Demos and promos

From a Christmas Annual

Never available across the counter in a record store, these demonstration singles, often review copies sent to radio disk-jockeys or newspapers, used to turn up in the most unlikely places. Like secondhand record boxes in used-furniture stores or open-all-hours grocery shops. No more. Demos now add a premium to the mint price of many discs. Not all, because with some labels, discs were such spectacular flops that the stock copy, sold through normal channels is rarer than the demo sent out to every local newspaper and radio station.

Unlike the USA, until 1967 there were in practice just two radio stations to promote to: the BBC Light Programme and Radio Luxembourg. However, you can add the pirate stations by 1964, and a separate demo would have been sent to every radio producer and DJ at the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. Most demos would have ended up with newspapers or magazines,

When demos turn up at second-hand shops nowadays, they come by the box full, or crate full The donor will likely be the heir of the reviews journalist at the Grimleigh Evening Gazette who used to have them arrive weekly in the record label’s hope of those crucial two liners: Another beaty number from Lesley Higginbotham & The Botham Five, with some chance of chart action.

Twenty years ago, the box of demos was often comprised of radio station cast-offs when they switched to CD then to digital, with a stamp GRIMLEIGH HOSPITAL RADIO in the middle, and probably knackered from playing with a weighted tone arm to avoid skipping on air.

Complimentary copy

That was the polite 1950s term.

‘S Cool Boy: Stan Getz Quartet: Esquire 78 rpm shellac promo copy, 1951

‘Rush copy’

The Night I Cried: Brian Hyland, HMV demo, July 1961

In good condition, many demo-records have become more sought after than their identical mass-produced cousins, as serious collectors can be sure that the demo record is the earliest example of that particular work. It will be the first run off the presses, and might have desirable extras like the rare picture sleeves attached.

Demonstration records would usually have ‘Demonstration Record’ or ‘Demonstration Sample’ printed on the label together with the legend ‘Not For Sale’ and each company had their own design.

You Make Nice: Dave King, Decca demo, single sided October 1956

The 1956 demo of Dave King’s You Make Nice is one-sided. Blank on the back. It demonstrates a purpose of demos … this was issued as the first demo, but ended up on the B-side of Christmas and You, which was a minor hit (UK #23). Either they decided to hold back for Christmas or feedback was negative. The early Decca demos were pressed on discs with no push-out centre, and Decca usually put demos in plain brown sleeves.

Someday: Ricky Nelson (UK #9 hit) One-sided London-American demo, 1958.

The number on Someday is a demo number: MSL 2966. The sell-through disc was catalogue #8732. The sell-through disc has a push out centre as usual for Decca group releases. The demo hasn’t. Decca group demos were in generic brown sleeves.

The Decca group were distinguished by a zipper effect around the rim in the sixties for Decca, Brunswick, RCA and London.

Breathless: Jerry Lee Lewis, London-American 45 demo April 1958

In the early days, Decca group: Decca, Brunswick, Coral, Vogue and London-American had one-sided demos, with a blank B-side. This ensured the correct side of  (e.g.) Jerry Lee Lewis’s Breathless got played, but was also because it was the music publishers who got the records sent around, and they were only interested in the track they owned, so several records had separate A and B side demos. Note the absence of an “A” for A side. Not needed when there’s just the one.

This copy of Breathless probably did get played because the length … 2m 40s … has been written on. A vital fact for DJs.

Separate sided demos

These are both sides of an economical Decca group demo. One side is The Three Bells by The Browns as an RCA demo (in green) the other side is a London-American demo of Forty Miles of Bad Road by Duane Eddy. Decca distributed RCA, and London-American was their catch-all label for smaller American license deals. Three Bells was a July 1959 release, Forty Miles of Bad Road was August 1959, but they must have been promoting them at the same time.

You can often find double-sided demo discs from London-Americam with different artists on each side … but the songs will both be owned by the same music publisher, who would have asked London for the discs.

With some releases they may have issued the A & B side, unmarked and waited for a reaction before deciding which side to promote. The reverse had grooves with a test tone, the same on every disc, so probably pressed on the blanks they used. It was also easier and cheaper to press just one side … acetates are often one-sided for the same reason. 

