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All of us record collectors have a point of origin, and this was mine. The primary means of listening to music as a kid was records, along with 8-track tapes, a few cassettes, and of course the radio. When the 80′s came, cassettes became a primary means of listening with the introduction of the Sony Walkman. But as far as the group that made me move from being a casual fan of records to someone obsessed buying them as possible investments, it was The Beatles and it was due to this newspaper article by Wayne Harada of the Honolulu Advertiser:
Up until that point, records were merely vehicles to find music. Now I discovered a book that talked about record collecting, priced them, and placed them in an order that I appreciated. I was a young fan of the discography listing, and this would turn my curiosity into a lifelong obsession. I was a young Beatles fan who wanted all of the records and wanted to know anything and everything that had to do with their music, and I was fascinated with the variations, and also knowing there was someone who was fascinated with listing the variations. Just like the music and artists I would discover, it was about origins and roots, to find an answer to something I didn’t know about, and keep digging until there was nothing more to dig. One record can and will lead to another, and that moved me. I had seen issues of Goldmine magazine, which was very different from my reading habits at the time (Rolling Stone, Hit Parader, and Goldmine), but when I picked up, bought, and read my first issue at home, it felt like I entered a room full of secrets, the hidden info that I was now allowed to know.
The Beatles were the first group I actively collected, not only U.S. pressings, but whatever import pressings I could find at Tower Records. It was easy to find and buy British and European pressings, but I wanted the Japanese pressings. This was the early 80′s, and Odeon Records in Japan had reissued the entire Beatles catalog. I had learned from reading that these were the pressings to have because Japan had a standard in pressing that made them of audiophile quality. But at double or sometimes triple the domestic price, I could not afford that and forget about asking my mom about buying it. I remember one day walking into a record store called Froggie’s and seeing a counterfeit pressing of The Beatles’ Christmas Album I didn’t realize it was a fake pressing, but at $12, I had to have it. I told my parents “please, get me this record, it is rare, I will never ask for another record for the rest of the year.” $12 for a single record was quite high during a time when $8.99 seemed like an obscene price, but they buckled and got my album. I would get more and more, having my own allowance that I would later spend on records. I spent foolishly, sure, but in the process I began finding out what made their records worth so much and why, and also what to look out for. This article is not meant to be for the Beatles experts, but rather for the newbies who may be getting into record collecting for the first time, and what better way to do it than with one of the more collectible groups in the world?
When the mainstream media does a story on record collecting, it will usually lead to the discussion of Elvis Presley or The Beatles, because they are two of the most influential artists in rock’n'roll. They each have a level of popularity that continues years after they made their initial impact, and that has yet to stop. Naturally, the hobby of record collecting is discussed when Presley and The Beatles are discussed, and for good reason. Some of their records are very valuable, but that leads to the perception that any and every record they’ve ever made is worth hundreds, if not thousands. People feel that because they are Beatles fans, they are Beatles record experts, but with the internet in front of us, there’s no reason to not know about the record or its true value. Unfortunately, the internet makes it possible for dealers to sell records at obnoxious prices in order to jack up a price on a particular item.
There was a time when the value of a record was determined by supply and demand, so if you lived in Philadelphia and found a Buck Owens record for $25, you could find it in a smaller town in Virginia for $2. Record collector guides, like the one spotlighted in the scanned newspaper article above, was basically a rough-but-educated way on how to value records, and that was the unspoken law. With eBay, it’s not territorial anymore, which is good, any and all records can be found with patience. Unfortunately, the record you had seen in a store for $2 a few years ago is now up there for $259.99. Is it worth that much? Most likely, no, but that dealer is thinking of one thing: “all I need is one sucker to buy it for that price, and I’m $259.99 richer.” Now, if you are the seller and someone buys it for that price, you wouldn’t complain? Unfortunately, high minimum bids artificially raise the value of a record and suddenly it becomes unethical. only because we get to see the transaction in real time. Yet is it unethical to find a record for a dome and sell it on eBay for $499? It’s ruthless but that is a part of this fun hobby called record collecting, so you understand the extremes and deal with it.
