Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I think my question is one you have never been asked.

I have many of the picture sleeves that accompanied hit singles by vinyl era (1949-'89) stars, mostly the Beatles; Beach Boys; 4 Seasons; Prince; Ricky Nelson; Connie Francis; and Elvis Presley.

I know you have talked about consecutive streaks, like No. 1s and Top 10s, etc., but among this group, who had the most consecutive single releases originally issued with picture sleeves?
—Fred Simon, Evansville, Ind.

DEAR FRED: Not only has your question never been submitted for the column, I don't recall it ever coming up in any correspondence or conversation. I like it!

As you know, the number of picture sleeves made for a given artist is not necessarily proportional to the number of singles issued.

For example, Glen Campbell charted with over 55 singles (1961-'81), only one of which had a special sleeve (“Hey Little One”).

James Brown and Ray Charles each topped 100 single hits, yet only eight of Brown's came with a custom sleeve, and just one of Brother Ray's (“That's a Lie”).

Among other influential factors is the record company. Some labels felt the added expense, nearly double, of producing a nice picture sleeve was worth it. Others, especially those on shoestring budgets, did not, knowing the added cost could not passed be on to their customers. Records with gorgeous, full-color coated-stock sleeves sold for the same prices as ones with plain white or brown, low-grade paper wrappers.

In the order you list them, we begin with the Beatles and the Beach Boys. During their most significant years, both groups recorded for Capitol, at times a picture sleeve-oriented label.

From 1964 to 1982, Capitol produced 23 consecutive Beatles singles with picture sleeves. Mixed in with the Capitol product in 1964 are five other labels who provided custom sleeves with their singles: Vee-Jay (“Please, Please Me” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret”); Swan (“She Loves You”); MGM (“My Bonnie” and “Why”); Atco (“Ain't She Sweet”); Tollie (“Love Me Do”).

In the throes of Beatlemania, these other records came flying in from all directions, but none affect the streak by Capitol, their official U.S. label at the time.

During the same period, Capitol printed sleeves for 10 consecutive Beach Boys hits (1964-'66). Over their entire career, the California boys have 20 picture sleeves.

The 4 Seasons also have 20 total, but only six are for consecutive hits (1966-'67).

Like the Beatles, Prince's successive streak (1982-'89) reached 23.

Ricky Nelson is an interesting case in point. Imperial shipped 11 of his first 12 singles in color sleeves (1957-'62), then inexplicably did not make one for his best seller to date, and first No. 1 hit, “Poor Little Fool.” By skipping it, what would have been a streak of 16 is reduced to 12.

In the mid-'60s, for Imperial as well as Decca, Rick (no longer Ricky) enjoyed another run of 10 straight sleeved hits (1963-'66).

The MGM cameras loved Connie Francis, and showed it by doing sleeves for 31 of her hits. Of those, they put together an uninterrupted streak of 25 (1960-'65), making her the runner-up in this sheathing event.

All of which means Elvis is alone at the top, and the King of Rock & Roll is also the King of Picture Sleeves.

Having 90 consecutive RCA Victor hits encased in collectible picture sleeves is downright remarkable.

IZ ZAT SO? Though not mentioned in today's question, the Rolling Stones certainly have a significant place in picture sleeve history.

Of all the top vinyl era stars — limited to ones with over a dozen hits — the Stones are the act with the most consecutive picture sleeves, beginning with that artist's debut hit. In their case that would be “Not Fade Away.”

They followed this 1964 single and sleeve with 18 more on London, concluding with “Honky Tonk Women,” in 1969. They are also the only artist in this class whose label (London) did not produce even one hit single without a custom sleeve.

Lesley Gore (13) and Janet Jackson (10) notwithstanding, it is quite rare for any of the vinyl era's top stars to have custom sleeves for their earliest singles. Elvis didn't get a special sleeve until his 10th release (“Don't Be Cruel”/“Hound Dog”).

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