The reverberation of the dawning of punk rock across the globe, from the streets of London and New York through to the inner city enclaves of Australia, delivered not only a musical revolution but also a shift in the way that records and the sleeves in which they were housed could be created, presented and marketed.
The 45rpm or 7 inch vinyl single was a short, sharp statement of musical intent that was perfect for the burgeoning punk and indie ethos of the mid 70s, and the creativity and DIY spirit inherent in the grooves of the vinyl filtered through to the way these records were packaged and distributed. Free of the constraints of record company expectations and stipulations, genuine creativity and unique artistic visions were borne and delivered directly from the musicians and artists to the fans who went to the shows or replied to the ads in the music press.
With no budget or art department doctrines dictating the end product, bands took matters into their own hands in putting out spectacularly creative record sleeves, often hand made and produced in small quantities.
Product 45: Australian Punk/Post-Punk Record Covers is a robust, hard back art book which functions as a loving homage to the art of the 7 inch record sleeve within the realm of underground Australian music from the years 1976 – 1980.
In addition to serving as a pictorial representation of the DIY sleeve artwork of this particular period in Australian musical history, Product 45 also provides an insight into the indie musical zeitgeist of the time from a cultural and historical perspective via a series of insightful chats and interviews with musicians, artists, industry players and records collectors.
As well as providing access to record covers from their own personal collections, contributors of the calibre of Kim Salmon (The Scientists), Dave Faulkner (The Victims, Hoodoo Gurus) Warwick Gilbert (Radio Birdman) and Reg Mombassa (Mental As Anything) also talk about their own personal journeys into music and record collecting, as well as the stories behind the creation of the sleeve artwork.
There’s some amazing record sleeve artwork to admire within the book’s 400 plus pages, from the earliest cover art of seminal bands such as The Go Betweens and their legendary Able Label singles through to completely obscure contributions from mysterious inner city artists who went by names such as The Dead Livers.
Murray Bennett, the book’s author, is a graphic designer by trade, and his love of seminal underground Australian music and the art form of the 7 inch record sleeves in which this music was housed shines through across the glossy pages of Product 45.
From chatting further with Murray I learnt a few interesting facts about the genesis of the book and the future evolution of the project:
– it took two and a half years to put the book together;
– scanning the record covers featured throughout the book took a hell of a lot of time!
– Murray owns quite a few of the records in the book but no one person owns them all, so he relied on the good grace of a multitude of contributors who lent him their record covers to bring the final product to fruition.
Perhaps the most exciting discovery from my chat with Murray is that there are a further two volumes of Product 45 in the pipeline, to cover off 7 inch vinyl artwork for the periods 1981 – 1985 and 1986 – 1990. Certainly a reason for Australian music aficionados to rejoice!
“When I started the project I thought, ok I’ll focus on a 15 year time period which I should be able to represent in a book of around 200 pages,” Murray told Blank GC. “Well that was very ignorant, as once I started it I quickly realised that it was going to be much more than just one book!”
“There are three distinct things that occurred within our culture relative to this music that divides the books up, and with the first volume it’s about that do it yourself attitude. The big record companies weren’t representing this musical revolution and us young people were going to see these bands and we wanted to buy their music. So the bands pressed up their own singles and sold them at the gigs,” he said.
Murray goes on to describe how volumes two and three chart the rise of the Australian independent record labels and the spread of the inner city bands featured in the first volume out into the suburbs. The subsequent takeover of the independents by the major labels and the infiltration of new laws in clubs and pubs around alcohol and patron restrictions followed. Upon future release of the third volume in the series Murray is keen to put on an exhibition featuring record cover art, poster art and photos of the bands playing live.
Since its release in December 2015, Product 45 has captured the attention of literary and musical taste makers at a world wide level, managing to score a silver medal in the Performing Arts category of the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards, an achievement that Murray is obviously chuffed about.
“Winning awards doesn’t make you any money, but it’s nice to get the acknowledgement. Art books are high-end books and a lot of time and effort goes into the design and production of them. I designed this book for the international art book market and to get that recognition is just incredible!”
Another great aspect of the book is that it’s designed in such a way that it can be opened and digested randomly as opposed to needing to read it chronologically from cover to cover.
My personal recommendation is to find yourself a nice comfy spot, set yourself up with your tipple of choice, put on a record and flick open the book randomly and go from there… a journey of boundless joy and discovery awaits. Perfect for whiling away the time until volumes two and three become available!
Product 45 is available from all good book stores and via the publication’s FB page at facebook.com/product45.