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Rarest Vinyl Ever: A Guide To 20 Of The Most Expensive Records
Jeffrey Blackler / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Rarest Vinyl Ever: A Guide To 20 Of The Most Expensive Records

The world’s rarest vinyl has sold for eye-watering sums. But which record is so expensive you’d have to mortgage your home to buy it?

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With vinyl’s comeback seemingly here to stay, the cost of the world’s rarest vinyl just keeps skyrocketing. The more popular the artist, the heftier the price tag, and first pressings of classic albums by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd now sell for astronomical prices; if there’s a controversial album cover, or the pressing is limited to minute quantities, that can make it even more expensive.

Starting to wish you’d never thrown all those old records out years ago? Here are 20 of the world’s rarest vinyl collectables (though please note: our prices are just a guide and this list is just an illustration of some of the rarest vinyl out there; it’s not meant to be exhaustive).

Rarest Vinyl Ever: A Guide To 20 Of The Most Expensive Records

20: Bruce Springsteen/Paul McCartney: Viva Las Vegas/It’s Now Or Never (10”, 1990)

This is a very scarce 10” in a plain white sleeve starring two legends of rock – three if you count Elvis, dedicatee of these tribute tracks. There are just 200 copies of this 10”, which features Bruce Springsteen revelling in Viva Las Vegas on one side, and Macca sounding shockingly King-like on the other – he certainly had a sideline waiting for him as an Elvis impersonator had he needed to supplement his income in the evenings. Yet somehow, this promotional single for a charity album made for NME magazine does not attract massive wads of cash: less than £100 should land you a decent copy – for now. That surely will not last: this is a rock’n’roll investment. And look out for the equivalent promotional CD in a black-and-white card sleeve. Five hundred copies were made, but these items were commonly binned by cynical media folk – and they currently attract up to £200 each.

Cost: £75

Must hear: It’s Now Or Never

9: Various Artists: ‘Battle Of The Bands: Hollywood Bowl 1966’ (LP, 1966)

A private pressing of this iconic event captures sibling duo Richard and Karen Carpenter before finding fame as Carpenters. Then performing as The Richard Carpenter Trio, Richard played piano alongside Karen on the drums and Wes Jacob on the tuba, and their renditions of Iced Tea (an original song) alongside the bossa nova classic Girl From Ipanema won the group the competition and a recording contract with RCA. Finding themselves dropped from the label for having no “commercial potential”, Richard and Karen went on to become one of the most celebrated duos of the 70s. Having been spotted for sale on just two occasions, Battle Of The Bands: Hollywood Bowl 1966 has become one of the rarest vinyl must-haves for Carpenters collectors.

Cost: £500

Must hear: Iced Tea

18: The Doors: ‘Waiting For The Sun’ (mono LP, 1968)

The third album by The Doors was snapped up by fans in the stereo format – in fact, it would not be long before mono albums were no longer routinely pressed by major labels. Yet some discerning fans believe the directness of mono mixes is the way classic rock ought to be heard. That reasoning has caused scarce original mono pressings of best-selling albums to become highly in-demand, of which Waiting For The Sun is one, both its US pressing, on Elektra, and its UK counterpart, both of which came wrapped in an attractive gatefold sleeve. The original mono US pressing on a mustard-coloured label is particularly sought after and was only produced in limited numbers. Mint copies attract serious money at auction, which may seem curious for a hit album that contains a hit single, Hello, I Love You.

Cost: £1,000

Must hear: Five To One

17: John Coltrane: ‘Giant Steps’ (LP, 1959)

Giant Steps is not rare. It’s hardly ever been out of print in 60 years. But three factors can ensure original pressings sit among the world’s rarest vinyl: it is a classic album of remarkable music; it must be an original pressing, giving it that cachet of authenticity, because John Coltrane is a legendary figure and would have owned and approved an early pressing like this one; and condition. Yes, mint condition first pressings of a common record can attract a small fortune. Look out for the black-and-silver label with a “deep groove” on the label about 12mm from the perimeter, even in fairly ordinary condition, because that tells you the record is old.

Cost: £1,500 if Mint

Must hear: Giant Steps

16: Stranglers: Peaches/Go Buddy Go (7”, 1977)

This raucous tune with lewd lyrics – hopefully intended as a parody – was a huge hit single, driven by one of the all-time great grumbling basslines of 70s rock. Those who found the A-side too risqué could enjoy the slightly more vanilla flip, assuming they overlooked the drug references – the single was intended as a double A-side. This 7”, the second single released from The Stranglers’ debut album, Rattus Norvegicus, is usually seen either with a plain black sleeve or a cover depicting a particular stone fruit. Initially, however, Peaches/Go Buddy Go was dressed in a green sleeve that showed a photo of the band and blackmail-style lettering of the title in bright orange. The Stranglers decided it was too similar to a Sex Pistols design and withdrew it, though it is estimated that 50 copies had been sent out as promotional items. Brit-punk collectors consider them a holy grail among the rarest vinyl of the era. There were bootlegs on coloured and clear vinyl, and an official reissue in 2014 was on green vinyl, so don’t be fooled: the original release was the same colour as the band’s drummer’s stage name, Jet Black.

