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Impulse labels overview 1961-79
Impulse! transition chronologically, from ABC Paramount ownership in 1960 finally to MCA ownership in 1978/9, a magnificent legacy of jazz recordings, found on these five principal label designs: orange/black, black/red rim, black/neon logo, green bullseye, and blue/rainbow:
The Early Impulse! Years (1960-73) Am Par, ABC Paramount and ABC Impulse :
ABC Paramount’s record division, owner of the Impulse! label, went through a number of name changes during this period.The Am-Par Record Corporation from 1955, changed in 1962 to ABC-Paramount Records, Inc., and then again in 1967 to ABC Records, Inc. Hence Impulse! titles issued on the orange/black ring first label can be dated from which of the three company names appears at the bottom of the label. Subsequently the orange/black ring label was replaced by a new design, the black/red ring label, which had two iterations before it was finally replaced in 1973 by the all-black/neon logo label. Thus in the period 1960-73 there are five chronological label variations to be found (all dates are approximate)
Orange/black ring label
- 1960-63: “A PRODUCT OF AM-PAR RECORD CORP.”
- 1963-66: “A PRODUCT OF ABC-PARAMOUNT RECORDS, INC.”
- 1967-68: ” ABC RECORDS INC New York NY 10019″
Black/red ring label:
- 1968-71: new label design maintains ABC Records, Inc. NY 10019 addresss
- 1971-73 Address replaced by year of copyright, and adds registered trademark symbol R bottom left and right of the |Impulse!|abc| logo box.
Identifying first and subsequent pressings
Throughout the life of Impulse!, many titles went through several pressings. The combination of the label and catalogue number can help determine whether a particular copy of a record is a prized first pressing or a later second or subsequent pressing. Many second or later pressings still carry the RVG stamp indicating a Van Gelder master source, making them still attractive to the audiophile collector. After 1973 reissues were re-mastered copies without RVG and are considered inferior.
The Am-Par label changed to ABC Paramount at A-33. Titles A33 and below on an orange/black ring label with an Am-Par footer is an original first pressing. If the label is orange/black ring but ABC Paramount or ABC Records, or any of the later labels, it is later pressing. Titles A-34 and above up until around A-164 would be expected to be on the ABC Paramount orange variation (or later orange/black ring ABC Records label, point of change undetermined),
At around A-165, the Orange/black ring label was replaced by the new black/ red ring label, which was in use up to catalogue numbers around AS-9230, in 1973.
At around AS-9231, the black/red ring label was replaced all-black/neon Impulse! logo label, which in turn was replaced the following year by the green bullseye label, which lasted up to the sale to MCA Records in 1979.
The same principles apply to identifying all later pressings, bearing in mind the date labels were printed in preparation for manufacture may be slightly out of sync with legal name changes and actual date of manufacture. Around each label change there is some small overlap in catalogue order between old and new labels, and occasionally a first pressing turns up out of the blue with a label two years older than its adjacent catalogue numbers.
The orange/black ring label
Am-Par labels have a semi-gloss finish, ABC Paramount and later have a Matte-finish. There is no special significance in this. Many are mastered by Rudy Van Gelder (RVG or VAN GELDER in deadwax). All Impulse releases in this period bear a faint hand-etched “LW” in the runout, indicating metalwork by the Longwear Plating Company.
Ebay sellers are often familiar with the major label design changes eg Orange/ black rim, black/red rim. Anything on Orange/black rim is likely to be described as “original”, as in the example below. Yes, Impulse A-10 was issued in 1961, but this copy isn’t one of them. It is a later, second pressing, on ABC Paramount label
I have noted no identifiable differences in sonic quality attributable to these label variations. The mastering and metalwork is presumably the same, and as with all vinyl the sound will show normal variation in quality between first and last off the stamper
Impulse catalogue numbering system
The catalogue numbering system adopted by Impulse is not especially elegant and definitely not computer-friendly. The mono designation A-1 to A-100 is joined by stereo releases as AS – ##, and at 100 everything adopts a “9” prefix, so the numbering sequence continues through 100 to 200 and higher as 9101, 9102, 9103 and so on. In reality it is a three digit counter with a superfluous “9” prefix starting at 100. Use of dots, hyphens and blank space between letters and numbers is inconsistent. Sometimes we have Side 1 and 2, sometimes side A and B. Then the label reference number incorporates A and B, but adds Side 1 and Side 2. A good job the music makes better sense.
