Record Collector: F Is For Fake

F Is For Fake
In which we warn about the perils of those criminally-clever counterfeits.
Head of CID: Mark Woodley

Bootlegs are one thing, but at least you know where you stand.  "Dylan Live In Doncaster" on the Fluffy Turkey label is patently not to be confused with "Blonde On Blonde", and while we don't condone them, these naughty but niceties have their place.  Despite the best efforts of the BPI, this under-the-counter culture still thrives in the digital age, satisfying the fan who wants more.

Counterfeits are far more dubious.  These cheaply-produced facsimilies sometimes purport to be the real thing, so it's wise to be cautious.

Hence F Is For Fake, a sporadic series where we'll place a particular rarity under the microscope and give you the lowdown on how to tell the difference between the genuine artefact and the shallow imposter.  When it's made abundantly clear to potential customers what they're getting, there isn't a problem, especially when the asking price is correspondingly modest.  But when the poor punter finds he's forked out a lorry-load of cash for a piece of crap, we have to say, "Oi! Mr. Record Dealer! No!"  You want matrix numbers?  Well read on...

Nirvana: "Love Buzz"
(7", Sub Pop SP23, 10/88)

One of the ultimate classics from the Seattle Sub Pop empire, "Love Buzz" introduced the world to the most important and downright exciting rock band since the Sex Pistols.  We're talking, of course, about Nirvana, who issued this mind-altering version of an old Shocking Blue track, backed with the Kurt Cobain-penned "Big Cheese", in a hand-numbered edition of 1000 via the irrepressible Sub Pop Singles Club.


The kosher copies of "Love Buzz" can be identified thus:

  • · The names ALICE WHEELER and SUZANNE SASIC can be seen clearly printed on the rear of the picture sleeve.
    · The cover is hand-numbered in a thin red felt pen.
    · The person who numbered the singles was left-handed, so the number leans to the left.
    · Side A run-out groove reads: SP-23-A Why Don't You Trade Those Guitars For Shovels? L-31540.  The writing is only 2mm high.
    · Side B run-out groove reads: SP-23-B L-31540X.  Both these messages are handwritten.
    · Machine-stamped on both run-out grooves is the word, Kdisc.  The stamp is very light and may have to be held under a bright light to be identified.

Large quantities of these fakes flooded the market in the
early 90s, with many shops selling them as "reissues".

  • · All were originally sold unnumbered, although anyone can hand-number them!
    · The sleeve is darker, losing the following details: the last two letters of the names "Kobain, Novoselic, Channing", the name "Alice Wheeler" and the surname of "Suzanne Sasic".
    · The run-out grooves read as follows:
    • Side A -- SP.23 A1
      Side B -- SP.23 B1

Basically a re-pressing of the above counterfeit from the same plates, except...

  • · Added onto the Side A run-out groove is the handwritten message, "K-Disc When Do We Get Our Money, Bruce?".  (This points the finger to members of a certain Seattle band who were awaiting their royalty cheque from Sub Pop co-owner Bruce Pavitt!)
    · The sleeves are printed slightly lighter but "Alice Wheeler" has again disappeared from sight.
    · This edition is hand-numbered in a thicker red marker pen (right-handed, this time!)

This is the one which will have Nirvana fans rushing to check their collections.  This counterfeit surfaced about three years ago and, unlike the two previous editions which were sold around to dealers in bulk, this variation is almost as rare as the original, official copy.  The manufacturer has only let this trickle into circulation one or two copies at a time.  Consequently, this counterfeit has fooled many people into thinking they own an original copy.
The yardstick for identifying an original copy from a counterfeit has always been based on the 'Record Collector' Nirvana article in issue 170.  At that point, the third counterfeit had yet to be released, so it's been taken as gospel that if your copy as "Why don't you trade those guitars for shovels?", you have a bona fide item.  Not so!

  • · Again, the rear sleeve loses poor old "Alice Wheeler" again.  The black-on-black print of the original sleeve has proved impossible to reproduce effectively.
    · It is hand-numbered in thin red felt pen -- by a right-handed person!
    · It's when you get to the run-out messages that the trouble starts!  They run as follows: Side A -- "Why Don't You Trade Those Guitars For Shovels", followed by SP23A L31540.  This is 3mm high.  Side B -- "SP23B L31540X".
    · Note that the message on the A-side is encased by " " and features no question mark.  Also, the dashes are missing on the matrix numbers.

Each counterfeit has perfect label reproductions, incidentally.  Let's sum up, then.

  • · If you can read the name "Alice Wheeler" clearly on the rear, the sleeve is original.
    · Look for the machine-stamped "Kdisc" mark on both sides of the record in the 'land' (the area of the run-out groove).  If your copy has this, it's an original disc.

This is the quickest way of checking.  It could mean the difference between a fiver or a small fortune -- reports have recently filtered through that a bona fide copy of "Love Buzz" sold for £350!
With thanks to Reckless Records.

· The article was originally published by Record Collector magazine in February 1997 (issue #210).  Since then, other counterfeit pressings have surfaced.  Check the Love Buzz summary page for links.

· One aspect of the article that seems open for debate is whether or not all numbers have the slant of a left-handed person.  As more images surface it's easy to see why there is concern.  However, I think the issue would best be answered by asking these two questions:

  1. How many people at Sub Pop helped number the sleeves?

  2. How many sleeves did Record Collector examine before writing their article, and which ones are they referring to in the article?

· It's pretty obvious, though not official, from looking at scans and photos that not all sleeves are the same.  Sleeves up to #499 appear to be numbered by one person, while #500-1000 have a different, more distinctive style.  And there's a chance a third person was involved, too, though more images of sleeves below #499 are needed before commenting further.  The conclusion of myself and others is that there were at least two Love Buzz numberers.  (Examples can be found in the owners' list.)  Other than this issue, the article has done a wonderful job of helping collectors figure out what they own and keeping potential buyers from being ripped off.

· Dave Chang originally posted the article in, though not word for word.

· Adam Clark scanned the article so the exact text could be presented.

· Giovanni Solorio's questions about sleeve numbering and handwriting prompted us to point out the issue above.  Joris Baas and Mitch Vassar also contributed.


Digital Nirvana