Elvis Army Germany header

about those electronically reprocessed stereo albums

ELECTRONICALLY REPROCESSED STEREO. What is it and why do so many Elvis fans hate it? And what is “rechan­neled stereo” and Duo­phonic stereo and why does everyone hate them, too? Be­fore ad­dressing these ques­tions, I want to men­tion a few things about stereo records. Most people—including music his­to­rians and record collectors—take stereo for granted, but it has a lengthy and in­ter­esting past.

In 1957, the stereo long-playing album was in­tro­duced to the mar­ket­place by a pair of small in­de­pen­dent record com­pa­nies. In 1958, most of the major com­pa­nies fol­lowed with their own stereo re­leases.

By 1959, the new format was selling at a pace that in­spired Bill­board to launch a sep­a­rate Best-Selling Stereo­phonic LPs survey. This new chart had only thirty po­si­tions, but it showed that stereo was es­tab­lished as a part of the LP market in America. Bill­board main­tained the stereo survey until Au­gust 17, 1963, when the stereo and mono charts were merged into one.

The bulk of the sales of LPs in the ’50s and early ’60s was among (white) adults, who bought a lot of pop­ular (white) vo­cals, easy-listening, and even Broadway and movie sound­tracks. We young­sters got our kicks from 45 rpm sin­gles, which re­mained al­most ex­clu­sively a teen-oriented com­modity.

 

Elvis was in the Army from 1958–1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.

 

By 1966, sales of stereo al­bums were out­pacing those of their mono counterparts—due al­most en­tirely to teens now buying rock al­bums by such top-selling artists as the Bea­tles, the Beach Boys, the Stones, and Dylan.

By 1967, the prac­tice of is­suing new al­bums in both mono and stereo was doomed: Amer­ican record com­pa­nies stopped man­u­fac­turing LPs in mono and stereo in 1968. The UK and Eu­rope fol­lowed in ’69.

 

One of three classic mono record­ings by Toscanini boldly claiming to be a “Elec­tronic Stereo Re­pro­cessing of This His­toric Recording” at the top of the front cover. These al­bums fea­tured a dy­namic for of re­pro­cessing that was very dif­ferent from the static form of re­pro­cessing used on pop al­bums like Pres­ley’s.

Elvis is back and in stereo

With a few ex­cep­tions where a bin­aural ma­chine was run­ning as backup, Elvis Presley recorded ex­clu­sively in mono in the ’50s. His first ses­sions recorded on more than one-track were in March and April 1960. From these, RCA Victor is­sued ELVIS IS BACK, the first Presley album in stereo.

Need­less to say, it sold well in mono and stereo, re­turning Elvis to the top por­tion of the best-selling LP charts. Later in 1960, G. I. BLUES reached #1 on the stereo LP survey, and BLUE HAWAII did the same in 1962. His other al­bums during this time all reached the Top 10 on both sur­veys.

But Presley ear­lier LPs, among the best-selling pop al­bums ever, were avail­able only in mono. These al­bums were a po­ten­tial gold­mine for RCA Victor in the new stereo market, but there was little that could be done.

That changed in Jan­uary 1961 with the in­tro­duc­tion of three Toscanini ti­tles in the com­pa­ny’s new Elec­tronic Stereo Re­pro­cessing (ESR) system.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: original 1960 ad for ELVIS IS BACK album.

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover of original stereo ELVIS IS BACK album.

The first Elvis album in stereo was ELVIS IS BACK in 1960. Ar­guably Elvis’s best album, it was is­sued without a hit single. Con­se­quently, it failed to top the charts and was a rel­a­tively modest seller. The two al­bums that fol­lowed, G.I. BLUES and BLUE HAWAII, which had the ad­van­tage of hugely pop­ular movies to ex­pose and pro­mote them, out­sold ELVIS IS BACK many times over.

A brief history of time in stereo

But be­fore I pro­ceed, here’s a brief look at a few key events that led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the stereo LP album as the record of choice in the mid-1960s. For a longer (but still rel­a­tively brief) his­tory of stereo on record and in the movies, click on over to the Audio En­gi­neering So­ciety web­site.

1931

Con­ductor Leopold Stokowski recorded and trans­mitted a per­for­mance in bin­aural stereo sound at the Academy of Music in Philadel­phia for Bell Labs.