For Impulse titles numbered between 1 and (9)164, the first or early pressing should be on Orange/black ring. First/early pressing of titles after (9)164 are expected to be on Black/red ring (up to 1973). There are some exceptions near the changeover, but if you have a title lower than (9)165 and it is on Black/red ring, it is likely a second or later pressing. Unlike Blue Note, I have yet to find an authoritative source so I am making up my own rule of thumb.
IMPULSE! LABELS CLOSE UP: EXAMPLES and ETCHINGS
1. Orange/black ring – Product of Am Par Record Corp (1960-3)
The first Impulse label is the orange/ black ring, with the run-out bearing a hand-inscribed catalogue number and RVG machine stamp. Only the first thirty or so Impulse releases carry the Am Par label, up to A33 Roy Haynes Reaching Fourth, the last Am Par. A couple of titles close below A33 are found only on the second ABC Paramount label ie there is an early overlap in the changeover to the second label, because they were not pressed/released in catalogue number order.
Collectors often debate the merit of Stereo versus Mono but Impulse! stereo editions are very good and often to be preferred.
1.2 Am Par – promo white label
Though the label doesn’t state Am-Par, the corporate inner sleeve and cover both confirm A11 as the first Impulse series. RVG stamp and a second attempt at mastering on both sides A-1/ B-1, and LW (Longwear Plating Co.) on both sides.
1.3 Am-Par miss-print
Sent in by eagle-eyed reader Kieran, one that got away
2. Orange/black ring – Product of ABC Paramount Records, Inc. (1963-6)
Same orange label with black our ring, but the small print at the foot of the label changes to ABC Paramount Records Inc.
This particular title is not van Gelder mastered, and the matrix stamp is quite out of sync with the usual large open hand inscription found on Impulse pressings.
3. Orange/black ring – Product of ABC Records Inc, NY 10019 – (1966-7)
This particular sample has Van Gelder only on one side, while side two is a B-1 remaster by another engineer.
4. Capitol Record Club editions
A Product of ABC Paramount Records Inc, Manufactured by Capitol Records Inc USA. Not “genuine” Impulse but some Impulses releases were licensed to and manufactured by Capitol Records for their mail order Capitol Record Club, starting in 1958. These are remastered and pressed at Capitol’s own plant in Scranton PA, not van Gelder, and are distinguished by a Capitol catalogue number SMAS-9xxxx (Hat tip: Dave)
5. Black/red ring – Product of ABC Records Inc. New York NY 10019 (1967-71)
Around AS-9164 (Archie Shepp, Magic of Ju Ju – recorded by Van Gelder April 26, 1967, and released in May 1968) the Orange/blank ring label is replaced by a new design – the second label design for Impulse, now black label with thin red outer ring, with large logo box, footer reads A Product of ABC Records, Inc. New York, N.Y. 10019 . Made in USA. There are a few exceptions in the catalogue sequence where Black/red ring pops up in the middle of the final run of Orange/black ring titles, a not unusual event illustrating allocation of catalogue numbers and manufacture/release are not in strict chronological sequence. There are no immediate audio-issues with the change of label design: purely a design change, with business as usual in the pressing plants.
Musically, the late Sixties Impulse catalogue heads for Outer Space. Spirituality is in the ascendant, with titles from later John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and of course Sun Ra at the helm of the Starship Impulse. The likes of Gabor Szabo, John Klemmer and Ahmad Jamal feature on the more earthly titles.
Somewhere around 1969, ABC Records established registered trademark protection of the Impulse! logo. It is difficult to be more precise due to the timing of label typesetting/ printing between recording date (session date usually well documented) and month of release, which was often up to a year later, sometimes longer.
The single rainbow logo-box was split into two boxes, one for the Impulse! logo, the other for the logo of ABC Records, with a ® registered trademark outside each.
Audio Verdict: very good, equivalent to BN Liberty Stereo pressing; great sound, identical cover and liner notes. May be an original press of a later title, or a reissue of an earlier title. Above example AS-84 is a second/later pressing of a title whose first release would have been on the classic Orange/black ring label.
6.Black/red ring – ABC Records Inc. with date (1971-3)
Introduced for new titles around AS-9219, label design remains black with red ring, but NY address replaced by copyright assertion “(p) 197# (year) ABC Records Inc”. (Also seen P 1971 and 1973) The vinyl is noticeably thinner. Above example is a second issue taken from the original Van Gelder stereo master. The registered trademark ® now appears at foot of Impulse! logo box and ABC Records logo box.
Audio Verdict: mixed, some mediocre, compare poorly to Orange/black ring and the earlier Black/red ring NY address issues. Equivalent to a UA Blue Note blue label/black note OK if you can’t otherwise find the record, but not great.
