Monday, April 8, 2024

the original Metal Boxes

"The album was originally released on vinyl in a circular novelty package of a metal replica of a giant tobacco tin, inside which was a poster created with five connected paper circles with pictures of the band members. This proved too expensive and not successful as the tins tended to roll off of shelves and it was quickly followed by a paper/card replica with a gatefold cover."

Talking about this, of course

The bit about the tins rolling off shelves tickled me, I must say.

I don't remember having that problem with Metal Box myself, though. 

I was amazed when reading up on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake  to discover just how hugely successful it was - six weeks at number one in the UK.

"Lazy Sunday" was a #2 hit in the spring-summer of 1968


"They make it very clear they've got no room for ravers"

But verily tis something that hast Droppeth Away Unto Nothingness

I can't think of Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake ever having been a reference point for groups, even though it's Peak Psychedelia, or the last gasp of it. 


Another anticipator of Metal Box would be this release

Not metal, admittedly - but the concept is the same: a drab-looking utilitarian style of packaging... in this case, reinforced cardboard

Inside the carton, the album itself has a whole other cover with the band as sailors on the town (possibly a nod to the musical On the Town) and about to get up to debauched malarkey  (outcome depicted on the flip)

And then there was even more on the inner sleeve

The record's theme was sex (hence the idea of the plain brown wrapper) and it was supposed to be a return to a music-first direction after the ultra-theatricality of the Billion Dollar Babies tour.  Alice here submitting to the rest of the band's desires

Nobody was convinced or interested. 

Now John Lydon was a huge fan of Alice Cooper, although I doubt he was a fan of this record, as it's utterly denuded of inspiration. He did describe Killer as the greatest hard rock album of all time.

He was also a fan of the Small Faces - or at least the Sex Pistols were, they covered some of their tunes if I recall correctly.

The idea of the metal canister apparently came from Dennis Morris, their photographer friend, though. 


There's probably other earlier examples of canister or chest-like containers for recordings - monumental box sets in the world of classical music, for instance. 

Later examples of tinned records? 

Chain Reaction issued 'career round-ups' of their artists's vinyl-only output on compact disc, encased in finicky metal containers. Some purchasers complained that this packaging damaged the disc. 

Feel like I got sent something by Merzbow in this sort of packaging. 


Going back to where we started - Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake

Never quite got on with the Small Faces - there's something off-putting about them - the voices, even the look of Steve Marriott. Even the name of the band! 

But I love the combination of heaviness and groove on this tune, with the phased drums and colorized bass and the warm psychedelic keyboard. 

Another Small Faces song I adore is "Itchycoo Park"

Now, where did that religious-y, choirboy-like quality come from?  

The Who went into that high, pure zone with their singing as well.

It seems to be a uniquely British contribution to rock. 

Well, there was The Byrds, I suppose. "Eight Miles High".... some of the songs on Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers.

Perhaps it's the resort to folk and country vocal styling, as opposed to rhythm-and-blues. Neither folk nor country do sex, as such. There's no carnal heat. 

But the English psychedelic era stuff has a distinctly churchy quality, almost Anglican.

Psalmic. Monkish even.

The "she was a virgin of a humble origin / she knew of no sin" section of this 

Think of the vocal tonality in "Rain" by the Beatles - this sort of pulsating awe. There's nothing like it in rock prior to that, which the exception maybe of "Eight Miles High"

It seems to relate to  a certain kind of LSD-triggered ascesis, or at least an above-it-all fleshlessness -  rock becoming disincarnate, its mind on higher things.... no longer this-worldly.

Apparently Ronnie Lane got into Sufism. 

Actually there is also the Beach Boys, to be fair. "God Only Knows" etc.

Now Phil Knight's a big fan of Marriott's next venture, Humble Pie. Completely different vibe - earthy, sweaty, rutting. Following the lead of Canned Heat.

I have never been able to summon the intestinal fortitude to try the Pie, I confess.

Newly recovered footage of the Pie playing at Biba's, of all places - the glam-rock-aligned retro-boutique turned department store. 


  1. Something Trumpton-y, Chigley-ish about the Small Faces.

    Back in my student days in Sheffield in the early 90's there was a record shop in Broomhill that briefly had a mint original copy of Ogdens at £20 - very pricey then. It's my greatest record buying regret that I didn't purchase it. Was very tempted to steal it (something I wasn't beyond doing at the time), but I knew that my luck on that score couldn't hold forever.

