The rapid rise in popularity of 12” vinyl in the late 70s and early 80s occurred against a backdrop of a mainstream music industry that to could have been considered a cartel of cash-rich corporations.
The ability to self-publish, so readily available today, didn’t exist, and instead it was a case of auditioning to major labels – who were the budget holders and the technology holders – for the opportunity to mount an assault on Top of the Pops and the Top 40.
The flip side of this closed shop was that for those who were successful in gaining entry, large budgets were more readily available for recording and marketing than in the present day.
In the 80s in particular, artists would spend huge amounts on recording albums, and on promoting singles with often lavish music videos.
The records themselves were frequently afforded similar extravagances in the form of picture discs, shaped discs, glossy posters, and gatefold sleeves, even where a well designed regular product would perform much the same function, and sell just as well.
In this example, Kraftwerk persuaded Capitol Records that ‘Neon Lights’ would be best delivered in its 12” form with luminous rather than regular black vinyl.
And whilst no corners were cut on budget, they were quite literally on the sleeve, which is printed on thicker-than-normal stock with rounded edges rather than the standard straightforward square shape.
The track itself is the full-length (8:51) version that appears on Kraftwerk’s seventh studio album, ‘The Man Machine’.
It had previously been released as the b-side to Kraftwerk’s most successful single, ‘The Model’, but roles were reversed for this 1978 release, with ‘The Model’ and ‘Trans-Europe Express’ on the flip side, resulting in a mini-greatest hits collection of sorts.
The decisions that were taken at the design stage, and the budgets invested, both paid off, as decades later we have a beautiful collectors item that is an icon of Kraftwerk’s unique vision both in terms of the music itself and the artefact as a whole.
Label: Capitol Records
Cat No: 12 CL 15998