SPARTON CANADA LABEL
Is Canada different from “America”? Obviously in licensing terms. Based in London, Ontario, Sparton manufactured and distributed Columbia Records in Canada from 1939 to 1954. It had distribution arrangements with other American record companies, most notably ABC Records. The record company closed in 1969.
7. Black/ Neon Logo – ABC records – 1973-4
Used for new issues from around AS-9230 and for reissue of earlier titles. ABC Records trademark ®
Very poor thin flat audio, avoid for reissues, but for new titles you may have no choice. Notable titles available only in black/neon include several first reissues around 1974 of Sun Ra titles originally on Saturn mid/late ’50s, with new artwork. These reissue Sun Ra titles are graced with excellent visionary covers, but the audio quality is very disappointing, possibly a feature of the original recordings.
8. Impulse Green Bullseye US 1974-9
(Photo courtesy of Joe L)
Green bullseye new and reissue label of 1974 and after, commonly found in US record shops. The vinyl is wafer thin, and sounds thinner, even the label is shoddily made and printed. Note the corporate vanity moves up a notch, now it’s “ABC Impulse” TM
Audio Verdict: atrocious, avoid, avoid, avoid. Sound worse than CD
9.MCA – Impulse – Sky with Rainbow
From here on it is down hill all the way.
MCA – “abc records” reissue – stacked note logo on yellow/rainbow sunburst
unknown date – modern label – now MCA Corporation, California address.
UPDATE September 10, 2013 (hat tip Freddie)
WB info posted on Hoffman regarding US pressing plants associated with Impulse
Up to the very end of 1972, ABC/Dunhill had an array of pressing plants they used; from early 1973 onwards, virtually all LP’s and 45’s issued by the labels were pressed exclusively by Columbia at their Pitman, NJ, Terre Haute, IN and Santa Maria, CA plants. A few of the others I could glean:
– Discmakers, Philadelphia, PA – Plastic Products, Memphis, TN – Specialty Records Corp., Olyphant, PA In addition, from 1969-71, there was an East Coast plant I currently know not of, which used label copy typeset by Progressive Label Co. of Brooklyn, NY. As one can guess, pressing quality was hit-and-miss up to the point where ABC/Dunhill decided to go with Columbia exclusively.
Most of their LP’s and 45’s from 1970 to mid-’73 were mastered at The Mastering Lab in Hollywood, with one exception being Giorgio’s “Son of My Father” cut at Annex Studios. Then from 1973 to the end, ABC did the majority of their mastering in-house.
From a 1970 Billboard article on ABC/Dunhill’s 15th anniversary, I was able to get the skinny on which plants handled the label at the time. Columbia and Monarch were the obvious ones; others were: – Clarion Record Mfg. Co., Philadelphia (apparently used the same label copy type as Diskmakers) – Sun Plastics Co. and Dynamic LP Stereo Record Pressing Co., Inc., East Newark, NJ – Plastic Products Co., Inc., Memphis, TN – Specialty Records Corp., Olyphant, PA
All these plants also handled the label as of 1960, with Sun and Dynamic LP Stereo having been associated with what started out as Am-Par Record Co. from its earliest days in 1955. (In 1960 there were three other plants handling ABC-Paramount – Shelley Products, Ltd., Huntington Station, NY; Sonic Recording Products, Hauppauge, NY [later moved to Holbrook]; and Allied Record Co., Los Angeles. Also in 1965, ABC-Paramount opened their own plant, True Sound Mfg. Corp. in Hauppauge, whose existence was gleaned as late as 1969 but was not listed in the 1970 15th anniversary piece in Billboard.) The last pressings from all plants but Columbia’s were in late 1972 – though Goldisc (formerly Sonic) pressed some ABC LP’s in the 1977-78 period, as did Specialty (on many LP copies of Steely Dan’s Aja) – this may have been in the period when Columbia’s Pitman, NJ plant was on strike.
I have absolutely no knowledge regarding US pressing plants or their relationship with audio quality. I reproduce above the encyclopaedic knowledge of WB of New York, with deepest respect.
I don’t know any way of choosing an Impulse pressing according to which plant pressed it, eg would I prefer the Pitman over the Terra Haute pressing of Ballads? And where do I get one? , so the information adds to our knowledge but is difficult to put to use. The Hoffman thread however provides much evidence as to why ABC Impulse deteriorated over the years. That at least confirms advice to avoid later Impulse reissues.