why did rca have to export david bowie records to england in the ’70s?

THERE ARE A HANDFUL OF RECORDS from the ’70s that are so common among British col­lec­tors that they re­ceive little at­ten­tion from them. But they are all rather rare records out­side of the UK—so rare, that most non-UK col­lec­tors have only seen them as im­ages on the in­ternet! Due to the gen­eral lack of in­for­ma­tion about these records, they aren’t valu­able, de­spite sev­eral being from the highly col­lectible David Bowie!

In 1974, RCA in the US man­u­fac­tured a few records ex­clu­sively to be ex­ported to RCA in Eng­land for sale in the UK. Why this oc­curred re­mains a topic of dis­cus­sion among record col­lec­tors. Two the­o­ries have re­ceived at­ten­tion from col­lec­tors: a shortage of vinyl in the UK or a shortage of labor in the UK. Both of these plus two other pos­sible causes are ad­dressed below.

Re­searching export-only Elvis Presley records led to re­searching export-only David Bowie records.

This ar­ticle was orig­i­nally written to ad­dress the ori­gins of just one record: RCA 2458EX, the US-manufactured 45 rpm single of Elvis Pres­ley’s My Boy / Loving Arms. (In fact, it was written for my other blog, Elvis – A Touch Of Gold.) When I started looking at the other US-manufactured-for-UK-sales records is­sued at the same time as the Presley platter, I was com­pelled to ad­dress them separately.

So, this ar­ticle looks at ten export-only records from 1974. As three of them were by David Bowie, I made him the focus of this ar­ticle. As 1974 opened, David had seen his pre­vious five sin­gles reach the Top 10 in the UK, so he was RCA’s hottest new artist. To meet the de­mand for his next three sin­gles, RCA in the UK had to reach out to RCA in the US for assistance.

RCA also had to im­port records by the New Birth, Lou Reed, the Sweet, and the Tymes. These records are ad­dressed below.

 

Export David Bowie: caricature of Ziggy Stardust by carcoma.com.
I love a good car­i­ca­ture and this ex­cel­lent piece of David Bowie as Ziggy Star­dust was cred­ited to the carcoma.com web­site. Un­for­tu­nately, that site does not ap­pear to be up and run­ning at this time.

To export David Bowie

While David Bowie is rightly ranked among the major fig­ures in rock and pop music, his as­cen­dancy was a dif­fi­cult and lengthy af­fair. His first record was re­leased in 1964 (Liza Jane) yet he didn’t have a hit until 1969 (Space Oddity) and then it took al­most three years for his second hit (Starman). From 1969 through 1997, he placed two dozen sides in the British Top 10. 

But during that same pe­riod, only half that number reached the Top 10 in the US. In fact, Bowie’s first hit in the US didn’t happen until 1973 when Space Oddity reached the Top 20 four years after its re­lease! David fi­nally started reaching a radio-friendly au­di­ence in 1973, after which he was a rea­son­ably steady hitmaker.

By 1974, David Bowie was re­placing Elvis Presley as the mar­quee figure for RCA Records & Tapes.

During the time of Bowie’s as­cen­dancy, RCA’s biggest star was falling. Elvis Presley mor­phed from the pas­sion­ately com­mitted rock artist of 1969-1970 to an artist who seemed more in­ter­ested in making in­roads into the MOR and country mar­kets than with the younger rock audience.

By the time that RCA needed to im­port records into the UK in 1974, David Bowie was re­placing Elvis Presley as the mar­quee figure for RCA Records & Tapes worldwide.

 

Export David Bowie: RCA 2458EX, Elvis Presley's "My Boy" / "Loving Arms" export-only single from 1974.
RCA 2458EX, a US-manufactured, export-only 45 rpm single of Elvis Pres­ley’s My Boy / Loving Arms, has been the topic of de­bate among col­lec­tors for years. Re­searching this record led me to write the ar­ticle that you are reading about other RCA export-only records from 1974, in­cluding three by Bowie.

An oil shortage?

There was an “oil crisis” that began in Oc­tober 1973 when mem­bers of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Arab Pe­tro­leum Ex­porting Coun­tries (OAPEC) en­acted an em­bargo on na­tions sup­porting Is­rael during the Arab-Israeli War. The Arab oil pro­ducers’ ini­tial tar­gets in­cluded Canada, Japan, the Nether­lands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The em­bargo had an im­pact on every­thing that re­quired oil for its cre­ation in those coun­tries, in­cluding the polyvinyl chlo­ride needed to make records. Ex­actly how much the em­bargo af­fected record com­pa­nies around the world is not known.

