Sep 11, 2019

Collecting log: BORN IN THE U.S.A. LP ー Matrix numbers of the earliest U.S. pressing and an error copy with off-centered labels (Part 3 of 4)

The width of the dead-wax space is about 21 mm long for the early
vinyl discs and 13 mm for the repressed copies.
Back to the early U.S. pressings of the mega-hit album. In the first post of this topic, I wrote about the three features that are prerequisite for such vinyl pressings: a blue & white sticker pasted on the shrink wrap of the album sleeve and two signatures (MASTERDISK stamp and RL inscription) on the run-off groove space of the vinyl disc. Additionally, there is yet another point by which a given copy can be distinguished from the later pressings. The early discs mastered by Robert "Bob" Ludwig have an apparently wider dead-wax space compared to the repressings. This difference is found on Side One only. It is of note, however, that some vinyl pressings lack the RL hand-etching even though the run-off area is wider. As I mentioned in the last blog, one such example is the copies with the matrix number PAL 38653-3L. I don't know if he happened to forget to inscribe his initials on the master lacquer or if this particular pressing indeed is not mastered by him (though unlikely).

The difference in stylus-tracing groove length per unit time affects 
the fidelity of sound that a vinyl record can reproduce.
Dead-wax spacing is one of the various factors that affect the sound of vinyl disc; the others include the generation of master tapes used, the condition of the tapes, the mastering process, the equipment used, and so on. Given a same recording on LP format, less dead-wax spacing (meaning the wider groove spacing) seems to provide more dynamic sound. However, such a spacing would cause relatively less sound fidelity as the playback progresses and the stylus gradually moves towards the center hole. This is because the stylus runs at slower rates of speed through inner grooves than outer grooves (i.e., the circumferential length per rotation becomes shorter as the stylus traces from the outer to the inner groove of a record even though the disc spins at a constant speed of 33⅓ or 45 rpm). So, the wider dead-wax spacing (= narrower groove spacing) results in less usage of the lower-fidelity inner grooves. Not being an audiophile but just a vinyl collector, I'm not sure if my understanding is correct. The fact that needs attention here is that Bob Ludwig's mastering gave greater amount of dead wax on this LP.
— To be continued.


Aug 29, 2019

Collecting log: BORN IN THE U.S.A. LP ー Matrix numbers of the earliest U.S. pressing and an error copy with off-centered labels (Part 2 of 4)

With the vinyl collection increasing steadily and continuously, erroneous or defective copies of official releases have gradually accumulated over the years in my collectible archives. As summarized here, such flaws range from tiny careless typos on record labels, sleeves and Obi-strips, to one-of-a-kind production errors like a lyric sheet mistakenly used for making an inner sleeve for THE RIVER LP. Although BORN IN THE U.S.A. and its associated vinyl releases have never been my prime target of hunting and collecting, I own two such examples for this album. Shown here is a U.S. copy with the record labels that are incorrectly aligned to the vinyl disc.

Disc can be set on a turntable and played normally. This error results from wrongly processed paper labels because the center hole has to be punched out before vinyl pressing.
Off-centered labels are rarer than labels with typos, since generally, the latter circulate in quantities, for example, of more than hundreds or thousands, especially when such errors remain uncorrected. Long widely known are misprints of the BORN TO RUN U.S. and U.K. album credits (note that the U.K. issues have not been corrected) and the disc 2 track lineup found on the inner sleeve of THE RIVER released in Holland and a few other countries like Brazil (pictured here). A recent stand out example came from the 2011 Record Store Day campaign 10" EP Gotta Get That Feeling / Racing In The Sreet ('78) (Columbia 88697 87461 1) which has not been withdrawn or spell-corrected probably because of the limited run.

The vinyl disc is a later pressing with no MASTERDISK stamp/RL hand-etchings (left). Because of the mis-alignment, part of the run-off grooves is pressed on the paper label directly, but not on the dead-wax region (right).
Usually, the center hole is punched out of a bundle of paper labels designed for each side, before they are set on a pressing machine and pressed on a hot vinyl clump by a pair of stampers. So, if something wrong happens during the processing of paper label-print outs, such a flawed batch must be discarded as a whole to avoid faulty disc production, or in the case if error-bearing labels are indeed used for vinyl pressing, the defective
Mis-folding on the bottom side of the inner bag (left). The two bags
also differ in surface gloss and color tone, which is not considered as
error. Not sure if the difference is print factory-specific (i.e., pressing
plant-specific) or pressing phase-specific (i.e., early or late copies).
Most copies of the
blue & white sticker LP (= early pressings) in my
possession are associated with the rather matte surface/lighter
blue sleeve (right).
discs should be destroyed even if they are played normally. This copy must have somehow escaped from disposal facilities even though the production error is evident and easily recognized by the appearance. It is noteworthy that not only Side One, but also Side Two suffer from the mis-alignment, which (I think) makes it further rarer.

And just for the record. There is yet another sort of error associated with this copy. The inner record sleeve looks a little different from the normal U.S. version due to a mis-fold along the bottom side, which is apparent if you compare the opening side between the two bags (note the white space expansion). Maybe not worth mentioning though.
— To be continued.


