(Last updated: May 2017)
United Artists Cheatsheet (1958-73)
United Artists Records was founded by Max E.Youngstein of United Artists in 1957, initially to distribute records of its movie soundtracks, though it soon branched out into recording music of a number of different genres, including jazz . The company recruited Alan Douglas in 1962 to run its new jazz department. There were only a few jazz titles after about 1963. Around 1966 a new subsidiary jazz label Solid State was founded, which lasted until 1968.
Around 1968, the west coast-based Transamerica Corporation, looking to increase its entertainment industry portfolio, purchased United Artists, and soon after, purchased Liberty Records, including its Blue Note catalogue, and Pacific Jazz. After several years in which these labels operated independently, and a hybrid identity Liberty/U.A., Transamerica finally merged all its record businesses under the management of United Artists Records Inc., however continued to use its historical assets such as Liberty and Blue Note trademarks for marketing purposes. (For Divisions of United Artists labelography, eg Blue Note Records, see Guide pages under Blue Note – the United Artists years)
At the end of the decade, in 1980, everything was swallowed up by EMI, who put the US assets under their US operating arm, Capitol Records.
1.United Artists US 1958 -59
Deep groove, white promo, red mono “High Fidelity” (UAL series) , blue stereo (UAS series).
(Hat tip Johnny for alerting me to this early series)
2. Black label with spotlites (1958 – 68)
The pale blue and red plain labels were replaced by a black label with “spotlites” adopting the previous mono and stereo colours red and blue, and UA corporate beige, in circles (spotlites) on the upper perimeter. The black label was in use 1858 – 68, with a few cosmetic changes in font, from serif to non-serif, in its final years.
Sample below, deep groove mono, pressing by Plastylite, N.J. “ear” in run-out. That said, it does not especially sound like a Blue Note Plastylite. in the absence of Van Gelder engineering. (From its catalogue number, this is a second issue whose first would have been on red label)
3.United Artists Jazz series (1962-3)
“Bendy tenor” label, introduced during the brief tenure of record producer Alan Douglas. Manufacturing quality is uneven, some with noisy pressings even when superficially appearing clean, others sound fine.
This short-lived initiative by United Artists Jazz, to rival Blue Note and Prestige, threw up some interesting titles, some of which have not been released elsewhere. Some of the US mono versions were pressed by Plastylite and have the cursive “P” in the runout.
An interesting variation on the Bendy Tenor label was introduced in Canada, a country which is geographically close to the US, but some distance politically. (And don’t you just hate sellers who won’t take the record out of its sleeve to photograph it)
See United Artists Jazz: full listing of titles
4. Solid State (1966-8)
Short-lived Solid State sub label, a Division of United Artists. Audio quality is variable, ranging from average to quite poor. United Artists was without a sound engineering champion, and never really managed to get a focus on record manufacturing quality.
Occasionally a Bell Sound mastering stamp in the runout, as here.
5. Early 1970s United Artists tan label
In 1972 United Artists purchased the masters of the Alan Douglas collection, recordings from 1962-3, which were then reissued on the tan label as the Alan Douglas Collection , with alternative covers. The sound is much more “modern” stereo, silky vinyl quality is very good on my copies.
6. United Artists Japanese reissues – Toshiba-EMI, “Liberty” label
United Artists Jazz recordings were released in Japan during the mid-80s on a distinctive silver “Liberty” label, the Liberty trademark being owned by Capitol Records Inc, the US management arm of EMI.
The mastering and pressing quality of all these titles is of the highest order, certainly the best quality Japanese reissues of any kind, superior to King, Victor, and later Toshiba.
European United Artists releases
European releases follow the black label/spotlites corporate design with tan replaced by yellow. Brits leave the colours out completely, black and silver.
I have two versions of Bill Evans/Jim Hall’s Undercurrent (mono 15003). One is the Bendy Tenor label, DG on side 2, ears on both side; the other is the black spotlight label, DG on both sides, ears on both sides. Anyone have any idea which would be considered the 1st pressing? Logic would tell me the black label would be 1st since that label preceded the Bendy Tenor, however I have read in various online collector communities that the Bendy Tenor is considered the first pressing. Any insight would be most helpful!!
Around 90-95% of auction copies are the mono bendy tenor label, Alan Douglas inspired UA Jazz series 1962-3. The black spotlights label has a longer history as a design, going back to 1958, so “earlier”, but not material regarding a recording made in 1962. This was Douglas’s flagship series and all used the bendy tenor.
To complicate things, there are at least four pressing plant variations of the bendy tenor mono, including a Plastylite edition, another with wide deep groove on only side 2, a (Nashville) plant with the 1 1/8″ central pressing ring, a no-groove pressing, and a narrow deep groove.. Some with ear, some not, of course. With simultaneous distributed manufacture I guess all bendy tenor are “1st”.
There are a small number of stereo copies around, rarely the bendy tenor, more often the black spotlites, which tends to confirm to me that the black spotlights are later, issued when stereo had become the established format.
Some sellers indicate the matrix has a hand-etched 1A/1A after the catalogue number, another has 1B/1B – neither of which makes any sense to me.
There are some dirty noisy US 1st pressings, and personally I prefer the LBJ Liberty Japan edition, which is a lovely transfer, silent and luminous.
Thank you so much for the info! Definitely helps to clarify the difference.
I just looked at my bendy tenor copy and it also has 1A/1A hand etched after the matrix in the dead wax. Again, my bendy tenor copy has the ears and DG on side two. Puzzling to say the least!
Any comments on sound quality of the various generations of UA labels? Spotlights are usually a lot less expensive than red labels. Were they pressed with the same parts the way Liberty BN and earlier BN sometimes were? The few bendy tenors (all stereo) that I have heard have been excellent, btw.
Thanks for another Helpful page. Just starting to pay attention to early UA, some excellent albums !
I have a Solid State reissue of “Money Jungle” with a serious pressing defect on one side – horrible.
Variation 3 was a West Coast pressing by Research Craft of Los Angeles, CA, which had been purchased by Liberty in 1965 and remained part of the Liberty/UA apparatus all through Capitol’s 1979 acquisition of UA, until 1981 when it (and All Disc Records of Roselle, NJ; plus a tape duplicating facility in Council Bluffs, IA) was sold to the ElectroSound Group which already owned a plethora of pressing and duplicating plants. Research Craft pressings, like Monarch-pressed LP’s, had a pressing ring a small millifraction below 2.875″ diameter.
Variation 4, probably pressed by All Disc, has label typesetting by Keystone Printed Specialties of Scranton, PA (same entity that did label copy for Blue Note lo those many years), and the lacquer mastering was handled by Sol Kessler of Bell Sound (Kessler, from conversations I had in the mid-1990’s with a former Bell Sound colleague, Joe Brescio, always used machine-stamped characters to spell out the matrix numbers in the deadwax – and when Kessler went to another studio, Mediasound, in 1970, so did the stamped characters).
Great info, thanks !