For Record Collectors Only! More Impulse!
Part three (1996-1970) of on-going research into the Impulse catalogue on vinyl, aiming to identify original pressings on the iconic Impulse! label (Labels updated as new information comes in)
By 1966, the changing roster of Impulse artists, especially with the passing of John Coltrane, is engraved in the catalogue of the Impulse label. Its second hundred stereo releases, AS-9101-A to AS-9200, are dominated by the journey into inner space and spiritual jazz and other new directions for the label, accompanied by the transition from the original orange/black label introduced in 1961, to the black/red ring label in 1968
Under the microscope, the business pressure and challenge of surviving as a jazz label in the face of seismic cultural fissures – rock, electric amplification, the search for new artists to please new audiences, and the defiant pursuit of spiritual and free jazz.
The passing of the orange/ black label
The second hundred stereo releases is marked by the transition from the iconic orange/black label which established the Impulse identity in 1961, to a new black/ red ring label in 1968, definitive from AS-9165-A, with a few overlaps at transition.
The biggest milestone of this Impulse period was the departure of John Coltrane on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40. The House that Trane built was shaken to its foundations.
The Coltrane legacy however continued to be a feature of Impulse releases. A venture by his widow Alice Coltrane – Coltrane Records – saw the scheduled AS-9148 Cosmic Music deferred until 1968, making its first appearance out of sequence as an Impulse release on black/red ring label, amidst a sea of orange/ black labels..
Because Impulse routinely pressed further copies from its growing back catalogue, later pressings are found in abundance whilst the very earliest are quite rare and hard to find. There were frequent releases out-of-sequence between 1967 and 1969, hence there is no clean break between the two labels, a recipe for confusion for both buyers and sellers as to “original” status.
It was not until late 1968, with AS-9165-A, that the black/red ring label accompanied all further new releases, and many later reissues, remaining in use up until around AS-9230 (exact transition a subject of later research).There are also tell-tale marks of later pressing from the addition of registered trademark symbols to the Impulse abc logo-box in late 1970.
Big changes at Impulse! and ABC Records
1969 saw seismic changes for Impulse. With Coltrane gone, his champion producer Bob Thiele left ABC Impulse to found Flying Dutchman Productions. According to Ashley Kahn, the van Gelder connection was already fractured:
After Coltrane’s passing, Thiele recorded in Manhattan Studios, Pharoah Sanders at RCA, Archie Shepp at National, and Charlie Haden at Webster Hall.
New management, Ed Michel, relocated Impulse! to the West Coast, which effectively severed the link with Rudy Van Gelder and Englewood Cliffs, where most Impulse had been recorded previously. New management at Impulse imported new skills and techniques through former rock ‘n’ roll engineer, Bill Szymczyk.
The Impulse Sound would never sound the same again.
LABEL REFERENCE SET AS-9101 to AS-9200
AS-9101-A to AS-9125
AS-9120-A Coltrane Expression remains an anomaly. ABC Paramount or the later ABC Records Inc.? I was able to find only the later label, suggesting a delayed release, though Khan credits it to 1967 like many titles around it, nothing out of the ordinary.
AS-9125 to AS-9150
Transition within the orange/ black label from “A Product of ABC Paramount Records Inc. Printed in USA” spaced on two lines, to “A Product of ABC Records Inc. New York N Y 10019 Made in USA” , spaced on three lines, forming a triangle – a shape easily discerned on even a small blurred photo of the label.
Two timeline outliers, Shirley Scott Girl Talk, and Coltrane Cosmic Music.
AS-9151 to AS-9175
Here is where the fun starts for the committed original pressing collector, at the transition from orange/ black to black/ red ring, the same issue occurs which occurs with the transition from Blue Note to Liberty in 1966 – those fifty-odd titles on NY labels pressed by Liberty (no “ear” – where sellers quite rightly keep quiet about the absent ear. “Original NY label”! “RVG”!!) ).
Records were prepared for release according to the business order of the day, some artists rushed to market soon after recording, others waiting a year or more for release, the catalogue number having been already allocated, but the label printed with whatever design was in use at the time. Eventually things settle down and all titles appear with the newer black/red ring label. Normally invisible, the business order is exposed at a point of transition. So, following catalogue number order,some titles 1st pressing is on orange/black, others on black/red ring:
AS-9176-A to AS-9200-A
Many miss-described as “originals”, the key identifier now is the presence on the black/red ring label of the address at the foot of the label “New York N.Y. 10019 – Made in USA” ( later replaced by the year of copyright assertion) and the absence of Registered Trademark symbols at the bottom left and right of the “IMPULSE! abc records” logo-box. These symbols appear on labels printed towards the end of 1970 on a few titles in transition and on all labels printed subsequently from AS-9198-A and higher.
Many later pressings of earlier titles claimed as “originals” are revealed by the presence of the (R) registered trademark on the logo-box. At no time did I find any auction mentioning this: ignorance is bliss.
Still to come: mono second 100, and stereo AS-9200-A and higher – truly a journey into space, including Sun Ra and the Nubians of Plutonia, who-eva. Then there is a burgeoning set of Promo white labels, some run-out RVG and Bell Sound stuff, and a “spine-tingling” panoramic as icing on the cake.
Add to the knowledge
This study is entirely original research based on labels found on the Internet, which may or may not be the final word: that belongs to collectors. If you have challenges or questions to this Impulse labelography, you are very welcome, please post, help improve the knowledge. Photographic evidence in support is especially welcome.
Following any further updates the research will be added to the permanent pages under Guide to Record Labels/Impulse.
Grateful thanks to GregoryTheFish for contributing more label shots. Stronger together.