SOME COPIES OF “BURNING LOVE” may be the most valuable commercially-issued Elvis single of the ’70s! Despite its last sale on eBay for almost a thousand dollars, many collectors are unaware of this record’s value or its origin. This article addresses those facts and warns readers that this rarity has been bootlegged and these counterfeit copies are being sold to unsuspecting fans!
For several months in 1974, a weird gray label turned up on RCA Victor’s latest 45 rpm singles. It wasn’t a strong, distinct gray but a sort of washed-out gray that gave the records giving it a sickly look. These gray labels didn’t last long, only finding their way onto a pair of Presley hits: Burning Love from 1972 and Promised Land from 1974. Then they were gone!
The US pressing of “Burning Love” with gray labels may be the most valuable Elvis single of the ’70s and it has been bootlegged!
According to Frank Daniels’ research into RCA Victor label designs, this gray label was used at the Indianapolis planet as a “transitional substitute for the orange label” until the company switched to the new light brown/tan label in 1975. Frank estimates that the grays were used between August and November 1974 while the plant at Hollywood continued using orange labels:
“Clearly, most of the gray labels came out for singles that were still selling when Indianapolis ran out of orange labels in August.” 1
My own research gave me the same results. Numerically, the earliest single that I found with a gray label was APB0-0295, John Denver’s Annie’s Song / Cool An’ Green An’ Shady. As this was originally released in June 1974, the first pressings from both Hollywood and Indianapolis have orange labels. Copies with gray labels are probably second pressings.
I followed the grays to January 1975 with the last record that I found with gray labels was PB-10154, White Heat’s If That’s The Way You Feel (Then Let’s Fall In Love) / Take A Look At Yourself (Before You Frown On Somebody Else). This means that there could be more than one hundred RCA singles from 1974-1975 with gray labels, a few of which may be later pressings. 2
In most cases, these second pressings were manufactured in considerably smaller amounts than the initial orange label records. Consequently, the grays are considerably rarer than the oranges. Most collectors don’t seem to care, but Elvis collectors do.
Fifty shades of gray
If you look for copies of these gray label singles on the internet, you will find them in various shades and tones of gray. In fact, some of them look more tan than gray! Paul Combs of the Elvis Records website has been looking into these gray label records a lot longer than I have. On his site, he noted, “There are many shades of gray. From a solid light gray to partial light gray to orangish gray to near orange gray.”
It seems that any RCA single manufactured at the Indianapolis plant in the last few months of 1974 that is not obviously the light brown/tan label that became the company’s new norm in 1975 is considered to be some shade of gray. So the images that I have posted below show a variety of gray labels that look different from each other.
Of course, I pulled these images off the internet so I am assuming that are relatively accurate representations of the actual records. That is, I am assuming that the people who posted them on the internet used their scanners and cameras correctly. If so, then it appears that Indianapolis did not have a large stockpile of a specific gray paper allotted to the singles but used a variety of different gray paper for these “gray” labels as the need arose.
There is at least one exception to the John Denver single above being “numerically” the first RCA single with a gray label: copies of 74-0769, Elvis Presley’s Burning Love / It’s A Matter Of Time, from 1972 can be found with gray labels! Only two Elvis records are known to have been manufactured with gray labels for domestic sale while a third is rumored. They are listed below.
Catalog number: 74-0769
Release date: August 1972
First Hollywood pressing with orange labels: $6-12
First Indianapolis pressing with orange labels: $4-8
First Rockaway pressing with orange labels: $5-10
Later Indianapolis pressing with gray labels: $400-800
The highest price paid for a copy of Burning Love with gray labels was $800, which was realized in an auction on eBay in 2017. It was advertised as being in mint condition. Four other NM copies sold on eBay during the past ten years for prices between $375 and $578.
Someone has a copy of Burning Love with gray labels graded EX-NM for sale on eBay right now with a whopping Buy It Now price of $2,000! The ad erroneously states that it is a first pressing from 1972.
Finally, unauthorized reproductions (aka fakes aka bootlegs) of this record with gray labels are known to exist. (See “One shade of fake” and “Another shade of fake” below.)
Catalog number: PB-10074
Release date: October 1974
First Hollywood pressing with orange labels: $5-10
First Indianapolis pressing with orange labels: does not exist
First Indianapolis pressing with gray labels: $2-4
First Indianapolis pressing with brownish-gray labels: $2-4
First Indianapolis pressing with light-brown/tan labels: $50-100
The first two images above are obviously gray labels, although they are noticeably different shades of gray.
The third image is also supposedly a gray label variation, although it kooks brownish to me. Using GIMP, I determined that the HTML color for this label is Hex #b7a077. According to the Crisp Edge website, that is a color mixture of orange and brown with a color hue/base color of gray. So, it’s gray and brown! 3
The fourth image is a copy of PB-10278 with the light brown/tan labels that RCA used on their 45s and LPs during 1974-1976. It is out of order here to show the difference between the genuine brown label and the brownish-gray label above it.
The fifth image is a copy of PB-10074 found on the 45cat site which is listed as “yellow-tan.” Whether this is a new variation on the light-brown/tan label or a poorly photographed or scanned reproduction of the genuine light-brown/tan label is not known.
Finally, unauthorized reproductions (aka fakes aka bootlegs) of this record with gray labels are not known to exist.
