This section is going to take separate areas, with linked album pages for each, to make general points. Unashamedly some of those pages will be personal favourites. Some will veer off into anecdotes, some will discuss content, some will be rock history essays, others will only discuss price.
We are discussing vinyl here.
The popular album
There are albums which transcend genres, age groups (to a degree) and sell all over the world. Whatever happens to that artist later, they can always fill stadiums simply by going on the road and playing the album in its entirety, just as I stood with 100,000 people in Hyde Park watching Carole King play Tapestry from end to end in order.
Whoever you are, whatever your tastes, you have heard some tracks from these albums. Make your own list. I bought every one of these on or soon after release (though some on CD) . There is a 70s bias, but this also marks the rock album moving out of the “teen and twenty” area to a larger market, and also by the 90s the market was fragmenting into sectors more obviously. Here are twenty.
They are NOT the 20 biggest sellers. I missed some who sold more: AC/DC, Asia, Meat Loaf, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion, Adele, Metallica, Nirvana, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Emiem, Linkin Park, Queen, George Michael, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, Oasis and U2 because … to me … they lean towards market sectors.
Sales are worldwide. Rare Record Price Guide 2022 only lists vinyl albums valued at over £15 in mint condition. “Less than £15” means it’s not listed.
|RRG 2022 |
|Bridge Over Troubled Water||Simon & Garfunkel||25 million||£17.99||£15|
|Tapestry||Carole King||25 million||£13.03||less than £15|
|Imagine||John Lennon||25 million||£19.39||£80 with postcards|
|Goodbye Yellow Brick Road||Elton John||30 million||£23.99|
|The Dark Side of The Moon||Pink Floyd||25 million||£16.99||£1000 first press|
£60 second press
|Rumors||Fleetwood Mac||47 million||£11.26||£40 gatefold|
|Hotel California||Eagles||32 million||£15.59||less than £15|
|Breakfast in America||Supertramp||20 million||£17.97||less than £15|
|Saturday Night Fever||The Bee Gees||21 million||£22.74|
|less than £15|
|Thriller||Michael Jackson||66 million||£16.99||£15 gatefold|
|Graceland||Paul Simon||16 million||£13.99||£20|
|The Bodyguard OST||Whitney Houston & various artists||29 million||£26.90|
(out of print)
|less than £15|
|Can’t Slow Down||Lionel Richie||20 million||£19.38||less than £15|
|Legend||Bob Marley & The Wailers||25 million||£13.94||less than £15|
|Gold (Greatest Hits)||ABBA||23 million||£18.94|
|Born in The USA||Bruce Springsteen||20 million||£19.99||£20 with insert|
|Brothers in Arms||Dire Straits||18 million||£20.94||£25 with insert|
|Come Away With Me||Norah Jones||27 million||£17.99||£18|
|Come on Over||Shania Twain||30 million||£23.99||less than £15|
In all these examples, millions were sold. None of them could be classed as rare. They’re all currently available on CD. Secondhand CDs wll be £2 to £6.
All are available on new vinyl. That’s the major point. Your local store has these records in gleaming shrink-wrapped 180 gram vinyl. These may well be in a supermarket rather than in a record shop. That fixes a price on new copies, and remember, the supermarket may well run a three-for-the-price-of two or three for £30 special promotion sometimes.
From the late-80s, these will have sold more on CD than vinyl initially. Brother-in Arms was famed for promoting the CD format, so fewer vinyl albums. This explains the high used value of Supernatural by Santana, released before the vinyl revival, virtually all copies sold on CD making the original vinyl release rare.
There’s a downside to hugely popular albums. Anecdotes again … I was in MVC (Music & Video Club … long gone) in Bournemouth looking for a birthday present for my sister. I’d been listening to Come Away With Me by Norah Jones all week. Ideal. I took the CD to the counter. The manager knew me:
‘I thought you bought that last week.’
‘I did. It’s for my sister’s birthday.’
‘No! No, no, no! You cannot give a current Top Ten CD as a birthday present.’
‘Because it looks as if you forgot and grabbed it in Tesco, or worse, a petrol station at the last minute. It’s like a bunch of petrol station flowers.’
So, as my sister plays the piano, I opted for a George Winston solo piano album on the Windham Hill label. She loved it.
