UPDATE January 27th, 2016 – Final Collectors Guide to Contemporary Records posted on the permanent pages of LJC, many revisions, corrections, expanded .
UPDATE: Monday January 18, 2016 – more red and blue madness. And mystery unravelling. This time it’s the corporate inner sleeve (see foot of post, again)
UPDATE Saturday January 16, 2016 – Alternative Happy Ending – Contemporary Vogue (see foot of post)
In Part I of The Record Collectors Guide to Contemporary Records (previous post) we skated over the labels and covers of each title in the 3500/7500 12″ LP series. There were some not so good choices, a few basic errors in dates, but otherwise pretty good. Well, not so bad, in parts. Some parts.
In Part II we are ready to make a deep dive, into covers, working principles for distinguishing originals from reissues, and the different varieties of reissues and their particular characteristics. We go where no-one with any sense goes. If this sort of stuff does not ring your bell, float your boat, or you don’t own a record player, there will be more music and stuff like that coming up next, so go make yourself a cup of tea and put on some good music…
Like Saturday morning pictures of childhood, in the previous instalment, you were left at the end with the required Hollywood cliffhanger: C3532 Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section,1st: Red Cover or Blue Cover?
Red is for Album titles…
There is a long run of red titles surrounding C3532. The idea of first cover breaking with the red series by going to blue, and reverting to red for second press, sounds improbable to me. I’m with the smart money, red ought to be the original. However it is circumstantial evidence, the Blue could still be a contender.
(3532 UPDATE: IF FRAME CONSTRUCTION COVERS ARE EARLIER, THEN BLUE PRINT IS FIRST RED PRINT IS SECOND)
Controversy: the blue title is found with promo stamp, but that doesn’t discount to likelihood of a repress having a promo initiative of its own (Hat tip Rudolph)
Back to the story of Contemporary covers and the perplexing issue of distinguishing originals from reissues (of which there are many!)
Starting with the change from 10″ to 12″ around 1955, the first twenty or so covers feature a delicate echo of the dominant colour in the cover art, applied by frames on the liner notes. It’s a nice design motif that was mostly abandoned in second pressings and later reissues. We find cinnamon, pea-green, sky blue, lentil, and deep purple frames with black or sometimes red titles. The liner notes themselves remain conventional black print.
Coloured frames/text ceased to be a feature of Contemporary covers after C3544 Music of Bob Cooper. Or that’s what I have found, but the quality of record cover photography on the net is so dire any thing is possible (fellas, paper white =two stops above centre-weighted grey)
The difference between 1st and 2nd covers is helpful in establishing early from latter pressings as often the label or vinyl itself offers little clue.© dates are not manufacture dates. Below is an early and a later pressing of a Barney Kessell title, one red title the other black, both with the Los Angeles 46 area code (more on that later)
The emergence of stereo caused a change in strategy at Contemporary. The 3500 series abandoned the prefix C for Contemporary, and commenced publishing in both stereo and mono, with M3500 Monophonic series for mono. Initially, in 1958 the STEREO RECORDS company was formed to issue “new-fangled” stereo recordings.
Within a short space of time stereo proved bankable and around 1960 reverted to mainstream Contemporary, with S7500 Stereophonic series for stereo. Contemporary maintained the use of the distinctive STEREO RECORDS label design, the premium black glossy label with gold print, all at this time with deep groove.
Monophonic and Stereophonic labels and covers
Majoring on technical sound quality, the Technical Data information strip was elevated to a place on the liner notes, a footer on mono and a header on stereo. The front cover similarly added a black and white header or footer strip, including a new CR logo.
The stereo series went on to have many reissues under Contemporary management, resulting in a proliferation of non-deep groove reissues, but importantly, utilising original LKL or LKS stamper metalwork, which preserved sound quality.
Though it may look superficially the same, the text of the TECHNICAL DATA strip was not fixed over time, Early copies mention use of an Ampex tape recorder, later replaced by Presto tape recorder, Reeves Soundcraft tape, while MMM Scotch tape appears on very early recordings. At the end of the series, in the early -60s, the San Andreas Fault apparently relocated 8481 Melrose Place from area code Los Angeles 46 to 69.
I can’t imagine record buyers of the day fretting over which brand of tape and make of tape recorder was used at different times, but it is interesting how meticulously these details were recorded on the liner notes. Should anyone be interested, this blog is written on a Dell XPS 8700 desktop pc running Windows 10 using the new Microsoft Edge browser. (Microsoft still sucks, but not as much as it used to).
