THEY may have been released later than the first European Abba CDs but the group’s earliest Japanese CD releases are much rarer and more sought after than even the coveted West German redface Polydor CDs.
Discomate CDs may be rare but they can be easily identified by the prominent record company logo on their front covers
The six titles released by Abba’s then Japanese licencee, Discomate, in early 1984 [The Visitors and Super Trouper have 1983 copyright dates] remained in circulation for a relatively brief period of time before being supplanted by Polydor’s P33P series three years later. By this time, Discomate had either lost its Abba licence or gone bust, depending on what version of events you believe.
In any case, the CDs seem to have sold relatively poorly and are rarely seen for sale within the collector’s market – when they do, they generally fetch astronomical amounts by the standards of Abba CDs.
Recently, a collection of four out of the six titles surfaced on eBay, attracting bids of over $100 per CD. These prices are well out of the reach of average Abba fans but the seller, an American collector called Stuart Lemmen, was kind enough to provide Abba on CD with sufficient information to compile this piece.
All Discomate CDs employed a simple black and grey design compared with the bright colours of their then current European counterparts on Polar and Polydor.
According to Stuart, who is an audiophile, the sound quality of the four Discomate titles formerly in his collection was impressive, like many other early Japanese CDs.
“The sound is warm, with an analogue warmth and good soundstage and detail. You can turn them up and they sound really good,” he said.
“Are they the best? I really can’t say as I don’t have too many other Abba CDs but I really liked how they sounded and, I’m guessing that, whatever the source tapes, they did little to no messing around with them.”
Based on an examination of Stuart’s four discs, it is safe to say, however, that their artwork and packaging wasn’t as sophisticated as later Japanese releases, including Polydor’s P33P series.
It seems that, unlike Polydor, Discomate didn’t have access to the original artwork or typefaces so, in all cases, the artwork is a straightforward conversion of the original LP artwork with some added text and logos.
Discomate’s airbrushing wasn’t always successful – note the black splodge just above ‘Happy New Year’ where the letter ‘B’ was on the original vinyl artwork
Whereas Polydor made new CD versions of the artwork for their 1986 releases, Discomate could only remove the references to sides, timings and running orders by airbrushing them out, with varying degrees of success.
The lyrics sheet for Discomate’s 1984 CD version of Arrival
The booklets are somewhat sparse affairs, featuring none of the Japanese sleeve notes or lyric translations that became a hallmark of later releases. Later releases (such as Arrival) even ditched booklets altogether with the lyrics coming on a folded poster-style printed sheet.
In short, the general presentation of the Discomate CDs is lacking compared with that of the far more common Polydor reissues which followed on their heels. That said, due to their extreme rarity, they will typically fetch over €100 each in online auctions.
With thanks to Stuart Lemmen