SEE CASE STUDY: Rumors
The curse of completism
That is, everything by these artistes is collectable. Completism means you seek everything by the artist. Hand up, I’m a victim. The dictionary definition is:
completist an obessive, typically indiscriminate, collector or fan of something, This compilation of singles and B-sides has its usefulness for completists.
The word was barely known before 1970 and its usage has increased sharply year by year since.
My completism is only (!) for The Band, solo members of The Band, any sit-ins by Band members, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Simone Felice, Natalie Merchant, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, Bobbie Gentry.
I used to be a completist for Neil Young, Weather Report, Bruce Springsteen, The Kinks, but I’m a recovering completist for them. I also have virtually everything by Otis Redding, Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood and Jimmy Cliff, but I don’t obsess about the missing ones.
For most people …
The Beatles, solo Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Madonna are collected year after year.
Record Collector listed the Top Thirty collectable artistes for the UK for its Thirtieth Anniversary. This would be more objective than my list. I won’t argue the Top Six. Then it gets more debatable. I’ll mumble and grumble about Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Elvis Presley’s lowly placings, and get annoyed at the absence of Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Prince, Beach Boys, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney. No soul artists are in there either. But Record Collector have statistics and criteria for objectivity.
Ian Shirley (editor): We have, in the past, compiled frequent lists, from collectable psych singles to mouth watering Vertigo collectables. Thus it only seems fitting that we celebrate our 30th anniversary by getting in trouble and presenting a list of our Top 30 collectable artists. Although based solidly in current values and collecting trends, the list itself is inevitably open to debate: a large number of readers are going to take a look and wonder where their favourite band is. No Black Sabbath? No Beach Boys? No Coldplay? There were some tough decisions made and about 20 artists who were literally equal on points, so to fill the last several places we had to go on goal difference! Just so that you know, Jethro Tull are at 31! We feel that this list does reflect the broad diversity of collectable artists, from the swagger of the Stones to the progressive vistas of Yes.
01 The Beatles
02 The Rolling Stones
03 David Bowie
05 Led Zeppelin
06 Pink Floyd
07 Sex Pistols
08 The Smiths
09 Iron Maiden
10 Joy Division
11 The Clash
14 Jimi Hendrix
15 Marc Bolan
18 The Who
22 The Kinks
23 Bob Marley
24 Elvis Presley
25 Depeche Mode
26 Michael Jackson
27 The Small Faces
28 Bob Dylan
29 Pet Shop Boys
As a visual collector and lover of sleeves, I reckon both The Smiths and Iron Maiden get a major sleeve design boost.
But yes, that means that Yellow Submarine by The Beatles counts, Tin Machine by David Bowie, Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling Stones, Harum Scarum by Elvis Presley and Saved or Christmas In The Heart by Bob Dylan. These are not great albums, I hear you mutter, and indeed they’re not. Let me not suggest which are downright abysmal. It doesn’t matter.
It’s a difficult choice, so let’s go for Dylan.
SEE: Completism: Dylan (1973)
The first pressing
With major albums and with major artists, the first pressing of an album has added value. This may descend in ever decreasing amounts through second, third and even fourth pressings. Please Please Me appeared just as Parlophone were switching their label design from black and gold to black and bright yellow. There were a finite number of albums with the black and gold label. The vast quantity were mono. The stereo one goes for £6000 upwards in a first pressing in mint condition, and is rising steadily. A fourth pressing? £250 stereo. £150 mono.
The thing is that an album like Please Please Me by The Beatles has never been out of print. It has always been possible to go out and buy a copy. One can be yours tomorrow from amazon on 180 gram new vinyl for £19.32. Beatles collectors will value the album variously up to its thirteenth pressing.
Add an autograph or two to a first pressing and you’re easily into five figures. Yet there is a 2012 facsimile edition, in a premium German pressing if you must have that original centre design.
What are the lures of the first pressing?
Do you believe in magic? There’s sound. That relies on the belief that each stamper made to press records wears and that the master stamper deteriorates so that in some way the first pressing is better. This ignores the quality of vinyl, that you could be playing it on a £29 turntable or a £10,000 turntable, let alone the quality of amplifier, speakers, speaker cable, mains cleaning filters, little squares of foil stuck on the plug or the size, dimensions and furnishing fabrics of the living room. I won’t go into what you’ve been meditating about, drinking or smoking, or how pleasant the listening partners are. To me, those are all going to outweigh any perceptible difference in pressing stampers. However, you will be told that the early discs, going out to radio stations and reviewers will be checked most carefully.
