Library Music LPs


To celebrate Spoke records releasing a 33rpm EP of rare RKM library music, we have created a 'Wall of Library' containing mega rare and highly sought after libraries presented cheek-by-jowl with more ubiquitous titles that have developed canonical status over 25 years of library record collecting. 


Our original intention was to create a perfect library canon but fist fights and heavy sulking broke out as we argued over what should or should not be included. It's a tough one because comparatively speaking collecting library records is still in its infancy with new discoveries turning up with alarming frequency. Internecine library wars aside, Forumusic’s 'true intent is all for your delight' and we hope you enjoy our bruised compromise with the alternative title: ‘Wall of Library LPs that are Well-Worth Hearing Regardless of Value or Availability. 


Neither catchy nor completely accurate; liking our record p*rn to look good and disliking plain brown and olive green, we refrained from posting up the

generic covers of every single KPM LP worth buying. Blame Keith Prowse who should have taken a leaf out of the Music De Wolfe library book and coughed up to pay a fine illustrator like Nick Bantock to design his sleeves.  Bosworth Music is also under-represented for generic sleeve crime but we forgave L’Illustration Musicale who at least allowed their big ‘M’s to change colour and shape slightly.


Library collectors: the 360 point gripper test

Whilst on visual appearances, Billy the Puppet from Saw just pedalled in saying ‘Let’s play a game.’ 120 library LPs are pictured here so grab pencil and paper and score your library knowledge. 1 point available for each title, artist and label equals a possible 360.


Mister Marco’s Music by the Ralph Marco Band on Happy (left) may be an easy three pointer but as these LPs were never sold commercially it was never a priority for artist, title or label to be visible. If you score 300 you really don’t need to read any more of this article which offers a brief history of Production Music (aka Library Music), and a short history of library music collecting


For all who score 360 please award yourself bonus points for every library artist who used pseudonyms either working for different production houses or just because they damn well felt like it. Definitely good revision for sorting collector hierarchy at your next library music party and an aid to sorting the Simoncini's from the Arawak's and Jason Black's so to speak. (A link to an answer page will appear at the bottom of this article on August 31st 2015)


1927 - 1970: A subliminal presence in the home


For most of the 20th century, production music or mood music, more commonly known amongst record collectors today as library music, occupied a peculiar position in the world's soundscape.


Used continuously as an inexpensive way of providing themes, background or incidental music in film, radio and television, millions of people heard it every day but knew little about this thriving sector of the music industry which existed outside the realms of Top 40s, the music press, hits and stars.


The first production music library was set up by Music De Wolfe in 1927 at the advent of sound for films.  Ever present from the '50s onwards on television and radio shows, library music buried itself deep into the minds of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and Generation Y-ers.


This nameless, faceless music impacted subliminally on children who grew up watching TV but subconsciously hearing the background music.  As CD became all-conquering in the late '80s, many experienced record collectors began chancing upon 'records with strange sleeves' they had never laid eyes on before in record shops, at boot sales and even in builders skips. The music on these LPs created instant nostalgia for a half-forgotten musical past and inspiration for the lived-in, late-20th century present.  

1971 –1985: Brief ripples in mainstream culture  


Before the 1990s wider public awareness of library music sounds would surface only intermittently to create minor ripples in the media landscape. 


On quiet news days articles would sometimes appear drawing attention to the origins of particularly striking themes from TV programmes such as Mastermind, Grange Hill or Tales of the Unexpected.  Music journalists would occasionally ruminate on the nostalgia-inducing effect of themes to long-running series like Crown Court, Doctor Who or Match of The Day or discuss the lucrative nature of the production music business to British composers such as Johnny Pearson or Alan Tew whose compositions; Heavy Action and The Big One respectively, were adopted as themes for the widely networked American TV shows Monday Night Football’ and The People’s Court


On one notable occasion in the UK a library theme crossed over, albeit very briefly, into the consciousness of the public via television exposure, radio play and the charts.  The popularity of the theme tune to the 1970s TV series Van Der Valk resulted in the arresting sight of Simon Park feverishly conducting his orchestra on BBC's Top Of The Pops, his assemblage of elderly session musicians acknowledging with sideways grins the preposterous circumstance of playing orchestral library music on a pop chart show for teenagers.

1988 - 1994: Library records skipped and sold


In the late 1980s record collectors all over Europe witnessed the sudden appearance of these odd-looking LPs discarded in skips outside media companies or for sale in record shops or at flea markets and boot sales.


From 1983 onwards major record labels had successfully financed and forged a market for digital music on CD and as vinyl LPs were rendered obsolete, discarded record collections flowed in to second-hand record shops or were sold off piecemeal from market stalls and car boot sales.  Side-stepping the aesthetic concerns about sound fidelity which raged interminably in ‘vinyl vs. compact disc’ debates, academic Simon Frith pertinently pointed out in 1996 that ‘in the end, CDs’ appeal was their convenience.‘


The size of CDs compared to LPs mattered just as much to library production houses as it did to homeowners and with CDs able to store 80 minutes of music (instead of the usual 45) with no loss of sound fidelity over their playing time, production houses quickly realised the benefits of switching format.  As back catalogues were digitised to CD and redistributed, radio and television stations all over the world began discarding obsolete library LPs into skips or giving them away to employees as  their non-commercial, ‘production use only’ status barred them from being sold.  Legally they should have been returned to the production houses or destroyed but casual dispersal was cheaper and proved to be manna from heaven to record collectors who listened and realised there was incredible music to be discovered.

