Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The RCA Victor Vintage LP Series: Homage to Brad McCuen and a Tribute to Archie Green

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The RCA Victor Vintage LP Series: Homage to Brad McCuen and a Tribute to Archie Green

Article excerpt

Record reissues have fascinated scholars and music historians--and alternately delighted and annoyed collectors and fans. The phenomenon of record reissues is understandable only in the context of several premises, some of which are no longer relevant:

1. Recordings are distributed by the owners who have control over what is commercially available.

2. Recordings have a life cycle that presumes a certain shelf life; after which period they are withdrawn from sale and become "out-of-print."

3. Out-of-print recordings may be reissued under special circumstances that set them apart from the ordinary company product; these circumstances include prestige, financial return, and altruism.

4. Most important of these circumstances generally is the existence of a demand that compensates the record owners' time, effort, and expense in reissuing them.

Under the current mode of operation of the record business, the first two premises no longer apply, the third is questionable, and the fourth is losing ground because the corporate balance sheet does not predict a sufficient profit in the project.

Without this framework the following discussion might be complete nonsense to an audience whose experience with sound recordings is limited to the digital era.

A natural incentive to record reissues has been the evolution of technology. Each time a recording medium becomes challenged by an innovation, there are possible grounds for reissues. For example, when 78-rpm recordings were superannuated by EPs and LPs, an immediate question was what to do about those older recordings for which there was still demand. An obvious solution was to reissue them in LP format. A still earlier technological transition was the replacement of cylinders and acoustic disc recordings by electrical recordings. Record companies re-recorded many of their popular numbers electrically--not exactly a reissue, but perhaps the equivalent in the public's mind. In the case of LPs, a new recording was not made, but one could argue whether the technical processing involved in the transformation--altering balance, adding fake stereo, inserting echo, etc.--constituted creation of a new artistic product. This is a question whose answer is not without ramifications in the matter of copyrightability.

One of the benefits of reissues to fans is a second chance at obtaining recordings that previously had been removed from circulation. One of the benefits to culture historians is that, if edited by knowledgeable authorities, reissues can provide useful insights into the popularity--and hence, presumably, importance--of artistic products.

Only three major American record companies that operated in pre-World War II years survived intact into the LP era: RCA Victor, Columbia, and Decca, though all have, in the last decade or so, change corporate identities (in fact, at present, what used to be RCA and Columbia now have the same overseas owner). Consequently, these are the companies that come to mind first when authorized (as distinct from pirated) reissues are discussed. RCA's first successful reissue series devoted to non-classical music recordings was the Vintage Series. It was the creation of Brad McCuen.

Brad McCuen

Record executive Brad McCuen was born on 17 May 1921 in New York City, and while still in his teens developed an interest in jazz and swing music. McCuen entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1939. After taking time out to serve in the military, seeing action at Normandy, he returned to the University and received his AB in journalism in 1946. In Chapel Hill, he took summer jobs in radio stations and worked to bring musicians to gigs in night clubs and for fraternities. In the culture of Chapel Hill, it was inevitable that his awareness would gradually broaden to include blues and hillbilly music.

In 1948 he went to work for RCA Victor, and for the next twenty-one years held numerous positions. …

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