Introducing…

On December 10th 1964 Beatles fans across America were treated to the first long playing album of the The Fab Four in this country:

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No not that one! That one would come out ten days later. This album, Introducing… The Beatles (England’s No.1  Vocal Group) was rushed out by Chicago record label Vee-Jay, launching a months long soap opera of legal wrangling, backroom deals and giving birth to an underground counterfeit operation that lasted well into the 70s.

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The story goes like this: The Beatles recording company, EMI, had a top 20 hit in the UK with the song Love Me Do. But British acts weren’t selling outside of Great Britain. EMI subsidiaries (like Capital Records in the US), downright refused to issue these Beatles singles in the States.

Another EMI affiliate started shopping The Beatles around to other US record companies. Several labels passed before Vee-Jay records, known mostly for their R&B and gospel lineup, signed the deal.

Ironically, The Beatles were tacked on to the deal that Vee-Jay really wanted. There was a singer named Frank Ifield who Vee-Jay wanted to release in the US and the EMI deal made them except the Beatles as well.

Vee-Jay received both stereo and mono master tapes from the current UK Beatles album Please Please Me. Rather than  just issue the Please Please Me album, Vee-Jay released several Beatles singles in 1963… but none of them got any real traction on the charts.

Vee-Jay eventually settled on the track listing that became Introducing… and begin preparations for a July 1963 release of the LP.

Also during this time, Vee-Jay’s president got into some gambling debt and started pilfering money from the label to cover those. This threw the operation into turmoil and some shady business practices on the part of Vee-Jay got them into some trouble with the EMI and their contract was deemed null and void.

With the popularity of The Beatles now growing worldwide, Capitol Records decided it was time to jump on The Beatles band wagon. Capital announced plans to  release a Beatles album,  sponsor an advertising Blitz  to herald Beatlemania into the States and The Beatles  got a booking on The Ed Sullivan Show for February 1964. Vee-Jay, strapped for cash but sitting on this treasure trove of Beatles material in its vault, decided to rush out their album Introducing… just edging out the official Capital release of Meet The Beatles.

Within days Vee-Jay had ordered all three of its processing plants to start pressing the Introducing… album. Even though the pressing masters were assembled and the front cover was ready, Vee-Jay had not decided on a back cover for the album. They got around this problem by first duplicating the inner sleeve on the outer cover and, when those ran out, just printing a plain white rear cover with nothing on it! Finally official rear cover was designed and produced. It was just simple white with two columns of black text identifying the songs on the record.

Less than a week after Vee-Jay released Introducing… they were served with a restraining order. It seems that in their haste to capitalize on the latest Beatles hit, Love Me Do, they included that song and its B-side, PS I Love You, on initial runs of Introducing…, two songs did not have the rights to!

A version 2 was developed, replacing the two songs with Ask Me Why and Please Please Me, which they had already released as singles.

The legal battles continued through most of 1964, with restraining orders and injunctions issued by Capital, counter suits by Vee-Jay, and Vee-Jay furiously printing records in the lull periods to get around these legal problems.

Finally a settlement was reached in which Vee-Jay could issue any of the Beatles songs under its control in any way they saw fit into October 1964 at which point Capitol Records would regain control.

All these shenanigans amounted to lax consistency standards at dozens of pressing/printing plants resulting in numerous different label configurations on Introducing…

All together, it is estimated that there were just over 1.3 million copies of Introducing… released by Vee-Jay. The vast majority of these were in the monophonic format with less than 50,000 stereophonic copies printed and sold. The scarcity of original pressing of this album made it a ripe target for counterfeiters trying to make a fast buck on record collectors.

As early as the late 60s, counterfeit copies of Introducing… were showing up on the market. Most were fakes of the rare stereo version first pressing which included the songs Love Me Do and PS I Love You. This counterfeiting went on through the 70s, purportedly with mob connections attached. It is estimated that Introducing… was counterfeited millions of times over the years. Some estimates I’ve seen believe that there are at least 10 fakes on the market for every legit copy.

There were several “tells” that an astute observer could look for to separate the fakes from the real deal.

Originals had covers with glossy paper both front and back. The printing was sharp and clear and the sleeves were grey or brown cardboard with quarter-inch flaps holding the back side to the front side. The front cover photo had a shadow of George in the background on the right side of the record. Counterfeit versions often had blotchy printing on the rear cover, especially in the word “Honey” in the song title for A Taste Of Honey.

Label variations and disc printing of the vinyl record itself was even more telling. The album title “Introducing the Beatles” and the artist “The Beatles” both have to appear above spindle hole. If the title and artist are separated by the spindle hole, your record is a fake. Labels needed to be gloss or semi-gloss with rainbow colored bands and bright sharp silver print. The color band is especially important as many fakes have it ragged, offset or forgetting the color green all together. The dead wax of all originals is 1 inch or less in thickness, many counterfeits had more than 1 inch thick dead wax. Also in the dead wax were matrix numbers both scribed and machine stamped on originals where as counterfeits don’t have any machine stamping.

Finally, the biggest tell of all was in listening to the record. Due to the fact that the stereo version was most rare, most counterfeits pretend to be the stereo version. If your record does not say stereo on the label or does not play in stereo when the cover purports to be a stereo record, it is fake. Finally, an original is a pretty good sounding record! (even better than the corresponding Capital releases) The fakes I’ve heard sound like poo!

I have two copies of this album in the collection, one real stereo version and one awesome counterfeit. Can you tell the difference?

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Front covers

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Rear covers

There are many other variations too including some black label pressings.

The best of source I’ve found for identifying Introducing… the Beatles is this awesome site: http://rarebeatles.com/photospg/introvj.htm

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