That is, this theory is rea­son­able but un­proven as the cause of the need for British record com­pa­nies to im­port records in 1974.

 
Export David Bowie: full-page advertisement for David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" from 1974.
David Bowie en­tered 1974 with six Top 10 hits in the Uk but none in the US. Radio sta­tions were playing British copies of Rebel Rebel for months be­fore RCA fi­nally re­leased the single in the US, where it failed to even dent the Top 40.

A labor shortage?

The second theory ar­gues that the need for im­porting records was caused by a labor shortage. There wascoalminers’ dis­pute in the UK in 1973-1974 that did lead to a three-day work-week that might have af­fected the record in­dustry. Ac­cording to The Blackout Report:

“The start of 1974 saw much of UK in­dustry op­erate under a three-day week re­stricting their elec­tricity use. The pe­riod of elec­tricity ra­tioning lasted for more than two months and played a piv­otal role in un­seating the British gov­ern­ment. The crisis came to a head thanks to an in­dus­trial dis­pute with coal miners in the midst of a global oil crisis.

The re­stric­tions came into force on Jan­uary 1, 1974, and lasted until March 7, 1974 Busi­nesses had to limit their elec­tricity use to just three spec­i­fied con­sec­u­tive days a week and were banned from op­er­ating for long hours on those dates. Ser­vices deemed es­sen­tial were ex­empt from the ac­tion. These in­cluded hos­pi­tals and su­per­mar­kets, along with news­paper printing presses.”

This theory is also rea­son­able but also un­proven as the source of the British record in­dustry problems.

 

Export David Bowie: UK pressing of David Bowie's "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" with knockout center from 1974.

Export David Bowie: UK pressing of David Bowie's "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" with solid center from 1974.
Here are two la­bels from 45 rpm sin­gles man­u­fac­tured by RCA in the UK in the ’70s. They are easily dis­tin­guished from US records by the lines of tiny white print along the upper and lower perime­ters, which US records do not have. A closer in­spec­tion of the print on top will re­veal that it reads “Man­u­fac­tured by RCA Lim­ited England.”

A third theory

There is a third theory that is rarely ban­tered about in the record col­lecting com­mu­nity. It is ad­dressed in a pair of ar­ti­cles that ap­peared on the front page of the De­cember 22, 1973, issue of Bill­board. The first ar­ticle is ti­tled “Sales Surge & Crunch Hit Stock in UK” and stated:

“Soaring de­mand or product has plunged records com­pa­nies into the worst pre-Christmas stock short­ages in many years. Pres­sure on pressing plants, and raw ma­te­rial and board short­ages, cou­pled with high con­sumer de­mand, has re­sulted in low com­ple­tion rates in many cat­e­gories of records and tapes.”

Ex­ec­u­tives from sev­eral record com­pa­nies chimed in with ob­ser­va­tions, es­ti­mating that the in­dus­try’s sales were up as much as 30% com­pared to the same pe­riod just one year be­fore! One gen­eral sales man­ager ex­claimed, “Ob­vi­ously the sit­u­a­tion is crit­ical, but no­body can do much about it.”

The second ar­ticle is ti­tled “LP Im­ports Ad­vance Sharply in UK; Sin­gles De­clining” stated that the prob­lems facing the var­ious British record com­pa­nies ne­ces­si­tated the pressing of an in­creasing amount of product abroad:

“Pressing prob­lems in the UK seem un­likely to ease at least in the short term—the view of many in the in­dustry is that there will be little in­vest­ment in new plants while the vinyl shortage lasts.”

Like the first two the­o­ries, this one is rea­son­able yet un­proven as the source of the British record in­dustry problems.

 

Export David Bowie: full-page advertisement for "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" from 1974.
This is a full-page ad for David Bowie’s new single Rock ‘N’ Roll Sui­cide that ap­peared in the April 20, 1974, issue of Record Mirror mag­a­zine in the UK. Note that it cor­rectly uses single quo­ta­tion marks around the con­trac­tion for “and.”

And yet another theory!

