Some iconic recordings on Blue Note are head and shoulders above the already high standard of the label. Originals command high prices and often have a long reissue history. Aspiring collectors must navigate downstream, to find their own quality and price-point.
Having previously taken a forensic look at Kind of Blue, search for the oldest original pressing, an opportunity to deconstruct another essential album from the Blue Note ’50s catalogue in search of the original 1st pressing, 1595, Somethin’ Else. Join me, jump in the passenger seat, buckle up, and hold tight, at 3,000 words it’s a deep dive!
Somethin’ Else stars Miles Davis, then on contract to Columbia, Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey. It was recorded March 9, 1958, almost exactly one year before Kind of Blue (March 2/ April 22, 1959). Davis had just finished recording Milestones (Columbia CL 1193) with Adderley and Coltrane. As a Blue Note recording, Adderley was assigned leader, though it is as much a Miles album as that of Cannonball, working title of the session: Canonball Adderley’s Five Stars.
Miles Davis, trumpet; Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Hank Jones, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Art Blakey, drums, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, March 9, 1958
AllMusic describe the session as “one of the most gloriously laid-back blowing sessions of the hard bop era… in which both horn players are at their peak of lyrical invention“. Matching the calibre of the artists and music, the Hackensack date must also rank as one of Van Gelder’s finest recordings, perfectly balancing dynamic and tonal range with intimacy.
Though frequently described as “rare!”, copies of Somethin’ Else sold in large numbers, auctions over the last decade number thousands, As is often the case, condition is the prime mover in auction prices, especially the condition of the cover. Copies in mint condition can command high prices, up to $1,000 or more, but lesser condition is fairly common and fairly inexpensive.
The reissue variation is complex, with over 180 entries in Discogs spanning every format. My own vintage copy is a modest Blue Note NY mono edition, which as they say, “sounds great™”, as it should, it’s a Van Gelder. The majority of early copies are mono, as were most home record players in the late ’50s. A stereo edition was released a year later, in May 1959, a separate path of evolution which we will also follow.
There are many more modern reissues of Somethin’ Else: Japan, Europe and audiophile, I am sure there are lots of fans of modern 180gm editions, but out of scope for this purpose. Sometimes you have to choose between width and depth, you can’t fit in both. Here I choose depth, to trace the progress of “the original recording” in Van Gelder mastering, through the vintage Blue Note years, ending with the handover to Blue Note’s successors, Liberty and United Artists. Sorry, the width, the last forty years, maybe another day. Steve Hoffman’s Analog Productions 2×45 edition will have to wait.
MONO 1st ISSUE, released May 1958.
Original 1st cover
Art Director reporting in. The first encounter is the cover. The choice of purely typographic design was probably due to contractual conditions of Miles Davis and Hank Jones appearance, courtesy of other labels, no photos on the cover, but it is more than just a list of names. Inspired use of colour to group the supporting artists together and leader separately on top. Sandwiching the artists, white text links the title and catalogue number top and bottom, . Reid contains the 8 to 10 characters of each name within a single rectangle by giving the twice as long name Cannonball Adderley two lines, Cannonball condensed, Adderley spaced. The diminishing length of first names and lengthening last names creates a dynamic diagonal line across the list, made possible by placing Art Blakey at the bottom. The giant four-character ELSE maintains the integrity of the rectangular shape. As always with Reid Miles, deceptively simple but intelligent and elegant design solutions, a work of art.
Black laminated finish, beautiful. Sadly, Blue Note ceased laminating covers around March 1964, so later editions may be low-sheen or matt.
BACK COVER ESSENTIALS
The original copy below was discretely annotated with the purchase date – July 3, 1959 (American MMDDYY) a couple of months after its release in May 1958 release, one actually useful case of writing on the cover.. BLUE NOTE RECORDS without INC., For “complete catalog write to” (lower case, typeset in serif font.); 47 West 63rd Street, New York 23, N. Y. (early address, long form),
Many otherwise seemingly original covers of 1595 covers show later forms of address (43 West 61st. from the first months of 1960), typesetting and font sans-serif, and the addition of INC. to BLUE NOTE RECORDS in mid-1959.
Examples below illustrate the main address formats, which gives an approximate date for cover manufacture, starting with the 1958 original, to end of 1959, and the later 43 West 61st any time from early 1960 on.
Whilst the differences may seem slight, first is first, else isn’t.
Keystone printed White and Blue labels; BLUE NOTE RECORDS – no INC. no ®; 47 West 6rd – NYC address; fine text; deep groove both sides.
