Caught by the River

The Importance of WOS

Cally Callomon | 23rd July 2021

Cally Callomon on the pleasure of written-on record sleeves.

A recent discussion with friends around my pond raised suspicions to the genuine nature around any 1970s Jamaican 7” dub single pressing if it was sold in ‘mint condition’. Bootlegs abound, they are always in ‘mint condition’ and devoid of their agèd forefather copies’ own skips, crackles and jumps; they sound odd as a result.

This caused me to recount that in the early 1980s, my day job at PolyGram included the UK launch of the “Compact Disc” format onto a suspecting public. From day one I loathed the ‘jewel case’. I was told it was a genius idea as stock in the shop would not weather as badly as the cardboard LP sleeve did. Their manufacturers Phillips and Sony seemed to ignore how the hinges broke, the little star that held the CD disc crumbled and how easily this ‘jewel case’ scratched. Come the Digipak I welcomed the purchaser’s ability to once more write ‘Sharon’ in biro on the back of their Bananrama CD single sleeve lest some ‘Steve’ make off with it after the party. 

I now champion the enhanced value of the code W.O.S. (Writing On Sleeve) which is just as well as it makes the most expensive album affordable and, in my eyes (alone) the artefact has double the value. 

Here is a case-in-point: my treasured copy of Diana Ross And The Supremes Greatest Hits purchased at a car boot sale for a pound. It skips and jumps and crackles through all 16 tracks but, most importantly, the back cover has been dutifully embroidered by red, blue biro and (surely) a tempo pen. 

Here we find that Shaun (King Yid) King is a Thick Head (by Denis Holker), that Dennis is Ace and that Houlk Holder was king of the Geldered End (that’s Leeds, football fans).

Not only that, we see the word SKINS and Bovver writ large, proving that this utter gem is a true original. Probably heavily played at the odd party and nicely thumbed beyond the Clarifol protected cover (the shiny front defied all biro scratchings). In time to come, when the sickness that is ‘mint’ and ‘mint-minus’ runs its course, we shall welcome back the patina of age, the evidence that the album had left the shop, had been loved, and like all good ‘Sorts’ these skinheads had staked their territory on the sleeve. With a Bic Biro.