The three au­thors of the book Elvis UK - The Ul­ti­mate Guide to Elvis Pres­ley’s British Record Re­leases 1956-1985 had a slightly dif­ferent take on the situation:

“It has been sug­gested that the reason RCA im­ported [these records] was that RCA’s UK plant in Wash­ington, Tyne and Wear was on strike at the time, or that it was be­cause of the world­wide shortage of vinyl which forced com­pa­nies to ra­tio­nalise pro­duc­tion. How­ever, we have it on good au­thority that it was pro­duc­tion prob­lems [em­phasis added] at Wash­ington which mainly ac­counted for the fact that most copies avail­able in the UK were pressed in America.”

The “pro­duc­tion prob­lems” are not de­fined. They could have been a lack of raw ma­te­rials (the oil crisis theory), a lack of workers (the labor theory), the mal­func­tioning of man­u­fac­turing equip­ment, a health hazard, or some­thing else. Need­less to say, this theory is rea­son­able yet un­proven as the cause of British record com­pa­nies im­porting records in 1974.

Now, onto the ac­tual records.

 
Export David Bowie: full-page advertisement for David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" single from 1974.
This full-page ad­ver­tise­ment for David Bowie’s Di­a­mond Dogs single ap­peared in the June 29, 1974, issue of the New Mu­sical Ex­press. Note that RCA listed the cat­alog num­ber’s prefix in­cor­rectly as “APBO” with an “O” in­stead of a zero.

Conclusion?

So, which of the four the­o­ries works best as an ex­pla­na­tion for RCA’s need to im­port these records in 1974? Well, all of them work to some degree:

•  There was an oil shortage and that should have had some kind of im­pact on the record industry.

•  There was a three-day work-week with a re­stric­tion on elec­tricity that should have had some kind of im­pact on the record industry.

•  There was an un­ex­pected in­crease in de­mand for records that should have had some kind of im­pact on the record industry.

•  There was an un­ex­plained pro­duc­tion problem at a pressing planet that should have had some kind of im­pact on the record industry.

Maybe it was a com­bi­na­tion of two or more of these fac­tors. Heck, it may have been some­thing else en­tirely dif­ferent from these four rea­sons! Alas, we may never know.

Now, onto the records …

 

Export David Bowie: David Bowie's DIAMOND DOGS LP album (RCA APL1-0576) from 1974.
RCA also had to im­port al­bums during 1974, al­though most of these LPs look just like a reg­ular UK-manufactured album. That is, they had or­ange la­bels and their cat­alog num­bers re­mained the same. Bowie’s new album at the time was DIAMOND DOGS (APL1-0576), which was re­leased in May 1974.

The export records

The exact number of records man­u­fac­tured in other coun­tries for RCA in Eng­land is not known. I found ten ti­tles that were pressed in the US for them but I also found export-only records man­u­fac­tured for RCA from Canada, France, and Germany.

The best-known of these records is the US-manufactured 2458EX, Elvis Pres­ley’s My Boy / Loving Arms. This spe­cial US-pressing ex­ists along­side five dif­ferent ver­sions of this record pressed in Eng­land in 1974!

Among the export-only records from the US, I iden­ti­fied four in the LPB0-5000 se­ries and three in the 2000 series—neither of which were used in the US—along with three in the APB0-0000 se­ries. This latter se­ries was RCA’s at­tempt to stan­dardize their cat­alog num­bering system glob­ally, so UK and US press­ings have the same numbers. 

The LPB0 and APB0 se­ries have four fig­ures in their prefix—three let­ters fol­lowed by a number. For sin­gles, that number is zero. Nonethe­less, mil­lions of RCA records were pressed with an in­cor­rect prefix with an “O” in­stead of a zero (as APBO or LPBO).

I used Discogs and 45cat to find these ten records. If you are aware of others, please con­tact me via the Com­ments sec­tion below.

 

LPB0-5000 series

 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO 5004, the Sweet's "Teenage Rampage" with big whole center from 1974.

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO 5004, the Sweet's "Teenage Rampage" with solid center from 1974.

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO 5004, the Sweet's "Teenage Rampage" with big whole centerfrom 1974.

The Sweet

LPB0-5004, Teenage Ram­page / Own Up, Take A Look At Your­self

Image 1, 2: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash and with an in­cor­rect “O” as LPBO-5004. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.”

Image 3: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a space and with the cor­rect zero as LPB0 5004. Trade­mark data missing.

Re­leased: Jan­uary 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #2

This record was not re­leased in the US.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5009, David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" from 1974.