Aug 14, 2019

Collecting log: BORN IN THE U.S.A. LP ー Matrix numbers of the earliest U.S. pressing and an error copy with off-centered labels (Part 1 of 4)

On the front sleeve of the U.S. releases, original and early vinyl pressings
came with a blue and white sticker whereas a
black and white one was
used for later and repressed copies.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the release of BORN IN THE U.S.A. (blog posts related to this album are summarized here). Just like in the U.S., before the internet era, radio airplay here was the primary source of listening to newly released songs, although the number of radio stations in Japan was (and still is) way smaller than that of the U.S. I believe it was a Friday night of May 1984 when Dancing In The Dark, the advanced single off the album, was for the first time aired in Japan (and I listened to it) on the NHK-FM radio program called Sound Street (PM 10:00-10:45), which was hosted by Yoichi Shibuya, one of the most influential critics in popular/rock music in Japan (previously mentioned here; he is one of those who contribute essays to the rare promotional booklet for the Japanese edition of DARKNESS LP).
 
Back then, probably I was not the only die-hard fan who had the initial impression of something strange and equivocal on the new single, right after the first listening to that light rock sound which is enforced by the synthesizer as French horn. I well remember, however, that my concern was blown away at the start of the same radio program some weeks later, when the new album was allowed to be aired on radio and I heard Max's drum explosion of the first song and title track to the album. If my memory is correct, the 45-min program was devoted in its entirety to the then eagerly anticipated new album, during which seven or eight songs were played following the album sequence, with lyric translation read by DJ Shibuya as introduction to each track. The songs not aired in the program include Darlington County, Working On The Highway, and probably Glory Days (not sure though), possibly because these were not appealing to the host DJ lyrically, musically or both, in addition to the time limitation of the program.

I still keep my first copy with the price tag (upper left). In
addition to the
blue/white front sticker (right), the deadwax
MASTERDISK stamp and mastering engineer's hand-inscription
"RL" (lower left) serve to identify the early pressing.
Although the LP album (US Columbia QC 38653) was issued in the U.S. on the fourth of June, 1984, the domestic release (CBS/SONY 28AP2850) in Japan was scheduled more than two weeks behind the U.S. date (June 21st). So, I decided to buy a U.S. vinyl edition as soon as it was available. The brand-new copies were in stock early that month at the usual record store in Kyoto where I used to pick up both official and unofficial discs imported from the U.S. and Europe. They were sold at 2,000 Yen (equivalent to US $8.58 according to the exchange rate as of June 1984), which was found to be much cheaper than the delayed Japanese pressing with the fixed retail price of 2,800 Yen.
 
Sending seven singles into Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1984 and 1985, BORN IN THE U.S.A. is one of the highest-selling album ever. By 2012, this album has reportedly sold more than 30 million copies. Although the estimation include not only vinyl discs but also cassettes, CDs and other digital media, the pressing number is obviously immense for vinyl format alone. So, I was just curious about the earliest known matrix numbers for the U.S. edition of this mega-hit LP. The early pressings can be characterized at least by the following three points: (1) a blue & white hype sticker, but not a black & white one, is glued on the shrink wrap on the front side of the LP sleeve; (2) the word MASTERDISK is machine-stamped on the trail-off area of both sides of the vinyl record; and (3) two hand-etched letters, RL, which represent the initials of Mastering Engineer Robert "Bob" Ludwig, is also found on the dead wax region (at least one side, usually on the right-hand side of the MASTERDISK stamp).

The currently known earliest matrix numbers for the original U.S. pressing of Springsteen's best-selling LP album
(left, Side One; right, Side Two)

Before this album was released, two major pressing plants of Columbia Records located in Santa Maria (CA: 1963-1981) and Terre Haute (IN: 1953-1982) had already ceased the operation. So, any U.S. vinyl copy for this album must has been manufactured at a plant either in Pitman (NJ: 1960-1986) or Carrollton (GA: 1981-1991). Currently, I own only six copies that meet the above criteria, and based on the matrix numbers, the earliest pressing has the suffix codes -3A/-2A and originates from Carrollton, as indicated by the pressing plant-specific codes G1 and G2.

All the seven TOP 10 singles
are listed on the B&W sticker.
     Side One:  G1   PAL-38653-3A    MASTERDISK  RL     
     Side Two:  G2   PBL-38653-2A    MASTERDISK  RL
              (hand-etched, oblique; stamped, straight)

The suffix codes in the matrix numbers for the other five copies exhibit variations such as -3A/-2M, -3L/-2B, -3AE/-2AM, -3AG/-2AK and -G1A/-2BB (for Side One/Side Two; note that no RL inscription is found on -2M, -3L and -G1A deadwax). On the other hand, a later pressing in my possession with a black & white sticker bears a bit more complex matrix numbers on the dead wax, as shown below. The letter "P" hand-etched on both sides and faintly stamped on Side Two identifies this as pressed at the Pitman factory, although I have no idea as to what the remaining codes mean, except the catalog-number associated PAL/PBL-38653.

     Side One:   P   <JXMP>        PAL 38653   G3V
     Side Two:   (H-MP)    P   p   PBL-38653   G2AD

A search on the Discogs database supports that the currently recognized, earliest matrix numbers are PAL-38653-3A and PBL-38653-2A for Side One and Side Two, respectively. However, taking into account the massive pressing number, continued exploration is needed on circulating copies. By the way, when collecting various pressings of a single same title, collectors often encounter unusual or bizarre copies such as misprints. The next post shows an example for this particular LP.
— To be continued.