The Art of CD Single Packaging

Tin Machine / You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll / CD SingleCD singles, remember them? Introduced to the public in 1986, they soon superseded the humble cassette single as the format of choice during the 1990s.

Indeed, such was the popularity of the format (particularly in the UK), that record labels started releasing multiple CDs for each single release. “CD two out next week” was all too familiar.

This was an attempt on the part of the record companies to try and extend the lifespan of a single in the charts, and it offered all sorts of creative opportunities for the marketeers, when it came to packaging. If you wanted to add some phizz to a single release, you needed to do something interesting with the presentation. Cardboard, tin boxes, three-inch CDs in blister packs. You name it, they tried it.

Here, we dig into the SuperDeluxeEdition archive and take a look at some of the weird and wonderful formats and packaging utilised for the CD single. All CDs are UK releases (click on photos to enlarge).

Pet Shop Boys / I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing CD Single
Expensive soft plastic packaging, echoed the "Very" 'lego' CD

Pet Shop Boys / I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing / 1993

The third single from the Pet Shop Boys‘ Very album came in this plastic double-pack, with space for two CDs. The design echoes the orange plastic ‘lego’ CD case that the album was issued in originally.

Annie Lennox & Al Greeen / Put A Little Love In Your Heart / CD Single
A 3-inch CD single supplied in a 5-inch sleeve (with no adaptor).

Annie Lennox & Al Green / Put A Little Love In Your Heart / 1988

This 1988 Dave A. Stewart produced song was featured in the film Scrooged. The three-inch format was appearing semi-regularly at this point, although no one could seem to work out what the advantage of a small CD actually was, especially when supplied, as seen here, in a five-inch card sleeve. The CD sits in a plastic tray, not an adaptor as used with some releases.

Lloyd Cole / Like Lovers Do / CD Single
A 6-panel digi-pak that can hold 3 CDs sits within a stickered slipcase

Lloyd Cole / Like Lovers Do / 1995

In 1995 it was looking like Lloyd Cole was going to have, whisper it, a hit record, thanks in part to the championing of Like Lovers Do (i.e. he played it) by the ‘maverick’ BBC Radio 1 breakfast DJ Chris Evans. Mercury Records weren’t going to leave things to chance, and tempted fans with this triple-pack (6-panel digi-pak, with slip case) which contained a mixture of hits (Forest Fire, Perfect Skin, Rattlesnakes), and album demos and outtakes, across the three CDs and nine tracks.

Massive Attack / Protection / CD Single
Corrugated cardboard hides a CD in a card sleeve

Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn / Protection / 1995

The song’s called Protection right? What if, we actually protected the CD single in some kind of outer cardboard sleeve? How cool would that be?

Frankie Goes To Hollywood / Rage Hard / UK CD Single
The simple card sleeve - the cheapest way to package a CD single

Frankie Goes To Hollywood / Rage Hard / 1986

A very early CD single and the first from Frankie. ZTT temporarily ditched their beloved cassette singles (cassingles, cassetted etc.) with this being the only non-vinyl release for Rage Hard. The packaging is rather modest, with a simple card sleeve, but the CD contained an exclusive 17 minute version of Rage Hard that hasn’t been reissued since.

Tin Machine / You Belong In Rock And Roll / CD Single
Impractical to store - the You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll CD single
Tin Machine / You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll / CD Single
A fold-out mini-poster was the only other item (apart from the CD) in this tin

Tin Machine / You Belong In Rock ‘n’ Roll / 1991

The first single of David Bowie‘s second (and final) Tin Machine studio album. London Records came up with this eco-unfriendly monster. Forever ostracised from other CDs on the shelf, the only thing inside this big tin (geddit?) was a CD and a folding circular poster. A second single Baby Universal was released in a the same way.

Prince / Controversy / CD Single
Numbered CD single, although total number issued not known
Prince / Controversy CD Single 1993
No expense spared with this eight-panel digi-pak

Prince  / Controversy / 1993

Reissued to coincide with The Hits/The B-sides compilation in 1993, Warner Bros. decided on releasing Prince‘s Controversy as a lavish eight-panel numbered digi-pak with space for a second CD issued separately. Bonus tracks were largely made up of songs they’d left off the compilation (such as Anotherloverholenyohead). Peach, another track from the hits collection, was also released in this two-CD dig-pak form.