1932

Stokowski recorded Scri­abin’s Poem Of Fire onto record for Bell Labs; it is the ear­liest sur­viving in­ten­tional stereo recording. 1

1952

Emory Cook de­vel­oped a bin­aural stereo record con­sisting of two mono sig­nals played si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It was first demon­strated at a New York audio fair. There was a de­mand for such records, and Cook Records began to pro­duce them com­mer­cially in 1952. 2

1954

RCA Victor is­sued the first large-scale, pre­re­corded, reel-to-reel stereo tapes. They were priced at $18.95 at a time when a sim­ilar mono LP would sell for as little as $3.95. 3

1957

Audio Fi­delity Records in­tro­duced the first mass-produced stereo record, fea­turing the Dukes of Dix­ieland on one side and sound ef­fects on the other. Only 500 copies of this ini­tial demon­stra­tion record were pressed.

Shortly after, Bel Canto Records pro­duced its own stereo­phonic demon­stra­tion disc. In 1958, both com­pa­nies began selling stereo LPs to the public.

1958

The June 2 issue of Bill­board car­ried an ar­ticle ti­tled “En­tire RCA Line Goes Stereo With First Disks Due in June.” By the end of the year, stereo records were a stan­dard part of the in­dustry.

1961

RCA Victor in­tro­duced fake stereo to the world by is­suing three Toscanini al­bums using their Elec­tronic Stereo Re­pro­cessing system (ESR). This dy­namic system pro­duced a good sem­blance of stereo and was re­ceived with mostly pos­i­tive reviews—and dra­mat­i­cally in­creased cat­alog sales.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover of original stereo G.I. BLUES album.

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: label for original stereo G.E. BLUES record.

While the ma­jority of people buying stereo al­bums in the early ’60s were older than most Elvis fans, G.I. BLUES topped Bill­board’s Best-Selling Stereo­phonic LPs survey for one week in early ’61. Orig­inal press­ings of RCA Victor stereo al­bums from 1958-1962 can be iden­ti­fied by the LIVING STEREO at the bottom of the la­bels.

What is fake stereo?

Fake stereo is a deroga­tory term given to any tech­nique for al­tering mono­phonic sig­nals to sim­u­late stereo­phonic ef­fects. Most fake stereo sound just plain old ugly. RCA Vic­tor’s orig­inal Elec­tronic Stereo Re­pro­cessing (which sounded good) was re­placed by a static system they called Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed Stereo (which didn’t).

Ap­par­ently, all of Vic­tor’s pop al­bums were is­sued ERS in­stead of ESR. Be­tween 1962 and 1965, the nine Presley al­bums from the ’50s were reis­sued in­Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed Stereo and sounded just plain ugly. But all nine ti­tles picked up sales in their gaw­dawful stereo rein­car­na­tions.

 

There is a cer­tain sense of nos­talgia for the fake stereo Elvis al­bums among those gen­er­a­tions who were raised with them as their sole source of Elvis record­ings.

 

Every major record com­pany fol­lowed RCA and de­vel­oped a method for making fake stereo. To achieve this fake stereo ef­fect, var­ious “tricks” were em­ployed:

•  Two sep­a­rate mono sig­nals placed in two sep­a­rate stereo chan­nels.
•  The highs in one channel were stressed, while the lows in the other channel were stressed.
•  The two chan­nels were de­layed a frac­tion of a second in speed.
•  Re­ver­ber­a­tion and echo were added to fill the “hole” be­tween the two chan­nels.

Please note that nothing was ac­tu­ally recorded in fake stereo—the process was ap­plied to mono record­ings post-production, or after the fact.

Fake stereo is also known gener­i­cally as elec­tron­i­cally rechan­neled stereo or simply rechan­neled stereo.

Duo­phonic stereo is the clever name that Capitol Records coined for its fake stereo process.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover of original stereo KING CREOLE album.

Elvis recorded the music for the movie King Creole at Radio Recorders in Hol­ly­wood in 1958. The studio had been recording in stereo for months, so why wasn’t Elvis recorded in stereo? No one knows. The KING CREOLE album was re­leased in fake stereo in 1962.

What is electronically reprocessed stereo?

As stereo records were selling more and more, it was time for RCA Victor to “mod­ernize” their cat­alog of older LP ti­tles and get them out there for folks to buy in stereo. Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed Stereo is the clever name that RCA Victor coined for its static stereo re­pro­cessing system.