INC. and ® appear on Blue Note labels printed after October 1959, though still with a 47 West 63rd NYC address. Labels were an inexpensive consumable, unlike jackets and vinyl, and over-stocks of labels were held for many titles. Old stock labels were used first before printing new.
BN LP 1595 – A and B, Van Gelder’s first mono mastering of Somethin’ Else
Plus the usual RVG and Plastylite stamps, and a 9M etching The original was packed in an anoymous plain white paper inner sleeve. Many auction copies have an added picture-sleeve, which may or may not be a contemporary of the pressing. The plain white sleeve may be missing, too dificult to photograph (auto-focus and auto-exposure fail) or perhaps not appreciated as the “original!”
2. 47W63rd Label, BLUE NOTE RECORDS INC.
Whilst there was indisputably a “1st pressing” for release, it is likely that further copies were pressed simply in batches according to sales, to re-stock dealers. Towards the end of 1959, now Blue Note Records Inc., the registered trademark ® was added to the 47W63rd label template. This would begin to appear on further pressings.
It was common for old and new labels to be mixed during transition, in order both to protect the Blue Note trademark and at the same time use up overstocks of older labels. The more modern label takes precedence, of course.
No auction photographs with legible cover address were found for these 47W63rd +INC + ®. pressings. In the opening months of 1960 the Blue Note cover address changed from 47 West 63rd to 43 West 61st , which overlaps the period in which 47W63rd label was in use, so the address format is inconclusive.
The street address number is either 47 or 43. Often the auction photo unreadable. However a solution appears from where you least expect it – the change in capitalisation, from the original “For complete catalog write to” (lower case after For) to “For Complete Catalog Write to” – leading capitals on each word, technically known as “proper” format, which survives image degradation. (Rolls eyes, what is this man on?).
The back cover titles, photos and liner notes remain exactly the same on each address. The important street number is often unreadable, but the uniform height of characters on the complete catalog write to instruction immediately identify the first address format, compared to the tall capital first letter of each word Complete Catalog Write on the later cover.:
At some point in the the early 60s, and before 1962, a more significant event in the history of the recording ocurred.. Unless there is some other explanation, it seems Van Gelder was dissatisfied with the sonics of the original mix of Somethin’ Else (Autumn Leaves and Love For Sale) Van Gelder remastered Side 1. What gives a clue as to the date of change of the remaster is the three ring lock-groove next to the label edge. The fixed pattern three-band lock-groove is found on all Van Gelder masters from mid/late1958.
Van Gelder second mastering of Side 1: BN-LP 1595-A (left) ;1595-A-2 (right)
An A-1 matrix is not found on any copies, only A-2.Logically, A-2 should sound an improvement on the original. To my knowledge, no-one has commented on the difference between the A and A-2 master, and the collector community seems largely unaware of it.
3. The New York Label arrives, and decides to stay (1962-6)
In the last quarter of 1961, a handful of new Blue Note titles began to be released with a new New York NYC label address. The last 47W63rd label surfaced in Spring 1962, a delayed or deferred release. From the opening months of 1962, the NY label became established for new releases. For repressings, which were continuous for some titles, appearance on the new label depended on earlier label overstocks.
Commencing in January 1961, picture inner sleeveswere introduced, which are a better guide to date of manufacture, but in the case of Somethin’ Else, sellers often don’t picture the inner sleeve, or picture the wrong side ( the side with the address at the bottom has the unique album cover ) Unrelated picture sleeves have some times been added to spice up Blue Note “authenticity”. However the auction below looks very plausible. It features a mixed label pair – 47W6rd and NY – and an inner sleeve perfect match, used in the first four months of 1962..
One interesting anomaly is the only non-Plastylite Blue Note, manufactured for Blue Note by Abbey Mfg. Though the picture quality is not great (below), the Abbey centre pressing die ring (on Side 2) is unmistakable, RVG metal but no “ear”.. Possibly Blue Note had trouble keeping up with demand for this title, and commisioned extra capacity from Abbey.
The Abbey Mfg. Blue Note.
The NY label was not the last vintage issue of 1595 in mono. (Hat-tip Aaron) Liberty canibalised the stockroom for a Blue Note cover to put out one last mono with Van Gelder metal, but new Division of Liberty labels. This is probably one of the best cheapskate-collector options.
Thereaftery Liberty, United Artists and Capitol pursued the stereo route.
2. 1st STEREO EDITION – BST 1595 :
Recorded originally to two-track, for mono mix-down, it was not until a year after the mono release that Van Gelder turned his ear to creating an RVG stereo master. Briefly the catalog numbers for Blue Note stereo adopted a BST convention, BST 1595, though the vinyl etching is thestereo 8-prefix : BN ST 81595.
