WHY ARE THEY SO RARE? When were these records released with these bloody orange labels? How many titles were released? How many copies of each were manufactured? These questions have puzzled Elvis collectors for years—they certainly baffled me as editor of the O’Sullivan Woodside record collectors price guides way back when.
I took the job in 1984, a time when OW had cash-flow issues to a lack of new product. The itty-bitty publishing company had six price guides that they wanted me to oversee, and they wanted a new rock & roll LP book as soon as possible. That was the money-maker.
Exactly when did the first (bloody rare) orange label Gold Standard Series 45s appear and why?
They wanted to follow that with a rock & roll 45 book—and they wanted each book to more or less duplicate the previous edition so that they could get them out within a matter of weeks. 1
I agreed to revise the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide as soon as possible. That was a given as I knew how badly the values needed revising. But I wanted to follow with a new Elvis guide, as I was a BIG fan and I knew how badly those values also needed an overhaul.
But I wanted each book to be something drastically different from the previous editions—at least in content and intent—and I knew that would take more than a few months.
With both books, I wanted to raise the assigned values of thousands of records. But there were thousands more whose values I wanted to lower. And I intended to raise and lower those values dramatically.
I accomplished both goals in my first year. 2
And so here we deal with Elvis Gold Standard 45 rpm singles with orange and red labels. What follows is the results of curiosity and questioning that began back in the ’70s and research that began in earnest in the ’80s.
My first book for O’Sullivan Woodside was the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide. This was the sixth LP guide published by O’Sullivan Woodside but to differentiate it from the previous editions and the previous editors(s), we called it the 1985-86 Edition rather than the Sixth Edition. 3
Orange label records and tapes
By the time I did A Touch Of Gold (the book) in 1990, there were three groups of records that I believed had not received adequate attention as collectables. All had orange labels:
• The orange label LPs pressed on non-flexible (or rigid) vinyl in 1968–1970 were undervalued by everyone. This applied to the new titles (LPM-4088 through LSP-4460), for which there were legitimate first pressings and later pressings with identical labels.
But it was the older catalog items that were of most interest: some titles (like ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM and DOUBLE TROUBLE) had been pressed in teeny-weeny quantities and were extremely hard to find—but few seemed to know this.
• The extended-play 45 rpm album had been discontinued in 1966, but most of the Elvis titles appeared with orange labels. Some titles were already fetching $100 from well-heeled collectors in the ’80s, but some were worth as much as $300—and few seemed to know this.
• The really big issue was the orange label Gold Standard Series 45s: I couldn’t find a single collector who had all of the titles known to exist at the time in their collection. Hell’s Belles, no one seemed to know how many of them existed!
I knew they were rare but not much else.
Don Woodside wanted my second book to be a new edition of their rock & roll 45 rpm singles guide but I insisted that their Elvis book was a travesty and needed a complete overhauling. They gave me my way and in late 1968 O’Sullivan Woodside published my Elvis Presley Record Price Guide. 3
A more modern look
But first, here is a bit of background: in October 1968, RCA made a significant change in the look of their records and tapes. The familiar black label with “RCA Victor” at the top accompanied by Nipper listening to his master’s voice was jettisoned. In its place came a totally unremarkable orange label with the “RCA” on one side and “Victor” on the other and absolutely no dog at all!
By the end of 1968, RCA had switched most of their prerecorded media over to orange, including the catalog singles (the 47-0000 and 74-0000 series for pop and rock), most of their lines of LPs, and even the labels on the plastic spools on the boxed reel-to-reel tapes.
It is unclear as to whether this change was intended for the Gold Standard Series.
After forty years of searching, we have no orange label GS 45s past 447-0659. I assume that this lack of evidence for their existence means that they do not exist.
The first year of release for the orange label GS 45s is usually given as 1968. Why? Because that’s the year that RCA adopted the orange label. There appears to be no real data to back the claim up.
So maybe it was 1969. Why not?
Few researchers suggest 1970, but again, why not?
There are three reasonable explanations for the rarity of these records:
• RCA did intend for the Gold Standard Series to use the new orange labels. They ordered a small run of titles and then backed off, opting for the red labels instead.
• RCA did not intend to use the orange label for the Gold Standard Series. But at some time in 1968-1970, for unknown reasons Indianapolis used some orange labels on a few thousand records by several artists.
