I’m not sure if Fun House is the record I own the most variations of, but it’s got to be pretty damn close. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this true masterpiece, it seems like as good a time as ever to go down the most unnecessary rabbit hole and break down the differences in pressing variations, however minuscule, on The Stooges’ second album.
First off, let’s start with the music itself. Despite the juicy, juicy rumors claiming otherwise, the Japanese pressing of Fun House does not contain alternate mixes or alternate performances. Please trust me here. I’ve done the hard work by spending thousands of dollars on two different copies of the Japanese pressing to be able to justifiably put this rumor to rest. Even with those two copies, I’ve still not managed to successfully track down the original OBI strip. However, the single-pocket tip-on sleeve is sturdy and beautiful, and the fact that it comes with a lyric insert in Japanese is all the more tasty.
The variations on the jacket itself are minute but noteworthy. The “E” Elektra logos on the front and back cover are in white, as opposed to red elsewhere for versions pressed in the 1970s (later versions occasionally adopt the white logo as well). The addition of the local catalog number (SJET 8313) and the “Manufactured by Victor Company of Japan LTD by Agreement with Cosdel Inc” credit are easy to miss, as is the Japanese text that I don’t know how to type but can relay to you that the price (¥1750) is printed as part of the actual artwork as was common (mandatory?) of Nipponese pressings of the era. Of most interest to me is that the Japanese Elektra center label features the seemingly archaic “guitar player” logo the company had used in the states from its inception in 1950 through around 1965. Five years later and the Japanese affiliate was still using the old logo, which is bonkers to think about that nowadays. The stock release has a blue center label with silver printing while the much harder to track down promo version has a red center label with silver print.
Pound for pound, the Japanese pressing is consistently the most expensive version of Fun House, and while I wouldn’t necessarily encourage someone to drop four figures on a copy, I certainly wouldn’t fault someone for doing so either.
As for the version “of record,” so to speak, the variations on the U.S. release are primarily just pressing plant-related. As far as I can tell, Fun House was pressed by three different plants in the United States: Columbia Pitman (New Jersey), Columbia Terre Haute (Indiana), and Monarch (California). I am not so crazy as to suggest that one plant has a better pressing quality than the others, but I do know that certain ne’er do-wells swear by Monarch pressings — that you can “hear the room” and stuff like that.
The fact that the white-label radio promo I have was pressed by Terre Haute makes me at least think that, at the time, such opinions were not held by the labels. Armchair fantasy record label bosses suggest a motivation for labels to make sure that the copies going to radio stations be of better quality, given the possibility that airplay could translate into more sales. The “hot stamper” phenomenon is a sticky one that I just choose to not justify with me spending any of my hard-earned money on. Stamper matrix variations of 1A, 1B, etc. are such arbitrary, subjective taste barometers that are, in theory, where I draw the line in record collecting. But if someone who’s spent more time with this album and these variations could illuminate further or with any “authority,” well damn, this is probably one of 10 titles in the world where I would give a shit about it — and I am listening.
Across the board, it seems like each locale has unique run-out etchings — some hand-done, some machine stamped — meaning that they would have been cut local to each territory. One to one, my ears have spent too many years next to Mick Collins’ Pignose amplifier to be able to discern the specific differences in regards to pros or pitfalls of the individualities of each mastering. I can say, though, that in my experience, Fun House pressings from 1970 or thereabouts feel consistently strong. The further away you get from that date, the more likely you are to find a bum pressing. Furthermore, I find it interesting that while the first Stooges album showed up in some far-reaching worlds like pressings in the Philippines, Thailand (sort of), and South Africa, their second full-length seemed to not get as wide a global treatment as their first. I want to know why that was and I doubt I will ever get an answer.
In the United States, I think the white-label promo is the way to go, as the goofy-ass Elektra butterfly label is seemingly disarmed from its wishy-washy tones reminiscent of aquatints. Most other territories adopted the butterfly logo after the initial pressing of Fun House; again, as seen in Japan, it could take a minute for overseas territories to get their label designs in line with the parent label. The rarest version of Fun House I am currently aware of is the U.S. promotional pressing that comes in a white folder with a red-printed “Stooges” logo on it, a copy of a Fun House promotional poster, a press release, and article reprint, and promo photos. Said version doesn’t even have a dedicated Discogs listing, and when it has sold recently on the open market, a folder without the record but everything else went for $3,050. Don’t get me wrong, I was tempted to bid, but already having the promo poster and the white-label promo LP and the promo photo made me have to think really hard about paying $3,000 for a folder that says “The Stooges” on it and a bunch of seemingly inconsequential paper.
And yeah, I know I just said that the Japanese version was the most expensive version and this promo pack nets three times that one, but as it wasn’t ever even commercially available, it feels a little odd to even consider the promotional supplements part of the conversation. Those extras just turn the release into an entirely different beast.
Jump north of the border and a couple of different Canadian pressing variations are interesting. It seems like the first pressing there had gold center labels. Subsequent pressings include a standard red Elektra label complete with the band name in the stylized “The Stooges” logo font; Canada is the only territory I can find that used the logo, both on this version and a butterfly label. I would imagine, given the Elektra label timeline, the red labels came before butterflies, but that’s just conjecture. Some pressings in Canada have an inconspicuous maple leaf dropped into the back cover, as was the practice on many albums for the Canadian market at the time. Most versions I’ve found have the “Manufactured and Distributed by WEA Music of Canada LTD a Warner Communications Company” credit both on the center labels and the back cover, while it appears that some read “Manufactured and Distributed by Kinney Music of Canada, LTD,” supposedly issued between mid-1971 and mid-1972.
