Book Reviews

Book Review: Put the Needle on the Record – An Art Almost Lost

I’m a child of the 1980’s.  My late teens and early 20’s encompassed that decade, and what I remember of it was a lot of fun.  There’s a lot of it I don’t always remember that I am also told was a lot of fun.  More than anything, though, what I loved about the decade was the music.  It was such a part of my growing-up years that for a while I wanted to have a career in the music industry.  I bought record albums (remember those?) almost as soon as they came out and listened to an alternative station on Long Island rather than the top-40 that was coming out of New York City. I could rattle off the concerts I went to as a teen, often riding the train into the City with my friends and not coming home until the sun was coming up.

When I first heard about the book Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute, I was intrigued to say the least.  I’ve said for a long time that the development of the CD (and now digital music) in a way ended the art of the album cover.  Just check out the 12×12-inch cover of The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You or Asia’s debut album and it’s something impressive that we don’t see as much of anymore.  What I didn’t realize, since I usually just bought albums, was that there was art going on with regard to the sleeves the 45rmp singles were sold in.  This book captures that art.

Retail price for this hefty 272-page, hardcover book is hefty itself at $39.99.  I ordered it online for considerably less than that.  Still, I would have gladly forked over the retail price for the book.  Once I opened it up, I knew I had a treasure that will stay out in my living room.

Author Matthew Chojnacki compiled the sleeves seen in the book from his own collection.  He then drew on quotes he could find from the various artists as well as personal interviews.  Finally, the forward for Put the Needle on the Record was written by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters while the Afterword was written by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

The format of Put the Needle on the Record is easy to follow, even without the guide on page 9.  Each cover image is on a single page with information on the artist and the single it was for on the top of the page. For most of the covers, there is information such as the release year, record label, catalog number, country of origin, and the designers/photographers of the cover.  Alongside the image is any commentary or quotes about the musician(s) or the single.

Chojnacki did a great job compiling a cross-section of music from the decade, as well as grouping the covers with a common theme on facing pages.  You might not know what Cyndi Lauper and Luther Vandross had in common – it was a single jacket that both prominently featured the artists’ faces.  He’s managed to also grab some rare covers such as the controversial original cover for Guns N’ Roses debut album and the sexually-charged European sleeve for Queen’s Body Language.  He has everything here from rap to heavy metal, new wave to top-40.  There can be no complaints that he favored one genre of music over another as he seems to have captured the flavor of the decade quite well.  I’m sure there are some that might quarrel that a particular artist isn’t featured here, but I went through the book and couldn’t think of one he’d missed off the top of my head.

The commentary on the covers is interesting too.  Sometimes it captured background details to the selection of the cover that isn’t very well-known.  Other times it’s quite a bit of detail about not just the cover but the song.  Berlin’s Terri Nunn gave an extensive quote about their single, The Metro, which is featured within the book, as did Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats.  I found it fascinating to read Mark Mothersbaugh’s (Devo) recollection of his time at Kent State University.  Both covers of The Smiths’ What Difference Does It Make? is featured in Put the Needle on the Record – it’s up to you to read and learn why there is just a little bit of a difference in them.

For those of us who grew up on the music of this decade, Put the Needle on the Record is the ultimate book to feature in our living room. I’ve had two people come in and immediately start thumbing through it, starting conversations about our experiences.  By the time I had finished viewing all the covers and reading the commentaries, I was once again lamenting the loss of this bit of art to the digital age.


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