Record Covers From the PHoM Vault: A Visual Journey

By Jocelyn Marcia Ng

March 2023 PHOTO ESSAY
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THE USE OF album cover art was credited to Columbia art director, Alex Steinweiss, who introduced the concept in 1938, replacing the generic covers used before. These covers, made from folded paperboard, also display information such as album title, artist name, record label and catalogue number. The back sleeve cover sometimes included information about the artist, songwriters and/or lyrics. Besides protecting the album covers, it became a way to make a visual impression.

Prior to album covers, early 78 rpm shellac records were packaged in brown paper, occasionally with a circular cut out in the centre to display the label of the record. These covers sometimes promoted record labels or shops that sold records, specifically designed for a country/region or were simply plain.

Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) Album Covers

Radio TV Malaysia also produced records. The following is a five-record series originally called Music of Malaya which was eventually changed to Music of Malaysia with covers designed by Griffin Hendroff from the Department of Information.

RMT 1: Possibly the first commercially available record released by Radio Malaya (circa 1960) as a Music of Malaya series.
Back Sleeve note : “Radio Malaya gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Asia Foundation which made the issue of this recording possible.”
RMT 2: Second in the series features the kain songket on its cover. The back sleeve of the record cover contains detailed information on the production of the second record in the Music of Malaya series and the cover design. Circa 1 960/1961.
RMT 3: Third in the Music of Malaya series introduces the first recording of Malay music ever made by a 45-piece concert orchestra known as Orkes Konsert Majlis Kesenian, comprising members of the Royal Federation of Malaya Police Band, the Radio Malaya Orchestra and leading professional and amateur musicians from the Federation of Malaya and Singapore.
RMT 4: A change in the name of the series from Music of Malaya to Music of Malaysia introduced recordings of selected folk and ethnic music of Malaysia, acknowledging the assistance of the Departments of Broadcasting of Sabah and Sarawak. The change in the name for the series indicates the pending or already concluded formation of Malaysia which would place it circa 1963 to 1965.
RMT 5: The name of the series changed again to Modern Music of Malaysia, which is a compilation of popular Malaysian melodies broadcasted over Radio Malaysia featuring Radio Malaysia Orchestra and Radio Malaysia Trio (both led by Alfonso Soliano) and the Radio Malaysia Chamber Group (Tan Chong Yew). Also included are contributions by The Royal Malaysia Police Band (Alias Arshad, D.S.P.), the Merdeka Choir (Tony Fonseka) and the Kuala Lumpur Mass Choir (William Zimmerman).

Malaysian Extended Plays (EPs) in seven-inch record covers: The Merdeka Choir, formed after merdeka under Tony Fonseka, recorded a number of songs that were released commercially and were mostly patriotic in nature. Interestingly, the names and the lyrics of the songs printed on the record cover were in three languages.

Seven-inch EP records

In Malaysia, vinyl records became popular and more commercially available with the introduction of the affordable seven-inch EP records in the late 1950s. The packaging of these records featured portrait photographs or illustrations of the artists that were intended to introduce the artist.

12-inch Long Play records

In the 1970s, new trends emerged as 12-inch long play (LP) records known as “albums” became popular. Graphic designers were hired to create album covers and concepts that reflected the theme/ soul of the album. Malaysia’s first album art designer, Mustaffa Ahmad Hidzir (Tapa), was hired by EMI in 1978 and has designed more than 300 album covers since. Koh Lee Meng, Dino Chua and Griffin Hendroff are among other Malaysians who have designed album covers.

Jocelyn Marcia Ng

is a music graduate from USM. She is the Head of the Resource Centre in Penang House of Music.