(LJC says: Posts which are too long and opinionated, offer speculation, conjecture, and are argumentative without supporting evidence will be relegated to “purgatory.)
Welcome to Purgatory: BD continues to write:
But ! (you knew the “but” was coming, right?)
At the risk of sounding like a crazy aunt at a family gathering, I must beat this dead horse of an argument in earnest:
RECORD LABELS ARE NOT NOW, NOR HAVE THEY EVER BEEN (NOR WERE THEY EVER
INTENDED TO BE) AN IRONCLAD, FOOL-PROOF INDICATOR OF THE CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE OF THE COMPANY’S RELEASES..
It would take me sweet forever to fully explain why this was – and still is – so (most of you know this already, and are otherwise familiar with the historical, corporate, business and logistical reasons, so my elaboration would be a total waste of everyone’s time, anyway), but let me condense my thoughts in three relatively coherent clusters of thoughts, perhaps this will make my argument easier to follow:
The record labels were a pure abstraction intended to convey a corporate image during a certain time-frame. That they generally tend to be consistent and uniform during the given period may or may not be a pure serendipitous accident, but their uniformity and consistency was NEVER – EVER! – either legally or otherwise codified or enshrined into an universally binding business practice. When it comes to major labels which were the leaders and pioneers in the business (RCA, Capitol. Mercury, Columbia), a seamless chronological sequential order of the labels was a given and should generally be expected and taken as granted (even there, inconsistencies abound during certain periods of corporate turmoil and transition: for example, RCA went poco loco between 1964 and 1966, and Columbia went muy loco circa 1967-1968, probably as a result of copious amount of LSD and heroin flooding the corporate offices during the psychedelic era). However, the further down the corporate food chain one moves – and particularly the more one delves into family-owned, small and indie labels (and, mind you, Atlantic began as a small, family-owned label and essentially remained a family enterprise until the advent of the Kinney era circa 1968-1970), the more prominent and common inconsistencies, aberrations and downright label shockers become. I can cheerfully report that I just encountered my SIXTH (6th) certifiably first pressing of the mono version of Chuck Berry’s “Fresh Berrys” on Chess label (OK, OK, I know, mentioning Chuck Berry on a Jazz blog is like asking for a a bacon sandwich in Mecca, but you get my drift). I can’t even begin to describe how many out-of-sequence Chess, Checker and Cadet labels – many by as much as three years – I have discovered thus far.
One thing where I disagree with you is restricting your research on Atlantic’s 1300 series. Obviously, you had legitimate reasons for narrowing down the scope of your research to a relatively small production sample (a historical research of the entire Atlantic product line could conceivably take decades), but there is a very good reason why other Atlantic’s lines – notably the 1200 line and the 8000 line should also be included. Here’s why: a comprehensive panel of all Atlantic’s releases during the black / bull’s eye transition era (1959-1960) would reveal that there was absolutely NO rhyme or reason or any logical consistency in how Atlantic approached the label transition. None whatsoever. Labels were applied on a whim, as if by accident, random choice or simple production quirk. Or perhaps as a result of miscommunication in the production chain.
Among the main driving reasons for the inconsistencies are (a) various pressing plants involved in the production (b) different formats (stereo/mono). and (c) cost-cutting measures (i.e. the need on part of the printing companies to rid themselves of the stale stockpiled material). Where I think you are going seriously wrong in your analysis is in believing that this chart is firm, finite, all-inclusive and applied across the entire Atlantic label (at least as far as the series 1300 is concerned). I think you would be terribly wrong to reach such a conclusion. Some of the labels you used for the illustration were only produced by one or two of Atlantic’s vendors (pressing and printing companies), whereas others were produced across the entire vast array of the company’s production. If the, say, Monarch pressing plant in Los Angeles released, say, Ornette Coleman’s ‘Shape of Jazz to come” ONLY on purple-and-plum label with white fan logo, but Presswell facility in Ancora, NJ produced “proper” ‘bull’s eye’ mono labels of the same title, does this mean that Monarch’s label – which was pressed as the FIRST label at this particular facility, is somehow a second pressing? Or that it simply transitioned to a new label before others did?
