From one-of-a-kind demo acetates to toe-sucking picture discs, Rik Flynn get watery-eyed at some of the most valuable records known to man…
Of the myriad valuable and rare records circulating the planet, some waxings fetch truly startling prices – records that attract the kind of money that’d buy a decent-sized mansion, a yacht, or top-of-the-line Maserati.
To assimilate a list of these ultra-rare records is something of a tricky undertaking when one considers that obscure psychedelic prog records sometimes fetch as much as early rarities from the likes of big hitters like Elvis, The Rolling Stones and even The Beatles. It seems the world of vinyl collecting operates within its own circuitous system.
For this rundown, we’re including singular rarities passed around from collector to collector, raising higher and higher sums in the process; we’ll also note those records that pick up decent money despite being around in slightly larger numbers, and we’ll explore some of the more colourful releases gathering top dollar in the market.
To add a little fun, we’ve chosen to list records using both their highest auction sales and also estimations based on previous sales and expert evaluation. Plenty of valuable records have been omitted, too, so as not to have a list dominated by one or two artists.
Some of the records featured here appeal to a small fanatical few intent on owning the rarest of the rare; others are up there as they have drawn incredible amounts under the hammer. The rest are there because every collector wants a copy.
Either way, we’ve tried to curate a collection of seductive examples, many of which have a fascinating story to tell – and all are up there in the record-collecting stratosphere. In this first installment we present the initial five of our top 20…
20: Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen/No Feelings
A&M, AMS 7284, 1977
Estimate £6,000 to £15,000
The original release of Sex Pistols’ classic second single is one of the most valuable vinyls to be pressed the UK. Why so? The record inspired such disdain among the establishment that A&M chose to destroy the lion’s share of the 25,000 units pressed – there are only nine copies in the known universe.
In fact, the label only held onto the headline-courting troublemakers for a mere six days after signing them – Sid Vicious cut his foot despatching a toilet bowl and walked blood all over the label’s office, while Johnny Rotten made death threats to a close friend of the director. That’ll do it.
Those items that still have the original brown envelope and press release intact will collect the most, while those without still go for a decent sum. But beware, there are some pretty convincing counterfeits out there.
If you’re lucky enough to own one of the ‘demo’ 7” acetates pressed by manager Malcolm McLaren you’ll land even more, while an early 10” one-sided Townhouse Studios acetate – with handwritten label – likely the only one, managed £14,600 in 201
19 – Jean Michel-Jarre – Musique pour Supermarché
Disques Dreyfus, France,
FDM 18113, 1983
Jean Michel Jarre elevated his music to fine art when, in 1983, he was asked by friends to create background music for a supermarket-themed art exhibition.
The works were to be auctioned off after the exhibition and Jarre felt his music should share the same fate: “In a time when everything is standardised, overbroadcast, a time when we are endlessly overinformed, saturated with sounds and images,” Jarre said.
“It seemed to me worthwhile to demonstrate that a record is not only a piece of merchandise without value, infinitely multipliable, but it can be, like a painter’s picture or a sculptor’s bronze, an integral part of a musician’s creation.”
His label was unamused, but reluctantly agreed. One gatefold-sleeved copy was pressed up and an anonymous buyer (subsequently named as ‘M. Gerard’) paid 69,000 Francs when the hammer fell in Paris.
Jean then took an oxyacetylene torch to the masters as promised. The record has since be sold twice, but the owners and prices are unknown.
18: The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man/No Expectations
US, London 45-909, 1968
The original US picture sleeve version of this late-60s 7” was the first sleeve not to feature a photograph of the band.
Instead, two provocative black-and-white photos of police brutality (taken in the US that year) were picked to adorn the front and back covers.
Street Fighting Man came out in August of 1968, a mere three days after riots outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention and following a long summer of civil unrest, which had begun with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. that April.
It’s hardly surprising that London Records pulled the release almost immediately and incinerated any copies they had.
While virtually no copies made it through before the ban, a clutch survived intact (the result, most likely, of them being slipped under the desks of label employees) – and estimates suggest that around 10 to 20 copies are in circulation.
This is one rare piece of wax… a copy sold on eBay in 2008 for $9,001, while in 2011, Bonhams’ hammer fell at over £13,000.
17: The Hornets – I Can’t Believe/Lonesome Baby
States S-127, 78rpm, red vinyl, 1953
SOLD $18,000 (approx. £14,000)
Another doo-wop rarity, this time from Cleveland close-harmony quartet the Hornets, best known for providing the Drifters with frontman Johnny Moore – and equally well-known amongst vinyl junkies for this fabled slice of wax, on rare-for-the-era red vinyl.
These high-school harmonists recorded I Can’t Believe on 12 August, 1953 and it was released a few months later on United Records subsidiary States, but it was slow to catch on.
This elegant double-sider was the sole record by the original – and much-lionised – Hornets line-up, and one of the most-hunted R&B collectibles of all time. As with all the records in this list, valuation is problematic.
A copy of the red-vinyl version sold on popsike.com in 2008 for close to $8,000 – perhaps a more sensible valuation – but one rendered obsolete when a specialist auction house sold one a few years later for $18,000…
16: The Beatles – Please Please Me
Parlophone, PCS 3042, 1963
Recorded between September 1962 and February 1963, The Beatles’ debut album was the pick of their live set, fine-tuned on the stages of Liverpool’s Cavern Club and Hamburg’s Star-Club.
It was unusual for a band to write their own songs, but Lennon-McCartney managed eight of the 14 tracks on Please Please Me, released by Parlophone in 1963, in both mono and then stereo.
From 1957, Parlophone used a black-and-gold label, but this LP came out just as they switched to a yellow-and-black design, meaning around 25,000 copies were pressed with the old labels.
It was unusual for a band to write their own songs, but Lennon-McCartney managed eight of the 14 tracks on Please Please Me
EMI had also cut a small amount in stereo and with ‘Dick James Music’ credits as opposed to the correct ‘Northern Song Publishing’ credit seen on latter pressings.
Those who own a mint copy with black and gold label is in the money – they change hands for upwards of £6,000. A ‘very clean’ copy sold on popsike.com in 2014 for just short of £15,000.
We’ll be bringing your more valuable vinyl in part 2!