rca victor’s spd series of specialty records of the ’50s

Es­ti­mated reading time is 7 minutes.

THERE ARE SPE­CIAL RECORDS is­sued in 1955-1956 that com­mand big bucks from Elvis col­lec­tors, such as SPD-15. Each title in RCA Victor’s SPD se­ries is a spe­cial record or set of records. Some ti­tles were made for spe­cial re­tail sales events while others were made for pro­mo­tional pur­poses, such as give­aways at spe­cial so­cial events.

But first, some back­ground. After buying Elvis Pres­ley’s con­tract from Sun Records on No­vember 20, 1955, they signed the artist to an ex­clu­sive recording con­tract. RCA Victor paid a then-astronomical $40,000 to ac­quire an artist who was un­proven out­side of the country & western market.

This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from 1955 and early ’56.

Their first act was to take over the man­u­fac­turing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of Pres­ley’s latest record, Sun 223, I Forgot To Re­member To Forget / Mys­tery Train. They reis­sued it as both a 78 rpm single (20-6357) and a 45 rpm single (47-6357) in a few weeks.

They also pushed their new artist to radio sta­tions around the country. Aside from memos and word-of-mouth, RCA man­u­fac­tured sev­eral pro­mo­tional records and began ship­ping them to radio sta­tions in the last weeks of 1955.

They also in­cluded a few Presley sides on a few spe­cial record sets that were used to sell the RCA line of record players. Many of these records were han­dled by RCA Vic­tor’s Spe­cial Prod­ucts Di­vi­sion and car­ried the three-letter prefix “SPD.”

 

SPD Series: first page of a two-page ad for RCA Victor's Listener's Digest record collection that appeared in magazines in 1954.SPD Series: second page of a two-page ad for RCA Victor's Listener's Digest record collection that appeared in magazines in 1954.

This two-page spread ap­peared in var­ious mag­a­zines in the summer of 1954 in the hopes of get­ting par­ents to buy an RCA record player and turn their kids on to the joys of clas­sical music via 45 rpm records.

The SPD series

RCA Vic­tor’s SPD se­ries was launched in June 1954 with SPD-1, a boxed set ti­tled THE RCA VICTOR LIS­TEN­ER’S DI­GEST. This con­sisted of ten seven-inch, extended-play records that played at 45 rpm and fea­tured two tracks on each side. SPD-1 was a bonus given to cus­tomers who bought a new RCA Vic­trola phono­graph for as little as $39.95.

Ac­cording to an ar­ticle ti­tled “Vic­tor’s ‘Lis­ten­er’s Di­gest’ Bow to Tie-in 45’s, Phonos” in the June 26, 1954, issue of Bill­board:

“RCA Victor next week will un­veil its Lis­teners Di­gest, an am­bi­tious pro­mo­tion aimed at fur­thering the ac­cep­tance of clas­sical music and en­larging the market for 45 rpm records by at least 500,000 new con­sumers be­fore the end of the year. 

De­liv­eries to re­tailers will begin late in July, with na­tional consumer pro­mo­tion to begin in mid-Au­gust. The latter drive will kick off with a double-page spread in The Sat­urday Evening Post, issue dated Au­gust 18, with sim­ilar ads sched­uled to run in Life, Par­ents Mag­a­zine, and other mass cir­cu­la­tion media.

Altho the cur­rent pitch is to sell both machine and disks as a unit, some quan­tity of the li­brary in spe­cial de luxe pack­ages will be made avail­able, but at a cost of $39.95, which is the exact cost of the cheapest com­bi­na­tion offer.

Whether or not the 500,000 mark was met is un­known but this set was suc­cessful enough that Victor fol­lowed up with more than two dozen other ti­tles in this se­ries. Five of these ti­tles con­tain at least one Elvis recording.

 

SPD Series: first page of a two-page ad for RCA Victor's Listener's Digest record collection that appeared in magazines in mid 1954.SPD Series: second page of a two-page ad for RCA Victor's Listener's Digest record collection that appeared in magazines in mid 1954.