Across the pond, the initial UK pressing is again a red label Elektra with white printing. Like the Japanese issue, the UK release adopts a local catalog number (2410-009) coupled with a paragraph that starts, “This stereo records can be played on mono …” yada yada yada, conspicuously on the back cover. Also like the Japanese version, this is housed in a single-pocket, non-gatefold sleeve. Unique to the early UK pressing (seemingly) is that the first song on side two is printed as “I Feel Alright (1970)” on the label. Additionally, underneath the red Elektra “E” logo on the back cover is the unique designation of “standard,” which doesn’t seem to appear in any other jurisdictions. Furthermore, the last line of credits on the back cover (Elektra Records, 15 Columbus Circle, etc.) is crudely covered up here with red overprint and a “Manufactured by Polydor Records Ltd London Printed and Made by the E. J. Day Group, London and Bedford.” E.J. Day has a reputation of being one of two manufacturers of Parlophone Beatles sleeves, in addition to Garrod & Lofthouse printers, but let’s not get down the muck of the rarity and availability of those comparatively as it is a shit show.
A skip across the English Channel and we chance upon the numerous iterations of French Fun House pressings. Anecdotally, in my lifetime, these seem to have been the easiest, most affordable 1970s pressings one could consistently come across. The gatefold may feel inferior compared to the U.S. and UK heavyweights, and the interior printing almost exclusively appears to be faded, but nevertheless, I still think these are solid copies to grab. It appears that gold labels were first, followed by butterflies, then it gets a little crazy with different BIEM or SACEM publishing credits.
But my personal favorite French issue is the 1971 mispressing utilizing Atlantic Records labels. That classic green-and-orange beachball wearing a white belt is most familiar to me on U.S. pressings of the prime Led Zeppelin catalog. This goof, inexplicably, just makes the record seem more important. Also, my particular copy comes paired with a laminated sleeve, in which most of the yellows on the front cover are muted to an almost golden brown color. I don’t have the hindsight to be able to determine whether or not this had always been the case or if it’s just a matter of aging, but all in all, it makes for one of the most unique versions of Fun House out there.
Quickly, the New Zealand pressing adds in the local Auckland address of WEA Records on the back cover as a negative black flood print over Scott Asheton’s right shoulder. There are at least two label variations, both credited 1977 on the printing, but one has the circular exterior text contained within two black guidelines.
The Hispavox Spanish pressing is notable for its addition of the “serie pioneros” text added to the front cover in a faux “peel back” fashion, completely obscuring Dave Alexander’s left cheek. The Hispavox catalog number (HKS 541-52) is also added to the back of the sleeve along with the company logo and address, subtly, in white print over Scott’s shoulder. You’d miss it if I didn’t tell you, but the audio setting is translated to “estereo” and I think that’s pretty boss.
Oddly, this version designated as “unofficial” has one of the more interesting front cover iterations: a zoomed-in close-up of Iggy’s visage centered on the jacket, totally eliminating 50% of the other graphics that should be there. That same centered zoom is reproduced on the back cover with an entirely unique tracklist in a non-appropriate typeface. For an unofficial release, it seems weird that it has a UPC code (aka barcode), but maybe that’s just how the bootleggers would fight off suspicion when this was made.
Finally, the first copy I ever bought of Fun House is also my favorite. Seemingly just before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the country was able to finally get a dedicated pressing of Fun House. Of most intrigue to me is that the front cover here is a graphic reinterpretation of the original, in some spots appearing as if it were spray-painted with stencils. Alexander’s eyes on the cover, spooky to begin with, are full blackout caves. There appears to be an “HK” credit for the art on the cover, and if that weren’t enough, the band name and album title have been appropriately translated into the Cyrillic alphabet in an attempt to occupy the same format and style as on the original, though it is arguable as to how successful they were. I’m outright shocked that there were no less than four variations of this USSR pressing and that there were ever (easily?) available here in the U.S. I’ve heard murmurings that none of these were ever done legally or even done in the USSR, but I doubt we will ever have any definitive information one way or another.
Side note: While not a proper version of the album, I would be remiss to not mention the Armed Forces Radio Television Services pressing that includes all of side two of Fun House paired with an album side from the British jazz/prog act, IF. It’s likely another head-scratcher that we’ll never get answers to, but I’ll go ahead and ask the questions anyway: Who thought this would make sense for radio play? For the armed forces? And they decided on side two? I mean, whoever it was, please just take my salute, as seeing stars and stripes coupled with these songs is one of the few things that can still elicit pride in being an American these days.
There are German and Brazilian and Australian pressings I didn’t discuss, but none of those had any characteristics I found terribly intriguing. I’m assuming there have to be more variations out there, not including the 116 currently listed on Discogs. If this essay provokes even just one of those to be dug up and added to the database, well shit, my work has helped serve the highest purpose.
Photos of the Japanese, UK, Spanish, and Soviet Union pressings by Ben Blackwell.