Stereo 1st covers later stereo covers
In 1960, the future was stereo. The monophonic M3500 series had run it’s course and the S7500 carried the Contemporary flag. Earlier titles continued to be reissued, but the stereophonic Technical Data header strip was abandoned in favour of a more uncluttered generic design, with “Stereo” replacing “Stereophonic”.
The corporate address area code LOS ANGELES 46 CALIF changes after 1963 to the long zip code 90069. Quite a few titles appear only with the long zipcode and no Technical Data strip header – like S7550 Harold Land Grooveyard stereo (previously released as Harold in the Land of Jazz), which everywhere is credited to release in the late ’50s. Not without a time machine it wasn’t, at least not in stereo. Despite the meticulous attention to detail of recording dates and equipment, the date of manufacture and release of Contemporary remain infuriatingly obscured. It’s almost like they didn’t want you to know.
Cover address – the important indicator of original-ness
Just as with Blue Note and Prestige, for Contemporary the cover address and detail helps to identify to approximate period of manufacture.
LKL and LKS are the mono and stereo prefix respectively, and the matrix number indicates the recording identifier e.g LKS 12-121/12-222, not the record catalogue number C3532 – Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section. The matrix is stamped, and adds the mother or stamper number, D#. I’m guessing it is the mother identifier as I have only ever seen a D code as high as 5. With a maximum half dozen mothers able to be produced from one master, and a half dozen stampers from each mother, the true stamper code would run much higher.
The original S7574 Curtis Counce “Carl’s Blues“, black/gold label deep groove, is a very rare title. The original shown left shows a run-out stamp LKS 174 corroborated on the label, and “stamper code” D2.
If there is a catalogue number etched in the runout, or the matrix number hand written, it is not a vintage Contemporary pressing. The clone or modern reissue below adds a reminder it is side A, and a job or batch quantity 4500
Below are a selection of label types covering different series, and periods of time, with their respective run-out stamps in situ. The format is remarkably consistent over time, the final example being the excellent 1976 release S7633 Art Pepper Living Legend, complete with title in ’70s “funky text” font stamped matrix LKS 330 D4 (D4 – indicating a big seller).
Several of my early pressings are coveted first D1 stamper code, including my only Stereo Records pressing from around 1959. A recent ’70s reissue can still have the imprint of original metal and can sound remarkably good. What counts is a direct lineage to the original mastering.
All my vintage pressings (’50s-60s) carry the “H” stamp, signifying RCA Hollywood as the pressing plant (Hat Tip Aaron) Look out for the H!
Having stared at a few thousand labels now, I am not precious about the colour of the label, so much as heavy weight vinyl and deep groove on early originals – yellow black DG in C3500, Black/gold text DG in S7000 Stereo Records and black/gold text DG in S7500 series. Vinyl weight fell from 170gm for early DG releases, to 140gm in mid ’60s, to an anorexic sub-100gm in the mid ’80s. If in doubt, ask a vinyl seller for the naked vinyl weight. It tells you more than the recording date or whether the shrink is still present.
Green seems to have been used occasionally among second issues from the early ’60s , and appears as an alternative to both yellow and black on non-deep groove reissues from the ’70s
Contemporary Stereo went on to enjoy a long release series into the ’80s, when the label was sold in 1984 by the son of the late Lester Koenig, to Fantasy Records. A few years prior to the sale, a brave new effort was made to release new titles in the 14000 series.
Swimming against the popular musical tide, Contemporary under John Koenig started a new series to release new material, in the 14000 series. I knew nothing until today, but intriguing titles, dated around 1980.
I would have got these confused with the Fantasy period, but they show creative initiative, of the flavour of the early Contemporary. If I saw these today, I would pause to look. However, on to non-vintage reissues, after Contemporary sale to Fantasy Records in 1984.
I recall reading somewhere that an important historical work on WWII by William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, was published in six volumes. I also read that according to sales statistics, the final Volumes, V and VI, sold far fewer copies than the early volumes. Put charitably, seems people are more interested in the rise of a phenomenon than it’s demise. The next phase of Contemporary I consider it’s demise, so I will keep it brief.