Then there’s rock snob value. With sixties discs that’s only going to work if you’re as old as me. It’s the suggestion that you were so perceptive that you bought the first Bob Dylan LP in 1961 on the very day of release, or that you bought Please Please Me LP on 22 March 1963, the day it came out. You would not have to be that perceptive for the latter as it had huge advance sales, but you would for the former. Or for Fairport Convention’s What We Did On Our Holidays. That rock snob value isn’t going to apply to Please Please Me if you were born in 1963 or later. It might not even work. I’ll divert to singles briefly, but I really did buy John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band singles on the day of release. They all exist in versions with picture sleeves, but mine, bought in Norwich and Bournemouth on the day of release were in plain company sleeves. I investigated. There were only limited numbers of 45 single picture sleeves (for many releases), and I was told by an EMI employee that they went to “opinion maker” stores in London, Birmingham and Manchester first. There were only 250,000 Strawberry Fields Forever picture sleeves. I got one f those in Hull on the day of release. However, there is rock snob value in owning the very first artefact.
Inserts Sometimes only the first pressing has stuff like inserts, postcards, printed inner sleeves. That may be the only thing that the guides list “with inserts” / “without inserts”.
Sleeves In some cases early sleeves were withdrawn. Catch A Fire by The Wailers had the die cut Zippo lighter sleeve which was too expensive to produce and the flame broke off, so it’s that sleeve that attracts the first pressing price. Then Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland had the gatefold naked women sleeve. Some shops wouldn’t stock it, there were accusations of sexism. It was changed.
Then there’s investment. First pressings have created their perceived value, so this is a self-perpetuating buying mainly or only for investment value. London stores do particularly well from Japanese and Chinese buyers because of this. Auctions do too.
First pressing value applies to most iconic albums. They may well not be the artist’s first album either. The chart shows some candidates with Rare Record Price Guide 2022 mint valuations. Any of these albums might excite bidding fever on eBay or at auctions, or ridiculously optimistic prices from discogs advertisers and amazon resellers. I’m not going to investigate beyond the base guide. Note that much research has gone into dating EMI and Decca releases, and that such research does not extend to every label. Rare Record Guide only records first pressing differential for major albums.
In 1963, The Beatles stereo versions were rarities, so more valuable. By the time we get to Pink Floyd in 1967 with Piper At The Gates of Dawn, it’s the mono version that’s rarer and so commands a higher value. King Crimson fans are particularly fixated on first pressings.
|Artist||Title||First pressing||later pressing|
|The Beatles||Please Please Me mono||£1200||2nd £1200|
|The Beatles||Please Please Me stereo||£6000 plus||2nd £5000|
|The Beatles||With The Beatles mono||£200||£60|
|The Rolling Stones||The Rolling Stones||£1000||2nd £350|
|Fairport Convention||What We Did On Our Holidays||£250||2nd £100|
|Pink Floyd||Piper At The Gates of Dawn mono||£800||£230 – £400|
|Pink Floyd||Piper At The Gates of Dawn stereo||£600||£200- £300|
|Pink Floyd||The Dark Side of The Moon||£1000||£60|
|Jethro Tull||This Was||£400 mono||£250 stereo|
|King Crimson||In The Court of The Crimson KIng||£600||£70|
|King Crimson||In The Wake of Poseidon||£250||£40|
|The Wailers||Catch A Fire||£250||less than £15|
|John Lennon & Yoko Ono||Two Virgins||£3000 mono|
|John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band||Live Peace in Toronto||£200||£20|
|Paul McCartney||Red Rose Speedway||£100||£70|
|Jimi Hendrix||Are You Experienced?||£700||£350|
|Jimi Hendrix||Axis Bold As Love||£750||£150|
|Jimi Hendrix||Electric Ladyland||£800||£350|
This has been covered elsewhere (SEE When Numbers Get Serious), and we have entered a world of virtual reality. It’s like comparing bitcoin to a fat chunk of 22 carat gold or an original Picasso. What makes some first pressings valuable is a different label in the centre, or different wording in tiny print on the sleeve … like the printer’s name. It gets even more arcane though. The real bitcoin style value of some first pressings is revealed by tiny printed or scratched letters in the black plastic after the run out groove.