• RCA did not know that the orange labels were used for the Gold Standard Series. All of the GS 45s (along with the EPs) were the result of a pressing plant decision or mishap. As the number of these records in the hands of collectors is so small, the possibility that they were erroneously pressed and dumped on the market is real. If that is so, then it could have happened at any time between late 1968 and early 1976.
Here are invoices from RCA Victor to their Indianapolis plant for pressings of Gold Standard Series 447-0659, Indescribably Blue / Fools Fall In Love, and 447-0660, Long Legged Girl / That’s Someone You Never Forget. The upper left corner has the date the order was placed: Listing Notice 6−19−69); the upper right has the Shipping Date: 7−15−69. (Images courtesy of Keith Flynn.) 4
Two labels were used concurrently?
At this point, I referred to Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages, a website with a lengthy discography of domestic Presley releases. What separates Keith’s discography from most others is that each release has a very specific date. It was there that I found that RCA ordered five new titles from Indianapolis as Gold Standard numbers on January 22, 1968:
Catalog # Song titles First label
447-0655 Tell Me Why / Blue River new black
447-0656 Frankie And Johnny / Please Don’t Stop Loving Me new black
447-0657 Love Letters / Come What My new black
447-0658 Spinout / All That I Am new black
Each of these records was pressed with the standard black label with the logo and Nipper on the sides. The next batch of Gold Standard numbers was not ordered until June 15, 1969.
I contacted Keith about the reliability of that ’69 date and he sent me copies of the individual Listing Notices from RCA to Indianapolis to press these six numbers (below). These verified those dates: the orders were placed 6−19−69 and first pressings of the following Gold Standards were shipped on 7−15−69:
Catalog # Song titles First label
447-0659 Indescribably Blue / Fools Fall In Love orange or red
447-0660 Long Legged Girl / That’s Someone You Never Forget red
447-0661 There’s Always Me / Judy red
447-0662 Big Boss Man / High Heel Sneakers red
447-0663 Guitar Man / You Don’t Know Me red
447-0664 U.S. Male / Stay Away red
Essentially, the two labels above are identically designed: each has the recording date above the spindle hole but does not have publishing data on the right side. The only telling difference is the red label notes that it is a GOLD STANDARD release on the right side, a notation messing from previous Gold Standard label designs. (For sticklers, the five lines of type on the right side of the red label are flushed right and set close together; the three lines on the orange label are looser and ragged right.)
For those six titles from July 1969: we know that there are pressings of 447-0659 with orange labels. But after forty years of searching by collectors and researching by discographers and historians such as Mr. Flynn, we have not found orange label copies of the other five numbers
The earliest pressings of each of them that we have found have red labels. While William Dear would admonish me here (“Never assume. Always verify.”), I am doing some assuming here:
• The complete lack of evidence for the existence of these five Gold Standard 45s with orange labels means that they do not exist with orange labels.
• There are no orange label pressings for any Gold Standard 45 after 447-0659.
There were so few orange GS 45s in the hands of collectors that I assumed that they were erroneously pressed, dumped on the market, and forgotten.
Don’t be too impressed with this deductive (inductive?) reasoning—just about every serious Elvis collector has already figured that out. So, if these six GS 45s were manufactured and shipped in mid-1969, then we can make a few deductions:
• We know that red label Gold Standard 45s were manufactured in 1969.
• We know that orange label 447-0659 exists; we still don’t know when they were manufactured in 1969.
• We do not know that the orange label is a first pressing for447-0659—it could be a later pressing.
Since there is a red label pressing of 447-0659, it is possible that all six of the records first pressed in July ’69 were red labels. Since this date would seem to establish the red label as the color of choice for the Gold Standard Series, it is unlikely that orange labels would be used intentionally after this time.
Therefore it is possible that the orange label pressing for 447-0659 along with all the other orange label GS 45s were pressed at a later date. As RCA used the orange label for standard singles into 1976, it is possible (if unlikely) that the orange label GS 45s were pressed in the early to mid-1970s.
Elvis on stage at the International Hotel during his remarkable return to live performance in August 1969.
The orange label 45s were a mistake
What we cannot deduce is when the first or even the last orange label GS 45s was manufactured. Using the information above, I assume the following are correct:
• RCA never intended to use orange labels for the Gold Standard Series.
• The use of orange labels for GS 45s was a pressing plant mistake that originated at Indianapolis and we may never know why or how it happened.