Somethin’ Else was one of just five Blue Note stereo releases of the 1500 series. Looking back, three out of five stars is not bad score.
With the’60s burdgeoning sale of home stereograms, the format of choice became stereo. The problem for record labels was supporting both formats, anticipating how many covers to make of each. The simplest solution was to print just one cover for these titles, and apply a STEREO sticker to stereo pressings. The solution worked so well that a stereo cover was never produced: all stereo copies, from 1959 up to 1966, have stickered mono jackets.
Search for RVG stereo matrix codes on 47W63rd labels yeilded just one seller picture, in need of heavy Photoshop but clear enough to confirm it was a simple A and B master, RVG STEREO stamp both sides.
Within less than a year, further pressings saw the New York label take its place. The sentiment of deep groove = older no longer applied, new non-DG dies had come into use. Older DG and new non-DG dies were functionally interchangeable in the press, though as Larry The Plastylite Guy has added, the operator had to take account of the condition of the centre lip of the stamper. If the lip was worn and damaged (through age and multiple usage) one type of die was necessary to hold the stamper in the press. With new titles or recent releases, with no centre lip damage, either type of die would serve.
Life After Blue Note: Liberty 1966-70
Starting in mid-1966, Liberty Records began to reissue the Blue Note back catalogue, most often in stereo format. Somethin’ Else was a hot property, and a Liberty stereo cover was prepared, with the addition of “stereo”, the crochet blue note logo, small text catalogue number, and liner notes, stripped of the company address. Liberty manufacturing arrangements were divided between their east coast plant, All Disc, and west coast plant, Research Craft, suplemented by third party pressings (Keele and Nashville). They solved the problem of manufacturing reissues at different locations in an industry standard way: the east coast operation relied on acces to original Van Gelder metal, the west coast operation relied on re-mastering from copy tape. Liberty reissues are either Van Gelder, or not. Liberty remastering from copy tape invariably resulted in inferior sonic reproduction compared with the original tape source/ Van Gelder. A generation tape loss, different ears, and a different pair of hands at the controls.
Ironically, Liberty prepared a rare export edition of Somethin’ Else, destined for Japan. Division of Liberty labels, a Japanese insert and OBI. Unfortunately for Japan, the export was prepared by the west coast arm of Liberty: the inferior re-master source, not the Van Gelder master. Bummer.
There are three separate Discogs entries for this export edition, one attributed to country of origin Japan, despite US manufacture by Liberty. By chance, one label picture vinyl reflection revealed the Liberty remaster source.
Tail-Enders: United Artists
While the Division of United Artists mono replica series are generally very good, though remastered, my own Division Of United Artists copy unfortunately turns out to be stereo, and has the Liberty stereo remaster etchings. Looks like UA took the lazy way out, re-used the Liberty remaster stampers for this edition in replica series. It sounds fairly weak, not recommended, you live and learn.
Van Gelder stereo master stampers eventually occasionally reappear four or five years later in the hands of Liberty’s successor, United Artists. There at least three United Artists blue label editions one of which claims Van Gelder STEREO stamps (and a similar Discogs entry which don’t)
Initially, United Artists stuck to the original BST 81595 catalogue number, top, then turned to the new United Artists format BN-LA 169F. The original stereo tape box of BN-ST-1595-A Side 1 is annotated Repackage September 1973 catalog # BN LA 169F, confirming the UA remaster was from the original tape.”Protection at Bekins” may refer to the moving and storage company Bekins., unusual name.
“This is a great Blue Note repressing of Somethin’ Else for those that want good sound quality but want to avoid paying higher prices that even earlier pressings demand. This repress sounds great and is well worth the price. Plus the cover art is catchier than the original cover in my opinion.”
“Catchier”? Takes all sorts.
Having started with the Art Director view of 1595, perhaps a good place to finish.
If you want to fully appreciate Reid Miles original graphic design, contrast it with the artless reissue cover produced for United Artists, which some find “catchy”.
Design car-crash. The bold serif font looks old-fashioned – as seen on a wild west WANTED poster; black bars to frame edge either side to compensate name length differences, decoration entirely lacking any communication purpose; the extra word “with” linking Adderley to the rest of the group is redundant, text over yellow/red sunburst. says the group is hot, but as Reid Miles choice of blue and green states, the album is cool.
