By Jeff Marcus
It's been said countless times that every picture tells a story. In the case of 45 RPM picture sleeves, that statement rings true.
Record companies implemented picture sleeves as a way to help sell their products in the crowded marketplace. Artists like Elvis Presley or The Beatles didn’t need that extra push as much as, say, Harry Belafonte or Freddie and The Dreamers. And yet, The King and The Fab Four had the bulk of their singles issued with colorful jackets that ultimately became a blessing for collectors.
Picture sleeves weren’t simply reserved for what we now call classic performers or teen
idols. In the world of the vinyl 45, everybody was fair game — from one-hit wonders and TV stars to hard rockers and movie stars.
One aspect that is fascinating in the niche of picture sleeve collecting is the psychedelic era, also linked to such terms as “flower power” and “Summer of Love.” It’s probably the least-represented genre in picture sleeves, as most “turned-on” artists appealed to album buyers and not the Clearasil teen demographic, who were the primary audience for singles. Janis Joplin had no sleeves produced for the few singles that were issued, and Jimi Hendrix had only one, “Hey Joe”/ “51st Anniversary” (Reprise 0572). A quick check at Popsike.com showed online auctions of Hendrix’s U.S. single plus sleeve ranged from a low of $57 to a high of $750; that averages out to $332.11.
The psychedelic era gave us some amazing sounds as well as period-defining images that were created to assist in pushing harder-to-sell tracks to young record buyers. The majority of these picture sleeves were not hit records. With rare exception, the bulk of the sleeves produced for these releases are harder to find, which makes them all the more fascinating. Perhaps this will spark an interest in collecting an area that simply isn’t given much attention.
When one thinks of The Rascals (also known as The Young Rascals), the term “blue-eyed soul” comes to mind. With six Top 10 singles to the group’s credit that include classics such as “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’ ” and “A Beautiful Morning,” the New York-based band tried to change with the times and issued “A Ray Of Hope,” which peaked at No. 24 in late 1968. The follow-up to the band’s five-week, No. 1 smash “People Got To Be Free,” “A Ray Of Hope” had a gorgeous tye-dyed looking picture sleeve. It is, by far, the best-looking Rascals custom jacket. Atlantic Records issued 11 sleeves for the Rascals in all.
Estimated Market Value: “A Ray of Hope” b/w “Any Dance’ll Do” (Atlantic 45-2584), $25 to $40.
The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead was the band least likely to have a hit single. Twenty-six years after the band formed in San Francisco in 1966, The Dead surprised everybody when “Touch Of Grey” went to No. 9 in 1987. Only one sleeve was produced during the band’s “classic” period. It didn’t help the single, as it couldn’t break into the Hot 100: “Dark Star” b/w “Born Cross-Eyed” (Warner Bros. 7186).
Estimated Market Value: More than $500.
The Lemon Pipers
Best known for the trippy-flavored bubblegum pop classic “Green Tambourine,” The Lemon Pipers, who hailed from Ohio, couldn’t follow it up. Their only sleeve, “Rice Is Nice” b/w “Blueberry Blue” (Buddah 31) captures the groovy feel of 1968, albeit in a tamer fashion.
Estimated Market Value: $8 to $15.
The Guess Who
Canadian darlings The Guess Who were the recipients of two U.S. picture sleeves. Through jackets for “Share The Land” and the great one for “Hang On To Your Life” b/w “Do You Miss Me Darlin’ ” (RCA Victor 74-0414), Burton Cummings and company kept the psychedelic sound alive through the early ’70s. It should come as no surprise that the single was one of the band’s lower chart entries, stalling at No. 43 in the winter of 1971.
Estimated Market Value: Popsike.com average of $130.
If you told Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick to wear a flower in her hair, she probably would have told you where to put it. She called flower power a sham — nothing more than a media-created term. The outspoken singer helped to propel “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” into the Top 10, but the heavier sound of “Crown of Creation” didn’t do much on the pop chart scene. Although the song peaked at an unimpressive No. 64 in late 1968, the sleeve is a winner. Seeing footage of the band performing the song on Ed Sullivan’s variety show is also a mind-blowing experience.
Estimated Market Value: “Crown of Creation” b/w “Lather” (RCA 47-9644), $10 to $20.
When Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” was a surprise hit in late 1968, peaking at No. 11, the L.A. blues-rock band puzzled my young ears. I always thought that singer Bob “The Bear” Hite sounded like Kermit The Frog from “Sesame Street.” The lava lamp-looking picture sleeve was indicative of the times.
Estimated Market Value: “Going Up In The Country” b/w “One Kind of Favor” (Liberty 56077), $15 to $25.
Of the four singles that made it into the Hot 100 for L.A. garage band The Seeds, the band’s label, GNP Crescendo, issued three jackets. The sleeve for “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” (GNP 354) is my favorite. Interestingly, the group’s best-known tune, “Pushin’ Too Hard” was sleeveless. The label must have thought the group would be a hard sell. The picture sleeve strategy didn’t work; the band’s three singles with sleeves (GNP 383, 354 and 394) never cracked the Top 40.