This two-page spread ap­peared in the July 24, 1954, issue of Billboard.

SPD records with Elvis

During 1956, RCA Victor re­leased five sets of seven-inch, 45 rpm records with an SPD prefix that fea­tured at least one track by Elvis Presley:

 

SPD Series: side 7 from RCA Victor's SPD-15 set of extended play records.

SPD-15

SPD-15 is a set of ten EP records, each fea­turing four tracks by one of ten of RCA Vic­tor’s country artists. One record fea­tures four tracks by Elvis. The set is re­ferred to as the “Country & Western Jukebox Pro­mo­tion Kit” due to a box pur­port­edly be­longing to the ten records.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this record, refer to the Post­scrip­tu­ally sec­tion below.

 

SPD Series: side 16 from RCA Victor's SPD-19 set of extended play records.

SPD-19

SPD-19 is a boxed set of eight records by twenty RCA artists and is ti­tled THE SOUND OF LEAD­ER­SHIP and sub­ti­tled Sou­venir Of The Miami Meeting June, 1956 on the box. One record fea­tures one Elvis track.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this record, refer to the Post­scrip­tu­ally sec­tion below.

 

SPD Series: side 1 from RCA Victor's SPD-22 set of extended play records.

SPD-22

SPD-22 is a two-record EP album ti­tled ELVIS PRESLEY on the jacket. It fea­tures eight tracks from LPM-1254, Pres­ley’s self-titled first LP album.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this record, refer to the Post­scrip­tu­ally sec­tion below.

 

SPD Series: side 1 from RCA Victor's SPD-23 set of extended play records.

SPD-23

SPD-23 is a three-record EP album ti­tled ELVIS PRESLEY on the jacket. It fea­tures all twelve tracks from LPM-1254, Pres­ley’s self-titled first LP album.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this record, refer to the Post­scrip­tu­ally sec­tion below.

 

SPD Series: side 15 from RCA Victor's SPD-26 set of extended play records.

SPD-26

SPD-26 is a boxed set of ten EP records by var­ious RCA artists and is ti­tled GREAT COUNTRY/WESTERN HITS on the box. One record fea­tures four tracks by Elvis.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this record, refer to the Post­scrip­tu­ally sec­tion below.

 

SPD Series: front cover for RCA Victor's SPD-1, Listener's Digest, set of extended play records.

SPD Series: front cover for RCA Victor's SPD-28, the Perry Como Highlighter extended play record.

The first title in the SPD se­ries was The RCA Victor Lis­ten­er’s Di­gest (SPD-1), which was re­leased in 1954. The final entry in the se­ries was Kleenex Tis­sues Presents Perry Como High­lighter (SPD-28), which was re­leased in 1957.

The final SPD entry

RCA con­tinued to re­lease ti­tles in the SPD se­ries for three years. All of the ti­tles were special-purpose sets: Some were given away with a pur­chase of an RCA product at re­tail stores around the country. Others were man­u­fac­tured for a spe­cific event and given away at the event.

For ex­ample, the final entry in the se­ries was SPD-28 from 1957. This EP had the un­gainly title of “Kleenex Tissue Presents Perry Como High­lighter” and fea­tured se­lec­tions from six of Co­mo’s LP albums.

 

RCAVictor MusicAmericaLovesBest box 800

In 1954, RCA Victor made up “Music America Loves Best,” a boxed set of six com­mer­cially re­leased EP records from six of Vic­tor’s more suc­cessful pop artists. This box was used for pro­mo­tional purposes.

Music America loves best!

In­trepid in­ternet spe­lunker Frank Daniels in­ves­ti­gated the SPD se­ries both on­line and via old is­sues of Bill­board and Cash Box mag­a­zines. His re­sults can be found on his Frik­tech web­site as “The SPD- Se­ries of Pro­mo­tional Records from RCA Victor.” 