The passage of time from 1958 to 1975, does not make for progress. Art direction can be subjective, hostage to fad and fashion, or an opportunity for the producer’s girlfriend, an aspiring designer. The desire to replace classic intelligent design with ephemeral trash was also a characteristic of the ’70’s. Reid Miles intelligent design stands the test of time.
In 1980 the vintage vinyl trail goes cold. Blue Note fell into the hands of corporate suits of EMI, Van Gelder metal disappeared, an obsolete relic of old technology, or so they thought. Luckily the original tapes of that extraordinary 1958 Hackensack recording session lived on. For that we can feel greatful.
Here is what modern day reissuers made of the opportunity to “refresh” Reid Miles design. Placing the album title to separate Adderley from the band is poor decision, downgrades the standing of the supporting artists. Adding a picture of Cannonball alone misrepresents the group effort. Miles and Julian playing together, in blue monotone, with coloured brass instruments works for me but the pink title throws it away and orange colour for the apostrophe, like brass, has potential but fails in the execution.
The bottom right cover shows Julian photo-bombed by a couple of street-smart kids, should never have made final selection. It makes you aware of the photographer, and Adderley’s expression says “posing”. Old adage, there are always three people present in a portrait: the subject, the photographer, and the viewer. Awareness of the photographer spoils the rapport between the subject and the viewer.
Probably the worst cover is bottom left. Belly-fold in his shirt front. Julian was not called Cannonball for nothing, about to consume his third TV dinner of the evening. Art direction?
I declare Reid the winner, by Miles.
What started me on this journey through Somethin’ Else was an enquiry from Takashi in Japan, who has a mysterious Liberty pressing of Somethin’ Else. In his own words:
“Side 2 has RVG STEREO Stamp but, side 1 has the same label but no RVG stamp. I listened carefully side 1 and 2, and with my ear, Side 2 – RVG stamp side has much clearer and deeper low, especially bass sound than side 1. So, I assume that as the stamp goes, side 1 is not from the RVG master.”
The photos followed. Crikey, Beauty and The Beast!. Original Van Gelder stereo master Side 2 , Liberty re-master Side 1. Both sides have a Bert-Co printed label but from different print-runs, the colour blue couldn’t be more different. This has the hallmark of Frankenstein Productions, body made up of spare parts.:
Original stereo Van Gelder metal was in use only for east coast Liberty reissues (all-Disc). How did this metal find its way to LA? If Side B is VAN GELDER STEREO, why not also Side A? Why not use both the recently Liberty remastered A & B? When was this manufactured? None of this makes any sense – having done the research, I know exactly what it is, but not why it is.
My thanks to Takashi for sending me down this rabbit hole, I’ve learned a lot exploring the tunnels, hopefully you have too, a mystery for which I have no explanation, other than it was likely by accident, not design. Somewhere in LA was a vault of metalware, probably stampers filed by catalog number, how else? In the space for 1595, whatever they had archived, included metal ware from the original Van Gelder, and the Liberty remaster. Batch of repressings ordered, grunt pulls Side 1 and Side 2 metal from the library archive, repress.
LJC on his Soapbox:
Pictures from Ebay auctions below feature a parade of soft-furnishings: purple satin, fabric floral, red velvet, blue cloths, wood panelling, record collection shelf and show-off monster hi-fi. Ebayers, we know jacket corners matter, but both sides of the label, please, close up? That is the most useful information.
Some photos and scans are very good, excellent even, but rare. Often it’s a competion as to who can provide the least information, with the least effort.The peekaboo vinyl half out the cover all-in-one shot is the winner on least effort, , followed closely by the picture-of-the-whole vinyl. 90% of the picture contains no useful information, yes it’s black and round, like every LP, it’s a record. At least the out-of-focus-picture seller tried. There, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Happens when you look through a thousand auctions.
I am guessing there are a lot of owners of modern audiophile editions of Somethin’ Else out there, just bursting to tell everyone about their Analog Productions 2x45rpm heavy shoe-leather and carpet-wear edition, the MMJ SRX bank-buster, or the pressed-in-Germany for under twenty quid Blue Note Classic Vinyl Series released just last week.
To replace my Division of United Artists stereo, I took the plunge. (First impression, it’s very good, more to follow) Interesting time to be an audiophile, a bit bumpy being a record collector, especially buying from overseas: less a record collector, more a tax-collector, with tracking.
If you want to add any thoughts, fire away. I’ve got my eye on the LJC page-view count, clock ticking as it inches towards five million, a strangely satisfying round number.
Harry M photos: Art Blakey New Victoria Theatre 1971, Miles Davis, Antibes 1969