Cost: £1,500

Must hear: Peaches

15: Led Zeppelin: ‘Led Zeppelin’ (LP, 1969)

Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album has sold countless copies. So is your one worth up to £4,500? It needs to be the UK pressing from 1969 with turquoise lettering on the sleeve and a red-, white- and plum-coloured label bearing the credits “Superhype music” and “Jewel music” below the tracklist. There are also the matrix numbers, “588171 A/1” and “588171 B/1”, etched into the vinyl near the run-out groove. If one of the “8”s is scratched out, it’s not the first pressing, though it still may be quite valuable. There are pirated copies that do not conform to all these factors: you have been warned. Mint copies are, naturally, the most valuable. Good luck finding one.

Cost: £1,500-£4,500

Must hear: Dazed And Confused

14: Motörhead: ‘Motörhead’ (LP, 1977)

When hunting for the rarest vinyl, it’s all about the condition – and the format. There are numerous copies of Motörhead’s ass-bootin’ debut album kicking around, but one version really gets collectors’ nerves jangling. It’s the 1,000-copy first pressing with the silver-and-black printing and the tiny swastika on the second horn of the whatever-it-is on the front. We do not condone Nazi imagery, but that hasn’t deterred some devoted collectors: this almost literally wicked rarity from the lions of British biker rock has been known to sell for around four times the album’s recording budget.

Cost: £2,000

Must hear: White Line Fever

3: The Beatles: ‘The Beatles’ (2LP, 1969)

After the feast for the eyes that was The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, the group went minimalist to the extreme for The Beatles, whose all-white sleeve earned it the nickname “The White Album”. Each sleeve was individually numbered in order to create a sense of rarity, with the lowest numbers now fetching the highest prices. Ringo Starr’s personal copy, 0000001, fetched £522,438 in 2015, making it the most expensive record ever sold; the lower-number copies more often found on the market can easily command five-figure sums.

Cost: £7,000-£15,000+

Must hear: We Can Work It Out

7: Kate Bush: Eat The Music/Big Stripey Lie (7” single, 1993)

Taken from The Red Shoes Kate Bush’s final album before a 12-year hiatus – Eat The Music was initially released as the album’s first single before being hastily withdrawn and replaced with Rubberband Girl. Rumour has it that all but 17 copies were destroyed.

Cost: £2,300+

Must hear: Eat The Music

11: Morrissey: November The Second (12”, 1990)

Sometimes a record is rare because the artist doesn’t like it. That was the case with this remix of Morrissey’s 1990 single November Spawned A Monster, a rather beautiful dance version which went entirely against the grain for the former Smiths’ frontman, who keeps a close eye on records released in its name, ensuring artistic control. This one-sided white-label 12” crept out in the UK for DJ use only, but was rapidly withdrawn when the singer objected to it. It’s rarely changed hands since: Morrissey fans who locate copies keep hold of them, so we are guessing somewhat at its value. Think you’ve found one under the bed? The etchings in the vinyl read “12POPDJX 1623 A-1U-1-1 TERRACE STOMP”.

Cost: £2,500

Must hear: November The Second/November Spawned A Monster.

10: Madonna: Erotica (12” picture disc, 1992)

Toe-sucking was a very 90s kink – but that doesn’t mean today’s crate-diggers don’t find it orgasmically attractive. Madonna (briefly) released this three-track picture disc bearing an image of herself indulging in the fetish, and it contained three versions of her Erotica song, the lead single and title track from her sensuous Erotica album. But, just as it came out, a right royal scandal erupted when Britain’s Duchess Of York, aka Fergie, was photographed enjoying what was apparently a similarly intimate experience courtesy of her then financial adviser. Not wishing to offend regal sensibilities, the picture disc was hastily given the boot, but 138 copies are said to have escaped the recall process. Madonna devotees regard them as highly collectable fare among the world’s rarest vinyl, but should you fancy dipping a toe in these waters, beware of bootlegs. (A 30th-anniversary re-pressing was issued in October 2022 – a safer bet for those without unlimited finances.)

Cost: £2,500-£3,000

Must hear: Erotica (Album Version)

9: Depeche Mode: ‘Music For The Masses’ (LP, 1990)

Depeche Mode’s 1987 album, Music For The Masses, is widely available, but one particular sleeve is really rare. The cover of a 1990 budget reissue, featuring an orange graphic of a sound wave, was rejected by Depeche Mode themselves, or so the story goes. It has been estimated there are just 12 copies in existence, though there is some debate about that – and some fans reckon this was actually the original sleeve design, not one created for a later reissue. Whatever the truth, it certainly holds its value among the world’s rarest vinyl. You will need deep pockets should you find a copy.

