Nov 19, 2018

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN US LP variations: Decoding two- or three-letter matrix hand etchings on the early pressings (Part 2 of 2)

One yet unelucidated DARKNESS matrix code found
in some of the early U.S. pressings.
In some fraction of the early vinyl copies of the U.S. DARKNESS album released in June 1978, you can find at least four different varieties of hand-etched matrix codes, PN, PMI, PMN and PK. Each code specifies one of the four pressing plants that had been used unusually and temporarily for making Springsteen's fourth LP, due to the transient shutdown of the Pitman plant, one of the three major Columbia plants back then. In the last post, I attempted to crack these codes and proposed that: (1) the first and shared letter P might denote the Pitman plant because it is the most probable common term; (2) a second letter, N, M or K, refers to an initial of company that owned one of these pressing plants; and (3) a third letter, I or N, specifies the State where a company locates its own facilities. According to these assumptions, I interpreted the four matrix codes as follows: PN for Pitman/North American Music Industries, Scranton, Pennsylvania; PMI for Pitman/MCA Records, Pinckneyville, Illinois; PMN for Pitman/MCA Records, Gloversville, New York; and PK for Pitman/Keel Manufacturing Corp., Hauppauge (blog posts 1 and 2), New York.

There may be more examples but I cannot so far find any others, except for the three-letter code PPP, which is hand-inscribed on the run-off matrix of SIDE 2 of the certain pressings. I own four such copies whose rear sleeve features the large track listing and black font credits (see the last post for the details of the rear sleeve variation). The four copies share the identical matrix information and the machine-stamped TML-M inscription is found on both sides of vinyl disc. Thus, these pressings are not repressed copies (see this
Upper: The original SIDE 1 matrix number suffix 1AD is crossed out, after which
is added. Two-letter suffixes usually don't indicate initial pressings.
Lower: The likely pressing plant-specific code PPP is found on SIDE 2 only.
post for an example of repressing). However, they are also found not to be initial or very early pressings because their matrix number suffix consists of two letters as visible on each side (1AG/1AB). Like the other four matrix hand-etchings, I first presumed that PPP encodes a unique pressing plant name and its geographical location. So far, however, I couldn't think of any plausible interpretation for this matrix code using the aforementioned assumption rules.

The following are what I consider as key facts and circumstances:
  1. As explained above, the PPP-handetching pressings are NOT regarded as initial or very early copies that are originally released on June 2nd, 1978.
  2. The pressing number seems NOT to be small since these copies are relatively found easily at used record shops or online auction, suggesting that they were pressed at a Columbia's regular pressing plant.
  3. Upon the settlement of strike, the Pitman plant resumed the operation by the end of May or early June in 1978 (according to the 05/27/1978 issue of the Billboard Magazine), and thus it is most likely that this facility got started pressing the DARKNESS album by early summer in 1978.
  4. These particular vinyl discs were apparently NOT pressed at Santa Maria and Terre Haute plants, the other two regular Columbia plants in operation back then, because their representative matrix codes, such as 1S and T1, are not found on the dead-wax space. 
Taking these into account, I guess the most probable pressing plant that had pressed these discs would be the Pitman plant, even though what exactly the triple P encodes remains unelucidated (All I can say is that one P letter, at least, must refer to Pitman). Having said so, I am still not certain about whether my guess is right or wrong. So, I would like to know if other interpretations are possible on this code.

Finally, I have examined my collection and summarized, as shown above, the relationship of record company/pressing plant/matrix information for the early U.S. pressings of the DARKNESS LP. It must be noted that, as the tabulation is solely based on my own copies I have kept to date, this summary is not complete and still missing relevant pressings that should be incorporated herein. For instance, I guess there would be a few more variants that were pressed at non-regular pressing plants. Another guess is whether the Santa Maria 1A/2A pressing has been available (as I have never seen the copies). Does anyone have a copy of such?