In Jan­uary 1962, RCA re­leased its first batch of Elvis al­bums in fake stereo:

LSP-1254(e)  Elvis Presley
LSP-1382(e)  Elvis
LSP-1515(e)   Loving You
LSP-1707(e)  Elvis’ Golden Records
LSP-1884(e)  King Creole
LSP-2075(e)  Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2

RCA iden­ti­fied these ti­tles by changing their orig­inal mono prefix (LPM) to the new stereo prefix (LSP). To dif­fer­en­tiate fake stereo records from real stereo records, they added a small ‘e’ in paren­theses after each number. Thus Elvis’s first album was LPM-1254 in mono and LSP-1254(e) in stereo.

These ti­tles sold well and the other four LPs from the ’50s were re­processed stereo in 1964-1965:

LSP-1951(e)  Elvis’ Christmas Album
LSP-1990(e) For LP Fans Only
LSP-2011(e)  A Date With Elvis

Why they had waited two years to issue these titles—especially the Christmas album—is not known.

 

“Fake stereo” is a deroga­tory term given any tech­nique for al­tering mono to sim­u­late stereo ef­fects that sounded just plain ugly.

 

The back covers of the album jackets to these stereo al­bums usu­ally car­ried the fol­lowing state­ment from RCA Victor:

“This record is the re­sult of lengthy re­search and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in the de­vel­op­ment of an elec­tronic process that trans­forms mono­phonic record­ings to two-channel record­ings with stereo­phonic char­ac­ter­is­tics. By means of this unique elec­tronic process de­vel­oped by RCA Victor, yes­ter­day’s ir­re­place­able recorded per­for­mances take on the spa­cious depth of sound that the stereo phono­graph of today is ca­pable of re­pro­ducing, while still pre­serving the artistic in­tent of the orig­inal per­for­mance.” 4

For those readers who have never heard these records, the orig­inal signal was grossly dis­torted. The echo added to Presley’s voice made him sound years older than he did on the orig­inal mono records. Un­for­tu­nately, many of us who grew up in the ’60s wanted every­thing in stereo, so we grew up lis­tening to the fake stereo and thinking it was normal!

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover of original stereo ELVIS' CHRISTMAS ALBUM.

In the De­cember 5, 1964, issue of Bill­board, RCA Victor ran a full-page ad claiming that ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM (LOC-1035 and LPM-1951) had sold over 800,000 copies, a phe­nom­enal amount in the pre-Beatles era. The ad also an­nounced the re­lease of LSP-1951(e), the elec­tron­i­cally re­processed stereo ver­sion of the album. The new stereo record sold 300,000 more copies for Christmas ’64!

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Few critics of the early ’60s took the in­dustry to task for these awful records. Since re­views in mag­a­zines like High Fi­delity and HiFi/Stereo Re­view fo­cused on new product—and mostly on music that adults pre­ferred, such as clas­sical, sound­tracks, and easy-listening—Elvis and other rock and pop records were rarely no­ticed. Today, most critics, his­to­rians, and fans look at them with dis­dain. 5

“As in­tent lis­teners have long com­plained, the mu­tated [elec­tron­i­cally re­processed stereo ver­sions of Pres­ley’s al­bums] put boom in one channel and scratch in the other. Even more plainly, it sounds louder than the mono orig­inal. Be­cause of the re­verb and delay ap­plied, sounds ex­plode all over the place. The fake stereo Elvis is highly un­stable.” 6

Nonethe­less, there is a cer­tain sense of nos­talgia for these al­bums among those gen­er­a­tions who were raised with them as their sole source of Elvis record­ings. (Of course, the monos were avail­able, but few of us could af­ford to buy two copies of each album.) There are even con­nois­seurs of the process among modern lis­teners:

“Yet the volatile in­stru­ment place­ment and ex­plo­sive re­ver­ber­a­tion carry a cer­tain ap­peal, par­tic­u­larly on the rau­cous cuts. Iron­i­cally, having fa­mously en­tombed Pres­ley’s voice in heavy re­ver­ber­a­tion in a failed ef­fort to du­pli­cate the mys­te­rious aura of Elvis’ leg­endary Sun sides, here RCA had fi­nally cre­ated an echo that suc­cess­fully sig­ni­fied the siz­zling ex­cite­ment of rock ‘n’ roll.” 6

In 1968, RCA Victor dropped all mono al­bums from its ac­tive cat­alog, meaning the only way to buy and hear Elvis al­bums from the ’50s was in gaw­dawful fake stereo. Elvis’s ’50s al­bums were un­avail­able in “true mono” taken from orig­inal mono source tapes until the 1990s! 7

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover of original stereo ELVIS' GOLDEN RECORDS album.

