Dorset based Beatles expert Adie Brown takes a look at the oddest U.K. Subs rarity.
This 'Teenage' 7" 'test pressing' appeared on e-bay in 2008.
The following information accompanied the auction:
"RARE UK 7" 45 PRESSED IN PINK VINYL.
The B-side has THIS BOY labels from the 1976 Beatles re-issues. The A-side has a plain BLUE label with no text at all. Both sides play UK SUBS tracks (TEENAGE / LEFT FOR DEAD / NEW YORK STATE POLICE).
You can view it as a UK SUBS TEST PRESSING or a BEATLES label miss-press as both descriptions are accurate. Either way it's certainly a rarity."
I’ve seen some real oddities in my time but this one takes the biscuit!
Initially, I thought this record had so many anomalies it must be a fake and the result of a clever person’s tomfoolery! There seems to be disparity in the dates of manufacture. To a layman with no knowledge of record companies in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it might seem plausible that such a bizarre record could exist through error alone. However, to someone like myself, who knows a little about these things, the facts can actually cloud the issue and sometimes become more perplexing!
Let us specifically address some of the evidence that will allow a probable explanation for this Frankenstein’s Monster! Before we start, I will list some relevant facts that might assist us.
1. Pressing Plants
Gem Toby Records was a small label division of RCA whose parent company is Sony Music. The Beatles recorded on the Parlophone label, part of HMV whose parent company was EMI. Here lies a contradiction. Up until 2011, Sony and EMI were fierce rivals. They had their own artists recording independently of each other in Sony or EMI studios. By the same token these companies had their own pressing plants. At the outset of the Beatles’ phenomenon, EMI were unable to keep up with the sudden massive demand and so approached rival companies to produce so called ‘contract’ pressings. However, in the 1970s and 80s, independent pressing plants sprang up and took contracts from other record labels. Likewise, EMI undertook contract work of their own for rival labels.
2. Dates and Labels
In 1976 The Beatles contracts with EMI (and Capitol in the USA) came to an end. EMI owned the recording rights to the Beatles’ back catalogue which they reissued simultaneously in new picture sleeves in March 1976. At the end of 1977, World Records (the mail order arm of EMI) released all the singles with picture sleeves in a box set for the UK. The gold embossed set was entitled ‘The Beatles Collection’. The set was deleted by World Records in 1981. There is a clue here!
ABOVE: LABEL TEXT ERROR EXAMPLE (click to enlarge)
My 1st press copy of Love Me Do on the left shows what is considered an error by collectors and pundits. The song writers credit text under the title is misaligned. The version on the right shows the misalignment corrected. Note also the inclusion of the ‘MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN’ text on the right hand side of the label.
ABOVE: MISPRESSED LABEL ERROR EXAMPLE (click to enlarge)
My 1st press copy of I Feel Fine. Both side A and B have the same label. Side B should have the ‘She’s a Woman’ label. A classic labelling mispress.
3. Mispressings and Test Pressings
I’ve seen many ‘mispressings’ in my time as a collector and I own a few of the most sought after. These are errors made during the manufacture of records and differ from machine failure in that they were not correctly proofed prior to full production. Sometimes, records were produced with multiple errors in great batches before the mispress was noticed and production stopped until the problem was rectified. Examples of this are rare copies of ‘With the Beatles’ and ‘Revolver’. Amazingly, many of these mispress records were allowed to be distributed to wholesalers for sale to retail outlets. Some were retained by factory employees as ‘seconds’ (whether officially or otherwise!) Obviously, factory ‘quality control’ was far less diligent a few decades ago!
Test pressings were usually performed as a type of proofing process. They are rare and highly collectable. These records were sometimes retained by record company employees, management or pressing plant employees. It is highly unlikely that test pressings were placed in sleeves and sent for general distribution. Presumably, many of these tests were discarded after they had served their purpose. Most of the test pressings I’ve seen have blank labels with various hand written dates, numbers and what appear to be initials. Some have been stamped with information.
ABOVE: SLEEVE ARTWORK ERROR EXAMPLE (click to enlarge)
On the left, my 1st press copy of Abbey Road showing the misaligned apple logo error. On the right, a corrected version. Collectors use this error as confirmation of a very first press.
During the golden age of vinyl, ‘human beings’ were involved at every stage of production. From first ‘take’ recordings right through to the manufacture of the finished product, a small army of people were engaged in ensuring our favourite artists were available in record shops.
On the odd occasion, as in all professions, there were individuals who felt inclined to have a little ‘fun’. What their motivation might have been, we may never know. Some ‘interesting’ vinyl records have surfaced over the years that are obviously the result of someone choosing to do something other than the norm. Mostly, they consist of special little messages scratched into the surface of the ‘dead wax’ on the run off grooves. I once owned a Motörhead LP that had the words “is this my Pontefract cake?” scratched into the dead wax! I’ve also seen singles and LPs manufactured in an entirely different coloured vinyl to what was originally intended.
In 1978 Colin McDonald, a TV cameraman, worked at the EMI record pressing plant in Hayes, Middlesex. He was helping to produce a 1,000 batch limited edition Beatles album (The White Album) in white vinyl for the management of EMI. While overseers ‘turned a blind eye’ he pressed a single album in blue vinyl. This is probably one of the most famous examples of ‘tomfoolery’. The record itself has been signed by Paul McCartney and can be viewed at The Beatles Story museum on Albert Dock in Liverpool.
Of course, you will never see the likes of this again with the advent of digital downloading. Music recorded on vinyl was so much more of a tangible experience. Something that technology has made redundant. The ‘craft’ of vinyl production together with all the associated industries such as designing and printing sleeves has nearly been lost.
Above: Teenage UK release, 1980, front & back cover. Click to enlarge.
Now, to the question in hand. The above facts have given us clues that will allow us to determine the origin of this U.K. Subs Teenage 7” single oddity.
The reissue Beatles’ Parlophone label indicate this record was probably pressed at the EMI plant in Hayes, Middlesex despite the contradiction of being issued on the RCA label Gem Toby Records, a Sony company. The design of the ‘punch out’ centre of this record confirms this although the image is too small to be categorical. The punch out centre is important because different record labels had different designs. For instance, Phillips and Polydor only had 3 ‘prongs’ holding the centre in place while other labels had 4. Centres differ because some had additional rings or grooves so you can tell the difference between a Decca and a Pye press etc.
Initially I thought the dates were all wrong and so this was a fake. However, after research, the dates are corroborated by the facts. This U.K. Subs release is dated 1980. World Records deleted the box set of Beatles reissues in 1981. So, the Beatles label is in the wrong place but the right time as it were!
We know that test pressings were produced prior to full production as a way of ‘proofing’ the record pressing. I’m unsure what is actually being proofed or tested with this record. If it was just the vinyl, they wouldn’t have bothered with the label. Or, it could be that they were testing the vinyl and just continued with the labels they were using at the time. It’s certainly not inconceivable they were proofing the Parlophone label. It’s difficult to tell.
It would have been handy to know if this record came with an original U.K. Subs sleeve. If it didn’t come with a sleeve there would be more provenance to the sellers claim that it is a test pressing.
Summary / Conclusion
This record is more than likely to be as described, a test pressing. I’m about 95% sure this is the case. There is still a remote chance it could have been produced as a result of employee tomfoolery.
There is virtually no chance this is a mispress and therefore made in error.
T&M webpage for the 'Teenage' single - click here
Below is a selection of images of the World Records Beatles box set - click to enlarge
Article © Adie Brown - June 2012
Follow Adie on Twitter @rockchefmusic - click here