The Lonely Man: Tennesee Ernie Ford, Capitol demo, June 1957 Distributed by EMI
The Lonely Man: B-side, with clear label (though the track, False-Hearted Girl, is on there)

Capitol, after it moved to EMI in 1956, had two sides, but only labelled the A-side and put PLAY REVERSE SIDE on the B-side. In fact, the B-side was on there and playable, so a normally pressed disc with special labels.

Lavender Blue: Sammy Turner, London-American demo, 1959

The demo copy of Sammy Turner’s Lavender Blue on London-American from 1959 has a handwritten label. It notes the matrix number MSCE 3612 ahead of the London catalogue number, HLX 8918. There’s no label on the reverse. I suspect this was a better version of an acetate, in that it’s handwritten so with very limited distribution.

Love of My Life: The Everly Brothers, London-American demo January 1959

The Everly Brothers’ Love of My Life (January 1959) has a larger than normal centre label, and the matrix number, MSX 3138 is printed, but the catalogue number HLU 8769 is hand stamped on. This is because the catalogue number would have been assigned only once a release schedule had been worked out. 2.07 is the running time. This was a one-sided demo too, but it is a B-side demo. The song Problems was the A-side, and London sent out separate single-sided demos for A sides and B sides because they thought both sides were worth a punt at chart success.

It was also convenient for radio DJs (well, there was only BBC and Luxembourg) who could theoretically play both sides lined up on dual turntables without flipping the discs, at least in the fond imagination of the record plugger.

A side marking

Most labels were issuing double-sided discs by 1960 with clear A side marking. The Decca group eschewed that for years:

Runaway: Del Shannon, London-American demo, March 1961 HLK 9317
Jody: Del Shannon, London-American demo, March 1961 HLK 9317

Runaway is an example. It was released in March 1961, charted in April, and after five weeks at #2 (behind Elvis Presley’s Surrender) hit number one for four weeks in June. It was a US #1 two months earlier than achieving that status in Britain. Del Shannon co-wrote both sides, but the hit potential of Runaway was perhaps considered obvious. The astute DJ might have noticed that Runaway has the matrix number MSCE 5096, whileJody is MSCE 5097, but that’s subtle.

Decca did the same with Dream Baby by Roy Orbison a year later. There is no marking, but Dream Baby has the lower matrix number.

CBS had less faith in the reviewer or DJ’s intelligence, and their caution was shared by EMI, Phillips and Pye.

Orange Blossom Special: Johnny Cash, CBS demo 1965 catalogue 201741. Matrix A5034A
All God’s Children Ain’t Free: Johnny Cash, CBS demo 1965 catalogue 201741. Matrix A5035B

This is why they’re called white labels. Note that the two sides are Matrix A5034 and A5035, but an A and B have appended as a double check for those who may have missed that big red A on the front.

Decca demos
Gallery: click to enlarge

Charms: Johnny Hudson & The Teen-Beats, 1963, large EMI style A is not usual Decca style
Little Things: Dave Berry, Decca demo, 1965
The End of The World, Twinkle, 1965
Tell Mama: Savoy Brown, Decca demo, 1971
Twice A Week: Chips 1975
Soap: Nashville Soul Orchestra, 1977

The single 45 demo could be used to promote LPs, as on these Decca group examples:

She’s Leaving Home: Roland Shaw Orchestra, Decca demo, 1967, apparently to promote the LP album
Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone: Raymonde’s Magic Organ, demo 1969, LP sampler rather than single

London-American demos

Deep Purple: Nino Tempo & April Stevens, London Atlantic demo, 1963

Orange gave way to yellow, but the aim was still to leap out at the DJs eyes. The A grew in size.

By 1967, the release date was printed on demos:

I’ll Never Need More Than This: Ike & Tina Turner London-American demo, September 1967
Let’s Go Down: Chubby Checker, London-American demo, 1971

RCA demos (produced by Decca)
Gallery: click to enlarge

Moonlight Serenade: Tommy Leonetti, 1959. One sided with blank reverse
Misty Blue: Eddy Arnold, 1967
Love Story: Jack Jones, January 1969

RCA liked switching the colour of demos … all the sell through copies were black.

