Record Collector perspective: is it an “original”?
That word! I favour equal knowledge available to both buyers and sellers, so both can get a fair price for the goods on offer, which must of course be properly described. Why would anyone disagree with that? What is a little more difficult is a proper description. First pressing, original, not everyone agrees what these words mean, what constitutes “an original” and how does anyone know what the original looks like for sure?
Impulse is certainly a highly collectible label, and fertile ground for the budget-conscious collector wanting an alternative to pedigree Blue Note and Prestige. Provenance still matters here, and “original/1st press” status may carry a several hundred-dollar collector premium. Most of my Impulse titles are second label, or UK EMI pressings, so I am not a First Pressing Fundamentalist, though I do take care to avoid “reissues”, especially recent or modern reissues. I am interested in vintage pressings – pre-1973 – and prefer early vintage to a later vintage pressing. Almost everything on orange/ black and black/red labels sound pretty good, though early van Gelder stereo – hard panning – is something of an acquired taste.
To navigate through many offerings, it helps to know the anatomy of the label, whether something is original or close enough not to care, or acceptable if the price is right. Whilst Blue Note is meticulously documented, other labels are much less so, Impulse in particular, hence this Guide continues the path first laid down for mono, now moves on to stereo.
Oh, I almost forgot. There is some damn fine music on Impulse.
Just a sample trawl through Ebay, all of these offers are incorrectly described as “original” or “1st press”. Perhaps there is simply wishful-thinking, on the part of both buyers and sellers. And if every one is happy, what’s the problem? I need to know, and that is my problem.
Why the interest in the label – a lot of US sellers don’t even provide a picture, let alone one you can read? Impulse covers are lovely, but there are lots and lots of fan sites devoted to jazz record sleeves and artwork. To my knowledge bsnpubs and vinylbeat are the only sites that understand labels, and even they stop short of the forensic detail required to date specific records found in the wild.
For example, Vinylbeat illustrates the orange/ black with AS-2-A unfortunately, later pressing on ABC Paramount label. LJC aims to boldly go, below the surface, deep-dive into the real detail that matters..
Identifying Stereo 1st pressings
The Impulse beautiful gatefold covers for stereo titles declares a simple catalogue number: AS-number or “Stereo A-##”. This remains the constant catalogue number, whilst the company name on the back of the gatefold changes maps the changing corporate identity of Impulse Records within ABC. The cover is not much help.
The Cover Company Attribution
With some labels like Blue Note the cover address is one of the key indicators of original status. With Impulse, the cover is not especially helpful. The ABC Paramount attribution covers a multitude of re-pressings. If you were constantly pressing more and more copies, why would you make life more difficult for yourselves? This task falls to the label, bonded during pressing, which reveals the record’s original status, or otherwise.
Impulse Label Design
Three things are important: the label design colour (orange/ black. black/ red etc.) and within the design, the corporate attribution (Am Par, ABC Paramount, ABC Records) and lastly and most controversial, the numbering format on the label.
With the first hundred titles, we are concerned with variations of the orange/ black label, which runs from AS-1 ultimately to around AS-9164, from which point original pressings are later designs.
Orange/ Black Corporate Attribution
The familiar Orange/Black label design covers three changes in Impulse corporate identity between 1961 and 1968: Am Par, ABC Paramount, and ABC Records Inc.
The third design above with the New York address appears in 1967, and gives way to the black/red ring label a year later. It is found on a good number of later pressings of earlier titles whose first release was in the early ’60s, as is the tell-tale -A number format with ABC Paramount.
Label Numbering Format
All this would be confusing enough the average collector and seller, but we have to drill down just one further level – the catalogue number naming convention applied to the label. ABC Paramount covers a large catalogue with many repressing of early titles on its watch.
Though the catalogue number as printed on the cover remains steadfastly a simple alpha-numeric, such as AS-33, the number follows a separate format when printed on the label. It would seem the naming convention applied to whatever labels were being printed at that time – including both new releases and further pressings of earlier releases, which is helpful in terms of distinguishing early from later pressings.
Ashley Kahn notes Impulse made their money from continuing sales from their full catalogue over many years. Popular selling titles were re-pressed again and again .It is only to be expected that copies of, for example, Coltrane classics will be found with a number of different label designs. According to Ashley Kahn, by 1970, Coltrane had no fewer than sixteen titles listed in the Impulse forty best-selling records. Continuing sales meant continuing pressing.