OJC (Original Jazz Classics) series established in the early ’80s to reissue the thousands of titles belonging to Fantasy though their acquisition of the Prestige, Riverside, Milestone and Contemporary record labels.
I can’t recommend OJC though apparently there are some OJC fans on the SH Forum, including Steve himself (a guy of the opinion original pressings sound awful). I have two OJCs, one I bought in ignorance early on, and the other I was scammed into buying , by a crafty seller implying it was an original (1957! In excellent condition!) Sigh. You learn. No doubt there some nice ones but I wouldn’t include my two among them. One’s a 98gm press, the other 107gm, and both sound horrid.
UPDATE: Check Out OJC titles issued before barcodes – not as bad as later, by all accounts
John Koenig’s assessment of the sonics of Fantasy (cited here):
“Fantasy reissues sound dry and tinny because of the lack of reverb…(previously added during mastering) … and the failure to realize or compensate for the fact that the high end was pre-emphasized”.
So there you have it, from the Contemporary producer’s pen.
Original Jazz Classics runs to over a thousand jazz titles, in plentiful supply, and cheap as chips, and if they give their owners pleasure who am I to disrespect them. Which put me in mind of a cheeky dude wearing a sassy baseball hat I passed the other week. The text on the front of the hat read “MY MUM SAYS I’M SPECIAL, SO GFYS”. Everything is loved by someone. Even if it doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
Hey LJC! I thought all Hollywood movies were required to have a happy ending, leave people with a feel good factor?
OK we have an alternative ending, with an alternative label: Contemporary Vogue, the UK release for Contemporary Records, backed by the engineering prowess of the mighty Decca, New Malden.
My collection here (original pictures) in chronological order. Coming to a turntable near me.
That’s what I call a happy ending!
For more on Contemporary Vogue go to the Contemporary in Europe pages.
UPDATE: Stop Press! More red and blue madness and a mystery to solve. Late discovery, two Contemporary inner sleeves, a red one and a blue one, there may be others – out of my dozen US Contemporary pressings, only two original inner sleeves survived. Which is first? – the tell tale signs must be there. Both illustrate covers ©1956 to ©1963, the red cross-refers to M3500 numbers in red colour as available in stereo, the other lists the C7500 catalogue numbers which are stereo in blue colour and by exclusion those in black are only mono. They may look like they achieve the same objective, just in different ways, but closer inspection reveals a significant difference, and reveals another mystery.
The Blue sleeve omits the S7500 catalogue number for those titles published by Stereo Records. On the red sleeve, C3519 Shelly Manne is shown in red as available in stereo, correctly. On the blue sleeve, at C3519, Contemporary substitutes the Stereo Records catalogue number S7007 thus omitting the existence of S7519, and so on for each Stereo Records title. So the red inner catalogue is correctly sorted in ascending numerical order, but the blue skips backward and forward between S7500 series and S7000 series.
If one was looking for the most insanely difficult way to solve a corporate overlap problem, this is it. Contemporary definitely issued the 30-odd titles initially in the Stereo Records catalogue in the S7500 catalogue. Perhaps they held back on duplicating those titles until Stereo Records had been dissolved. So the 30 stereo titles in the S7500 series are a second issue or reissue of titles whose first issue is by Stereo Records. First Pressing Fundamentalists take note.
Discogs is tied in knots. The S7500 stereo editions exist for each Stereo Records title, but the year of issue is given (for those I have looked at) as that for Stereo Records edition (eg 1959) not the later Contemporary second issue which they are posting, almost certainly after 1963. Bingo.
Check the sleeves for other differences – for example, the red address is area code Los Angeles 69, the blue is the zip-code 90069, which I take to be the more recent form, suggesting the red is older than the blue, but both must date at least 1963, or later, which confirms that the record that came with that inner sleeve is an early / mid ’60s pressing, not 1958 original. Damn. Ignorance is bliss, knowledge such a burden.
On to the sleeves, which are an interesting vintage item in their own right.
Contemporary Inner Sleeves (circa 1963?)
Blue Note started their inner sleeves advertising latest titles in 1962, so the timing would seem about right for an industry competitive response.
Los Angeles 46 turns to 69 in 1963, full zip code 90069
Final Collectors Guide to Contemporary Records posted on the permanent pages of LJC, many revisions, corrections, expanded .
Comments corrections disagreements and suggestions for alternative baseball cap statements welcome as always.