Sound Advice: Lennon ‘Roots’ album has value — if authentic

 By  TIm Neely
(Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries)
(Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries)
Question: I have a John Lennon Roots LP and was wondering what would be the best way to sell and approximate the value. The vinyl is in excellent condition, as it was played only twice and then not all the way through. It is an original, as I bought it from a TV ad in the mid-’70s.

— Larry Lampron

Answer: The Roots album was one of the strangest events in Lennon’s career. First, some background:

After John Lennon paid homage to Chuck Berry by quoting two lines from Berry’s hit “You Can’t Catch Me” in the 1969 Beatles hit “Come Together,” the owner of the publishing rights, Morris Levy, sued for infringement. Levy won an initial judgment, and as part of the settlement, Lennon agreed to record three songs that were owned by Levy’s publishing house, Big Seven Music.

In 1973, Lennon began recording a collection of rock ’n’ roll oldies with producer Phil Spector. After the sessions broke down, Lennon moved on. He returned to the project, without Spector’s involvement, in late 1974. Most of the tracks from these sessions would finally see official release in 1975 on Apple Records under the name Rock ’n’ Roll.

Somewhere during this process, Levy claimed that Lennon had agreed to allow this collection of oldies to be released on Levy’s mail-order label, Adam VIII Ltd., as further settlement to the “You Can’t Catch Me” lawsuit.

Eventually, a court ruled that no such agreement existed, and that Levy had no right to release the album, which he called John Lennon Sings the Great Rock ’n’ Roll Hits: Roots. Before that, it was very briefly advertised on independent TV stations in early 1975, but the ads stopped after a quick cease-and-desist order from Capitol/Apple. According to court documents, exactly 1,270 copies of Roots were sold.

An authentic copy, which our reader appears to have, is a true collector’s item worth hundreds of dollars. I’d suggest contacting any of the fine Beatles-related sellers who advertise regularly in Goldmine to see what they think, because it’s from them that you are most likely to get the closest to a fair deal — remembering, of course, that they are then going to re-sell it.

But be forewarned: Roots has been counterfeited. So you will have to prove that yours is original. Here are the three best ways to do so:

1. Check the spine. All original copies have the word “Great” as part of the title. Many of the counterfeits have the word “Greatest” instead of “Great” on the spine.

2. Check the inner sleeve. I hope you saved it, because all authentic copies came with a printed inner sleeve. None of the fake copies have this; they have generic white sleeves.

3. Check the ad for the “Soul Train” album on the back cover. The counterfeits tend to have blurry, almost unreadable, print on that ad, whereas on the original, it is crisp and clear.

Question: I have an Aerosmith album, Rocks, PC 34165, no barcode. My issue is that my copy’s second side is not Aerosmith, it’s Side 2 of the Paul Revere And The Raiders’ All-Time Greatest Hits album. Back when I bought it, I contacted the retailer and the record company, and both told me to return the album for a new one. I did not. So I now wonder if I am the only person with this issue.

— Laura Hedgpeth

Question: In 1981, I purchased the Supertramp album Breakfast In America. The record is labeled correctly, but side two has the second side of The Police’s Ghost In The Machine. The album and jacket are in good to very good condition.

— Gregory Calhoun

Question: I received the Men At Work album Cargo as a Christmas gift in 1982. (I loved the song “Dr Heckyll & Mr. Jive.”) I put the record on the player to listen to the song and what we heard was not Men At Work. I have since had someone else listen to it, and Side One is actually from Mob Rules by Black Sabbath. Side Two has Men at Work as advertised. The album is in excellent condition; the cover has a couple of bends but is in good condition. I was just wondering if anyone might have information on it? I’d like to see if it’s worth anything at all. I would be willing to sell it.

— Rhonda McKnight

Question: I’m looking for a good place to get an estimate on a Ringo Starr rarity that I have owned for years. If it has value, I may consider selling it or taking it to auction. I bought my copy of the Ringo album on its day of release. When I got home and played it, side 2 of Ringo was actually side 2 of John Lennon’s Mind Games. It’s a factory error. The cover is in fair condition (the spine is split) and the accompanying booklet is in pristine condition.

— Carrin Hare

Answer: I am grouping these together because they basically ask the same thing in different ways: Do albums pressed with one correct side and one incorrect side, both coming from regularly released LPs, have any value?

The answer, sad to say, is no. They are interesting as curiosity pieces, but that is all.

Mistakes such as these are probably more rare than those that involve incorrect labels, which I have discussed in prior columns. Indeed, it’s possible that either of these might be the only surviving copies, as I’d presume that most people who buy one album but end up with half of another would have exchanged it at the earliest opportunity, back in the days when record stores still did that, and when the labels actually allowed for defective product.

How does this happen? In case you don’t know, the two sides of a record are made from two separate stampers. These stampers don’t have labels on them when they are put on the presses. That’s one reason why there are numbers in the trail-off wax — so that pressing plant employees can tell what it is. However, if two numbers are close together, someone can accidentally create a mismatch.

In three of the above situations, it’s not hard to see how the errors occurred. In the case of the Aerosmith/Paul Revere mistake, the Rocks album number (34165) isn’t that different from the Paul Revere album (31464). Remember, these plates have no labels on them. And before the 1970s, the opposite sides of a Columbia LP had consecutive master numbers, not the same number preceded by an “AL” or “BL.” Dyslexia might have played a role in the erroneous Breakfast In America LP, too. The catalog number is A&M 3708; for the Police album, it was A&M 3730. A closely-scrawled “3” can look like an “8.” And the Ringo and Mind Games albums have catalog numbers exactly one digit apart (Apple 3413 and 3414, respectively).

The Black Sabbath/Men At Work situation is a bit harder to explain. The catalog number of Mob Rules is BSK 3605 on Warner Bros., which had many of its album pressed at plants owned by CBS. The separate sides of the Men At Work album have the numbers “AL 38660” and “BL 38660” in the trail-off. Maybe someone saw the 3, 6, and 0 in close proximity and thought they were the same record?

All of these are human errors, and all of them are rare. Unlike in some other areas of collecting, though, there is no active sub-group of record collectors who seek these mis-pressed albums. Thus, they have no significant monetary value.  

Longtime record collector Tim Neely has authored and/or edited 30 record price guides, including six editions of the “Standard Catalog Of American Records 1950-1975.”

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2 thoughts on “Sound Advice: Lennon ‘Roots’ album has value — if authentic

  1. I have a copy of the 1973 John Lennon Mind Games album I bought in Germany in 1973. Both sides are labeled “Mind Games” but side 1 is Mind Games and Side 2 is Paul McCartney & Wings Band on the Run. I have tried to find out how much it is worth but I am having a hard time. This is a rare misprint.

  2. Mr. Neeley-

    I purchased two of John Lennon’s Roots album in 1975 after viewing the TV commercial. They came in a cardboard album mailer with an address label from Adam VIII Ltd. and postmarked April 16, 1975 Chicago, IL. Both came with plain white inner sleeves. No printing on them.

    -BK

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