Estimated Market Value: $30 to $45.
Tommy James and The Shondells
Beginning with bubblegum AM-radio hits like “Hanky Panky” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Tommy James and The Shondells adapted with the changing times, added a psychedelic feel to pop hits and created winning classics like “Crimson and Clover,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Sweet Cherry Wine.” “Real Girl” b/w “Getting’ Together” (Roulette 4672) was the bridge between the two sounds.
Estimated Market Value: $15 to $25.
The Hour Glass
Liberty Records struck out with the release of the band The Hour Glass, whose 1967 single “Nothing But Tears” failed to sell enough units to make it anywhere near the Top 100. But it gave us this pretty cool picture sleeve. You get points if you know anybody who can sing this one. What’s really noteworthy is Duane Allman and Gregg Allman headed the group after splitting up The Allman Joys.
Estimated Market Value: $40 to $60.
Spencer Davis Group
With Steve Winwood as the lead singer, the R&B-flavored Spencer Davis Group enjoyed two Top 10 singles in late 1966 and 1967 — “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man,” both classics. The group’s only U.S. picture sleeve, for 1967’s “Time Seller” (United Artists 50202), didn’t sell. The 45 just made it into the Hot 100 by peaking at No. 100.
Estimated Market Value: $10 to $20. Of note: Acetates of this recording have sold for an average of $50, according to Popsike.com.
The Grass Roots
More of a pop band than psychedelic, The Grass Roots had some groovy, tailor-made-for-AM-radio singles like “Let’s Live For Today.” The follow-up, “Things I Should Have Said,” conveyed the flower power vibe.
Estimated Market Value: $10 to $20.
Motown’s songwriters had an uncanny talent for keeping their pop-writing sensibilities when the label released far-out sounding singles like “Reflections” for The Supremes and “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball Of Confusion” (Gordy 7099) for The Temptations. Both singles for The Temptations were hits in 1970 and extended the shelf life of the hippie sound past the late ’60s. “Ball of Confusion” also graced a picture sleeve. Estimated Market Value: $15 to $25.
After the group experienced major success with its first No. 1, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Columbia 4-43271) — even though only Roger McGuinn was the only member of the group to play on the track — The Byrds experienced one more major hit with the chart-topper “Turn! Turn! Turn” (Columbia 4-43424). Picture sleeves were issued for the singles “Have You Seen Her Face” (Columbia 4-44157) and “Eight Miles High” (Columbia 4-43578). The latter track blended the group’s folk-rock sound with a psychedelic feel.
Estimated Market Value: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” $375 to $440; “Have You Seen Her Face,” $75 to $125; “Eight Miles High,” $30 to $60. If you missed the picture sleeve for “Eight Miles High” the first time through, Sundazed Records reissued the single, backed with “Why,” along with a picture sleeve in November 2011.
Most of the success of the super group The Yardbirds came from LP sales. The band’s revolving-door lineup included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. The Yardbirds earned two U.S. Top 10 singles with “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul,” both in 1965. Picture sleeves are less plentiful. This 1966 sleeve for “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” can be more elusive.
Estimated Market Values: “Heart Full of Soul” b/w “Steeled Blues” (Epic 5-9823) $25 to $40; “Over Under Sideways Down” b/w “Jeff’s Boogie” (Epic 5-10035) $30 to $60; “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago�� b/w “The Nazz Are Blue” (Epic 5-10094), $35 to $75.
The Beach Boys
When most people think of psychedelic music, The Beach Boys are not the first act that comes to mind. With Brian Wilson’s opus, “Pet Sounds,” a psychedelic pop masterpiece was born. Capitol Records was not happy with the album and chose to keep the clean-cut image of the group as a focal point of the picture sleeve for the “far-out” feel of “Good Vibrations,” a single that was, at the time, the most expensive song to record to date. More than 300 studio hours were dedicated to perfecting the classic song.
Estimated Market Value: The original 45 and picture sleeve are relatively affordable. The Popsike.com average price: $30.50.
For Paul McCartney, “Pet Sounds” was an eye opener. It inspired him when creating his contributions to the iconic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. The double A side single “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” (Capitol 5810) helped personify psychedelic pop rock.
Estimated Market Value: The Popsike.com average price comes in at $60.70.
The Rolling Stones
Not to be left behind, The Rolling Stones tipped their collective hats to the psychedelic gods and had a misstep with their “Sgt. Pepper”-esque “Their Satantic Majesties Request” LP. On the bright side, the disc provided us with this colorful picture sleeve for the wonderful ear-candy track “She’s A Rainbow” (London 906).
Estimated Market Value: This sleeve sells for $35 to $40 on average, according to Popsike.com results.