If a record is hard enough to find, it doesn’t matter how much money you have to throw in its direction; it still won’t appear.
“Rarity,” after all, is a relative term. Is a record rare because a lot of people are looking for it, and there are a lot less copies available than there are prospective buyers? Or is it rare because there were very few pressed in the first place, and those few have already found safe homes?
The rarest record I own, in terms of never being able find it, was released on the British Dawn label in 1972. For forty years, I searched for a copy of Been in the Pen Too Long, the solo debut by former Mungo Jerry member Paul King, and in all that time I saw just two copies. The first belonged to a schoolfriend who purchased it around the time of its release, and the second was delivered by the mailman a few years ago.
The Internet was no help. Turning to the sites that are many collectors’ first port of call, not a single copy had ever been traded on Discogs; and only ten have been logged by Popsike. And to put that into perspective, that latter site had seen over 200 copies of the Beatles’ legendary butcher cover change hands in the same time span.
Does that mean this delightful slab of bluegrassed pop-rock is twenty times rarer than one of the Beatles’ most storied treasures? Or that a lot more than 200 times more people want, and can afford, the Beatles disc?
It doesn’t matter. The fact is, if you want a butcher cover, all you need is cash. If you want Paul King, you are probably in for a very long wait.
If you’ve never heard of the Finnish band Punk Lurex OK, you won’t care that there were only 500 copies pressed of their 1994-2003 compilation. But if you have, and you weren’t one of the 500 who purchased it….
If Britain’s Rikki and the Last Days of Earth don’t float your boat, you wouldn’t look twice at the lone 45 that a solo Rikki released in 1981, and the price guides don’t care for it, either. But try and find a copy of it! Or its parent LP, for that matter.
And so on. Search for “the rarest records” on line, and you will hear all about the established rarities of record collecting… we listed a few of them last time.
All fetch sums far in excess of what many collectors would (or even could) casually spend on a record. In terms of how many copies are actually out there, though, they’re no rarer than any number of other records, and a lot more common than many others.
There’s no more than a handful of copies known, for example, of TV Smith’s Explorers’ “Have Fun” 45, credited to frontman Smith alone; and what about promo copies of the Len Bright Combo’s “Someone Must Have Nailed Us Together,” issued not only with a press release but also a free nail!!??
To collectors of the artists in question, releases like these, and countless thousands more, are as precious as any megabuck Dylan or Elvis album, and probably required a lot more searching for, as well.
And that brings us to perhaps the single most important attribute any collector can gain—knowledge.
Most people know that mono pressings of the Beatles’ albums featured different mixes to their stereo counterparts. But only Laura Nyro specialists would seek out Verve Folkways’ mono pressing of the Divine Ms N’s debut album, More Than a New Discovery, to hear it without all the ugly reverb slathered on by successive reissues.
The first Neil Young album was still hot off the presses when Young took the tapes back and remixed four of the songs, before putting the new version out on the streets.
Jefferson Airplane’s debut suffered a similar fate at the hands of their record company, after someone got cold feet about the inclusion of one song (“Running Round This World”) and the lyrics of two others.
Fleetwood Mac’s Then Play On was released in 1969 with a dozen tracks, including "When You Say" and "My Dream,” then swiftly reissued with the hit “Oh Well” in their stead. The Rolling Stones’s Some Girls had its jacket reworked after eagle-eyed lawyers realized they’d not received the necessary approval for the use of certain celebrities’ faces. Early copies of the Partridge Family’s Christmas Card album arrived with a genuine Christmas card slotted into the front cover; later pressings either printed the card onto the sleeve, or went without it altogether.
A small quantity of Elvis Presley’s Aloha from Hawaii by Satellite were utilized for an in-house promotion by the concert’s TV sponsors, Van Camp; stickers featuring the company’s Chicken of the Sea tuna, and a one-page promotional sheet mark out these very scarce discs.
None of these records are at all hard-to-find in their “regular” form; so much so that you have probably passed by dozens of copies as you flip through the contents of a record store rack.
But maybe you won’t be so fast to do so in future.