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5009, David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" from 1974.

David Bowie

LPB0-5009, Rebel Rebel / Queen Bitch

Image 1: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed without a space or a dash and with the cor­rect zero as LPB05009. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.”

Image 2: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed without a space or a dash and with the cor­rect zero as LPB05009. Trade­mark data missing.

Re­leased: Feb­ruary 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #5

This record was not re­leased in the US. Rebel Rebel was re­leased in the US in May 1974 as APB0-0287 with Lady Grin­ning Soul as the flip-side.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5021, "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" from 1974.

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5021, "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" from 1974.

David Bowie

LPB0-5021, Rock ‘N’ Roll Sui­cide / Quicksand

Image 1: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed without a space or a dash and with an in­cor­rect “O” as LPBO5021. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.” Album credit at top.

Image 2: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed without a space or a dash and with an in­cor­rect “O” as LPBO5021. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.” Album credit at the bottom.

Re­leased: April 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #22

This record was not re­leased in the US.

Note: Both records in­cor­rectly use double quo­ta­tion marks around the con­trac­tion for “and.”

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5037, the Sweet's "The Six Teens" from 1974.

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA LPBO-5037, the Sweet's "The Six Teens" from 1974.

The Sweet

LPB0-5037EX, The Six Teens / Burn On The Flame

Image 1: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash and with an in­cor­rect “O” as LPBO-5037 with “EX” suffix. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.” 

Image 2: Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash and with the cor­rect zero as LPB0-5037 with “EX” suffix. Trade­mark data missing.

Re­leased: July 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #9

This record was not re­leased in the US.

 

 

APB0-0000 series

 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA APB0-0293EX, David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" from 1974.

David Bowie

APB0-0293EX, Di­a­mond Dogs / Holy Holy

Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a space and with an in­cor­rect “O” as APBO 0293 with “EX” suffix. In­cludes trade­mark data with “Made in U.S.A.”

Re­leased: May 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #21

This record was not re­leased in the US.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA APB0-0185EX, the New Birth's "It's Been a Long Time" from 1974.

The New Birth

APB0-0185EX, It’s Been A Long Time / Keep On Doin’ It

Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash and with the cor­rect zero as APB0-0185 with “EX” suffix.

Re­leased: May 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: Did not chart

This record was re­leased in the US in No­vember 1973 as APB0-0185.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA APB0-0238EX, Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" from 1974.

Lou Reed

APB0-0238EX, Sweet Jane / Lady Day

Or­ange label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash and with the cor­rect zero as APB0-0238 with “EX” suffix.

Re­leased in the US as APB0-0238.

Re­leased: May 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: Did not chart

This record was re­leased in the US in March 1974 as APB0-0238.

 

 

2000 series

 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA 2456EX, the Tymes' "You Little Trustmaker" from 1974.

The Tymes

2456EX, You Little Trust­maker / The North Hills

Gray label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash as RCA-2456 with “EX” suffix.

Re­leased: Au­gust 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #18

This record was re­leased in the US in July 1974 as PB-10022.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA 2458EX, Elvis Presley's "My Boy" from 1974. 

Elvis Presley

2458EX, My Boy / Loving Arms

Gray label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash as RCA-2458 with “EX” suffix.

Re­leased: No­vember 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #5

This record was re­leased in the US in Jan­uary 1975 as PB-10191.

 


 

Export David Bowie: export copy of RCA 2493EX, the Tymes' "Ms. Grace" from 1974.

The Tymes

2493EX, Ms. Grace / The Crutch

Gray label. Cat­alog number printed with a dash as RCA-2493 with “EX” suffix.

Re­leased: No­vember 1974

Peak UK chart po­si­tion: #1

This record was re­leased in the US in De­cember 1974 as PB-10128.

 

Elvis MyBoy ad CashBox 02 01 1975 600xxx
After “My Boy” sur­prised everyone by reaching #5 on the UK pop charts in late 1974, RCA is­sued it as a single in the US in early 1975. Do­mes­ti­cally, it was Pres­ley’s third single in a row to reach the Top 20, the most suc­cess he had had on the pop charts since 1970!

An Elvis record with gray labels

The most valu­able record among these export-only press­ings is 2458EX, Elvis Pres­ley’s My Boy / Loving Arms. This record has been listed in sev­eral process guides with four-figure values has led many Elvis col­lec­tors to be­lieve it is a rather rare record. Ac­tu­ally, it may be as common as the other nine records her but there cer­tainly is more of a de­mand for it! For a while, the fact that the record fea­tured an un­at­trac­tive gray label made it a standout among Presley platters.