Nov 17, 2018

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN US LP variations: Decoding two- or three-letter matrix hand etchings on the early pressings (Part 1 of 2)

Left, The first news article on the Pitman strike reported in the Billboard magazine (issue 04/15/1978; Note that Billboard has put the magazine issues into the public domain by releasing them to Google Books and The Internet Archive); and middle & right, Pressing plant-specific matrix hand etchings as found on the early vinyl copies of DARKNESS released in the United States. For the details, refer to the main text.
As I first introduced here March in the last year, there is a small unusual variety of the early U.S. pressings of his fourth album, as to where they were pressed. These variants occurred because, when the LP was ready for production, the Pitman pressing plant, one of the three major plants used by Columbia Records back then, was not available for the operation due to continued labor issues that first happened on the 2nd of April 1978, according to Billboard Magazine. Thus far, I have confirmed that at least four vinyl manufacturing plants, excluding the other two major Columbia-related plants in Santa Maria and Terre Haute, made up for the shortfall in vinyl pressing at the early phase of the album release. The said four plants were owned by the following companies that had probably never been involved in Springsteen's album production before:
Most probably, these plants contributed only to the early pressing but were not utilized when the album was repressed, for I have never seen any relevant copies without TML dead-wax stamps (a signature of the early pressings; see this post for more info) or housed in the later LP sleeves*.

*To my understanding and as mentioned here previously, with the exception of Half-Speed Mastered and recent Remastered reissues, there exist three kinds of different sleeves for the US DARKNESS LP with variations on the rear: 
      #1, large track listing/black font credits without barcodes;
      #2, small track listing/white font credits without barcodes; and
      #3, small track listing/white font credits with barcodes.

Upper, left to right: #1 sleeve, white label promo Terre Haute pressing; #2
, regular T
erre Haute pressing; #3 sleeve, regular Pitman (?) pressing;
and the Japanese white label promo first pressing (Obi is removed to indicate
the absence of barcodes). Lower: thick (left) and thin (right) inner sleeves.
These issues are also distinguished by some differences found in the accompanying inner sleeve and lyric insert. For example, the inner sleeve is grouped into two variations which are made of thick and thin papers with standard and poor quality images, respectively. Generally, #1 and #2 come with the thick inner sleeve whereas the thin version is mostly associated with #3. Although I am not sure, #1 was probably out slightly earlier than #2 because I have never seen white label promo copies that came in the #2 sleeve. The Japanese first pressing and all the subsequent vinyl issues there feature the small track listing, indicating that the #2 sleeve probably appeared on the U.S. market less than one month following the #1 version (Note that the first Japanese pressing is released one month behind the original U.S. release; see this post). So, here I refer both #2 and #3 as "later LP sleeves" even though I know some claim that #1 and #2 appeared simultaneously. Post your comments if you have different views and information on the U.S. rear sleeve variation.

As I already explained in a series of the previous posts, each of these unusual vinyl discs has a unique symbol that is stamped on the run-off groove area, such as that denoting the Union Jack (i.e. Keel pressings) or a stylized U.S. Capitol building (i.e. NAMI pressings). Each symbol is specific to one of the four pressing plants and thus signifies where a vinyl copy originated from. In addition, such vinyl copies carry a unique, hand-written, two- or three-letter matrix code that is also specific to a pressing plant, as listed below (and shown in the above pictures).
So, what do these simple short codes mean?  It is a matter of fun for me to crack these matrix inscriptions, even if my interpretations may often be found incorrect. First, all the codes begin with "P", for which I assume "Pitman" since I cannot come up with any other commonalities, that are indicated by this single letter, among these pressing plants except the fact that they have served as substitutes for that New Jersey plant. The second letter in each code (N, M or K) probably refers to the initial of company name (i.e. N for NAMI, M for MCA, and K for Keel). The third letter in PMI or PMN distinguishes the location of the two plants back then owned by MCA Records (i.e. I for Illinois or N for New York). To summarize:
  • PN = Pitman + NAMI
  • PMI = Pitman + MCA + IL
  • PMN = Pitman + MCA + NY
  • PK = Pitman + Keel
While I am still not certain with regard to the first letter "P", I think this interpretation sounds logically good. There is, however, yet another three-letter code which I cannot figure out thus far. The code is found on the dead wax space of not very early, but not later repressed copies (coming in #1 sleeve), based on the matrix number suffixes. 
— To be continued.

