Tuesday, 15 July 2014

78 rpm His Masters Voice Disc Labels

A while ago I published a series of articles on 78 rpm record sleeves from the EMI family. Now it's time to look at a few of the label designs and some of the codes used. This first article deals with the labels of His Masters Voice. I'll kick off with a record from 1927.

This has a full colour reproduction of Francis Barraud's painting of his late brother's dog, Nipper, listening to the recorded voice of his old master. (Nipper was so called because he had a bit of a "thing" for ankles...)

The name of the company was actually The Gramophone Company and the trademark was originally a little angel or cherub reclining on a disc, but the Nipper image was such a powerful one that it and the name became the label. It gave Barraud his career - he painted another 24 copies of the painting to hang in HMV shops all over the UK.

Black Bottom was a particularly notorious charleston dance of the "Roaring Twenties" and this particular example has been played a lot... It still plays without jumping - for anyone under the age of 30, jumping was when the stylus or needle hit an obstruction in the record's groove and jumped out of the groove to land probably in the groove to either side. Further on and the record continued to play. One revolution back however and the record became "stuck", repeating the bit of music from a single revolution of the disc and then hopping back to repeat it continually. And despite the use of "next groove" or "groove to either side", there was really only one groove and it covered the disc in a spiral.

This is a record from the B series which started in September 1912 and carried on to the likes of Alma Cogan and Perry Como towards the end of the 78 rpm era.

From the same year, 1927, came Paul Robeson's version of Sonny Boy - a favourite of Al Jolson impersonators everywhere - "Climb up on my knee, sonny boy..." Robeson was an incredible personality. He was drawn to Communism and became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA), an organisation that was blacklisted under McCarthy. Refusing to deny his support of Soviet policies, he had his passport refused by the American authorities which had a huge effect on his financial situation.

A stamp has been affixed to the record at the time of purchase to show that the required amount of tax - 2¼d (two and a quarter pence or in the terms of the day, tuppence-farthing, about 1p of today's money) has been paid.

Despite the record catalogue number of B 2948, this doesn't necessarily mean that there were over 2000 records released in 1927 between this and the previous record (B 5173). Record companies regularly reserved blocks of catalogue numbers for different types of music - classical, dance band, opera, light etc... Thus catalogue numbers are not necessarily a good way of attempting to date records.

Later on in the B series, this record of Benny Goodman is also part of a series called Swing Music 1937 Series and is No.163 (with the B side being No.164) in that series. Different labels brought out different series but swing, jazz, dance, and rhythm series can all be found on various labels. In this case it happily dates the record for us as a bonus!

Note that the full colour image has gone by the time of this record and the more familiar sepia image is in its place. There's an extra bit of text on the label that tells us it is a recording of a "Dance Orchestra" - or a quartet at any rate...

We have reached 1955 now and the B series is still going strong with over 10,000 records released. Alma Cogan was a big star of the 1950s with a habit of giving a half laugh during her singing which led to her becoming known as the girl with the giggle in her voice. Sadly she died of cancer at the incredibly young age of 34. In 2006 her sister disclosed that Alma, who remained unmarried and subject to rumours that she was gay (in the current not 1950s meaning) had had an affair with John Lennon. Paul McCartney had written the tune that was to become Yesterday on her piano.

The C series was for records of 12 inches diameter rather than the 10 inch diameter of the B series. This allowed recordings of close to five minutes as opposed to the three minutes that was all that could fit on a standard 10" record (incidentally the reason all early pop songs are three minutes or less...). Twelve inch records were usually classical music. Even at five minutes, many pieces of music had to be split over two or more sides. I have Handel's Messiah on 78 rpm discs from 1946 which covers 38 sides - 19 discs!

This record, C.3914 is a recording of the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, recorded in the cathedral by a mobile unit. Note the dot in the catalogue number. Sometimes there is one, sometimes there's a space, sometimes there's both and sometimes neither. The colour of this label is identical to the B series seen earlier.

At the bottom of the label is the original trade mark mentioned previously of an angel reclining on a disc.

The DA (or D.A.) series started in the early 1920s and was used for mainly classical or operatic music. The DA series was on 10" discs and the DB series on 12". Clair de Lune was too long for a single side even on a 12" disc but, with a split in the middle, neatly fits on the two sides of a single 10" disc. The record dates from 1937. The DA and DB series had a bright Post Office red label.

The BD (or B.D.) series departed from the norm in that the image of Nipper was depicted as a line drawing of gold over a maroon or plum colour, which must have been considerably cheaper to produce than the multi-coloured labels we have seen above. Numbering started at 100 in February 1935 and went up to No.1340 in 1955. A reserved range of numbers: 5001 - 6204 were for dance music.

Some artists appeared on both the BD and B series, so it's not always clear what the distinction between the two series was. The BD series though was cheaper than the B series, which cost 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence - 12.5p) at a time when other labels were charging 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence, or 7.5p) per disc. Whilst most of the recordings were original, some later re-released titles came out on the BD series, such as the big Glenn Miller hits etc.

From 1955 onwards the POP series took over the BD series. A very few discs appeared in the POP series with BD-style label design and colours, but most were issued with the new blue label. Early rock and roll, coming from America can be found on this label. Classics such as At The Hop by Danny and The Juniors, Born Too Late by the Pony-Tails and Elvis Presley discs before his move to RCA can be found on this label.

I've remained patriotic though, so my example is the theme to the classic British TV rock and roll show, Six-Five Special by Don Lang and His "Frantic Five".

Just a last mention of a feature of all the labels is to explain the code on the label - in this example: OEA-18953. This is the reference to the recording session. Each take would be allocated a code. In general the lower number is the A side, but it's not a hard rule. A large gap between the codes of the A and B sides can simply mean that a good song had to wait until another song worthy of releasing could be found to go with it - or it might mean a re-release or a pairing of two different previously released A sides on a single disc. Sometimes - as is the case with the first record shown - a song or tune by a totally different artist could be teamed together. On the reverse side of Johnny Hamp's Kentucky Serenaders' Black Bottom (recording 6-569) is Sugar Foot Stomp, another charleston dance tune by Fred Hamm and His Orchestra (recording 5-976).

1 comment:

  1. well explained i have severl of each but one blue thanks its helped no end to date them


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