Duran Duran / Do You Believe In Shame / CD Single
Two out of three CD singles from Big Thing were the three-inch format

Duran Duran / Do You Believe In Shame? 1989

Duran Duran‘s first CD single was the final single from their Notorious album, the gatefold card sleeved Meet El Presidente, dubbed The Presidential Suite. I Don’t Want Your Love, the first single from Big Thing followed, and was issued in an overprinted transparent slimline jewel case, with second single All She Wants Is reverting to a three-inch format. Do You Believe In Shame maintained the three-inch approach, but was housed in a hard plastic slip case within a hang-it-on-the-rack soft plastic EMI casing.

Paul McCartney / Figure Of Eight / CD Singles
A gatefold card sleeve with space for two CD singles
Paul McCartney / Figure Of Eight CD Single
The 3" CD (on the left) was sold separately

Paul McCartney / Figure Of Eight 1989

Despite some of his best reviews for a decade, the first two singles from McCartney‘s 1989 Flowers In The Dirt album (My Brave Face and This One) had performed disappointingly, with both stalling at number 18 in the UK charts, and the later only just scrapping into the Billboard Hot 100. EMI pulled out all the stops for Figure of Eight with three 12-inch records (including an etched disc) and two CD singles amongst a multitude of formats released in the UK. CDR6235 was the 5-inch CD released with the gatefold sleeve with space for another CD. A week later, CD3R6235 came out with its own three-inch gatefold sleeve, but the idea was that you would store it in the five-inch gatefold. All this was to no avail, since Figure of Eight peaked at number 42 and 92 in the UK and US charts respectively!

REM / Radio Song & Near Wild Heaven CD Singles
The collectors' edition singles from Out Of Time came in album jewel cases

R.E.M. / Out Of Time singles 1991

Warner Bros. released all four CD singles from R.E.M.’s Out Of Time album as limited edition collectors’ editions. Each came in an album-style jewel case with a distinctive chequered border. The CDs included three live songs, all complementary to those available on the other formats. Collectively the singles offered fans an album-length live concert.

Look out for part two of our look at The Art of  CD Single Packaging next week..

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Thank you for sharing

Charlie D.

very old news and addition here, but Frazier Chorus’ “Sloppy Heart” 3″ cd single, came in a cut ‘heart’ shaped sleeve, it constantly rolled out of my shelf!

Jaramillo Lugo

I’m terribly sorry, but that rubber sleeve for the Pet Shop Boys single was actually for the 2 disc limited edition album “Very Relentless” containing extra songs like ‘Forever in Love’ & ‘The man who has everything’. The bubble sleeve was closed together with a sticker with song titles. Inside two cardboard sleeves: one in orange, one magenta with beautiful geometric prints on the discs and a booklet. I should know because I bought it brand new in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Expensive! Never saw it again, of course!

Sean Mac

I feel compelled to put in a nod for Annie Lennox’s “Cold/Colder/Coldest” 3 single set, which featured (most of) the Montreux Jazz Festival concert recorded for MTV Unplugged.


the difference between a cd-single in the UK and the US has to do with length. In the UK a cd was regarded to be a single when it had less than twenty minutes of music. If it contained more music then it didn’t count as a single and thus didn’t count for the charts. In the Us however a cd-single could only contain I think two or three different songs but they could have unlimited remixes of those songs hence the fact that you have cd-singles lasting seventy minutes plus

Dave Van MusicMaster

a few suggestions for part 2:-
Tears For Fears 3″ CD Singles – one in a plastic sunflower, another in a card sun shaped sleeve.
REM – Finest Worksong CD single in a cardboard box with cutout lettering.
Eurythmics – King & Queen of America in a wooden box
OMD CD singles also in wooden or cardboard boxes.
Rolling Stones – one in a metal tin, another in a lips shaped card sleeve.
Status Quo – a guitar shaped card sleeve.
Dire Straits – Heavy Fuel 3″ CD single in a burger shaped card sleeve.
Therapy? cd single in a furry box (ooeer!)

Then there are many variations on the cd single itself – Green Day – Brain Stew – a brain shaped CD.
Prince CD singles with holographic designs in the disc, Michael Jackson’s Blood On The Dancefloor – 5″ cd single – 3″ silver centre – the rest of the disc is see through red plastic.