Frank was able to iden­tify twenty-one of the twenty-nine ti­tles in this se­ries (in­cluding the un-numbered first re­lease, Music America Loves Best).

To read Frank’s ar­ticle, click here.

SPD Series: cropped image from first page of a two-page ad for RCA Victor's Listener's Digest record collection that appeared in magazines in 1954.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the double-full-page ad­ver­tise­ment for LIS­TEN­ER’S DI­GEST that RCA Victor ran in the Sep­tember 13, 1954, issue of Life mag­a­zine. The main photo de­picts what ad­ver­tising people around the country ap­par­ently be­lieved a typ­ical white Amer­ican family looked like at the time.

Dad is re­laxing in a white shirt and tie, holding his Dun­hill pipe and fa­vorite to­bacco (Cap­tain Black? Borkum Riff?) while Mom is in an evening gown with a pearl choker. They gaze at their son with love. The son (Bobby? Ju­nior? The Beaver?) ap­pears to be lis­tening rap­tur­ously to his brand new copy of SPD-1 on his brand new RCA Vic­trola Au­to­matic 45 record player. He is, no doubt, en­vi­sioning the music being per­formed by his fa­vorite sym­phonic orchestra. 

But what was re­ally hap­pening in thou­sands of house­holds around the country was that Ju­nior wasn’t re­ally lis­tening to this boring stuff. No, he was ac­tu­ally thinking, “Hold it—that don’t move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change!” He was ac­tu­ally wishing that Mom and Dad would buy him some records by the Plat­ters and Fats Domino and Bill Haley & His Comets and maybe even that new singer with the funny name—Elvis something.

 

SPD Series: photo of Elvis from early 1957 in his full gold suit by Nudie of Hollywood.

Postscriptually

The first four­teen ar­ti­cles in this se­ries are al­most com­pleted and listed below with links to each. Should you ac­cess one of these ar­ti­cles and re­ceive an Error Page, try back a week or two later.

01  RCA Vic­tor’s “SPDSeries of Spe­cialty Records
02  What Was the First Elvis Record That RCA Victor Released?
03  The Biggest Country & Western Record News of 1955
04  The First RCA Elvis Record Was “I Forgot to Re­member to Forget”
05  The RCA Victor Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeves of the ’50s
06  The Elvis “This Is His Life” Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeve
07  RCA Victor 47-6357 Bootleg Pic­ture Sleeves
08  The “Record Bul­letin” Pic­ture Sleeve for RCA’s First Elvis Record Is a Fake
09  Did RCA Re­lease Other Ver­sions of Elvis’ Songs to Com­pete With Elvis’ Records?
10  A New Kind of Hit Re-run With Elvis Presley
11  Was “E-Z Pop Pro­gram­ming 5” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
12  Was “E-Z Country Pro­gram­ming 2” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
13  Was SPD-15 the First EP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
14  Is the Country & Western Jukebox Pro­mo­tion Kit a Fake?

More ar­ti­cles ad­dressing the early RCA Victor re­leases are planned. Each will con­tain the block­quote, “This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56,” like the one at the be­gin­ning of this article.

To find all the ar­ti­cles in the se­ries, copy the block­quote, paste it into the Find op­tion (the mag­ni­fying glass in the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the top of each page), and then press Re­turn or Enter on your keyboard.

Thanks to the fol­lowing for their input in some or all of these articles:

Paul Combs (Elvis Records)
Frank Daniels (Frik­tech)
Dave Reynolds (Elvis Rare Records)
Joe Spera (Elvis Presley Tapes)

Rock­ahula, baby!

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RCAVictor SPD 2 MusicForDining box 800
RCA Victor SPD-2 fea­tures tracks from a pair of two-record EPs al­bums: the Melachrino Strings’ “Music For Dining (EPB-1000) and Hugo Win­ter­hal­ter’s “Music Fort Day­dreaming” (EPB-1028).

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