British letters have acquired a taste for rock music. Yesterday, the Royal Mail released a set of 10 special stamps featuring classic British album covers including David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies and Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head.
The Royal Mail was first created by Henry VIII in 1516 and continues to serve as the national postal service for the United Kingdom. Issuing rock stamps is not a casual matter, and only 12 special stamp sets are produced per year. "The thing about stamps is that they are 1-inch works of art," says Philip Parker, the Head of Stamp Policy for Royal Mail. "And thinking about this we thought that the old 12-inch vinyl cover is a great work of art. We thought putting them on stamps would be a great way to celebrate this art form." The selection process was rigorous. "We conducted huge research," says Parker. "We spoke with music journalists and analyzed lots of existing lists."
The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, for example, was considered for the set but was rejected because its album cover image, shrunk down to stamp size, would be undecipherable. Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here was rejected because its image of a man shaking hands with a man on flames was considered possibly disturbing for the public. Many Brits have (naturally) questioned the omission of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, one of the most famous album covers of all time. "It was too black," says Parker. "The stamps also have to do their function. They can't just look good. If a stamp is too dark our machines will reject it."
Once the panel of pros made their selections, the stamps had to get royal approval from the Queen. "She didn't reject any," Parker says. "She's old but I think she has her finger on the pulse. I wouldn't be surprised if she knew the majority of the bands."
The stamps also set an interesting historical precedent: the Royal Mail isn't allowed to depict living people on its stamps unless they are members of the royal family. A few album-cover stamps — which feature David Bowie and the Clash's Paul Simonon — prove to be a rare exception to the rule. Parker explains that because the stamps celebrate the artwork of the album rather than the individuals in the bands, they're permissible. But the result is clear: even on stamps, rock & roll can find a way to be rebellious.
Full list of album-cover stamps:
• David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
• Blur's Parklife
• The Clash's London Calling
• Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head
• Led Zeppelin's IV
• New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies
• Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells
• Pink Floyd's The Division Bell
• Primal Scream's Screamadelica
• The Rolling Stones' Let it Bleed