Last updated: October 18, 2021
Decca Records (and sub labels)
Decca Records began as a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934; however the two Deccas remained autonomous companies until American Decca’s parent company bought British Decca’s parent company in 1998. In the intervening years, separate vehicles had to be found to release American recordings in the UK, and British recordings in the US, whilst each was unable to use the Decca name in the others country. Pretty silly really, but not compared with the folly that followed, with everybody scrambling to buy up everybody else, until only three or four companies owned everything.
Decca was renowned for its development of recording methods, while the American company developed the concept of cast albums in the musical genre. Both wings are now part of the Universal Music Group (UMG)
Decca is synonymous with the early years output of the Rolling Stones (documented in obsessive detail elsewhere), a vast catalogue of classical music, pop, country and folk, but very little jazz, such that wiki overlooks the category altogether.
There was a small selection of jazz releases under the UK Decca name, more pressed by Decca for associated sub-labels including the UK London label. Fortunately, Decca also pressed a very large proportion of the UK releases of early Riverside, Contemporary Vogue, and Esquire among others, so their legendary engineering skills were put to good use.
“Everything was tweaked by the backroom guys. They might replace a microphone’s tube with a MOS-FET, or change some of the resistors to flatten it out, but the key point is that none of the equipment was stock. There was always something done to make it better – make it Decca; put the Decca imprint on it. That was, I think, the genius of Decca: the people doing the mixing were also telling the maintenance guys what they needed. That was Arthur Haddy’s work. Haddy was an engineer to his boots and wanted everything to be just right and that’s what they got.”
More recently the Decca British jazz legacy from the late 60’s and early 70s is selectively being remastered and reissued to audiophile-grade standard.
The Decca Labels
Test pressing/ factory samples
1a. Decca (mono 1957) Full Frequency Range Recording (FFRR)
A labelography of Rolling Stones releases on Decca indicates nine variations exist of the basic Decca label design above, this one distinguished by the top of label text reading simply “MADE IN ENGLAND”, which would later be expanded by the words “MADE IN ENGLAND . THE DECCA RECORD CO. LTD.” Other differences relate to where on the label the year of publishing appears: above the centre hole, left of the centre hole, or at the bottom centre of the label. You have to
despair at admire this level of attention to detail.
1b. Decca Stereo (1969) Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound (FFSS)
1964-5-6-9 many variations including trademark registration Regd to ®, boxed/ reversed out Decca logo.
Felsted Records began as a subsidiary of the UK Decca Records in July 1954 with music mainly in the jazz and dance band genres. The label took its name from the village where Sir Edward Lewis, the head of UK Decca, lived.
Late in 1957, Felsted Records US opened in the USA operating from London Records’ office in New York and in 1958 Felsted was reinstated in the UK leasing US material contracted through its US office. Neither labels had much commercial success: the UK label was closed in 1960 and its roster transferred to London Records.
Short-lived UK jazz label – given its own page here on LJC. British label Vogue acquired the Tempo catalogue and Vogue was in turn acquired by Decca under Tony Hall, who used it to issue British modern jazz recordings until it discarded the label in 1961. The label is renowned for its select roster of British jazz musicians of the late fifties. Original tapes were all subsequently lost, hence original pressings are very rare and as a result, impossibly expensive.
Famed silver/crimson “American Jazz Recording” label.
Decca’s main vehicle for licensing and releasing US recordings in the UK, with the original recording owner noted by the letter code after LTZ – in the case of this recording Riverside (U). Decca did love their codes.
Decca’s “progressive” label launched to rival EMI’s Harvest label, well documented elsewhere by the archivists of rock and pop.
Decca’s reissue label.
8. Brunswick label
A long-lived label which was the subject of various owners and many years of litigation. Example below shows UK Purchase Tax code “RT” on the label and stamped in the runout, at 12 o’clock position.
9. Decca pressing for Warner Brothers
Product of the Decca Record Company Ltd – no warning, fake stereo!
11. Decca – Vogue
12. Decca Vocalion
14. Decca Records Inc (USA)
I only now discovered this most interesting Decca review. Regarding Felsted, I would like to add that Barclay titles from France were issued on UK Felsted (Chet Baker, Bernard Pfeiffer to name a few). The French label Ducretet Thomson was also issued in the UK by Decca, with the Zoot Sims album being the most prominent.