Secondly, usage of labels is driven by the sound format (OK, OK, I get your point: you are dealing only with MONOS here), but for the sake of the argument, let me raise the issue of the lowly stereo. Case in point: Coltrane’s Giant Steps. One would imagine that the corresponding stereo label to the Atlantic’s black mono would be Atlantic’s lime-green stereo label, and one would be wrong , of course. Atlantic issued stereo of this title a year after the original mono release (stereos lagging behind the mono releases being a standard practice at the time), so by the time Atlantic decided to release Giant Steps in stereo (somewhere circa mid-1960, give or take a few weeks), Atlantic’s green label was officially long retired, and the new stereo release was only issued on “bull’s eye” label (or, as Fred Cohen calls it “Pinwheel” label. I could practically write a minor treatise on how many stereo releases were never made available on their anticipated labels solely because their actual release did not actually occur at a time wise record books and guides actually tells they should have, but quite some time later..
And what do we make of corporate miscommunications and misinterpretations?. What if, say, pressing vendor A never got the memo from the label’s HQs that the record label had changed and continued using the outdated labels, while the vendors B, C and D transitioned to the new labels on time? Or, for that matter, what if the vendor A didn’t care, could not muster business competence or otherwise didn’t give a flying you-know-what about Atlantic’s expressly stated labeling preferences? Do these aberrant pressings by a lone vendor somehow mystically become hallowed and much venerated “first pressings”, while others are relegated to the dustbin of record-collecting history as lowly seconds?
To most collectors, a very highly complex story of record labeling is often reduced to a self-parody of analytical simplicity. I am not trying to complicate the matters just for the sake of confusing everyone, but before we define the historical sequence of certain labels, we MUST define what, precisely, “first pressing” is. Or, in the immor(t)al words of Bill Clinton, define what “is” is. Because, if you are going to go for the label as the defining moment of the elusive “first pressing”, good luck to you: I’ll see you in the rubber room (I’ll be the guy on the outside).
On an unrelated note: you say that Atlantic switched to Pop circa 1962 in order to accommodate the burgeoning teenage market, but I must disagree. Atlantic was ALWAYS, from the company’s get-go very pop-conscious, market-savvy and highly commercially competitive. Jazz was NEVER the company’s bread and butter. Never!.. The company survived on the string of R&B, Doo-Wop and Pop hits from the day it was born until today. You can bet your sweet hind end that the company would not have last a snowball’s nanosecond in hell if they had focused only on Ornette Coleman’s Jazz Nouveau, John Lewis’s Third Stream or Jimmy Giuffre’s innovative big band arrangements. Hell, no. The America of the ’50’s was much more into Bobby Darin (who was a part of the Atlantic’s roster) than Eric Dolphy or Lennie Tristano. And business gurus (read: Tin Pan Alley mafia) such as Jerry Wexler were always on hand to make sure that the company remained fiscally safe and sound and on good footing and that, of course, they receive the lion’s share of the proceedings. For Ahmet & Nesuhi, Jazz was a labor of love, but, overall, merely a sidekick in company’s production. It was Ruth Brown’s, Joe Turner’s, Bobby Darin’s, Phil Spectors and dozens upon dozens of Lieber-Stoller charting hits that bankrolled the Attantic’s Jazz production. Had it been the other way around, Rhythm & Blues, Pop, Soul and even Rock as we know them today would never have materialized because the company would have gone belly up in an instant.
Finally, you say that “I have lost count of the number of auctions where sellers claim “original” status merely because the label is Plum/Orange, without regard to mention of the fan colour, or even more obscure, the presence or otherwise of the Registered Trademark R symbol on the label.The R”
True, but I must state this very vehemently: NO self-respecting eBay seller would commit such a terminal sin of ignorance and/or gross manipulation (which is to say that practically all eBay sellers would). I categorically and forcefully exempt myself from the bunch you are referring to (on a side note, the trademark symbol is, admittedly, too esoteric and hermetic for anyone to seriously care, and if they do, their families should take them to a nearest facility as a matter of life-threatening emergency)
I am getting beamed up right now and disappearing in a puff of smoke. Please pardon the whiff of sulfur in my wake.
Over & Out.