We know now that In­di­anapolis used the gray la­bels in late 1974 when they ran out of the soon-to-be-old or­ange la­bels and didn’t have the soon-to-be-new light-brown/tan la­bels. As the Tymes’ records above show, there were at least three export-only records made with these labels.

The most valu­able export-only record is 2458EX, whose rarity and value are still being ar­gued among Elvis col­lec­tors. I ad­dressed most of the ar­gu­ments in a sep­a­rate ar­ticle; to read that ar­ticle, click here.

 

DavidBowie RockNRollSuicide UK PS 1983 800

DavidBowie DiamondDogs UK PS 1983 800

DavidBowie RebelRebel UK PS 1983 800
RCA did not issue pic­ture sleeves with Bowie’s sin­gles in 1974 but did issue spe­cial sleeves for the David Bowie Life­times Sin­gles reissue col­lec­tion in 1983. Rebel Rebel was reis­sued as BOW-514, Rock ‘N’ Roll Sui­cide as BOW-503, and Di­a­mond Dogs as BOW-504. These sleeves are much harder to find than the orig­inal records.

The Avid Record Collector

The ten records listed above were all hits in the UK and so they are not rare. As the peak UK chart po­si­tions above make ev­i­dent most of these records were sub­stan­tial hits. Con­se­quently, they sold lots of copies in 1974. Sub­se­quently, they are not very hard to find in 2021.

The vast ma­jority of copies avail­able for sale on Discogs at this time are in VG to VG+ con­di­tion. Most are avail­able from British sellers and can be had for a pound or two (meaning less than $3). Copies in NM con­di­tion of most of the ti­tles can be found for $5-10.

Copies of some of these records may be dif­fi­cult to find in NM con­di­tion. For ex­ample, there are 21 copies of 2456EX for sale on Discogs, none with a price above £1.50 (about $2) but none of them are in NM condition!

Two of these records are no­tice­ably more dif­fi­cult to find and will gen­er­ally cost more. A copy of APB0-0185EX will prob­ably cost $10-20 in NM condition.

 

Export David Bowie: original poster for the movie "It's Complicated" from 2009.

I love coincidences

We watch a lot of movies in our house. Last night, after working on this ar­ticle, we watched It’s Com­pli­cated, a sort of ro­mantic comedy star­ring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin with Steve Martin and Lake Bell. Midway through the story, our pro­tag­o­nists pull their car up to a house where there is a big party going on.

As they head for the house, the opening gui­tars of David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel em­anate from the speakers in­doors. There’s less than a minute of the record heard be­fore the scene changes, but it was a nice co­in­ci­dence, es­pe­cially as we don’t hear Bowie used as in­ci­dental music in most of the movies that we watch.

In 1974, RCA in the US man­u­fac­tured sev­eral records ex­clu­sively to be ex­ported to RCA in Eng­land for sale in the UK, in­cluding three hit sin­gles by David Bowie. Click To Tweet

Export David Bowie: cropped image from the full-page advertisement for "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" from 1974.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is David Bowie in his Ziggy Star­dust phase, posing in what ap­pears to be a public tele­phone booth in the early ’70s. It was cropped from the ad­ver­tise­ment for Rock ‘N’ Roll Sui­cide that ap­peared in British mag­a­zines in early 1974.

This is one of four ar­ti­cles that ad­dress the export-only sin­gles in 1974. The other there are:

•  “There Is a Spe­cial Export-Only Pressing of My Boy” ad­dresses RCA 2458EX, which was man­u­fac­tured by RCA in the US ex­clu­sively for sale in the UK.

•  “Mys­te­rious In­sert As­so­ci­ated with Export-Only My Boy” ad­dresses a sheet of paper with “Elvis Presley / My Boy” printed on one side that some col­lec­tors be­lieve is as­so­ci­ated with RCA 2458EX.

•  “British Press­ings of Elvis Pres­ley’s My Boy Are Common in the UK” ad­dresses the var­ious ver­sions of RCA 2458 man­u­fac­tured by or for RCA in Eng­land at the same time they were im­porting copies from the US.

Fi­nally, thanks to Paul Alner for alerting me to the Tymes’ export-only records.

 
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