Beginning in 1889, when phonograph cylinders were first sold commercially, records were either made from black substances or dyed black to hide surface inconsistencies. The first notable use of another color came in 1908 with Thomas A. Edison, Inc.’s Blue Amberol Records, made from highly durable celluloid cylinders colored a distinctive cobalt blue for marketing purposes.
Around 1920, Vocalion Records introduced the earliest colored discs with their 78s made of brick-red shellac. Though Vocalion ads claimed the material lasted longer, the color was simply a sales ploy.
Columbia became the first to sell colored vinyl in the 1930s, with companies like Morrison and RCA following the trend during the 1940s. While most of these albums were a single color, the Seattle-based Morrison created a uniquely marbled look for its 78s, mixing bits of yellow, red, green, black, and orange vinyl.
In 1949, RCA decided to try a different gimmick—a strict color code for new singles: black vinyl was for pop music, red for classical, midnight blue for “light classics,” light blue for world music, cerise for R&B, green for country, and yellow for children’s recordings. However, the experiment was short-lived and the company went back to black in 1952.
A handful of labels tried various colored-vinyl stunts in the 1950s and 60s, including Aladdin, Chess/Argo, Columbia, Crown, Liberty, and Tops/Mayfair. Columbus-based Bel Canto Records was unique in only releasing its albums on colored vinyl, with a few special records done in multicolor hues. In the late '50s, Japan’s Toshiba began pressing select albums for several labels on its special red “Everclean” vinyl, which was developed to resist static electricity and the dust that clings to standard vinyl.
In the late 1970s and '80s, colored albums were very in vogue, with most major bands releasing at least one single on limited-edition colored vinyl, including artists like Barbra Streisand, the Misfits, George Michael, the Stranglers, Kate Bush, and the Rolling Stones. Colored vinyl was also heavily used for special promotions, like the 10th-anniversary version of the White Album by The Beatles, which was released in a limited edition on white vinyl in 1978.