" single that originally had the AXIS labels above was re-pressed again with the blue and white labels
All of the 1981 UK releases had this crumpled paper black and white picture label on one side of the label. So far I haven't found one that doesn't.
In 1982, the folded paper picture was done away with and the three picture types below were all used instead. The female wrestlers in black and white in both positive and negative and a male wrestlers in negative. So far the compact disc didn't exist commercially and the barcode zebra hadn't made it to the shores of the UK. The tape cassette was also not on the format list for 4AD in 1982
In 1983, another three types of black and white picture labels were used grass, grit and lights. That's a daft naming convention I know, but look at the samples below
At the end of 1983, 4AD issued their first cassette format release. This compiled an album and an EP together of the Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels and Sunburst And Snowblind. The cassette was made of white plastic with labels glued on. From the end of 1983 to the end of 1986, only albums appeared on cassette tape. The see through clear plastic cassette tape wasn't introduced until 1985 by the record label Warner. There is an interesting site about the history of the compact cassette tape
In 1984, 4AD went full colour on their labels. Still no barcodes, still no clear cassettes and still no CDs from 4AD
In 1986, 4AD began issuing releases on CD. They also went through some of the back catalogue and re-issued some earlier releases again on CD. For the next couple of years from 1986 to 1988 they re-issued a number of albums.
I hoped that by looking through the CDs released in those two years, I would be able to find a pattern of some sort that would help distinguish the years specifically, but that seems a task too far at the moment until I get my hands on a few more releases. There are some distinct CD print styles from 1986 to 1989, all silver CDs with varying print styles from sparse amounts of text to band logo fonts and then text which shoots off in all directions on the CD. From the CDs I curently have, I can't seem to find any clues to get them down to any time frame. The first few CDs of 1986 were French made CDs and have a small ring on the inside of the outer CD, here (below) it shows black, but on the actual CD is a goldish hue. I suspect that the original batch of CDs made in 1986 where manufactured in France where a lot of the vinyl was also cut, but a very short time later, 4AD could have started to use a manufacturer in the UK either alongside or instead of the French manufacturer. As yet I can't make a judgement, if this did happen, the change was very quick
The same can be said for the re-issues made of pre-1986 albums onto CD. The design of the CD print changes quite quickly over the next couple of years
During 1987, 4AD issued its first video cassette for the label compilation Lonely Is An Eyesore
Also in 1987 was the first cassette single from 4AD Throwing muses Chains Changed, still on black plastic cassette with paper labels
Originally I suspected that the first CD single issued from 4AD must have been for the chart topping No 1 single from M/A/R/R/S Pump Up The Volume as there is a CD version of the single, but the copy of the CD I have is also the one showing on discogs, which is an English made black CD, which doesn't fit in with the style of the other CDs printed during the same period. I reserve judgement on this one for now, as the black print on the CD could be a clever use of text print in negative, where the text is clear showing the silver CD underneath and the rest of the non text part of the CD is black. Full coloured CDs weren't introduced by 4AD until 1989
The first clear cassette from 4AD appears to be in mid 1987 for the Lonely Is An Eyesore compilation. As of yet I haven't seen a cassette of this compilation on a coloured plastic. As with the next release from 4AD on cassette, which was Dead Can Dance's Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun, there are non paper label versions with red text printed directly on the cassette and no paper labels. At this moment in time, I suspect that these are later re-prints.
All the releases up to the end of 1987 can be found without any barcodes anywhere on the artwork. Sometimes you can find a release with a stickered barcode attached, most likely added by the retailer. The first release of 1988 from 4AD suddenly appeared with a zebra strapped to it's back.
In a decade obsessed with size, technology just had to get smaller and smaller. The CD was the way forward, or so the industry thought, smaller, compact, but annoyingly for them still not as portable as the cassette tape which could fit into a small player you could go jogging with. Mobile CD players at the time where useless and wouldn't stop jumping everytime you breathed. Out of this industry obsession came the DAT tape, carrying on the myth that digital sound was superior but packed into a tiny little cassette tape like the type you used in an office dictating machine. The biggest problem was for the industry was that you could record onto them. The Compact disc must have been a dream for the record industry. It was smaller, so a lot less needed to be spent on packaging, the average man on the street could easily be duped into thinking that the quality was so much better than vinyl, it could be sold at many times the price of vinyl just because it was amazing futuristic technology and best of all, it was a format that couldn't be recorded on. The record industry hated cassettes because of home copying. They even had a massive campaign in the eighties to try and make the public ashamed of copying music and sharing with their mates. Remember this?
The DAT may have been the next big format, but the industry hated it and the equipment cost put the public off buying it. Still, in 1988 4AD released their one and only DAT release, Cocteau Twins' Blue Bell Knoll
In 1989, after a couple of initial CD releases on the usual silver disc, the UK CD releases from 4AD went full colour! Well, black to start with anyway with Pixies album Doolittle
4AD soon moved onto coloured and picture CDs at the end of 1989 and into 1990. This pink beauty is Lush's Scar
Then in 1990 with Pixies Velouria came the totally clear cassette with no paper labels from 4AD. This may be the period that the afore mentioned red text printed Lonely Is An Eyesore and Dead Can Dance's Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun were re-printed.
Later in the 90's, 4AD went on another re-releasing spree on CD, but at least had the courtesy of labelling them with new catalogue numbers which helps collectors no end. These were labeled with a GAD number and started to appear around 1998. A GAD catalogue number is a sure sign that the CD is way after the event of it's original release, at least as far as the first decade releases are concerned.
Well, I hope that is a lot of useful information for you collectors. May I remind you all that none of it is definitive and so far just an observation from the releases I currently have and may be changed in future. In fact scrub that, this is very likely to change in the future as there are a lot of 4AD knowledgeable folk that read this blog. At some point in the future, I will have a go at observing the other major countries releases and try and ascertain any patterns from those too
Thanks for reading