For nearly three decades, the RPM Records arm of Cherry Red Records has exemplified the finest in archival reissues. Here at The Second Disc, we’ve covered dozens of RPM’s often ambitious titles over the last ten years – most of which shed light on artists and albums that would likely otherwise have languished in the vaults. RPM’s releases gave equal consideration to all artists, whether the famous (Gene Pitney, Chad and Jeremy, The Spencer Davis Group), the soon-to-be- famous (the pre-ABBA Hep Stars, the pre-solo Dusty Springfield in The Lana Sisters), or the wonderfully obscure (Wynder K. Frog, Birds of a Feather, The Valentines). The label brought the work of cult producers like Joe Meek and Mark Wirtz to light, definitively anthologized the girl pop scene, and mined the vaults of Apple Publishing for a series of acclaimed collections as well as issuing rarities from Apple artists like Mortimer and Lon and Derrek Van Eaton.
Today, after 29 years, RPM announced that it will be closing its doors after a whopping 612 releases. The first three arrived in November 1991: Sandie Shaw’s Reviewing the Situation, The Q Tips’ Live and Joe Meek & The Blue Men’s I Hear A New World. RPM’s final release, coming in May, will be Super Sonics, a box set of Junkshop Britpop.
RPM founder Mark Stratford explained his decision in the press release provided by Cherry Red: “So much has changed in our micro-pool of the record industry. The music business in general has changed, and so have reissues and collector compilations, as has how such music reaches people. RPM has been a physical label when that was meaningful. When we started, we presented material others weren’t touching. I feel now that RPM had said all it had to say and so it was time for the concluding statement. We’ve had a decent run, but couldn’t quite make 30 years for some kind of anniversary finish.” He continued, “With Super Sonics, the final chapter does hold a bit of poetry. When RPM started, we looked back 25 years to the mid-1960s and with our final release we again look back 25 years – shockingly, to the mid-1990s.”
A number of collaborations strengthened RPM over the years. Junkshop Glam‘s Phil King curated the five-album Repressed series, digging into ’70s Pop Electronica. British Jazz was chronicled on Turtle Records, and RPM worked frequently with Bam Caruso founder Phil Smee and historian Kieron Tyler. The Shout! Records sub-imprint from soul music aficionado Clive Richardson released 82 titles of classic soul and R&B from artists like The O’Jays and Tommy Hunt.
Mark Stratford notes that “sales of physical formats have declined but, ironically, RPM releases from the past couple of decades have themselves become collectable. Velvet Tinmine, 2003’s Junkshop Glam compilation which kicked it all off sells for up to £70. From 1997, Janie Jones’ We’re In Love With The World Of attracts £40. The Clare Torry collection Heaven in the Sky from 2006 fetches at least £30. Whatever happens, RPM lives on. For a label living ‘by collectors for collectors’, that’s pretty satisfying.” Note that, while Super Sonics will be the final RPM release, the imprint’s back catalogue will remain in print from Cherry Red for as long as licenses last.
“I have been looking for a final chapter since making the decision to close the label a while ago,” Stratford concludes. “Am I Dreaming [exploring the sixties girl pop scene] and All The Young Droogs [looking at the intersection of rock, glam, and bubblegum] were very specific statements which had to be made, and after that it was about finding the right moment to end. Super Sonics will be it. RPM’s legacy is important to me because we achieved much and I would have hated to see it become diluted or just drift away. Better to have a defined bookend.”
The spirit of RPM lives on in various labels including some within the Cherry Red Group such as Grapefruit Records and Esoteric Recordings, and the label’s immense catalogue will doubtless continue to inspire crate-diggers to keep digging for that next treasure. But we’ll miss RPM’s expertly annotated, attractively designed, and smartly curated collections from across the pop and rock spectrum. Farewell, friends.