For now, let’s get to basics with The Beatles and record collecting. Since I live in the U.S., I speak from a U.S. perspective. This will be important for Americans who choose to collect American pressings, but also those outside of the U.S. who want the American pressings, as they are of value. In record collecting, you can have any specialty that you want, there isn’t a law which says you can collect this and that, but not that over there. There are dealers who buy and sell Disney records, some who love Broadway and musicals, a few who love old Bozo The Clown story records, or people who enjoy picking up every record you could find on the back of a cereal box. If you have an interest in records from Canada, Hong Kong, India, or wherever, information is out there to guide you and if not, keep looking. Someone will share your passion.
In the United States, Beatles records were released by a number of record companies, with the primary label being Capitol. Initially the label rejected them, but in time would find a home with a Chicago record company known for soul, blues, and gospel called Vee Jay. As The Beatles promotional team were trying to find a way to bank on success in America, they found a way to have a record released on a small Philadelphia label called Swan. It was with this record, “She Loves You”/”I’ll Get You”, that became a pop hit, and would make Capitol Records reconsider their original position. They were signed to Capitol in late 1963, and the label were prepared to make an impact with their British find in January of 1964.
The buzz would start, and American record labels were not sure what was going on. Only skiffle groups were known to come from England, and yet kids were enjoying the long-haired antics of a group from Liverpool? A few labels discovered that there were songs recorded in the group’s early days, and they obtained the rights to release them. They include MGM and Atco. For a brief moment, Capitol in the U.S. could not keep up with the demand, even though they had their own record pressing plants. In some markets, Beatles records unique to Canada (i.e. they were only released in Canada and did not have a U.S. counterpart) were imported into the U.S., and enough copies were sold to make a dent on the charts. These few records were on Capitol of Canada.
While The Beatles were not signed by Vee Jay, it didn’t stop them from cashing in on Beatlemania that was attacking. The 14 songs they had acquired the rights to was released as the group’s first American album, the 12-track Introducing The Beatles (the American norm for pop was a 12-track album, while the UK standard was 14, so while there are different variations of Introducing The Beatles, one pressing features “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why” while another substitutes them for “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”.) Trying to find a way to sell the same set of songs to the public, those songs were released as singles and 4-song 7″ EP’s. They also released “Twist & Shout” on a subsidiary label, Tollie, which would become the most successful Vee Jay-related record, going as high as #2 on the Billboard singles chart during the week of April 4, 1964 when The Beatles dominated the 1-5 positions, which no one has ever done since (not even Justin Bieber. It did make it to #1 on the Cash Box chart.
Not wanting to stop, Vee Jay would spread the songs apart and release them a number of ways:
* a split album with Frank Ifield and releasing it with two different covers
* a double album “battle” called The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons (later mocked by bootleggers in a number of ways, including the infamous Beatles vs. Don Ho)
* a single album called Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles
* a series of “oldies but goodies” 45′s on the Oldies 45 label
The only record Vee Jay could properly sell without protest was an interview album called Hear The Beatles Tell All. At the time, interview albums were considered almost disposable, so the idea of a record company owning interview recordings was not as big as the music. Speaking of which, Hear The Beatles Tell All did not feature any actual Beatles music, so the record sounds like a long-lost radio talk show but features some nice moments.
To make it even more interesting, almost every record on Vee Jay was counterfeited. This is a term to describe records that look official but were not actually ordered by the record company, and are often detected by blurry or off-center printing, different handwriting in the matrix number of the record, or using materials that are different from official pressings. With that said, it may be possible that the counterfeit pressings were printed “under the table”/”after hours” by Vee Jay, so that even as they had no rights to the recordings, they could still place records in stores so they could gain profits from sales. Even long after Vee Jay shut its doors, counterfeit pressings were popping up in the 1980′s, in fact I obtained Hear The Beatles Tell All and Introducing The Beatles from finding the counterfeits. Are these counterfeits of value? To the completist they might be, but since they were plentiful, they’re not often seen as high priced items. They look official, and sometimes the quality of the music sounds decent, but some collectors often desire specific pressings of a record for optimum quality, especially audiophiles. Counterfeits are often compared to old cassette tape dubs: it’s nice but it’s not the real thing.
