The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 December 2006

Starting with 1 would simply not do

Nowadays it's all bar-coded, but in the days of wine and vinyl, records were catalogued with numbers that sometimes made sense and sometimes didn't. In fact, I once vowed that if I ever owned a record label, I would number its releases according to the Fibonacci series, a notion I abandoned when it became obvious that the second release, like the first, would be #1, and the third would perforce be #2. Besides, avoiding giving a record the number 1 was a standard practice, if only because it was a dead giveaway to the guy at the radio station who might or might not play your record that your label was brand-new and therefore the chances of your having a hit were fairly minimal.

Some curiosities I've noticed over the years:

  • Dave Marsh once noted that the Crows' 1953 R&B classic "Gee" was the second single (following Vola Watkins' "Seven Lonely Days") on George Goldner's Rama label, and indeed I've been able to find no earlier releases on the label, which had only just begun operations. "Gee" was released as Rama 5.

  • One thing Marsh was definitely wrong about was Musicor, which, he said, was started by Aaron Schroeder to release Gene Pitney's one-man demo "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," issued as Musicor 1002. There was a 1001: the novelty record "Sick Manny's Gym," credited to "Leo DeLyon and the Musclemen." DeLyon, I'm guessing, is the same guy who did zillions of animation voiceovers.

  • According to legend, Berry Gordy started the Tamla series with 54024, in an homage of sorts to his first hit as a producer: Jackie Wilson's "Reet Petite," which was issued as Brunswick 55024. I have some doubts about this, since two different records have been reported to be Tamla 54024 — which, for Motown, wasn't that unusual an incident — and Gordy's first independent production, Marv Johnson's "Come to Me," which he licensed to United Artists, was initially pressed as Tamla 101. Further, Barrett Strong's pre-"Money" "Let's Rock" came out as Tamla 54022.

  • Some co-owned labels combined their numbers: Smash and Fontana through 1964 or so; London and Parrot around 1962-1965; all the Motown labels starting in 1982.

  • Stereo LPs presented all sorts of inventory issues. The simplest approach was taken by Capitol and RCA Victor: they changed a letter prefix. Some labels, like Elektra and Decca, prefixed a digit, usually 7. Columbia's pop series wound up as CL-[number] mono and CS-[number plus 6800] stereo. London and Liberty had entirely separate numbering sequences for mono and stereo, but eventually found it simpler to bring them into alignment. (Example: Mantovani's 1962 Moon River and Other Great Film Themes was issued on London as LL 3261/PS 249; the next Mantovani LP, Classical Encores, was LL 3269/PS 269.)

  • In 1982, the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic group began numbering their singles backwards. Fleetwood Mac's "Hold Me" was issued as Warner Bros. 29966; the next single issued from Mirage was "Gypsy," which came out as WB 29918. By mid-1985 they were down into the 28000s. The rationale for this was to make sure that when regular catalog lists came out, the newest stuff would be at the top. Really.

I, of course, have learned my lessons well. The next CD I grind out on my personal custom imprint will be 111129-2; it is the seventy-ninth disc in the sequence.

Posted at 7:37 AM to Tongue and Groove

My CDs are produced by Label? We Don' Need No Steenkeeng Label! and each is serial numbered 1 because I don't do "changing CDs" while driving down the road. They're .mp3 files to maximize the number of tracks on the disc -- but I find myself wishing I could plug a multi-gig drive into the dang Sony and hold even more tracks.

I think my next disc will be CD-RW, which the stereo allegedly will play, to simplify the next change-around of tunes. And I hope my next truck stereo will be able to handle .mp3's on DVD.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:38 AM on 4 December 2006

Of course, I can foresee a time when automotive audio consists of a radio and speakers, and a universal input jack for whatever kind of source device the user wants to use.

The Aiwa in my wife's '98 Honda claims to have "AUX" capability but we don't know how it works. Yet.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:41 AM on 4 December 2006

I simply have to add this tale of Stan "The Record Man" Lewis, owner of the Jewel/Paula/Ronn labels in Shreveport. Paula Records was named for Stan's wife, and the first single (the Uniques' "Not Too Long Ago") was #219 — because the Lewises lived at 219 [street name redacted]. The Uniques' first LP, Uniquely Yours, which contains the punkish "You Ain't Tuff," was LPM (or LPS) 2190. The lead singer was Joe Stampley, who later got country hits as a solo.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:16 PM on 24 December 2006