• The mistake of using orange labels instead of red occurred several times, possibly (but unlikely) in 1968, probably (but not definitely) in ’69, perhaps (but also unlikely) in ’70. To live dangerously, I am going with 1969 for all of the orange label GS 45s.
Essentially, the two labels above are identically designed: each has the publishing data on the right side but does not have the recording date above the spindle hole. The only telling difference is the red label notes that it is a GOLD STANDARD release on the right side, a notation messing from previous Gold Standard label designs. (For sticklers, the catalog number is placed closer to “Victor” on the right side of the red label.)
The number of titles has grown
My initial explorations back in the ’80s that found their way into my Touch Of Gold book yielded results that caused thousands of Elvis collectors to pay attention to the orange label GS 45s. Since then, others have been doing research; here are the results
• In 1985, I listed two (2) orange label GS 45s (Blue Christmas and Kiss Me Quick, the most common then as now) in the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide with a value of $24 each.
• In 1990, I listed twenty-nine (29) titles as having orange labels in the Touch Of Gold book with a value of $50 each.
• In 2015, I list forty-two (42) orange label Gold Standard titles in the sixth part of the Elvis’ Gold Standard 45s articles on this site. They have an average value of approximately $150 each.
I think I am close to the truth of things about the orange label Gold Standard Series 45s. Nonetheless, unless someone has documentation that RCA intentionally ordered forty plus GS 45s and twenty-some EPs pressed with orange labels, or unless a former pressing plant employee steps forward with memories of making those records, the origin of these sports may remain a supposition.
I have selected 1969 as the year of release for the orange label Gold Standard Series 45s. Why? The switch to the orange label began in October 1968, literally weeks before the start of the Christmas buying season. I would think that RCA would have geared its machinery toward pressing those records most likely to be purchased as gifts, and I don’t think of the GS 45s or the EPs as normal gifts.
So 1969 was probably the year of transition from the black to the orange label for a line of reissue singles and therefore the year in which a small load of orange labels was most likely to be found lying on a shelf. And why destroy thousands of perfectly good labels that had already been paid for?
HEADER IMAGE: In August July 1969, Elvis gave an informal press conference at the International Hotel in Las Vegas to answer questions from journalists about his return to live performing. As this photo illustrates, Presley was trim, fit, and plainly happy.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, “Those Bloody Rare Orange Label Gold Standard 45s” is a teaser to an eight-part series addressing the collecting of Elvis Presley Gold Standard Series 45s and the sleeves associated with them. Part 6 of that series will be an overview of the orange label titles and will include a discography and price guide. For now, I wanted this information to stand on its own.
Now, here are all the articles on the Elvis Gold Standard 45s listed in the suggested reading order:
1. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 1 (Foreword)
2. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 2 (Company Sleeves)
3. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 3 (1958–1965)
4. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 4 (1964)
5. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 5 (1965−1968)
6. Those Bloody Rare Orange Label Gold Standard 45s
7. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 6 (1969)
8. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 7 (1969–1976)
9. The Elvis Presley Gold Standard 45s Part 8 (1976–2000)
1 By the middle of the 1980s, O’Sullivan Woodside published individual price guides for rock & roll 45s, rhythm & blues 45s, country & western 45s, rock & roll LPs, original cast and soundtrack LPs, and Elvis records. All of these were assigned to me as editor. There were also books on the Beatles and books planned for David Bowie and jazz LPs, but they were not in my bailiwick.
2 As stated, Don Woodside wanted me to take the previous editions of each book and a) write new text for the front, b) add some new photos, and c) simply finesse or fiddle with the familiar values, and hand in a “new” book in eight weeks. He got his first two wishes along with a complete overhaul of the values, and each book took six months to complete. But that’s another story for another article.
3 As stated above, these books caused sticker-shock throughout the collecting world—especially to those buyers and sellers who didn’t really know the market and relied on the guides for accuracy. Curiously (hah!), other price guide editors ignored my value revelations; the Internet and especially eBay actions have proven me right time after time (hah again!).
4 And it is for “raising the price” of these really rare records—a few hundred out of a book with more than 20,000 listings—that I developed a reputation and earned the sobriquet “Neal F*cking Umphred” among some of the hobby’s cognoscenti. Actually, the moniker was assigned to me by a well-known dealer in Los Angeles who was used to using the low values assigned to records to his advantage when buying collection. But that’s another story for another time.
5 These images are courtesy of Keith Flynn and taken directly from the actual RCA order forms from 1969.