1988 - 1995: 'One-nighter' vinyl club cultures


Serendipitous to the appearance of library records containing previously unknown detective / thriller theme funk gems and '60s / '70s groovy-sounding orchestral instrumental tracks was the rise and rise of 'one-nighter' club scenes in major cities of the UK.


Uninterested in the volume, dry-ice, lasers and sheer aircraft hangar-like scale of House, Rave, Trance and Techno ‘events’ and unwilling to invest serious energy dancing with huge crowds of bug-eyed teenagers, many 25 – 35 year-old clubbers remained faithful to the more intimate rare groove clubs they had grown up in and followed the development of one-nighter, vinyl record-based scenes that celebrated the retrospective, predominantly black Afro American genres of soul, jazz, funk, reggae and Latin.


The nature of one-nighters, driven by club promoters and 'hosts' wanting to attract as broad an audience as possible meant many DJs spun a heady mixture of all these genres and the word 'eclectic' embedded itself into club flyers in union with words like 'choice', 'music', 'selection' and 'cuts.'


Competition amongst DJs to play eclectic selections was boundless and as whiter shades of rock, psych and 60s mod made inroads into club culture playlists, a burgeoning revival of interest in the previously rejected genre of easy listening music was another fillip to the growing value of library records. Stuffed with orchestral instrumental tracks, library LPs helped soften ''funk' to 'funky', replaced the 'e' in groove with a 'y' and smoothed the transition of clunky-sounding easy listening into 'lounge' and 'EZ.' 

1988 – 1994: The dawn of collecting library LPs

Stories of ‘library hauls’ from behind office blocks, out of skips or off the street in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s are legion.  So too are tales of record collectors who were clued-up to the merits (and future collectability) of production music early enough to make telephone enquiries to any media businesses that potentially harboured library LPs in rarely-visited storage space. 


But some library records still managed to make it into record shops. 


Responding in 2013 to VG+ member Brass Monkey’s claim that library records ‘suddenly started appearing in abundance in Central London charities in the late 80s and early 90s’, UK record collector and founder of Ed Griffiths recalled ‘Vinyl Exchange in Manchester had a load of collections of library vinyl from editing and production houses in the North West.’


Similar circumstances prevailed in Europe and the US.  ‘Cool’ Chris Veltri, owner of Groove Merchant record store in San Francisco credited the Desco / Truth and Soul record label founder Philippe Lehman for drawing his attention early on to the merits of library music after which:


‘some amazing library collections fell into my lap.  Probably the best was multiple copies of the entire MP2000, Bosworth, Tele Music, Italian RCA Library and others in one shot.’               


1995 – 2015:  From cheap and underground to...

...overground, collectable and expensive. The first legally licensed compilation of UK library music was released on Trunk Records in 1995.  Entitled 'The Super Sounds of Bosworth', it opened the floodgates for a deluge of legal and illegal library reissues which quickly disseminated information about major and minor UK and European production houses.


A veritable flood of library reissues in the late '90s and early 00s coincided with the dawn of internet forums.  Open 24 hours a day, long-running library threads enabled fans of film, television and music to pool information about all aspects of libraries creating a wide, shared knowledge-base in the process. This sharing created  a small army of clued-up library music devotees knowledgeable about the history of library music production houses from the birth of Music De Wolfe in 1927 through the 'golden ages' of KPM, Chappell, Conroy and Selected Sound and onto the hundreds of new library imprints which exist today but time and perspective changes aesthetics constantly.


'80s library records, born far too close to the dawn of library collecting when the world and his dog were fetishising the soul, jazz, funk and Latin sounds of the '60s and '70s, were for years considered criminally synthy, lumpen and unfunky. Fifteen years later these same qualities sounded intriguing, minimalist, robotic and cool and the price of desirable '80s library LPs rose accordingly.

August 2015: Collectable Library CDs?


In the 21st century highly successful production houses like X-Ray Dog now capitalise on providing ‘Carmina Burana’ – style, dramatic incidental music for high-speed action computer games and fantasy films whilst others like Big Screen Music continue to provide traditional, atmospheric orchestral fare for genre films and television. 


In between these extremes countless smaller production houses like Lo Editions, Poke and LiftMusic create themes suitable for everything from advertisements, corporate promotions, educational films and documentaries. Dotted amidst the musicians producing tracks for these new libraries are name artists better known for their commercial, popular music work. This mirrors the golden age of vinyl library records when pop bands moonlighted to record library tracks in sessions for cash.


Whether the value of any library CDs will rocket as high as the likes of Italian library vinyl such as UST 7013 (bottom row, , next to a token KPM) remains to be seen but YouTube comments alone suggest digital natives, not used to purchasing music in physical form are increasingly attracted to finding music they subliminally absorbed when playing computer games as children.


In less than a decade from now club-goers could be listening and dancing to library music used in video games and feeling mightily nostalgic about it. The power of childhood nostagia to sell stuff should never be underestimated.

Spoke Records: The RKM Library Music EP


The first of several intended 7" vinyl releases selected from library music LPs, the 4 track, Spoke records RKM EP is available here:


CLICK>>> Spoke 1508: The RKM Library EP <<<CLICK  


Information about the RKM library and extracts from an exclusive interview with Roland Kluger, the RK of RKM is available here:


CLICK>>> Roland Kluger & The RKM Library <<<CLICK



Ian Townsend

July 2015



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A link to answers for 'Library collectors: the 360 point gripper test' will be upoladed here on August 31st 2015


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