Mar 21, 2017

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN US LP variations: Scranton pressing (Pressing Plant owned by North American Music Industries)

A full-page ad for Prove It All Night, the first single from
DARKNESS album, in the May-27th 1978 issue of
magazine that reports the end of the Pitman strike. 
Through the 1970's up to early 1980's, there were three major vinyl-pressing plants, located in Terre Haute, IN (1953-1982), Pitman, NJ (1960-1986) and Santa Maria, CA (1963-1981), that served the US Columbia Records. So, most of vinyl copies of Springsteen's albums up to THE RIVER originate from one of these plants. As told in the last blog, however, the original copies of DARKNESS album have more variation with respect to where they are pressed, because the Pitman Plant stopped pressing operation temporarily upon strike until close to the scheduled release date (due late May 1978), which necessitated the company to find out substituting factories. In the May-27th issue, Billboard magazine reports that the strike ended May 17, 1978. The magazine continues that the full production is expected to resume by this week and that the settlement will allow CBS to be able to meet demand on upcoming releases by Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Boston, and Dave Mason.

The overall label design looks the same between Santa Maria (left) and Scranton (right) pressings, although the stamper ring on the latter is far smaller than that on the former (but still noticeably larger than that on the Pinckneyville pressing).

Scranton-specific deadwax signature known
as "anvil" or "lathe cutting head" symbol
(stamped on both sides)
Here's a little more information on how CBS maintained, despite the strike, its essential service on the East Coast. According to a comment on 45cat (an online tremendous resource for vinyl seven inch singles) posted by an expert and dedicated record collector (who has contributed to this blog; see here), as a stopgap measure, CBS sub-contracted with other pressing plants that were owned back then by the following record companies (at least, and probably a few more others, I guess):
  • North American Music Industries (NAMI), Scranton, PA
  • PRC Recording Corp., Richmond, IN
  • MCA Records, Pinckneyville, IL
  • RCA Records, Indianapolis, IN
  • Monarch Record Mfg. Co., Los Angeles, CA
I have no idea as to whether all the factories mentioned above were pressing DARKNESS LP or selected plants were involved in the production.

Hand-etched matrix numbers and a "TML-M" stamp on Side 1 of the
Scranton pressing. The "anvil" stamp is out of sight.
Individual vinyl-pressing plants often differentiated their products from others with unique symbolic signatures that are stamped on the run-out deadwax of a record disc. Shown on the last blog is a vinyl copy of DARKNESS LP pressed in Pinckneyville, which is easily identified by the stamped symbol ◈-P-◈. Here's another different example from my collection that is pressed at the plant in Scranton, PA, owned back then by NAMI (that took over it from Capitol Records in late 1973). Scranton pressings also have its own unique stamp (something like ) as pictured here, that is often called an abstract anvil symbol, also said to resemble the cutting head of a lathe machine for phonograph disc (I don't definitely know what is actually symbolized). The exact matrix numbers for this particular DARKNESS copy are as follows (hand-etched, oblique; stamped, straight):
  • Side 1:  PAL-35318-1G PN #2     TML-M     ☖   
  • Side 2:  PAL-35318-2T PN #2     TML-S      ☖
As mentioned in the last blog, "TML" stamps are commonly found on the early pressings of DARKNESS, but I can't figure out what is meant by "PN #2". Still, it's interesting for me to examine unusual matrix codes on deadwax space as they might provide clues to finding out something unexpected or unknown.

Mar 18, 2017

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN US LP variations: Pinckneyville pressing (Pressing Plant owned by MCA Records)

Although one of the best sounding vinyls among his early original releases, collecting-wise, the US release of DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN LP (US Columbia JC 35318) has not been so attractive to me, especially compared to the other classic albums such as BORN TO RUN or THE RIVER. This is probably because it is a single album housed in a single pocket sleeve without significant variations, with the   
Still-sealed US vinyl collection of DARKNESS  from my archive
exception of the picture disc edition that is not commercially available and released solely for promoting the album in the U.S. market; the half-speed mastered LP (US Columbia HC 45318), another notable variation, is classified as a reissue - not an original. Nonetheless, there still exist minor but noticeable variations, for example, in the font size (large or small) and color (black or white) used for displaying track listing and album credits on the rear LP sleeve, respectively, and thickness and printing quality of the inner sleeve with a B&W photo portrait and the credits, as briefly mentioned here.