Thank you for the prompt, Rudolf, this article is incomplete and needs to be revisited, especially the French Connection. I’ll get to it over coming weeks. Any photos would be helpful, as I don’t think I have any examples on my own shelf.
Here are links in a blog friendly format so you can do the sharing business with of some of those Decca group centre page spreads. These are a few of the aforementioned jazz journals from between 1957 and 1965. This little bunch just happened to be in one of their subscribers hard folders. You can see the thick wire down the centre of the spreads to hold each issue in. One of the pics is a front inside cover, and the obvious point to make is Decca were massive contributors to the Journals income by having these centre spreads and inside covers throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. The Coltrane one is so nice I want to frame it and have it in the music room. All the best Mark
Some lovely examples added. Let me know if you want pics of the 50’s and 60’s decca family ads from the old Jazz journals. Interestingly, RCA were making Stereo reel to reel tapes for the home market by 1955, well over a year before the recording of the Blakey Tunisia, which I can only guess was a cash in on the blue note of the same title by the label in this Uk 63 issue, as it is seven years after the recording. I can only guess they thought mono was good enough for jazz (!). An anomaly exists though in the classical deccas, where there are a number of Eclipse titles that had an emergency recorder running as a back up on the mono era date, in case of a hiccup during the main recording, given that reels of tape cost less than 130 musicians on an hourly rate. Eclipses start around 1969 and the two sets of tapes had enough spatial difference to enable a true stereo image to be mixed. The text revealing the nature of the stereo is written parallel to the spines down the rear sleeve right side. Might this have been made in stereo at the time?. I note the VIK US issues state the fake stereo on the sleeve and labels, but does your UK RCA have the mono on one channel and reverb or other junk in the other (If you have an old amp with separate channel knob you can flip it all the way to one and then the other speaker, or alternatively unplug one speaker at a time?). The reason I am curious about this is that the Japanese re-issue looks like it might be in stereo, and they tend to release the correct format on all the 80’s Japanese pressings I have. Cheers Mark
Expert alert! Someone who knows what hey are talking about. Warning: Proceed with caution! 😉
Glad of any retro publicity material Mark – scan or photo – post to LJC email address as shown on the “ABOUT” page
The RCA Victor fake stereo is subject of a forthcoming post. Without giving too much away it’s regular mono on the left channel with a shadow mono on the right channel which has been electronically messed about with. Watch this space. You will be able to listen too.
Apologies for piecemeal additions but just remembered all those RCA Victors are Decca pressings (Paul Desmond, a big chunk of 60’s Ellington). Brunswick, and Argo have to be added as there are some significant modern jazz items in their catalogues, I am thinking of the Michael Garrick stuff for instance.
Thanks for the hint Mark! Luckily, the label-genie is in and I happen to have just the odd one of each of them, so additions for each you mention, complete with Decca’s friendly machine-stamp matrixes and engineer codes. However no Michael Garrick on my shelves.
Well done, some great work. You can add the Vocallion & Esquires to your list, they are Decca pressings. I was looking at a 1957 jazz journal international advert the other day for Decca Family jazz lps. It listed a couple more; Coral and Vogue, although of course some later labels have vogue and Vocallion on them. Also of course, there are those lovely US Contemporary decca pressings from the sixties, they are beautifully recorded and sound phenomenal in the sixties Decca team masterings. Cheers Mark Harrington in Worcester UK.
How do the Contemporary/Decca pressings compare in sound to the original U.S. Contemporary pressings? (which also brings up the question of sound on early/original USA pressings vs. later* USA pressings)
*re: pressings from the 1970s, when I started buying jazz records. Thanks for any input!
Ed in New York
Hello Ed in New York, sorry for the late reply, I like the Decca pressed contemporary lp sound a lot, but the US ones are lovely as well, on slightly noisier vinyl. There is not much else between them, but it is worth mentioning that the two are both far and away superior to later (70s or 80s?) pressings, as long as the older ones have not been played with a poor stylus. I just got hold of a 1970 Decca catalogue with every lp they issued in it. The sub family page has loads more labels than I remembered.