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Taiwanese pressings of '60s and '70s rock records are collector darlings

Taiwanese pressings of rock records are sought after less for fidelity than for the sheer oddity of their presentation.
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By Ray Chelstowski

It’s a rarity for sure. But there are times when “fakes” become as coveted among collectors as the originals they passed themselves off to be. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the “collecting” can become quite impassioned and in turn, valuation begins to rise.

I learned of one very vertical record collecting interest a few weeks back at a show in Bridgeport, CT. My shopping companion Pat convinced me to purchase Eric Clapton’s 1970 solo debut. Not because it was in particularly pristine condition. Nor because the price was right (although Pat later contended that that ask of $25 was actually a very good deal). Instead he was bullish on the copy because it was a Taiwanese version of the record, something I had never heard of. This kicked off a crash course of discovery that got a bunch of record show attendees to weigh in. Soon I was surrounded by a slew of personal stories tied to these pressings. In the end, this specialized record collecting passion may have just found another enthusiast. I’m kinda hooked!

At the show in Bridgeport, this particular record dealer had many copies of well-known rock records. A quick glance would trigger a well tapped memory. “Oh yeah, that’s the Beatles Help”. Then you’d look at the record just a little closer and realize that IT IS Help, but within an entirely different cover package. The art is from that general period, and the copy says Help and includes some single shout outs. But it’s not the Help you really knew all along. Instead, it’s a version pressed in Taiwan in what can only be described as a bootleg intended to capitalize on the vast number of GI’s who were stationed there between the 1950s and 1970s. The albums were usually pressed in batches of about 500, with no two batches looking or sounding the same. There would be different covers and the color of the records itself would tend to vary, often made from translucent colored vinyl.

Perhaps the most novel point of difference was the material used for the covers themselves. They were usually recycled. Either they were turned inside out album covers for an entirely different performer like Andy Williams, or they were washed out photographic reproductions printed on very thin paper wrapped in cellophane (like the copy that I purchased). The varieties available for just one record could be endless, prompting the non-stop pursuit of “just one more gem.”

This is how it was done. The Taiwanese company would buy a brand new legitimate LP of a popular record and make that the master, or the straight disc dub. From the master, stampers were made and new LPs were then pressed in one of the 45 pressing plants. Up until the late 1960s the sleeves and labels were printed in Taiwan, but afterwards most were printed in the Philippines. The result is a very distinct kind of sound. It doesn’t sound like a typical bootleg even though you could suggest that concert boots kinda follow a similar formula. The Taiwanese version resides somewhere between plugging into the sound board at a concert and the actual studio cut. The music is slightly muted, just a hair less bright but oddly warmer. In the end it really doesn't matter. These records are sought after less for fidelity than for the sheer oddity of their presentation.

It’s said that through labels like First Records, these Taiwanese versions outsold legitimate copies by a margin of 5 to 1. It’s not surprising as they were sold openly in record stores alongside real copies for a ¼ of the price.

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Today, music consumption is a lot like automotive safety. When you buy a new car you expect it to be safe. No one asks about the efficacy of airbag deployment. In terms of music there’s an expectation that the sound fidelity will always be at a technical apex. Anything less and the listener moves onto to something else. In short, these Taiwanse LP's aren't a product for our times today.

But for GI’s of the 50's, 60's and early 70's the price differential and probably the novelty made for a proposition that was difficult to ignore. For collectors like me, it opens up a door to an entirely different approach to record hunting. In both cases, the moment simply adds another dimension to rock n roll and a pathway to an already endless hobbying pursuit.

If Clapton is god, what title does Blind Joe Reynolds get?