The US DARKNESS label variants: Left, a typical label associated with vinyl copies pressed in Santa Maria, CA (and other locations); Right, an unusual label found on the vinyl LP pressed in Pinckneyville, IL. Note that the inner ring on the label (often called stamper ring) is much smaller on the Pinckneyville pressing.
Typesetting of the record labels of this LP album is yet another example that shows the significant  variation found on the US versions. Two examples are shown here. One label is taken from a vinyl copy pressed at the Santa Maria Pressing Plant, CA, according to the dead wax inscription (see here for the dead wax signature for this particular pressing factory), that features common Arial/Helvetica-like fonts regularly used back then for both red-commercial and whilte-promotional labels of the U.S. Columbia Records. Found on the other label is, however, an apparently different font which to me looks like Calibri (I'm not an expert on font, so the aforementioned font names may not be appropriate). Such a difference in label printing usually indicates that these vinyls are pressed at different locations. So, where do copies of the vinyl disc carrying this unusual labels come from?
A representative signature ◈-P-◈ for Pinckneyville
pressings that is found on the dead wax space
(stamped on both sides).
There is an interesting fact that, when the US Columbia Records were about to release DARKENESS LP late May 1978, there was a strike going on at the Pitman factory, NJ, a major vinyl pressing plant supplying a large percentage of records sold on the East Coast. According to a series of the Billboard magazine articles covering this labor issue (found in total seven magazine issues from April 15th to May 27th), the cause of the strike was a dispute over wages and mandatory work on Sunday. The strike apparently forced the company to delay the pressing, distribution and releases of some titles. The May-20th issue of the magazine reports as follows: At an a&r and marketing meeting at CBS last Monday (May 8th, 1978) some low priorty releases were rescheduled but the company is going ahead with major releases by Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen at the end of the month.”  So, what the Columbia Records did to keep on the schedule for major releases was to use several pressing plants that were not normally contracted with for manufacturing their products. In fact, the late May release, that was to be coincident with the beginning of the album promotion tour, was postponed to June 2nd. This was, however, not due to shut down of the plant, but to Bruce's decision to remix again The Promised Land, hence the whole side 2, immediately before the completion of the album production (as told in Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story by Dave Marsh, Doubleday, 1979).
This copy is one of such products and pressed at a pressing plant located in Pinckneyville, IL, and owned back then by MCA Records, as indicated by a unique dead wax stamp ◈-P-◈. The exact matrix codes are as follows on each side (hand-etched, oblique; stamped, straight):

  • Side 1:  ◈-P-◈    A side   PAL-35318-1L   PMI     TML-M
  • Side 2:  ◈-P-◈                PBL-35318-2P   PMI     TML-S 

Hand-etched matrix numbers (left) and a "TML-M" stamp (right) on Side 1 of the DARKNESS Pinckneyville pressing. The symbolic stamp specific to the pressing plant and "A side" hand-etching are not pictured.

As most of you know, another stamp "TML" is unique to early pressings for this album. This refers to "THE MASTERING LAB" that is located in Los Angeles, established by late Doug Sax, a great mastering engineer, and was back then considered one of the best ever mastering studios. The suffixes "M" and "S" indicate cutting lathes (for the Scully master and slave lathes, respectively). Note that a TML stamp is not playing side-specific and I've in fact observed every possible combination in my collection (Side 1/2: TML-M/-M; TML-M/-S; TML-S/-M; and TML-S/-S). The hand-written "PMI" seems also to be specific to vinyl discs pressed at the Pinckneyville factory because I don't probably own, or at least don't recall, any other vinyl pressings with this three-letter code on their dead wax space in my entire vinyl collection, except for this particular copy. I can't figure out what it stands for, however. While the label font and its arrangement look apparently different from the others as pictured above, as far as I examined, the sleeves (both outer and inner) show no obvious particularity, using large fonts for track-listing and black letters for album credit description.