As The Beatles grew in popularity, the band wanted to find a way to start their own company. By 1967, ideas were being thrown about and in 1968, Apple Records was born. “Hey Jude”/”Revolution” was the first record by The Beatles to be released on Apple, and it would be their sole outlet of their music until they split in 1970. Apple was distributed by Capitol Records, and in 1971, every Beatles record released on Capitol would be released with the Apple label, using the same catalog numbers as the originals. When Apple folded in early 1976, Capitol proper would reissue all of them again, a process that would continue with different label variations throughout the rest of the 70′s, 80′s, and early 90′s.
In between, you might find a Beatles song or two on a one-off compilation, or the discovery of old nightclub recordings would circulate and be released by countless smaller companies, but for all intents and purposes, these are the primary labels: Capitol and Vee-Jay (including Tollie and Oldies 45.)
If this hasn’t overwhelmed you yet, I’ll try to simplify things a bit, beginning with their first Capitol album, Meet The Beatles. It was customary at the time to release albums in both mono and stereo. Mono, or monaural, were meant to be played on record players/phonographs with one speaker. It was the ordinary, everyday record for everyone. Stereophonic (2-channel) records was promoted as being sophisticated, grown-up, and something to be played on more expensive equipment. Since more people had mono record players, most record labels pressed up mono and Capitol were no exception. The catalog # for the mono pressing is Capitol T-2047, while the stereo pressing is ST-2047, note the addition of the S, which signified “stereo”. You can find the catalog numbers generally on the top right hand side of the cover, the spine, or on the label. Also, stereo pressings of Meet The Beatles would clearly state “Full Dimensional Stereo” on the top:
When an album went Gold by selling 500,000 copies, the labels would often print up new covers which stated that title won a “Gold Record Award”, with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) logo. You can find it by looking below the Capitol Records logo on the right hand side:
This distinguishes it from early pressings, and is also a factor in pricing. Now, if you see this RIAA “Gold Record” logo, it means again that it sold 500,000 copies. This means technically that at least 300,000 coopies are still roaming the Earth, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a one-of-a-kind “rare” piece. If someone charges $500 for it and it looks like an old photo album found in the back of a pick-up truck, put it down and look elsewhere.
Having the RIAA thing doesn’t mean it’s not rare or that you can’t sell it. Keep in mind though that most pop and rock’n'roll records were played by kids and teens who could care less about record care. Records were often left out of covers, so if someone stepped on it, it would scrape with the carpet. Not exactly great condition. Handwriting on the cover? Put it down. But if you manage to find a copy that looks like the cellophone plastic was just ripped from it, you *might* have something.
But then you have the issue of record labels. It was also common for companies to change the design of the label every few years. The most popular titles would get the new labels, and that would be part of the practice until Capitol stopped pressing records on a regular basis. Since Meet The Beatles was released in 1964, Capitol’s labels looked like this:
What you see here is the first variation of the mono label, and there would be three others with different things on the label (primarily publishing information) distinguishing them from one another.
Trust me, it goes on and on but I find knowing the variations to be fun, and collectors do too. If you want to find out more about these variations and what to look out for, check out Fab 4 Collectibles, Rare Beatles, or some of the great books writing by Bruce Spizer. Even if you know their music inside and out, you might not know what record you have until you do the proper research. You no longer have to leave home to find the right collector’s guides, these three websites are the perfect way to start you on your research.
This type of research can and does apply to any other artist, any genre, any label, any decade. If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, you can find out which pressing you have and why yours is the preferred one. Or if you’re selling your copy and a potential buyer wants to know if the lettering is yellow or orange, you’ll know how to find out or know where to look. With The Beatles, it may feel like an endless journey and I think that’s why some collect it, because unless you’re wealthy, you’ll never be able to get every single variation. Part of the fun of record collection is establishing your own rules and boundaries, so have fun.