An example of how to get it absolutely right was provided by Joan Armatrading. Having released an album a year since 1975, in 1982 there was nothing new from her which gave her record company, A&M, an opportunity to plunder the archives and issue a compilation of mostly previously available material. As she hadn’t had very many hits (just one, really), and the dozen or so tracks that would fit on an LP were the smallest sample of an impressive catalogue, to call this collection ‘greatest hits’ or ‘the best of’ would have been a misnomer. Instead, it was called Track Record, cleverly referring to the both bands on the vinyl record itself and her performance over the years, which in turn was reinforced with the sleeve photograph’s visual pun (Armatrading herself on top of a piano, the instrument many of her songs were composed on, in crouched start position as if about to sprint from the starting block at a race track). Another nice touch, providing some visual continuity with her other albums of the early 80s, was the prominent positioning in the picture of the door key she wore around her neck on this collection’s artwork too.
At the other end of the scale, here are If You Were There’s nominations for Worst Album Design of the 80s:
3. Angst In My Pants by Sparks (1982)
Well, I suppose it’s quite a funny title, but the terrible ‘wedding photo’ imagery is too much for one album to bear. Only an existing fan would pick it up to find out what the music on the record is like. (Amusing but awful titles in general, though, are fine. Winner in that category is Landscape, with their 1981 album From The Tea-rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus.)
2. Neither Fish Nor Flesh by Terence Trent D’Arby (1989)
Dreadful moodily-lit sleeve photo of D’Arby throwing a mystical, Prince-like hand gesture in front of his face, coupled with bizarre title, perhaps inspired by Smash Hits’s insistence on referring to him as Terence “Trout” D’Arby. No one bought it and it was alleged to be the worst-selling album ever issued by CBS in UK (not actually true, but an awful lot of copies ended up on the floor in a warehouse). And finally, at the top (bottom) of the list:
1. Popped In, Souled Out by Wet Wet Wet (1987)
Over to Lola Borg at Smash Hits (23 September 1987): her opening remarks in her review of the album, ”Wet Wet Wet are desperately annoying. Those perpetual grins! That ‘dancing’! The cringesome album title! The smarmy photograph on the cover!,” just about covers it. Posing in formation as if genuine soul boys, wearing matching dinner jackets, clicking their fingers in time: fine if it’s The Four Tops, ghastly if it’s four boys from Clydebank. (The ‘rock band’ imagery on the reverse of the sleeve was no less embarrassing.) Borg goes on to say it’s not all bad as the tunes save it, and awards the album half-marks. One of the highlights was Temptation, the fourth of four singles to be taken from it.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 7
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS Geno (Parlophone R6033)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES Happy House (Polydor POSP117)
BROS Drop The Boy (CBS ATOM3)
The MADNESS I Pronounce You (Virgin VS1054)
SINITTA Cross My Broken Heart (Fanfare FAN15)
TIFFANY Could’ve Been (MCA TIFF2)
WET WET WET Temptation (The Precious Organisation JEWEL7)