    Think it's a great record and the Small Faces were a great band, but it was a mistake on their part to put "small" in their name - inviting nominative determinism. Marriott made the same mistake by using "humble" with the next band. Just can't argue with this though:

  2. As a sucker for unusual packaging I own and have had issues with pretty much all of these. I've only lost one of the Chain Reactions to cracking (Resilient 1.2) - you really have to be careful with how you pry the CDs off the tin. I bought Muscle of Love when it came out, as a youngster - the cardboard didn't last more than a couple of years and the vinyl had to take refuge in the Love It to Death gatefold. About the only oddball thing I've resisted over the years is the Spectrum one with the oil floating around. Even I could see that wasn't built for the long haul.

  3. 'Tin Planet' by scouser band Space came in a limited edition metal box. I only know this cos my missus has got it. Re: care of the Chain Reaction CDs, I keep 'em in plastic sleeves within the metal boxes. Would be unhappy if harm came to my 'Hongkong' CD!

  4. Love 'Tin Soldier' and 'All or Nothing'.

    From memory, I'd say that Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake was pushed as a classic album during Britpop - I'm sure Weller and Ocean Colour Scene name-checked it c.94-97.

    I've always liked the name and the self-deprecation behind it, although 'The Faces' is stronger I'll admit.

    I've see them as starting a tradition of London bands who have made great singles, but never a really great album: e.g. The Kinks, The Jam/Weller, Blur/Albarn.

    Perhaps it is the influence of West End showbiz values (Marriott was in Oliver! as a kid), or a 'live for the moment' attitude the capital can induce (rather like Spurs, or QPR in the 70s).

    1. I think the name is because they all have small heads, right?

      Or is it a self-deprecating twist on the mod idea of the Face...

    2. I’ve always understood it was a combination of both. Supposedly, they all had 28 inch waists.

      There was also stereotype, now gone, but still current in the early 1960s that Londoners were short.

  5. This is a lesser known great SF moment:

  6. Spiritualised (one of those groups that I never quite knew what to make of), released 1997s "Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" in a limited edition of 12 x 3" inch CDs in a blister pack designed to mimic prescription medicine. Even back then, this was viewed as a bit OTT.

    Duretti Column's debut had a limited edition sandpaper cover as a punkish, situationist prank.

    Terminus is reached with avant-turntablist Christian Marclay's "Record Without a Cover" ..."with no cover or protective packaging, such that the damage from shipping, storing, and playing the record becomes a part of the work"

    1. Yeah I was thinking of mentioning that Spiritualized release - which I still have in that packaging. I don't remember it being 3 inch CDs, though. I just remember the outer packaging in the style of medicine, which is a nice continuation of the Spacemen 3's Perfect Prescription thematic - love / religion / drugs as an analgesic.

      But I suppose that is after Metal Box, so doesn't fit the original theme of the post.

      I also forgot to include the fact that Alice Cooper had form with the extravagant packaging - School’s Out has little legs on it that can be folded out to make a kind of fake school desk, the front cover is the lid with crude carvings cut into it and graffiti and then either the back cover or inside the record itself, it's like the inside of the desk, full of typical naughty stuff - gum, catapult, spurned love letter etc

      Oh yes and the disc itself had a pair of panties wrapped around it - ultimate high school trophy

  7. And of course Billion Dollar Babies came in an embossed snakeskin wallet gatefold, with a billion dollar bill tucked inside along with sundry detachable goodies (band portraits, coin artwork, etc.) From The Inside had a series of little doors that opened up to display images of the "asylum" where Alice did his rehab. "Supermensch" Shep Gordon was as much a Barnumesque huckster as a band manager. (Maybe they all are?)

  8. A Phil-thrill - newly recovered footage of Humble Pie playing at Biba's, as captured for the Midnight Special TV show.

    1. Great stuff! Let's hope there's another one with Bad Company.

  9. Catch a Fire's original sleeve replicated a Zippo lighter, opening with a hinge. I believe that's the most relevant example I could think of off the top of my head.

    The Faces' album Ooh La La has a manipulatable cover photo. I suppose the most famous unusual album cover is Sticky Fingers.

  10. The sleeve for Live At Leeds by The Who was a pocket file filled with bills, memos, invoices etc.

    The circular sleeve for The Big Express by XTC was round, apparently in homage to Ogden's. XTC are the very definition of a dead end, though.


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