Precious first pressing is indicated by the following number format:
First releases up to A-14 in the Am Par period, an unusual early format A-number-S is adopted, for example A-14-S. It looks like the thinking was “A-14 Stereo”. At AS-15, the more familiar AS-## becomes the established format, and remains so up to 1965, when the -A /-B suffix was added: AS-77-A and AS-77-B
This is not to rule out the possibility of regional variations attributed to different specialised label printing companies typesetting their own format, especially at points of transition, however examination of a large number of samples (2-3,000) puts this possibility in the “unknown” box. Label design is on the whole too consistent to support this explanation. For example, the -A suffix appears for the first time only on one title, and every title thereafter, and the previous format is never seen again, or at least not for many years, and by then the orange/ black label was a distant memory. There is no random or autonomous behaviour of rogue back-street printers, rather it is a corporate standard.
When copyright assertion and audit trail for royalties, or periodic corporate restructuring occurred, which gave rise to a new name, ABC had a fleet of attorneys to make it happen. There is no indication that Impulse cannibalized old stock labels on an industrial scale, as was common practice with Blue Note. Rarely, mixed Impulse labels have been discovered: -A suffix one side, no suffix the other; ABC one side Am Par the other.. However research encounters very many early titles bearing much later label designs, more the norm than the exception.
Summary: confirming a 1st pressing
In order to be an original (first) pressing, an Impulse record must have –
- the correct design of label associated with the title’s year of first release (orange/black, black/red, black/neon logo etc)
- the correct company attribution at the foot of the correct label (Orange /black with either Am Par, ABC Paramount, © 1972 etc) and lastly,
- the correct alpha/numeric format of catalogue number printed on the correct label (A-S-5, A-76, AS-77-A etc)
Among Ebay sellers, the first is fairly widely understood, the second is sometimes understood, the third is very rarely understood.
In the example below the seller claims he is offering a 1st stereo press of Quincy Jones Quintessense. With its early catalogue number, A-11, the 1st press of this title should be on the orange/black label (correct) with an Am Par company attribution (the item on sale has the later ABC Paramount Records, so not a 1st) and the catalogue number format should be the early variant A-11-S (it is the later form AS-11, which confirms it is later, not a 1st)
The Orange / black label was in use for many years. The Am Par /ABC Paramount change occurs at catalogue number A-33, so it is easy to check which of the company variants the original pressing should have. Below A-33 Am Par, after A-33, ABC Paramount, until the next big change.
The ABC Paramount attribution on the orange/black was also in use for many years, during which time both 1st pressings and subsequent re-pressings were issued on the exact same label. Is there a way to tell a 1st press from a subsequent pressing when they share the exact same Orange/black/ABC Paramount label? Yes! The catalogue number format.
At A-77, Impulse introduced a new catalogue number format for labels, the -A / -B suffix. For example: after AS-76 , the next title was not AS-77, but A-side AS-77-A, the B side AS-77-B. Importantly, after this change, the -A/-B suffix format was applied to all labels printed, including those for repressing of earlier titles. A repressing of AS-44 would be numbered AS-44-A / AS-44-B, unlike the original AS-44. Any title below A-77 with a suffix -A/ -B is a later pressing, not a 1st.
After A-77, 1st pressings on Orange/black are expected to have the -A/ -B suffix, and 1st and subsequent pressings cannot be distinguished until the label design changes to the Black/red label, after which later pressings are easily recognisable through having the “wrong” label.
It is possible that exact points of transition are blurred by the existence of two label types for the same title, separated either by geography of printing and pressing, or a matter of a few months in production, or out of sequence between mono and stereo. Preparation of labels for release was almost certainly not in catalogue number order, confirmed by overlaps at point of transition. It is not rocket science. It’s not that easy.
Does any of this matter, LJC?
That rather depends on you.Some people like to know these things, others don’t. I do, it’s not for me to say which is right. Do first Impulse pressings really sound any better? I have too few to venture an opinion. RVG vs Bell Sound quality, some say night and day. No one knows what you hear (despite claims to the contrary). If it sounds better to you, that’s an end of it. If you can’t hear any difference, there may not be, or your system isn’t sufficiently revealing. Time to upgrade?