Before (and after) they were famous
There’s a premium on albums early in an artist’s career. There will also be a premium on albums on the way down … because even after the peak, they will retain a loyal following who keep buying.
So Cyndi Lauper fans will seek out her earlier group, Blue Angel, who made an album (Blue Angel) in 1980. It sold very poorly. So it rates at £25 in Rare Record Price Guide. None of Cyndi Lauper’s later successful albums are in there … they’re all rated as worth less than £15. Discogs doesn’t list the UK release, but it exists with a catalogue number … Polydor 2391 486. There are a lot on sale on discogs, mainly Japanese CDs, and go way above £25. There was an LP reissue once she’d got famous. If you like Cyndi Lauper, you’ll want at least the single release of the Gene Pitney cover, I’m Gonna Be Strong.
This is common knowledge. Let’s move straight to the examples. Name three Supertramp albums.
Right, I’m guessing you named Crime of The Century, Breakfast in America and Famous Last Words. Maybe you mentioned Crisis What Crisis or Paris.
There are so many copies around that Rare Record Guide only lists Crime of The Century at its baseline £15.
Ah, but it lists two more. Both at £50 each. 1970’s first album, Supertramp and 1971’s Indelibly Stamped.
SEE: Pre-fame: Supertramp (1970)
The obscure rarity
If you’re looking for the money, the best place to start is psych / early prog on collectable labels. In the late 60s, all the major labels had watched the rise of the independent labels like Island, Planet, Track, and Immediate. Polydor was entering the market by funding and distributing some of them. So all the majors wanted a “mock independent” label.
Philips created Vertigo. EMI did Harvest. Pye did Dawn, RCA (very briefly) did Neon, and Decca did Deram. Not only are do these labels tend to be collectable, but they even attract completist label collectors seeking everything on the label. You could never do that with (say) Parlophone, but the number of Immediate releases is finite and known. So are the early Vertigo with the swirl label design (SEE: Pricing. Black Sabbath).
Vertigo is of special interest because so many of the early releases were pressed in small quantities and so they’re all rare. A lot, such as Ben, Nucleus, Affinity are jazz rock. In fact, listening to the 3CD Vertigo anthology Time Machine it’s hard to tell the difference between some of them. Folk is another Vertigo speciality. It’s not all rare … Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, Gentle Giant, Manfred Mann Chapter Three and Status Quo were all on the label. Generally, ‘large’ swirl labels are worth most, but there are several ‘small’ swirl label releases in three figures too.
Vertigo is the least pretentiously and most happily married of the ‘progressive’ labels to emerge ‘neath the wings of the large record companies.
International Times, 1970
Ten expensive Vertigo albums … selected randomly from a full list of Vertigo releases (discogs prices are September 2020, and as ever, we have no idea of condition). I’ve also listed which new LPs and new CDs were on amazon.co.uk the same day and at what prices. Current availability on CD does not seem to affect value.
|Discogs median / highest||amazon uk new CD or new LP|
|Fairfield Parlour||From Home to|
|Jap. CD: £45|
Used CD: £83
|Lighthouse||One Fine Morning||£150||med: £109|
|Bob Downes||Electric City||£300||med: £122|
|Dr Z||Three Parts To My Soul||£2000||med: £997|
|Korea CD: £14.44|
|Tudor Lodge||Tudor Lodge||£1750|
|Linda Hoyle||Pieces of Me||£1000||med: £679|
|Ramases||Space Hymns||£ 300 |
|Gravy Train||(A Ballad of ) A Peaceful Man||£900||med: £262|
|Mike Absalom||Mike Absalom||£400||med: £140|
Try before you buy? The 3 CD anthology Time Machine (2005) may help you decide how much you need to hear Dr Z on Evil Woman’s Manly Child, Jadewarrior’s Borne On The Solar Wind , Nuckeus’ Song For The Bearded Lady or Beggars Opera doing that Vanilla Fudge thing to MacArthur Park. 8 to 10 minutes is a popular track length. Mostly, it’s unapologetically the sound of 1970-1972 college circuit gigs. Listening again, I ordered the CD of Ben by Ben, having enjoyed The Influence (10 m 05s).
