Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 26/08/96

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

A brief history of the cassingle cover

Not so very long ago, I was raving on about my habit of cassette collecting, and talking about the rapid emergence of the cassingle as a form of musical consumption in the late 1980s. Today, I'd like to explore that theme a little further, and look at how the cover designs for cassingles evolved over a period of time.

When the first cassingles emerged at the beginning of that sterling decade, they were unusual, one-off releases, often of the 12" version of a single. As a result, whatever individual it was that got assigned the job of designing the cover was able to put a modicum of effort into it. Look, for instance, at this cover from the Thompson Twin's You Take Me Up release. Sure, it might not be a design you'd choose as wallpaper, but at least you get the vague sense that someone's actually worked on it. (The tape overall is pretty good, by the way.)

Although no-one much was buying them (except me, and I often picked them up in discount bins), this 12" cassingle soon became a commodity item, and record companies obviously decided that devoting all that design time to them was just, well, silly. So we got the stock-standard design approach: make a template, insert the ordinary record cover, and Bob's your uncle. They'd been doing it for years with cassette albums, after all. (This was not one of Dead Or Alive's more successful singles, and considering that it features an 'Off Yer Mong Mix', that's perhaps not so surprising.)

This dispiriting state of affairs went on for a number of years, until suddenly Festival (and then others) cottoned on to the notion that there was a generation of people out there who hardly ever came into contact with record players, but who might just buy singles on tape. Being lazy and mostly after the money, however, they didn't employ designers to do proper covers; they took a leaf out of the (largely failed) experiments of the 12" tape salespeople and just whacked the single sleeve on a standard cover. Obviously, no-one cared much; tracks like Kate Ceberano's Bedroom Eyes racked up significant sales in both formats.

Fortunately for cassette lovers, when the cassingle became virtually the standard format (for a brief honeymoon period before CDs once again asserted the natural supremacy of a square cover) the designers eventually had to be dragged in all over again. So it was that we had covers like this for Cyndi Lauper's Hole In My Heart (a major ommission from her 12 Deadly Cyns hits collection, although it is on the Japanese version), which were done from scratch rather than featuring a small image and a repeat of words that were already somewhere else on the cover.

The moral of the story? Nothing's designed right until it sells right.

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