You walk into the thrift store / estate sale / yard sale and make a beeline for the dusty stack of records in the back, behind the arm chairs and yellowed out coffee makers. You’re the first one there. Awesome. But sadly, 30 minutes later, you’ve flipped through every Bing Crosby Christmas Album and Jimmy Buffett Live! and you’re yet to find anything interesting, aside from a copy of Dances with Wolves on Laserdisc somehow.
Despite the Sisyphean nature of this task, the thrill of finding something rare and expensive for clearance prices makes it all worth it. These are the best rare versions of records that you could possibly find, and how to identify them easily.
Bob Dylan — Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan — Withdrawn Version
In 1963, Columbia was prepping to release Dylan’s second album, a collection of songs written by the folk legend himself — a departure from the dust bowl covers that dominated his first release. Just before release, the label decided to withdraw four tracks from the LP and replace them with newer tracks, but one pressing plant somehow didn’t get the message and pressed a rare few copies of the album with the original tracklist — withdrawn tracks included.
While extremely scarce, copies of the misprint still surface today. You can tell a withdrawn version through its matrix markings: the rare ones end in -1A on both sides of the LP, and will sometimes list the following tracks on the back cover:
Rocks and Gravel
Let Me Die In My Footsteps
Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand
Talkin’ John Birch Blues
If the matrix numbers match, and the record itself plays the missing tracks, you’ve scored a grail.
The Beatles — Yesterday and Today — Butcher Cover
One of the most notorious and controversial alternate editions, this record has been a mainstay of collectors since its release in 1966. It’s notable for its cover, with the four band members draped in raw meat and cut up dolls — an image that caused a public outcry. Capitol pulled the cover, destroying most of them before release. However, a few promo copies got out, as well as some very few which sold in stores before the purge. Instead of scrapping the entire stock, the label instead glued a more pedestrian cover on the old one, then released the new edition to the market.
According to collectors, there are three states of the butcher cover: "first state" covers are records which have never had their covers glued, but were either promo copies or purchased before the cover switch. "Second state" covers have glued covers. "Third state" are covers which have had the glued-on cover peeled off, either professionally or through risky DIY methods. While they vary in price, they’re all highly collectible and sought after by rabid Beatles fans.
Nirvana — Bleach — Iceberg Vinyl Variant
When Sub Pop was preparing their second pressing of Nirvana’s successful debut album, they received a small set of proofs from their pressing plant that didn’t match their specifications — they wanted marbled white vinyl, but somehow a green tinge had made its way into the wax. These LPs, dubbed the “Iceberg Vinyl” or “glacial white” by collectors, were discarded, though a few somehow made their way into circulation.
While these editions are rare, we don’t know exactly how rare. 200 of the records were pressed, but nobody knows how many were salvaged from the label. If you find one, count yourself lucky.
Pink Floyd — Dark Side of the Moon — Blue Triangle Version
You can easily tell a first edition copy of Dark Side of the Moon apart from a later pressing — the triangular prism on the label of the LP is a solid blue, rather than the later translucent/hollow triangle. This means that it’s not only a piece of audiophile history but that it was likely pressed from the original master plates, meaning you’re holding an especially high-fidelity version of the album.
While this variant is a bit more common than the others on this list, even a well-worn copy of the “blue triangle” version can fetch a couple hundred dollars, with near mint copies going for several thousand.
David Bowie — Diamond Dogs — Dog Genitals Version
The Diamond Dogs cover is really weird. What are those things behind him? Why is he so fleshy and shiny? Why is he half dog and half man? These questions were ignored by the public upon release, who rather chose to focus on the David Bowie man-dog hybrid’s visible penis instead, the member gracing the back cover. Moral outrage led to the censorship of the cover, with most copies being pulled or getting airbrushed out.
A few uncensored copies exist and have made their way into the hands of collectors, but the official first edition cover was censored before the label released them. If you manage to find an uncensored 1974 pressing, you’ve found one of the most sought after and expensive records of all time.
A caveat, though — lots of uncensored reissues have surfaced in the last few years, and don’t have the same astronomical value as the original ultra-rare pressing.
Robert Johnson — Any Original 78 — Highly Sought After
The legendary bluesman supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar mastery. He recorded only 29 songs before dying at the age of 27 in relative obscurity. This mythology, in combination with the scarcity of his original music, means finding just about any 78 RPM record by Robert Johnson means you’ve struck gold.
Almost all of his music was released between 1937 and 1939, meaning the few surviving copies are old and likely in poor condition — though even a beat up record of his can net you several thousand dollars or more.
Some of his records are so rare, that privately owned copies in good condition often form the basis for modern re-releases of his material. Keep your eyes peeled for that bright blue Vocalion label!
About The Blogger
Daniel Tu is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker, living in Provo, Utah. He grew up on Nas and Bob Dylan, and will geek out hard over anything with lyrical heft.
Want to go crate-digging right now? You can buy vinyl records online at Vinyl Lovers Unite!
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