Everyone knows about Vertigo values, even your local charity shop. So the linked example is going to be from Decca’s Deram label, and it is highly collectable.
SEE: Rare: Room -Pre-Flight
Unobtainable on CD
It’s increasingly rare, but some LPs just never came out on CD. That boosts their collectability as the only way you’ll get a copy is vinyl, or iTunes. That is unless there’s an “import copy.” This usually means an unauthorized pirate copy. I’m going to stick with 1970, and two bands who knew each other well. Both recorded for RCA. This is an important point, because a large number of early 70s RCA releases never made it to CD. I suspect that as the UK office had only just opened as a separate entity, they screwed up in not writing the contracts to embrace other formats “not yet invented” (a phrase I have in book and audio book contracts).
The British office started trying to sign local talent from 1969, and Tim Rice and Clodagh Rodgers both recorded for RCA. The new progressive side of the London office picked up great potential, signing Brian Auger, Forever More and Mogul Thrash. Elements of the last two coalesced to create the Average White Band, also on RCA. That period has been particularly badly served by CD re-releases, rendering the British RCA albums of 1970-1971 hard to find. If I see an RCA prog disc from that era, I will pick it up.
Foreign labels stepped into the breach, so that (e.g.) Mogul Thrash is obtainable on CD with seven bonus tracks from the BBC Sessions. The BBC usually jealously guard their recordings. This one is on the Flawed Gems label from Sweden in 2011. The original RCA LP is rated at £150 mint in Rare Record Price Guide 2022. Discogs has a median price of £37, and a Highest of £85. The last one I saw on sale was £130 and I’d rate as “Very Good” rather than Excellent or Mint. Thee are copies on line at £100 to £180.
Theres a 1999 CD from Blueprint (which puts the back cover on the front with overprinting to emphasize John Wetton’s presence). Blueprnt did short runs of CDs. Then there are unofficial CDs from Won Sin of Korea, Disconforne of Andorra, Stress Records of unknown location, plus unofficial LPs from Great Barrier (Australia). Absinthe as well as plain CDRs. This is not uncommon with unobtainable rarities.
Mogul Thrash consisted of James Litherland from Colosseum (guitar, vocal)John Wetton from Ginger Man and Splinter, (bass, vocal) Michael Rosen from Eclection (trumpet, mellophone, guitar), Malcolm Duncan (tenor sax), Roger Ball (alto, soprano, baritone saxes) and Bill Harrison (drums). They were “augermented” by Brian Auger on piano. Sorry, my wordplay, not theirs.
John Wetton told me that they finally agreed on an official CD release. All of them had been pestered about it by fans of subsequent and more successful bands for years and there was months of paperwork going back and forth. Everyone finally signed, then without explanation Brian Auger, who was the producer, nixed the project. As John said, they were looking at a print run of no more than 2000 copies. No one was going to make any significant money from a reissue, and the only motivation was to see it legally available at last.
The single from the album was Sleeping in The Kitchen / St. Peter. That rates in the Guide at £15. Compare discogs Median: £11.50, Highest: £25. A German copy in a picture sleeve adds £10 to each level … and ones on sale are £30 to £40. The B-side was John Wetton’s first released composition, and it was co-written with Alan Gorrie then of Forever More… which brings us to the example album here.
SEE: No CD: Yours: Forever More
This might be a withdrawn album, or more likely a changed sleeve.
A classic example is P.P. Arnold’s The First Lady of Immediate which was “withdrawn shortly after release.” It has been reissued on CD. The title got recycled for a 23 track anthology by Sony in 1991. Sanctuary’s 2001 CD The First Cut has 28 tracks, including all 12 from the album but in a different order. P.P. Arnold was selling prints of the cover photo at 2019 gigs too.
It lists at £400 in Rare Record Price Guide, that’s in linewith discogs:
Highest : £399
I assume none of those are mint. Prices online range from £250 to £500.
I have the book Immediate by Simon Spence but that does not enlighten as to why the album was withdrawn when P.P. Arnold was selling well with singles. It does mention that CBS had declined to release the album in the USA. I reckon given the rarity of Immediate albums anyway, ‘withdrawn’ might not be relevant.
More often it’s a change of sleeve.
SEE: Catch-A-Fire, The Wailers