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This is an occasional series on interesting/sleuth-worthy pressings.
Here’s an unusual pressing of Pink Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds.
It's on Harvest Heritage, Harvest's reissue sub-label that was set up in 1975 and ran until 1981. The label largely compiled material that had previously been released on Harvest from 1969 onward. It also reissued music from late 1960s EMI bands that had never recorded for Harvest. They released some great compilations by Deep Purple, Barclay James Harvest, Electric Light Orchestra, Kevin Ayers and others.
Obscured By Clouds is not a compilation, it’s Pink Floyd’s seventh album, released in June 1972 as the soundtrack to French film La Vallée which follows the odyssey of a bored rich girl who goes looking for rare feathers in a "mystical" jungle that is covered in clouds. It was directed by Barbet Schroeder who has also directed More, the Floyd’s first film soundtrack. After recording had finished, the band fell out with the film company, prompting them to distance themselves from the film and release the soundtrack album as Obscured by Clouds, rather than La Vallée. In response, the film was retitled La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) on its release.
This edition of Obscured By Clouds came out in May 1977. No other Floyd LP ever came out on Harvest Heritage, although they did re-release Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs and Barrett LPs as a double album “two-fer” (as in two-fer the price of one), which was much closer to the Harvest Heritage mandate. More mysterious are the matrix numbers: SHSP 4020 A-2/B-2. The A-2/B-2 matrices date the stamper from somewhere around late 1972. So why would EMI/Harvest choose to re-issue this one Pink Floyd album on the Harvest Heritage label, with 1972 stampers? Perhaps there hadn’t been a pressing of Obscured By Clouds in a while and Harvest saw the Heritage imprint as an opportunity to get some copies out to the stores, so they just grabbed an old lacquer from 1972 and made a new stamper for the 1977 pressing. Incidentally the sleeve is identical to the A-1/B-1 first pressing, textured with rounded corners.
It's worth noting that the A-2/B-2 cut is the best version of this LP. The A-1/B-1 is well known to have been cut too hot and has sibilance issues. Roger Waters was caught discussing this on film and it appears on the "Director's Cut" of Live At Pompeii:
With the way that reissue campaigns are orchestrated now, it's unthinkable that a Pink Floyd album could be re-released in such a haphazard fashion, but times were very different back in ’77!
I dug around the net looking up the names of label executives and people who would have been working at Harvest at the time, but most of the people I might have reached out to for some definitive information have since died. One of those people was Mark Rye. Mark joined EMI in 1974 to run Harvest, which he did until March of 1977. In 2003 Mark started the website RockHistory, when the death of Pink Floyd’s manager Steve O’Rourke made him realise that memories from the golden age of British music were disappearing. The site hosts the interviews he recorded with those involved in British rock, and it’s an absolute treasure trove. Anyone who has read this far into a blog post about a single Pink Floyd reissue will easily be able to kill an afternoon watching these interviews with legendary British musicians and record label execs: