By now we can all agree that the vinyl ‘revival’ is here to stay. Vinyl will never be a mainstream format again, of course, but if the popularity of Record Store Day (for instance) has taught us anything, it’s that vinyl and the turntable can quite happily coexist alongside the mainstream.
For those who value the sonic and tactile qualities of the format (which are significant), and don’t mind paying a premium for them, vinyl remains the music storage format of choice. In the 70-odd years of its existence, it’s seen off the cassettes, the CD, and still performs well in the age of music streaming too - it’s the format that refuses to die.
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While Record Store Day is an absolute gift to record collectors, making hard-to-find music available again and dressing up old favorites in shiny, colorful new packages, there are some vinyl records that are now staggeringly hard to come by. So hard, in fact, that a serious and dedicated record collector will pay truly huge sums of money to own them.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 great records, all worth somewhere between ‘quite a lot of money’ and ‘loads of money’, which you might conceivably have in your collection. So if you’re fortunate enough to own any of these, for heaven’s sake be careful with them.
1. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85 - 92 (Apollo LP, 1992)
Estimate: $400 - $520 / £300 - £400 / AU$550 - AU$730
So profoundly has SAW85-92 influenced 21st century electronic music, the idea that it was truly unlike anything else when it came out at the end of 1992 is difficult to get your head around.
Belgian label Apollo released it but, given that it was an extremely niche genre by an unknown Cornish 21-year-old, the first vinyl pressing wasn’t a big run. Its critical reputation has only gone one way, though, and now it’s very sought-after. If your vinyl copy of SAW85-92 has no catalogue number on the sleeve or the labels, no barcode on the sleeve, and three tracks apiece on sides C and D, you’re in business.
2. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (Vertigo LP, 1971)
Estimate: $780 - $900 / £600 - £700 / AU$1,100 - AU$1280
Black Sabbath’s third album got a bit of critical shoeing at the time, but over two million copies sold and gushing endorsements from the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana tells its own story.
Like most of the vinyl on this list, you need a very specific copy of Master of Reality in your collection if you’re going to see the big bucks: in this case it must have the embossed sleeve, the Vertigo ‘swirl’ label and – most important of all – the folded poster of the band. Ideally the vinyl itself will be in decent nick too, but for once that’s not the most important thing.
3. David Bowie, Scary Monsters… and Super Creeps (RCA LP, 1980)
Estimate: $13,100 / £10,000 / AU£18,200
The Last Great David Bowie Album™ (says every music critic ever) sold by the bucket-load, thanks in the main to the facts that a) it’s brilliant and b) it features a couple of massive hit singles in Ashes To Ashes and Fashion.
So how on earth does a vinyl record that sold millions of copies come to be worth so much money? And how do you tell if you have one? Well, it’s pretty straightforward really. You need to make sure the sleeve, and the spine, are in good condition, of course – and the vinyl itself needs to be purple. Best estimates are that no more than 20 purple copies were ever pressed.
4. Kate Bush, Eat the Music (EMI 7in single, 1993)
Estimate: $1,830 - $2,000 / £1,400 - £1,600 / AU$2,500 - AU$2,900
So late in the day did EMI change its mind about the first single to be released from Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes album – it decided to go with Rubberband Girl in the end – that plenty of copies of Eat the Music had already been pressed.
The company had them destroyed but, as is often the way with these things, a few (maybe 17) slipped through the net. Make sure your Eat the Music 7in is on EMI before you attempt to cash in, though – Bush’s American label Columbia Records put the song out as a single, and consequently there are plenty of Columbia examples knocking about.
5. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love (Track Record LP, 1967)
Estimate: $520 - $650 / £400 - £500 / AU$730 - AU$900
Here’s another album that was hugely popular upon its release, yet has a specific edition that’s worth disproportionately more than any other version. In this instance your copy needs to be a first pressing (naturally), with the Track Record label in silver on black.
It must be the laminated gatefold sleeve with internal flipbacks, and it must include the orange poster/lyrics sheet. Oh, and it has to be a mono pressing, because they’re rarer than the stereo equivalent. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through, we know – but if your copy is different then it’s probably only worth about £20.
6. Massive Attack vs Burial, Four Walls (The Vinyl Factory 12in single, 2011)
Estimate: $450 - $900 / £350 - £700 / AU$640 - AU$1,280
Given that it was limited to 1000 copies on its release (each one hand-numbered), Four Walls is a rare and valuable record from the off. You’re looking at about $450 / £350 / AU$640 for a copy in mint condition – which means unscratched, and with a pristine sleeve (including the gold glitter).
However, there are thought to be maybe 20 or so Artist’s Proof copies in circulation too – so if your cherished and very well-cared-for copy has ‘AP’ in gold lettering where other copies have a number, you can comfortably double that figure.
7. George Michael, Older (Virgin LP, 1996)
Estimate: $650 / £500 / AU$900
For once on this list of rare and expensive vinyl, your copy of this record doesn’t need to be signed, have an unusually colored label, have a pristine poster inside, or a typo on the sleeve.
The fact is that when Older was released in 1996, CD was everything and vinyl was nothing. Virgin pressed just one vinyl run and it was limited to a few thousand copies for the whole of the European market – by way of contrast, Older is reckoned to have sold something like six million copies on CD. So if you have a vinyl copy, and it’s not completely knackered, you’re in luck.
8. Prince, The Black Album (Warner Bros LP, 1987)
Estimate: $19,600 - $32,700 / £15,000 - £25,000 / AU£27,300 - AU$45,000
What happens when one of the biggest stars on the planet pulls the follow-up to an enormous-selling album (Sign ‘o’ the Times) just a week before it’s due to go on sale? Well in the case of The Black Album (not its official title, but it came in a black sleeve with no text on it whatsoever), the few hundred promotional copies floating about were used to make numerous bootlegs.
The ringers are easy to spot, though – they have typos on the labels and a hand-etched run-off groove. If you think you have a genuine original, see if it includes a Warner Bros letter of authenticity – if so, the big money could be yours.
9. Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen (A&M 7in single, 1977)
Estimate: $15,700 - $19,600 / £12,000 - £15,000 / AU$21,800 - AU$27,300
The Sex Pistols were signed to EMI before they were booted off the label. They then signed to A&M, a deal which lasted six days. Then they signed to Virgin. This all happened in the first six months of the band’s existence.
During the almost-one-week they were an A&M act, the company pressed 25,000 copies of the God Save the Queen single before getting very cold feet indeed. The best guess is that all but a dozen copies of the single were destroyed, making a copy on A&M the Punk Rock Holy Grail.
10. The Smiths, Hand in Glove (Rough Trade 7in single, 1984)
Estimate: $1,900 - $2,290 / £1500 - £1750 / AU$2,730 - AU$3,180
The first single by The Smiths enjoyed a first pressing of 6,000 copies – someone at Rough Trade was obviously confident. When the second pressing arrived, though, the sleeve (featuring cover star George O’Mara) was inexplicably a negative of what was intended – so the whole batch was returned to be destroyed.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? It’s estimated that 25 ‘negative’ sleeves survived – and consequently it’s worth quite a lot of money. You'd better go and check which copy you’ve got...
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Simon Lucas is a senior editorial professional with deep experience of print/digital publishing and the consumer electronics landscape. Based in Brighton, Simon worked at TechRadar's sister site What HiFi? for a number of years, as both a features editor and a digital editor, before embarking on a career in freelance consultancy, content creation, and journalism for some of the biggest brands and publications in the world.
With enormous expertise in all things home entertainment, Simon reviews everything from turntables to soundbars for TechRadar, and also likes to dip his toes into longform features and buying guides. His bylines include GQ, The Guardian, Hi-Fi+, Metro, The Observer, Pocket Lint, Shortlist, Stuff T3, Tom's Guide, Trusted Reviews, and more.