Catalog number: PB-10278
Release date: April 1975
First Hollywood pressing with orange labels: $4-8.
First Indianapolis pressing with light-brown/tan labels: $2-4
Indianapolis pressing with gray labels: Not manufactured
Finally, unauthorized reproductions (aka fakes aka bootlegs) of this record with gray labels are known to exist. The record pictured above is a bootleg. (See “One shade of fake” below.)
One shade of fake
In 2016, ads appeared on eBay for copies of both 74-0769 and PB-10278 with gray labels. The ads had identical layouts with both sides of the picture sleeves and the records laid out in a grid (see the images above and below) and were from the same seller. Except there was something odd about each ad: The ad for 74-0769 misspelled J.D. Sumner’s name as “Summer” on both sides while the ad for PB-10278 misspelled Donnie Sumner’s name as “Summer” on the B-side.
As all other US pressings of this record correctly spell those two gentlemen’s last names, these records were questioned by knowledgeable buyers. In fact, in each of the five ads for these two records that appeared between April and June of that year, only one bid was placed for each auction. So there were five auction and five bids, each winning the record for the seller’s stated minimum bid.
Considering the rarity of the one record, this is mysterious activity and could lead a cynical observer to interpret the bids as having been placed by shill bidders. If this is so, then these ads may have been the first instances of these bootlegs appearing on the internet for sale. 4
The existence of these records on these ads caused Paul Combs at the Elvis Records website to include a warning with the listings for the gray label records for the two records:
In both warnings, Paul calls attention to the misspelled “Summer” on both records.
Another shade of fake
In 2018, another seller—at least I assume it is another seller as the ads look very different—advertised a copy of Burning Love with gray labels with J.D. Sumner’s name misspelled as “Summer.” The seller did not mention this boner (assuming he knew it was a boner) but he did call attention to a rather odd fact about the record:
“This could very well be a genuine 1974 Gray Label, but I question its authenticity because if you look around the inside of the center hole, you can see a sliver of orange. Also, when the record was cleaned, the gray color washed away as can be seen on the Burning Love side. There is also glue residue that is visible just outside of portions of the label.”
This description sounds like someone pasted a gray label over an orange label! Despite this warning that buyers might be bidding on a bootleg, and despite the seller grading the questionable record a mere “VG with many surface scuffs and scratches,” it still received twenty-five bids and sold for $116!
A confusing shade of fake
Okay, the fact that the previous pressings of 74-0769 with orange labels from RCA’s plants in Hollywood, Indianapolis, and Rockaway—and all from 1972 and possibly early ’74—all spell J.D. Sumner’s name correctly as does one pressing from Indianapolis with gray labels should lead us to believe that the gray label record with the misspelling is a bootleg.
But there’s one little thing that may throw a wrench into the works: Legitimate RCA records from France (RCA 41.033), Germany (RCA 74-0769), the Netherlands (RCA 74-0769), and Yugoslavia (RCA SRCA-88601) all misspell J.D. Sumner’s last name as “Summer” on the record labels.
Is it possible there was some piece of paperwork circulating among RCA offices that had the misspelling and it found its way to Indianapolis and a few other branches outside the US? If so, then is it possible that the gray label records with “Summer” are actually genuine RCA pressings with spelling errors on their labels? That is a question that will take some time to answer, although my record collector’s gut tells me they’re bootlegs. 5
Here are a few notes that don’t fit in the sections above. These are not the only Elvis records that have been reproduced but as bootlegs for the collectors market. Eventually, I will get around to writing articles about the others.
In late 1974, the labels for both the singles and the albums began changing over to a light brown or tan color. This color lasted less than two years as RCA returned to black labels in 1976.
One Elvis record is known to have been manufactured with gray labels to be exported to England for sale exclusively in the UK: RCA 2458EX, My Boy / Loving Arms. It is not listed below. To learn more about this record, click here.
Special thanks to Frank Daniels and Paul Combs for their contributions to this article.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from the picture sleeve to 74-0769, Burning Love / It’s A Matter Of Time. The jumpsuit was “one of the three ‘pinwheel’ suits Elvis had. Although Elvis only wore this suit in 1972, it is clearly a 1971 design and was commissioned that year. This is the only red jumpsuit Elvis ever wore, which makes it quite special.” (Elvis Presley In Concert) Fans have long referred to this outfit as the Burning Love Jumpsuit.
1 Frank originally dissected the RCA Victor label on his Friktech website (“A Victorious History Through RCA Victor Label Styles”), much of the information in this article was provided by Frank to me via email.
2 There may be gray label singles before APB0-0295 and after PB-10154. I used the RCA Victor listings on the 45cat website as a reference and while it has millions of entries, it is still far from complete.
3 There is a discussion on the rarity of the light-brown/tan label pressings of PB-10074 titled “here.It can be read
4 As the person(s) who manufactured these records was thoughtful enough to misspell “Sumner” as “Summer,” these records are neither exact reproductions nor counterfeits. Hence, I refer to them as bootlegs.
5 Along with finding the misspelled name, I unearthed something even funnier: On RCA Victor 31A-2191 from Uruguay, “Burning Love” was misspelled as “Buming Love.” As much as I would like to invent a meaning for the word bume, I think I’m just going to let it rest as is …