Other Decca pressings
Gallery click to enlarge

The Mardi-Gras March: Louis Armstrong, Brunswick demo. No A / B marking 1958
He Don’t Love You: Levon & The Hawks, Atlantic demo 1965. This is the B-side
For Lovin’ Me: Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros demo 1965

Tiger In My Tank: Jim Nesbit 1965, Vocalion demo
Thoroughly Modern Millie: Pete Fountain, Coral demo, 1967
Everybody’s Out of Town: B.J. Thomas, Wand demo 1970. Tiny A

Yesterday: Joe White, Sugar demo 1970
When You Are A King: White Plains, Deram demo 1971

Atlantic and Brunswick were black on sell through copies.


EMIs were originally plain white centres (whatever label) – a kind of virgin product to which no commercially appealing colour or razzmatazz had yet been added, and in the late 50s and early 60s they were known as “white labels” which was synonymous with “demo”.

Take Good Care of Her: Sonny James, EMI Capitol demo CL15494, matrix F54031, March 1967 (2.29)
On The Fingers of One Hand: Sonny James, EMI Capitol demo CL15494, matrix F54052, March 1967 (3.00)

As demos, they carry a date (3.3.67). This is the date of release NOT the date the DJ or reviewer got them which would be a week or two (three or four for monthly magazines) earlier. They also have the length (2.29) which was not always put on sell-through copies.

The Decca group had favoured Demonstration Sample Not For Sale while EMI went for Demonstration Record Not For Sale. 

EMI Demos: Gallery click to enlarge

Mickey Mouse: Jimmy Smith, Verve 1967
Work Work Work, Lee Dorsey, Stateside, 1965
The James Bond Theme: Sy Zentner, Liberty, 1964
The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game: The Marvellettes, Tamla Motown, 1965

All of My Life: Elkie Brooks, HMV, 1965
Day Tripper: The Beatles, Parlophone 1965
Feelin’ Good: Mr Mo’s Messengers, Columbia, 1967
Dusty: Bobby Russell, Bell, 1967

Mercy Mercy Mercy: Cannonball Adderly, Capitol 1967
The Carpetbaggers: Main Title Theme, Elmer Bernstein, MGM 1964
Town & Country: Wayne Newton, MGM, 1968
The Postman’s Knock: Albion Dance Band, Harvest demo 1977
How D’You Do: Bernie Winters, Columbia 1978

A large letter ‘A’ dominated the intended A side for EMI. In 1966 / 67 the white ground changed to light green. The most striking designs are late 60s MGM and Verve demos (Verve was a subsidiary  of MGM) in shocking pink with a silver A. This base design, with the A occupying the whole centre label was followed by CBS.

There are many EMI demos with a normal centre label, and a red on white paper “Not for sale” sticker. After the promo run (often as few as 250 copies) had been exhausted, if there was more demand for promos, the stickers were applied to standard discs. They probably don’t enhance value. They could also be steamed off worthless discs and be applied to collectable ones easily, though if a record was collectable enough to be valuable, it’s doubtful a dealer would bother. I wouldn’t count these stickered discs as demos.

Pye demos
Gallery: click to enlarge

Sweets For My Sweet: The Searchers, Pye demo
Little Marie: Chuck Berry, Pye International demo
Rock Me In The Cradle of Love: Dee Dee Sharp, Cameo Parkway demo

Pretty Flamingo: Sounds Orchestral, Piccadilly demo
A Week In The Country, Ernest Ashworth, Hickory demo

Pye were classic “white labels” and didn’t waste money on their centre labels. Whether it was Pye, Pye International, Cameo Parkway, Red Bird or Hickory, the same base font with no logo sufficed.