The jacket with the black border at the top of the front cover above was first used with the ini­tial stereo copies of LSP-1707(e) in 1962. Later press­ings of the record can be found in this jacket due to over­stock. 

The Avid Record Collector

The nine Presley LPs from the ’50s re­mained in print in fake stereo into the ‘80s. Most of these have very little value out­side of the nom­inal amount any old album has on the market. But there are two ex­cep­tions: the first press­ings of the decade re­leases and the last.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: label for original stereo KING CREOLE record.

First press­ings of LSP-1254(e), LSP-1382(e), LSP-1515(e), LSP-1707(e), LSP-1884(e), and LSP-2075(e) from 1962 have a unique label vari­a­tion: at the bottom of the stan­dard glossy black la­bels with “STEREO” in stag­gered let­ters above “Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed” at the bottom. These press­ings are not rare, but they are dif­fi­cult to find in NM con­di­tion and can sell for $60-100.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: label for original stereo ELVIS' CHRISTMAS ALBUM record.

The first press­ings of LSP-1951(e), LSP-1990(e), and LSP-2011(e) from 1964-1965 have the stan­dard glossy black la­bels with “STEREO” in normal let­ters above “Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed” at the bottom. These press­ings are not rare, but they are dif­fi­cult to find in NM con­di­tion and can sell for $30-50.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: orange label reissue of stereo ELVIS' GOLDEN RECORDS album.

In 1969, most of Presley’s al­bums were pressed with the new or­ange la­bels on tra­di­tional thick, non-flexible (or rigid) vinyl. These were in print less than two years and are dif­fi­cult to find in NM con­di­tion and can sell for $30-50.

They were re­placed by iden­tical or­ange la­bels (1971-1975) but pressed onto in­cred­ibly thin, flex­ible vinyl. So flex­ible, that you can roll them into a tube so that one op­po­site side touches the other. These flex­ible press­ings and later brown (1975-1976) and black label (1976-1989) press­ings are easy to find in NM con­di­tion and do not carry a high price tag.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: front cover for original fake stereo CD reissue of ELVIS' GOLDEN RECORDS.

Electronically Reprocessed Stereo: compact disc of original fake stereo CD reissue of ELVIS' GOLDEN RECORDS.

Note that while the front cover of the first CD ver­sions of this title look normal enough, the back cover reads “Stereo ef­fect re­processed from mono­phonic” below the list of song ti­tles. This ap­plies to the other three fake stereo CDs from the same time. These discs were man­u­fac­tured in Japan, as there were no plants in the US at the time.

Fake stereo Elvis compact discs

When RCA first is­sued Elvis al­bums on compact-disc in 1984, the ini­tial ti­tles kept their orig­inal cat­alog num­bers but were given a PCD prefix. The first ti­tles to be re­leased were pre­dictable:

PCD1-1254  Elvis Presley
PCD1-1382  Elvis
PCD1-1707  Elvis’ Golden Records
PCD1-2075 Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2

What was not pre­dictable was that they would be re­leased in Elec­tron­i­cally Re­processed Stereo, so each of those cat­alog num­bers should have a wee ‘e’ in paren­theses tagged to their ends!

These four num­bers were in and out of print in a matter of months, re­placed in 1985 with CDs using RCA’s new “dig­i­tally re­stored to orig­inal mono” process, which I will ad­dress in a sep­a­rate ar­ticle.

The four CDs in fake stereo are among the rarest of all com­mer­cially is­sued Presley com­pact discs. Few copies are of­fered for sale in any given year, so es­tab­lishing a rea­son­able NM value is dif­fi­cult. Copies have sold on eBay in the past few years for as little as $160 and as much as $425! So I am com­fort­able as­signing a rather wide spread of $200-400 each.

 

Electronically Reprocessed Stere: front cover of original fake stereo BEACH BOYS' PARTY! album.

As Brian Wilson recorded every­thing in mono, most of the Beach Boys cat­alog was is­sued in Capi­tol’s fake Duo­phonic stereo. This is the 1965 album BEACH BOYS’ PARTY! proudly blaring its phony stereo-ness across the top of the front cover.

Related articles on fake stereo

If you’re in­ter­ested in reading fans and col­lec­tors argue over fake stereo Elvis LPs and CDs, try “Other sources for Elvis Presley re­processed stereo songs” on the Steve Hoffman Music Fo­rums site.

