Mark Funk keeps reminding me he doesn’t consider himself a record collector. “I think of these as time capsules,” he says, pointing to the tidy piles of vinyl albums that ring the front room of his Glendale apartment. “First, there’s the music on these fine platters. But you look a little closer, and that’s where your little time machine kicks in.”
Mark is the sort of fellow who says “fine platter” and who punctuates a sentence by waving a Wham! record over his head, which he is doing right now.
“Look at this!” he crows, pointing at the cover of Make it Big. “On the front here, you’ve got your price sticker from Sam Goody. You’ve got a nice little sticker telling you what hit single you’re going to find on this LP. And inside, you’ve got the receipt from the record store saying what day I bought that record and what I paid for it!”
Receipts and price stickers are nice, I tell Mark, but I’m here to talk about hype stickers, those decals that record companies attach to album and CD jackets, usually to tell us what hit songs they contain.
“I know, I know,” he says a little impatiently. Mark and I managed rival record stores in the early '80s, and he’s still feeling a little adversarial, probably because my record store was better than his.
“Okay, check this out,” he says, thrusting a copy of The Records’ first album at me. “Contains a bonus 7-inch single,” the hype sticker reads.
“But by who?” Mark laughs.
Sometimes Mark loves a hype sticker just because it’s pretty. The label on Journey’s Escape album is a photograph of the band; the one on the soundtrack to Rocky is printed on gold foil; ELO’s New World Record is a full-color print of their logo.
Occasionally, a hype sticker will really piss Mark off, like the one on the front of Melissa Manchester’s Don’t Cry Out Loud album.
“Read it!” he barks, tossing the LP at me.
“Contains the hit single ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud,’” I read aloud.
Mark stands on tiptoes and throws his arms wide in an expression of anger. “Do they really have to tell us that?” he bellows.
He calms down after I agree with him that hype stickers can be educational, like the one on Sade’s first album that explained how to pronounce her name (“Shar-Day”) or the decal on Pete Shelley’s 1980 solo debut (“Former member of the Buzzcocks,” the sticker clarified).
“I mean, who the hell would have known who Pete Shelley was?” Mark barks.
I remind Mark that sometimes an LP sticker is necessary because the art director didn’t include the artist name and album title.
“Wings Wild Life!” Mark yells.
“Linda Ronstadt Don’t Cry Now!” I holler back.
“Pink Floyd Obscured by Clouds!” he counters.
We talk hype sticker history for a while. Mark tells me he thinks the earliest example of a hype sticker came attached to The Voice, a 1955 LP by Frank Sinatra. “All on one long-player!” Mark says the sticker promised.
“No one has ever really seen that one before, though,” Mark tells me. “It’s worth, like, a fortune.”
I change the subject, confessing my love of the generic stickers used by record companies to designate their mid-priced back catalog — Columbia’s round neon “Nice Price” logo; Arista’s “Sound Price” stickers with the “S” sketched as a dollar sign; WEA’s “Extra Value!” slogan, because it was both concise and sort of ridiculous.
Mark isn’t listening. He’s looking for his all-time favorite hype sticker. “Here it is,” he eventually says, handing me a sealed copy of an album by the comedian Gallagher.
“This album does NOT contain the smash hit ‘Sledge-o-matic,'” the plug reads.
“These stickers tell a story, brother,” Mark says, shaking his head in disbelief. “A lot of people think they’re just pieces of paper.”
They sure do. In a Steve Hoffman Music Forum poll asking if collectors kept hype stickers, most respondents said they “always throw them away.”
“This is real?” a respondent named Katie replied. “Uh, I also throw away the label from the package of ground beef that indicates poundage, fat content, and sell-by date. Y’all trip me out sometimes.”
“What am I, a hoarder?” a poster named Satlos snarked. “It's a sticker, not music.”
Respondents to a similar poll on Discogs.com were kinder and more often pro-hype. “I like to keep them, to have everything that was part of the original package,” someone named Viandy posted.
“I peel them off the shrink wrap before I open the record,” a collector named Slightshadow wrote. She then tucked the sticker inside the album sleeve for safekeeping.
Frank Landry does that, too. “The hype sticker is part of the overall package,” says Frank, a collector of hype stickers and the host of YouTube show Channel 33 RPM. “It’s part of the packaging. Plus they’re great to look at. You’ve got your standard hype sticker, the fancy Record Store Day ones, the hologram ones. Sometimes they’re numbered to indicate a limited edition. I don’t know. I just like them.”
Not enough to buy records just for their hype stickers, says Frank, who devoted an entire episode of his show to the discussion of them. “It’s more of a collateral thing, a little extra coolness in your collection.”
After we hang up I flip through a couple hundred of my own albums, reading aloud from hype stickers and thinking about the old days when albums teased us from bins full of promises.
“Contains full-color mini-poster with lyrics,” I say. “Featuring the worldwide hit single ‘Shout,’” I mutter. “Also available on cassette.”
I pull out the copy of Frank Sinatra’s The Voice my dad gave me before he died and glance at the faded hype sticker. “All on one long-player!” I whisper.