Cost: £4,000

Must hear: Strangelove

8: Joy Division: ‘An Ideal For Living’ (7” EP, 1978)

With only 1,000 copies pressed, the sleeve for Joy Division’s debut EP, An Ideal Living, sleeve featured a contentious black-and-white image of a Hitler Youth figure beating a drum. It was quickly pulled by the band and not replaced.

Cost: £4,500+

Must hear: Leaders Of Men

5: David Bowie: ‘The Next Day’ (blue vinyl LP, 2019)

There are no shortage of David Bowie albums vying for their place among the rarest vinyl of all time, but David Bowie’s 2013 album, The Next Day, is an unlikely entry. Reissued on blue wax, alongside 15 other albums, in 2019 as part of the Unicef Blue Vinyl series, this pressing was limited to 50 copies. In true resale fashion, a number of these hit the open market, with asking prices having ranged from £5,000 to an eye-watering £35,000.

Cost: £5,000+

Must hear: The Next Day

4: Prince: ‘The Black Album’ (LP, 1987)

Following the release of his iconic 1987 album, Sign O’ The Times, The Black Album was swiftly recalled by Prince himself, who, after deciding it was “evil”, ordered for all 500,000 copies to be destroyed. Some slipped the net, however, with one bold seller asking £30,000 for a sealed copy.

Cost: £6,000-£10,000

Must hear: When 2 R In Love

8: The Beatles: ‘Yesterday And Today’ (LP, 1966)

No list of the world’s rarest vinyl is complete without a mention of The Beatles’ compilation Yesterday And Today and its infamous “butcher cover”. After being released in the US and Canada, the group’s stateside label, Capitol Records, quickly recalled the album, whose controversial cover featured the smiling Liverpudlian foursome draped in an array of meat and dismembered dolls. Subsequently sent back out into the world with a more suitable image pasted on top, mint-condition copies of the original sleeve are notoriously difficult to find.

Cost: £7,000-£15,000+

Must hear: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

4: Röyksopp: ‘Melody AM’ (2LP, 2001)

Sometimes records aren’t rare because the musical artist is collectable; sometimes it’s the sleeve imagery that drives demand. Andy Warhol created numerous album covers in the 50s and 60s – including several collectable jazz gems on the Blue Note label – and the acclaimed artist Clunie Reid’s work on a deluxe edition of Duran Duran’s 2011 album, All You Need Is Now, has made it highly sought-after. Norwegian electronic maestros Röyksopp persuaded the world’s most famous street artist, Banksy, to decorate a special pressing of their debut album, Melody AM, and his characteristically arresting stencil work on a mere 100 copies has become so coveted, they are snapped up at huge prices.

Cost: £8,000

Must hear: Eple

2: Sex Pistols: God Save The Queen (7” single, 1977)

A contentious record – not just for what it said at the time, but for the number of counterfeits that buyers now have to be mindful of. Before signing to Virgin, Sex Pistols were on A&M Records, and it’s that pressing of the 7” you want to find. Whole websites have been dedicated to guiding collectors through the minefield of bootleg versions that have cropped up in the years since the original 25,000 copies were destroyed (only nine allegedly made it out as promos). Having sold for £15,000 at auction in 2019, God Save The Queen is the crown jewel of the punk era’s rarest vinyl collectables.

Cost: £10,000+

Must hear: God Save The Queen

2: Darrell Banks: Open The Door To Your Heart (7”, 1966)

The world of Northern soul has long danced to Darrell Banks’ Open The Door To Your Heart, a delicious slice of Detroit magic that was a US hit. However, just when a UK release was good to go, a dispute over rights to the record broke out; when it was eventually resolved, Atlantic Records released Banks’ marvellous debut LP, Darrell Banks Is Here! But the first pressing of the UK single, due to be issued on London Records, was scrapped because of the row, meaning that most British copies owned by Northern-soul fans are advance promotional copies (valued at about £500) or the later version on Stateside (£50), and it was generally accepted that released “stock” copies of the initial London pressing did not exist. So when a copy of that very London 7” surfaced in 2014, selling for £14,500, the collecting scene was abuzz, and the record immediately took its place among the rarest vinyl of all time. How many more exist? Nobody knows. But not many…

Cost: £15,000

Must hear: Open The Door To Your Heart

1: The Quarrymen: That’ll Be The Day/In Spite Of All The Danger (10” acetate, 1958)

Before forming The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were part of a five-piece skiffle group named The Quarrymen. With a Buddy Holly cover on the A-side, and a Quarrymen original (effectively, The Beatles’ first ever song) on the flip, this one-off 10” acetate has been valued at £200,000. Word is that Paul McCartney acquired it in 1981, running off around 50 replica 10”s and 25 7” versions in order to give them away to friends and family. Good luck finding either.

Cost: £200,000 (original 10” acetate)/£10,000 (7” private press)

Must hear: In Spite Of All The Danger

Buy future rarities and more great vinyl at the Dig! store.

Original article: 25 October 2020. Words: Emily Claypole

Updated: 15 November 2022. Words: Michael Cranston

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