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.