Jun 10, 2018

Steel Mill - LIVE AT THE MATRIX: A limited edition numbered CD box with a 48-page booklet, also known as the first "protection-gap" CD available exclusively as a mail order (not on vinyl topics)

Originally released in 1989 or 1990, this copy is still in pristine condition. If my memory serves me correctly, another box which is covered with reddish brown cloth was also available. Such variant was probably released earlier (and so with a lower limited number) than the grey box. The thick booklet carries many pictures of the band, posters, tickets and memorabilia, which are reproduced in color or black and white.
A limited number is stamped on the sticker that is glued on the
back side of the box lid. I was late to order a copy, which is
obviously reflected on the high serial number.
While constantly playing vinyl discs on my old DENON turntable, like many, I also use modern technology for casual listening and frequently load electronic sound files into some music softwares, such as iTunes and VOX. So, listening to CD is very rare these days. This weekend, however, I felt a compulsion to listen to an old 1973 show on CD as the recording was not stored on my MacBook Pro. To find out the copy, I pulled out and examined the contents of what I've called a "miscellaneous box" full of bootleg CD titles released in the 1990's I have seldom played for a long while. Through this small labor, unexpectedly, I found a long-forgotten, small packet buried deep in the box, which was secured with printed packing tapes featuring a trademark symbolizing that famous "giant dog breed" as well as company name. 

What I recall in the first place on Great Dane Records is that, by issuing a series of live CD of historically important performances every one or two month in the early 1990's, they have made collectors' dream come true. So, here in Japan, a new title from the record label arrived regularly and expectedly from Italy in this time interval. With the demise of vinyl bootleg, it was really exciting experiences to witness such new tides of live concert releases in the then-cutting edge format at an import CD/record shop I used to visit when I was young.

Back then, the Italian copyright law protected live recordings only for 20 years and studio recordings only for 25 years, which were considerably shorter than those of other countries. The differences in protection term caused "protection-gap" between Italy and other countries, and such "protection-gap" had accelerated CD releases of old live recordings that belonged to public domain there and in other countries such as Germany with a relatively shorter period of copyright protection (Hence, these CDs were called "protection-gap" CDs). However, although coming with well-cared and professional-looking sleeves and booklets that were comparable to official products, Springsteen's live CDs released by Great Dane Records were still illegal products when they first appeared in 1989-1991, even under the Italian copyright law. This was simply because, by that time, all the live recordings after his major debut in 1973 were yet less than 20 years old.

Steel Mill - LIVE AT THE MATRIX (GDR MAIL 1) is advertized on the booklet of the relatively late CD issues on Great Dane Records. Shown is the one included in the Master Plus version of THE SAINT, THE INCIDENT, AND THE MAIN POINT SHUFFLE (GDR CD 9012). Note that the early booklet accompanied with the original version, most copies of which suffered from so-called CD rot (including mine), does not list this limited box set.

However, there was only one Springsteen-related title on the Great Dane Records label that was probably non-illegitimate and successfully avoided the copyright protection issue (still only in Italy) when it was released around in 1990. This acceptable "protection-gap" CD is a single disc set that captures a famous live concert before his major debut, dating back to January 13, 1970, performed at the Matrix club in San Francisco, California, when he played as the lead vocalist/guitarist in a heavy blues/rock power quartet known as Steel Mill. It was a special collector's edition from Great Dane Records that was available in a limited number of 1,000 copies exclusively through a mail-order service provided by the company (so, not available at the retail level for foreign customers like me). I don't exactly remember when and how I got to know this release. Probably through their advertisement booklet (shown above) or a bootleg CD column on one of the Backstreets magazine issues that have been published in 1990.

Even though generally recognized as a bootleg company, Great 
Dane Records
were a legitimate company at least in Italy. So,
they had conducted business honorably. Stapled on the top of
invoice sheet is the receipt for the credit card transaction.
Although I was (and still am) not primarily interested in his music and performance in this particular era (i.e. before the major debut), I couldn't help ordering a copy because, as a collector, I was compellingly attracted to its unique package in a limited run, including a 48-page booklet, which was specially issued by the then flag-bearer company at the dawn of new bootleg industry. According to the accompanying invoice included in the packet, the price was 44,600 Italian lire, which correspond to approximately US $40 at the then exchange rate, and the hand-written date indicates that the CD was ordered on November 21, 1990, which is close to three decades ago.
— Wrote down this as just a note for an unexpected finding (to myself).