Yes, I bought them all :D ….


The 3 inch CD was short lived. I guess they were a pain because you needed to have a conversion ring on some players.


I ended up printing covers for the Tin Machine singles so that I could put them in slimline cases. There was also a You Belong in Rock and roll cd single which replicated the 12″.

Michael Bird

The 3″ Duran singles also came in longboxes here in the US, which were as long as the album counterparts, but narrower for depth and width. As a designer whose taste for design was seeded with album art, longboxes were a gentle letdown from the vinyl era, when art was given more reverence. I do love special packaging but I have to admit, storing them now is a chore.


I had “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “All She Wants Is,” and “Do You Believe In Shame?” by Duran Duran, each issued in the US on 3″ singles in those plastic foldover boxes.

[…] at some quirky UK CD singles from yesteryear. If you enjoy this post you should also enjoy  parts one and […]

[…] This is part two of our look back at the wonderful world of CD single packaging in the 1980s and 1990s. If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to first check out part one here. […]


Don’t forget please Depeche Mode In Your Room special pack where original CD single came in a foldout digipak, which was designed to hold the LCD and XLCD releases and it folded out is looking like a cross or human’s symbol.

Matt Eastwood

Great examples here! I have a cool one by Joe Cocker – “Now that the magic has gone”. Came in a cardboard box, 2 CDs, and one had a “Sex Mix” of “You can leave your Hat on”.


Another one I always liked was the fold-out 3″ CD single for “Perfect World” by Huey Lewis and the News.


Thanks for this! I have some pretty cool cd singles in my collection. But none more cool than Queen, ‘Driven by You’ housed in a shaped container with a working compass built into the cover. Am looking forward to the next installment!

Bruno MacDonald

Oh, and I remember talking to the press officer for Tori Amos – the queen of the two-part CD single – and the pair of us agreeing that her forthcoming single would serve merely as a moderately-charting notice of her new album. The following week “Cornflake Girl” became her biggest and most enduring hit. Thus my A&R career did endeth.

Bruno MacDonald

I had Voice of the Beehive’s “I think I love you” in supremely un-shelf-friendly but very cheery heart-shaped packaging. A special “hall of shame” citation for Pink Floyd’s “Learning to fly”, with a purportedly “Do your own lead” version of “Terminal Frost” that was in fact indistinguishable from the tedious original.

Steve Marine

Great post. I own a few of the ones you mention.

I do lament the death of the CD single. OK, some are still released, but it’s not like it used to be, particularly in the US.


LOVE CD singles! That PSB single also mirrors the “bubble wrap” packaging for the 2CD “Very/Relentless” special edition. PSB have always had fun CD packaging.

We didn’t have quite as many weird packaging variants for CD singles here in the US, but we did often get CD singles that combined the tracks from the CD1 and CD2 UK singles onto one disc. As a result, some CD singles here had a TON of tracks. There was a Brian Eno “Fractal Zoom” CD single that had 12(!) tracks on it and was over 70 minutes long. Lots of singles from the likes of Depeche Mode, Ian McCulloch, The Farm, etc. had 8 tracks on them. Those were the good old days…


Ha, thanks for the reminder! I’ve got both of the Tin Machine singles in tins sat here somewhere – You Belong was also released in a “normal” box too, can’t remember if it had different tracks though. Will have to dig them out!

Paul Rymer

The Pet Shop Boys single you have is in the wrong outer case. Can You Forgive Her came with a splendid outer slipcase related to the design of the two CDs. The outer slipcase in the picture is from their later single I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing.

Other nice CD single editions are Eurythmics King & Queen of America in a lovely wooden box with brass hinges, Pizzicato Five’s “JBL Maxi sonic” series of singles in oversized fold-out packages (check out Darlin Of Discotheque on eBay right now) and Sylvian/Sakamoto’s Heartbeat which came in a textured box with postcards. Madonna’s you’ll see came with a calendar and instructions on how to turn the jewel case into a desk calendar. Really nice use of pretty standard packaging.


Your PSB example is wrong. You have the wrong single in the sleeve. Can You Forgive Her had a card sleeve for both singles. The textured sleeve illustrated was for the I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing single.