Not all al­bums with fake stereo no­tices on their jackets or la­bels are fake stereo; learn more by reading “Blue Note and Elec­tron­i­cally Rechan­neled Stereo.”

For a tech­nical guide to fake stereo, refer to “A Re­view and an Ex­ten­sion of Pseudo-Stereo for Mul­ti­channel Elec­troa­coustic Com­po­si­tions: Simple DIY ideas” by P. A. Gau­thier.

Elvis al­bums in fake elec­tron­i­cally re­processed stereo sound just plain old ugly. Click To Tweet

Electronically Reprocessed Stere: photo of Elvis in Army jeep in Germany during winter 1958.

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is a candid photo of Elvis taken while he was sta­tioned with the Army in Grafen­woehr, Ger­many, in the winter of 1958. Presley was a sol­dier from March 1958 through March 1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.

 

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, here is an­other look at the fake stereo CDs by col­lector Keith Hirsch de­votes more space to the fake stereo CDs with a four-part se­ries on “The Rare Re­processed Stereo Elvis Presley CDs”:

Part 1: Elvis’ Golden Records
Part 2: Elvis Presley
Part 3: Elvis
Part 4: Elvis’ Golden Records, Vol. 2

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   A lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion went on in the 1930s and ’40s, with stereo making its way to movie the­aters for the sound­tracks of new movies. But little at­tempt was made to in­tro­duce stereo records to the market.

2   Cook Records pri­marily recorded sound ef­fects (rail­road sounds and thun­der­storms were big) and were geared to­wards col­lec­tors re­ferred to as golden-ears. These records held little in­terest to most record buyers.

3   $18.95 in 1954 dol­lars would be $175-350 in 2018 dol­lars, de­pending on which stan­dard of in­fla­tion you use.

4   Hah! Every claim in that state­ment can be chal­lenged, but it should be read as ad­ver­tising for RCA Victor, not as a gen­uine sci­en­tific ar­gu­ment.

5   Jazz music had its own world, in­cluding their own mag­a­zines to re­view new re­leases, no­tably Down­Beat.

6   From the book Living Stereo: His­to­ries And Cul­tures Of Mul­ti­channel Sound edited by Paul Théberge, Kyle Devine, and Tom Ever­rett.

7   Used record stores were very un­common out­side of a few big cities in the ’60s and early ’70s. Finding used copies of old mono al­bums re­quired a lot of luck or a lot of hours spent at yard sales.

 

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I’ve been away from your sites for a bit, and am happy to find so many cool ar­ti­cles to read.

This ar­ticle and the Moody Blue one are mighty in­sightful. This may be sac­ri­le­gious to say, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the fake stereo ver­sion of “Jail­house Rock.” It may be due to nos­talgia, since the first time I heard it was on my late 70s pressing of “Elvis’ Golden Records” fake stereo and all. Hearing it now, I can see why it is con­sid­ered atro­cious, but man alive, “Jail­house Rock” al­most has a garage band feel to it with all that weird echo. I also like the fake stereo ver­sion of the Bea­tles’ “She’s a Woman” for the same reason. Guess I’m dumb.

Looking for­ward to fu­ture ar­ti­cles, Neal. Keep up the great work. Now that the RCG is gone, there aren’t many places to talk about record col­lecting any­more.

Whoa! Re­ally? The RCG is ac­tu­ally coming back? I hate to see all that Russian spam go away.…

Se­ri­ously, that would be lovely if it came back and was more than just a shadow of its former self. If you find out any fur­ther info, please let me know. I’d greatly ap­pre­ciate it. The email I enter with these com­ments on your page is my real ad­dress.

I COULDNT DISAGREE MORE. THE ELVIS STEREO ELECTRONICALLY ENHANCED GOLDEN RECORDS IS FANTASTIC. THE RECORDS JUMP OFF THE TURNTABLE WITH MORE EXCITEMENT THAN THE HORRIBLY DULL MONO VERSIONS . PRESLEYS VOICE IS THICKER AND MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE ORIGINALS. YES OF COURSE THE ORIGINALS WERE GREAT, BUT THE FAKE STEREO IS UNBELIEVABLE AND ROCKIN.

I have Elvis’ Golden Records LSP-1707 (e) but the album it­self has a white border at the top, left side, and the bottom and I can’t find any­where that has that same album. I’m hoping to find a value on it if you know any­thing about this exact album.

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