Pye pressed demos: Glallery click to enlarge

Feelin’ So Good: Geno Washington, Pye 1971
She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune: The Freshmen, Pye 1969
Time for Livin’: The Association, Warner Bros 1968
Anello (Where Are You): Shawn Phillips, A&M demo, pressed by Pye, 1973
Music Music Music: The Happenings, B.T. Puppy Records, 1968
Behold: The Ray King Soul Band, Piccadilly, 1968
Bye Bye Birmingham: Blackfoot Sue, DJM, pressed by Pye, 1974
Brave Nw World: Allan Stewart, Penny Farthing, 1974
Ring Ring: The Vernons, Pye 1973, switch to pink

Pye called them promos, rather than demos and marked the white label discs Advance Promotion Copy. Collectors still argue whether the A means A -side or A means Advance copy.

Around 1968, they switched from white to yellow and you can see which companies had their demos pressed by Pye (a lot) because of the uniform yellow centre colour. The design of demos indicates the manufacturer. The BT Puppy demo by The Happenings is in classic Pye demo yellow for its year.

Philips / Fontana

Philips / Fontana were also white label, as was CBS (with a few sidetracks into pale hues) as an independent after 1965. Philips went for Sample Record: Not for Sale early and just Sample Record later.

Say One For Me: Bing Crosby, Philips demo, 1959
A Groovy Kind of Love: The Mindbenders, Fontana. January 1966

You’re Tuff Enough: The Misunderstood 1969 in company sleeve (sell through were in p/s)

CBS demos

Early on, CBS marked discs as USA or UK production on demos.

Gallery click to enlarge

I Am A Pilgrim: The Byrds, October 1968
The Weight: Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper. 1969.
Black Man, Brown Man: Taj Mahal, May 1976
Into The Mystic: Jackson Hawke, released April 1977
Birdland: Weather Report, April 1977, same day as the previous, different design (this one ran a long time)
Copperline: James Taylor 1991. Spanish demo with CBS-Sony joint logos, and unusually for 1981, it is one-sided


WEA had been distributed by Pye in the late 60s, and as they launched on their own, they stuck with Advance Promotion Copy. ABC promos have a prominent A … but on both sides. It stands for Advance copy, not A side.

Dance, Dance, Dance: Crazy Horse, Reprise 1971. WEA white label, Pye pressing
Save Me, Save Me: Frankie Valli 1978 Warner Brothers overstamped promo

The Frankie Valli shows that Warner Brothers found an over stamp cheaper than a different label.



Ready for Betty: Lloyd Price. President reissued this 1970 recoord in 1973 … date handwritten, 2.11.73 … 2nd November for US readers!

Billy’s Bag: Billy Preston, President, 1968

This is a later reissue … they chose over-=stickers SPECIAL ATTENTION rather than print promo labels.

Continental European demos

CBS: Bob Dylan

The large centre hole on singles in European singles, as with the USA, did not lend itself to the large A, so CBS used a lightning flash on these German Bob Dylan demos.

I Want You: Bob Dylan, 1966 45, French CBS ‘spécial PROMOTION’
My Back Pages: Bob Dylan (Various Artists) 1993, 45, CBS Sony, Spain Promoccional Prohibida su Venta


Sister Sister: Philadelphia Bluntz 1998. Autonomy special promo sleeve with oval die cut hole, one sided promo

A story …

The Platters, or rather a 2014 version of The Platters, told a story about the 1956 hit Only You. I saw them on the Mississippi Blues Cruise. I guess there were several versions of The Platters circulating. They were incredibly good, note perfect, and there was a homeopathic relationship, in that one member had been in a version which had contained an original Platter. It still felt odd to hear someone in their early thirties say, ‘This was a big hit for us in 1956 …’ He clearly hadn’t been born in 1956. Anyway …

Back then, demo discs were white for play before 6 pm, or purple for play after 6 pm, and purple meant Black music.

DJ Alan Freed broke the rules and played Only You, a purple demo in the early afternoon. They were inundated with requests to play it again and it became a massive hit. The white / purple marking disappeared.

There’s much more … SEE SUB PAGES: (red shows a link)

DJs and Radio promos

Test pressings and acetates

Demo sleeves

Demo samplers

Demo values

Demos for hifi shops