Sound Advice: The most common “rare” record and more

By  Tim Neely

Question: The term “rare” is overused; Yesterday And Today butcher covers are supposed to be “rare,” but it seems as though every auction house and some of the more well-known Beatles dealers have some always available.

Now, here’s something I truly consider rare, not because I have one, in NM, but I haven’t seen the RCA promo of “Blue Christmas/Blue Christmas” for sale or auction in at least a decade.

 It was a promo-only 45, released in November 1957, promoting Elvis’ Christmas Album. My question is: How many copies of this rarity were pressed? One Elvis expert told me that probably only 500 or so of these promo-only 45s were pressed.

Also, Bruce Spizer, in his Vee-Jay book, estimates that only 7,500 copies of The Beatles VJ-498 were pressed. My second question is, of that number, how many of the pressings had Beatles spelled with two Ts?

Wally Simpson, Mishawaka, Ind.

Answer: I’ll tackle these one at a time.

First, you are correct about the Beatles’ butcher cover. It’s been called the world’s most common rare record. Even though it’s relatively easy to find, for an item that fetches in three figures at worst and into five figures for the best copies, it’s always in demand.

Second, the figure of 500 sounds correct for the ultra-rare “Blue Christmas” promo 45. It has no catalog number but is on a white RCA Victor label with the master number H07W-0808. At the top of the label, under the words “RCA Victor,” it states “From The RCA Victor Album ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ ” in all capital letters on two lines. It also has the famous horizontal line on the label, which indicates a Rockaway, N.J., pressing. A copy sold on eBay in 2004 for around $1,200, which is a relative bargain compared to what an Elvis dealer or one of the major auction sellers would get.

Third, though I can’t cite exact numbers, every indication is that “Please Please Me” on Vee-Jay 498 features more copies with “Beatles” misspelled as “Beattles” than with it spelled correctly, probably by about 2-to-1. Regardless, either version is hard to find.

Question: The Goldmine record guide clearly states that a first-pressing LP of Mary Wells On Stage has the address above the LP hole. Yet I have a bid on the same LP from a reputable dealer whose LP has the address below the hole — but he guarantees it to be a first press, as a “1A” appears in the dead wax. Can the dealer be correct?

Mike Schwartz, Hatfield, Pa.

Answer: Maybe. The “1A” at the end of the master number indicates that the album was pressed by Columbia. As was true of every independent label and even a few “majors” such as Warner Bros. and United Artists, Motown did not press its own records. Instead, it contracted with outside plants to do so. If it had a hit on its hands, it would deal with more than one facility. One of those on standby was Columbia.

Many Motown singles from 1960-62 were pressed by Columbia, as were some copies of a few later ones. Unfortunately, I don’t know when Motown used Columbia to press LPs. It’s possible that the Columbia pressing of Mary Wells On Stage wasn’t made until 1964, when she had her biggest pop hit, “My Guy.” In that case, Columbia would have had the “newer” Motown labels without the address above the center hole. The “1A” would indicate that it was Columbia’s first stamper, but not necessarily that of Motown as a whole.

Question: Could you give me some guidance as to where I can find information on how to recognize a first-pressing album? How do I know an album is a first pressing? Is there a way to tell by looking on the album or does it vary from album to album?

Aron Joustra via e-mail

Answer: It’s impossible to answer that question in the amount of space of a column. If only it were as easy to tell a first-pressing record as it is to tell most first-printing books!

Most recent books have a code on the copyright page which, if you know how to interpret it, will tell you which printing of a book you have. It’s usually a series of numbers that looks something like this:

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

The lowest number that is shown is the printing. Don’t be fooled by the words “First edition” followed by a date. The numerical code is what matters. Books in their 60th printing and above can still say “First edition” on the copyright page.

Unfortunately, no such mechanism exists for records. One label tried something similar at one time, and that was the spoken-word company Caedmon. You can find some of the label’s more popular albums — for example, Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas In Wales, which I think was Caedmon’s biggest-selling LP — with book-like indicators on the back cover stating that the album is a “second printing” or “seventh printing” followed by a date.

But Caedmon was the exception. On other labels, you have to know when it changed label designs. A book such as the “Goldmine Record Album Price Guide,” which has an extensive listing of labels and when the designs were altered, is a must.

Question: Several months ago, in the Goldmine reviews section, Todd Whitesel reviewed Don “Sugar Cane” Harris’ Sugar Cane’s Got The Blues CD.  Is this the same Don “Sugar Cane” Harris who was half of the Southern California duet Don & Dewey of “Justine” and “Leavin’ It All Up To You” fame?

Robert Courtney, Bothell, Wash.


Answer:
Yes. He also played on several Frank Zappa/The Mothers Of Invention albums, including Hot Rats and Weasels Burned My Flesh, and he spent some time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, in addition to his solo work and his early material with Don & Dewey.

Question: I came across a Big Bopper single today. It has “Chantilly Lace” on one side and “Big Bopper’s Wedding” on the reverse. It is blue with the Mercury logo on top. It has two numbers, C-30072 and YW17625. I would love to know the date on this as well as a guess to a value.

Brian Jones via e-mail

Answer: You have a record from Mercury’s “Celebrity Series,” reissues that the label started doing in the late 1950s. As many of these were in print for a long time, they can have different styles of Mercury logos and different shades of blue. Near-mint copies range from about $5 to $10, a far cry from the original edition.

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