Feb 4, 2017

Collecting log: CHAPTER & VERSE 2LP Japanese edition. A real disappointing release, speaking collector-wise

The Japanese edition is found out to be just a simple repackage of the European release, additionally reproducing the rear sleeve as a slick insert for Japanese credits and information (see the enlarged image of the portion below). Note that vinyl discs are not originally protected by frosted inner plastic poly bags. Including such poly bags was normal for conventional vinyl discs released in Japan, though.

Confused by description. As opposed to what the sticker says
in English, the vinyl discs never look multi-colored. On the last  
line, however, it also says "amber-colored record" in Japanese.
In Japan, TUNNEL OF LOVE was Bruce Springsteen's last album released on vinyl, and in the 29 years since then, no vinyl albums have been pressed here under his name. Last September, Sony Music Japan International (SMJI) announced that the company would release the vinyl edition of the latest album CHAPTER & VERSE for the domestic market on December 7th, 2016. The advertisement said that the LP discs would be issued on "Multi Color Vinyl" and limited to 1,000 copies. Unfortunately, the vinyls are not pressed domestically but imported from Europe, and priced considerably high as a double-disc set [6,480 JPY (including 8% consumption tax) = US $57.59 as of today's exchange rate]. As a vinyl collector, however, I had high expectations on this release as something special because it was a Japanese production famous for careful work and because of the first vinyl LP release here in almost three decades.

Album credits on the slick insert of the Japanese release (upper) and on the actual rear sleeve originally manufactured in Europe (lower).

There is a Japanese blog written by an anonymous SMJI's staff who always provides up-to-date information on currently on-going projects he is involved in. According to him, the export to Japan was delayed due to recent high demands for pressing vinyl discs at an European pressing plant (at GZ-Media in Czech Republic, specifically; thanks Eddy for the info) that was responsible for supplying these records to Japan. Therefore, the release here was postponed to two weeks behind the original date slated for early December. Interestingly, he blogged that they (SMJI's staff) didn't know what the vinyl discs looked like until they saw the actual LPs, meaning that the situation got out of their control when it came to pressing vinyls. This may explain the contradictory description regarding vinyl color as found on the company's advertisement on various media and on the golden sticker on the front sleeve [i.e. multi color vinyl (written in English) versus amber-colored record (in Japanese)]. He also mentioned on the blog that, owing to the defective discs contained in the imported lot, the limited copy number must be less than 1,000 although the exact number was not revealed. Anyway, I have received two copies of this expected release right on the rescheduled date (December 21st), which was pre-ordered on last September from Amazon (with no discount).

On the top side of the Obi, there is a small misprint of
the catalog number "SIJP 29-3" (correctly "SIJP 29-30").
Frankly, what I saw was disappointing, to say the least. My point is that this new release lacks what has made Japanese LP releases so reputable over the years. It does have an Obi and booklet. However, I never thought that the whole package was imported including the sleeve that prints the foreign label name (Columbia), catalog number (88985370831) and album credits. So, in order to rectify these, what SMJI did was to recreate the rear sleeve as a slick insert to put the relevant Japanese information on it, such as the domestic catalog number (SIJP 29-30), bar code, retail price (6,000 JPY plus tax) and so on. You cannot know that it's a Japanese LP from the sleeve spine if you stock it on the record shelf because the spine credits remain unmodified, leaving the original EU catalog number and label name. As such, in my opinion, the result looks totally sloppy compared to past "Made In Japan" LPs of Springsteen, even though the sleeve comes with an Obi and a gold sticker glued on front. The Japan-exclusive 8-page booklet features mainly lyrics translation into Japanese and track-to-track liner notes, which are nothing special just reprinted from the CD releases, with no pictures except album discography on the last page. Another shortcoming is, as already mentioned above, that the vinyl discs are certainly colored (amber or golden brown) but never look multi-colored as announced and advertised ("marble colored" would be more appropriate). If it had been done so, to the best of my knowledge, this could have been the first ever official multi-colored vinyl release (In comparison, there are many bootleg releases pressed on multi-colored vinyl). In conclusion, I dare say that this is nothing but a rip-off for vinyl collectors, because of the fixed retail price which is greedy expensive, and because I can see no real merit in purchasing this release compared with the overseas counterparts.