Recently, I asked reader and record expert Yah Shure a very basic question: How come record labels released so many different versions of hit songs over the years? Not just mono vs. stereo, but multiple mixes, edits of different length, and all the charming little variations that matter to those of us who want to get our hands on the very thing we listened to on the radio back in the day. In the first part of this post, Yah Shure explained some of the considerations artists and producers might take into account when releasing multiple versions. In part 2, he identifies some of the other responsible parties.
There were also unintentional slip-ups. Last-minute production changes could cause multiple variations, especially if the label in question farmed out its mastering and pressing activity to various independent plants around the country (or world, for that matter: EMI UK sent the wrong vocal takes of the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and Gerry and The Pacemakers’ “I’ll Be There” to MGM and Laurie Records, respectively, making the US hits the “wrong” versions, technically). Last-minute changes weren’t reserved for single and album variations, either: check out the twisted tale of how most vinyl and all digital copies of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” ended up using the wrong take.
Different engineers and the passage of time can also account for possible minor mix variations between the releases of the single and album. Last-minute overdubs done either at or after the initial recording session, but not included on the master tapes, are often lost to time. Overdubs done directly onto the mono master, but not the stereo counterpart, account for still more variations (like the missing “wah-wah”s on the stereo “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” by Status Quo.)
Zeroing in on the airplay angle, some labels were much more likely to try different approaches on single mixes. Columbia/Epic promo 45s would often have significant mix differences between their mono and stereo sides. Their engineers used different mindsets in determining what would sound best on mono AM versus stereo-FM radio and mixed accordingly to get the best shot at airplay out of each mix. It was when the labels were determined to break a record—no matter what it took to overcome any potential or actual radio resistance—that we saw the resulting multiple promo and commercial 45 variations exemplified by Free’s “All Right Now.” Then there was Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” which gave us three separate promo 45s’ worth of various lengths and speeds. Again, the approach was to overcome any radio objections over either the song’s length or perceived dragginess. Who knows how many more custom acetates may have been cut to get even one more key station to add the record? RCA Nashville once sent me an acetate of an Earl Thomas Conley record after my PD raised objections about its hard lead electric guitar. The custom remix was supposed to soften it, but to our ears, it was even harder. We ended up adding the standard promo 45 instead.
Collector considerations were rarely the reasons behind single and LP differences in the era before cassette and CD singles or deluxe editions. And, of course, retail customers were out of luck if a particular version they’d grown to like on the radio was not what appeared on the commercial 45s or LPs.
Hope this helps to clarify the mud a bit and not add to it.
The day the mud is completely clarified is the day the fun’s over, so a bit is plenty. Many thanks to our friend for his expertise. If you’ve got any questions for him, have at it in the comments.
Coming in the final installment: Some treats for the hardcore geeks.