There is a lot more to find out about Impulse. I’ll leave you at this point with a delicious quote from Michael Cuscuna, about the quality of later Impulse pressings:
“Anything that was recorded at van Gelder’s studio, there’s a great sign of relief, even if it’s a second generation copy. With Rudy’s stuff, it’s not like you have to work to make it sound better, all you have to do is tie your hands behind your back and not fuck it up.”
On to the complete label reference collection.
This would not have been possible for many records without the detail-demanding Japanese jazz collector market – and the Japanese seller sites who rightly provide all-important detail including a label photograph. They really know. It also tells me where a lot of Impulse records disappeared to: TokyoJazzCollector. I salute your good taste and profound knowledge.
Label Reference Set AS-1 to AS-100
All these labels are as found on the internet, I have few if any personally. The label territory is entirely undocumented. Though some individual sellers may be aware of these details, in thousands of descriptions , I have seen only one or two references to Am Par label. None have come forward to make their knowledge available, hence LJC steps forward to fill the gap.
You can improve this guide by contributing label shots of those still missing, or you have a pressing which brings into question points of transition, great, send pictures of them. Knowledge can always be improved.
A-1-S to A-24 ORANGE/BLACK AM PAR RECORD CORP, NO -A SUFFIX
(now complete bar AS-24)
The first fourteen Am Par stereo titles have a consistent format, but with some notable exceptions. The occasional inconsistency creeps in – what should have been A-7-S is instead appears as A-S-7, as does A-S-8. A-5-S is also found reversed as A-S-5 (typo?) , even as AS-5 (the later format) on Am Par, – a swan gliding smoothly over water with feet thrashing frantically beneath the surface, Impulse pressing more copies and printing more labels to keep pace with sales of the wonderful The Blues and the Abstract Truth.
AS 25 – 49 ORANGE/ BLACK, Transition from Ampar to ABC Paramount
Gosh this phase is messy! Still queries over Am Par or ABC for some at transition. ABC examples are plentiful, but Stereo Am Par in early 1963 were a rarity, and none yet come to light in this exercise. Status of first remains open, where red. I think they will prove to be Am Par, but I can’t prove it, yet, so they stay with ABC, as found.
The paucity of Am Par stereo labels around the transition to ABC at A-34 leaves a fair margin of uncertainty as to which is the earliest pressing, Am Par or ABC Paramount, for a string of titles. Where Am Par is found it is by default assigned earliest (if only for historical continuity). Many stereo titles are Am Par in mono but found only in ABC Paramount, meaning the stereo edition may not have been prepared for several months after the mono, and caught in transition, or simply very scarce and rarely turns up. Greater certainty is needed, but thus far not found.
Update: my thanks to Enricomaria, who has turned up AS-33 on Am Par, now in sync with the mono Am Par. AS-34 leads the continuous run thereafter on the ABC Paramount label. Question mark still hangs over AS-25, AS-27 and AS-30. Can Am Par be found?
My thanks to Diego S, who turned up this mutant Impulse with ABC/ Am Par mixed labels for AS-26, at least proving that AS-26 did exist as an Am Par release.
AS-50 to AS-74: Orange & Black, ABC Paramount Records Inc., no -A -B
(Couple of titles still resisting discovery)
AS-75 to A100 Orange & Black, ABC Paramount, transition to Cat-A label
Here the first hundred ends with a penultimate no -A anomaly, AS-99, prepared in 1964 according to Ashley Khan’s Impulse Discography, then AS-100-A follows in perfect continuity.That’s the first hundred stereo Impulse reference set complete, bar a couple of uncertainties, and a couple of still-missing labels. Beyond here Impulse enters the journey into the astral plane, black consciousness, and the thirst for freedom.
Label-hunters: my thanks to Dottorjazz, Diego S, Enricomaria, Gordon T, GregorytheFish and John B for helpfully supplying pictures of labels that steadfastly resisted my discovery on the internet.
Label picture still missing:
Mono: A-37 ; A-38 ; A-49 ; A-62 ; A-68 ; A-69 ; A-92-A
Stereo: AS-24 ; AS-68 ; AS-69
Mono: A-29 Am Par or ABC Paramount?
Stereo: AS-27 and AS-29 Am Par or ABC Paramount?