Just emptied out your attic and looking to see whether you have unearthed some dusty gold? Or, perhaps you have been flicking through your elderly relatives’ record collection and want to see just how much you might be able to fetch for some of the gems lurking within?
Whatever your reason, you have come to the right place, for today we will be taking a stroll down memory lane to explore some of the rarest 7 inch records still circulating the annals of vintage sales and record stores today.
Some Hit Song History
So, record collectors among you ought to know that these 45 rpm records are commonly referred to in the biz as ‘singles’ because, with around 5 minutes of playing time on each side when spun at 45 rpm, they do not offer much more space on each of their sides than for one or two songs. But how many of you know the proper story of how long do vinyl records last?
These old records were released first in 1949 by the esteemed RCA records, whose name precedes them in the United States, and who sought to release them in the United Kingdom the following year. With a smaller hole in the middle making them easier to stack and play continuously, they were an instant hit with almost all comers.
They were especially enjoyed at a time when music lovers would flock to bars and cafes to spin records on the jukebox. Even the operators preferred music on a disc like this too, for, owing to their smaller size, they could offer more songs for their listening public to choose from.
As time has gone by since the original golden age of vinyl recording technology, certain songs and sounds have gone on to acquire a mythological status, either because or as a result of their becoming so rare. These recordings, thus, fetch a considerable sum of money, so much so that a record collector will probably not even play them.
Recorded music has come a hell of a long way since these early days where the spinning of a little disc was all that mattered and was all that was needed to get the youth of the day riled up. And some are permanently bound up in that world, lost in their vinyl collection.
Top 10 Most Rare 45 RPM Records
So, without further ado, let us all take a stroll down memory lane as we explore and elucidate some of the 45 RPM singles which, over the years, have come to garner a considerable amount more attention than others and which, in turn, have come to accrue a considerable amount more money at auction.
These top vinyl picks are in no particular order, and I have actually given a little more precedent to some that I think are worthy of your attention, some that you might not otherwise have heard before and which you might enjoy that little bit more.
1. ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ / ‘Sweeter as the Days Go By’ by Frank Wilson
First up we have what is for some the rarest 45 RPM single of all, with only two copies ever materialising, one of which was sold for over $37,000 in 2009. That is pretty rare by my own standards. The sheer fact of there being only two known copies has made this the veritable holy grail of Northern Soul rarities.
Northern Soul is a music and dance movement that still exists, having originally come about in the North of England in the late 1960s, stemming from the British mod scene of the same era. The movement prized a particular style of Black American soul music over all others, those from the mid 60’s more than others, with a heavy beat and fast tempo of 100 bpm or above.
This particular song by Frank Wilson seems to be so heralded for not much else bar its rarity. And this is always the way with Northern Soul, with the recordings most prized by enthusiasts of the genre being those by lesser known artists, especially those released only in limited stock.
Frank Wilson himself was much more famous as a producer for the legendary Motown records label, recording band after band for the label which were released to acclaim. This song, thus, marks his first and last foray into being a recording artist himself, something that he obviously chose not to do ever again.
Allegedly 250 demo pressings were cut, but he decided to have them all destroyed – and yet the two aforementioned still remain, fetching such prices that this will no doubt be one of those 45 rpm vinyl records that you will never hear with your own ears. Even a die hard Northern soul head would be so lucky.
2. ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ / ‘Beeside’ by Tintern Abbey
The B side of this single, aptly titled ‘Beeside’, is one of my favorite songs ever – certainly my favorite psychedelic song. For this is a relic of the psychedelic era, where bizarre and warbling songs of this caliber were defecated out at rapid pace. There is something different about this one though, and not least its rarity!
Admittedly, the reason I know of this song at all is through a friend, and the reason this friend knew of it was the fact that it has garnered a bit of a reputation as being arguably the rarest and most sought after single of this original psychedelic era.
No surprises there, especially considering how elusive the band themselves have been, officially having released only this, and releasing no more records afterwards, even though they recorded a number of demos which we can hear now. But something in this single, baked in dust as though we are listening through a fogged looking glass, the way that the wah guitars lap like ocean waves at the coast of consciousness, the singer’s voice ripples outwards like cloud cover, the drums and all else glazed in bronze age gong wash, has me spell bound.
Though a bit of a step down, as 45 rpm vinyl records go this one still fetches an estimated value around $1000, being a highly sought after release from the original psychedelic era and oft heralded as a stellar example of what the form could do. Its release on the sequel to the original and highly fabled Nuggets compilation only sealed the deal that this was a band and sound that were to be respected and prized, making this one of the most valuable 45 rpm records in this style.
3. ‘Love Me Do’ / ‘P.S. I Love You’ by The Beatles
The monolithic popular culture institution of the Beatles ought to need no introduction. Just about any popular music since their boundless spree of creativity in the 60’s will have been inspired by their music, either knowingly or not, making music in reaction to them or in worship (and sometimes (somehow) even both).
It did not take long for their music and self image to become a worldwide sensation, more of a worldwide sensation than any artist yet before them had ever been. Something about them simply became a winning formula, the four British lads who were able to command attention wherever they went and play to ceaseless hordes of pubescent girls driven hormonally mad by the merchandise and propaganda.
Before all of that, the Beatles were just one amongst a whole roster of boy groups trying to hit the big time. They had a residency at the now famous Cavern Club in their home city of Liverpool, and it is thereabouts that they would have caught the attention of Capitol Records, after which they recorded their first album Please Please Me, from which the single ‘Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You’ is derived.
The album was recorded in a single session, one take for each song performed back to back more or less with one microphone trained on the entire band on a small sound stage. It is certainly a miracle that the results still sound so good, though this was already a band that was well rehearsed to a fault. The rest is of course history, and this UK promotional copy of the Beatles’ first single now fetches an estimated value between $15,000 & $20,000, limited as it was to only 250 copies in a very limited run.
4. ‘God Save the Queen’ / ‘No Feeling’ by The Sex Pistols
Though apparently unconnected, there is more that merges the Beatles song prior and the Sex Pistols song to come. Though original bassist Glen Matlock had said that the bassline was originally inspired by the Move’s ‘Fire Brigade’, guitarist Steve Jones said that when Matlock originally showed it to him it was not like it eventually turns out at all, and in fact ‘was like ‘Love Me Do’ or something’.
All tenuous connections aside, this is easily one of the rarest examples of 45 rpm vinyl records currently in circulation. Before the band moved over to Virgin Records, their previous label A&M printed a small batch of copies for an aborted single release. Today, only 10 to 15 are known to exist, with these fetching anywhere from $500 to $13,000 depending on use and wear & tear.
Certain publications have gone so far as to call this the most collectible record of all time, and for good reason. The contextual circumstances surrounding the release are of endless fascination to some, and I myself can certainly vouch for being a staunch anti royalist. This was released at a time when this was a) rather unpopular opinion and / or b) the kind of opinion that one kept to oneself.
It got to the point where lead singer John Lydon and the two who produced the record were attacked with a sharp implement outside a pub in Highbury, London. For some people, the royals run real deep, and those who believe in it become like mad dogs without a leash at the mere whiff of antagonism.
Nevertheless, many outlets refused to sell the single, the radio would not play it, and yet it reached stereo after stereo somehow, becoming NME’s number one single during the time of the Queen’s silver jubilee.
5. ‘Street Fighting Man’ / ‘No Expectations’ by The Rolling Stones
In timely fashion, we follow on with what is believed to be the Rolling Stones’ most politicised song, allegedly written about Tariq Ali after lead singer Mick Jagger attended an anti war rally of his at a US embassy in London. Jagger did also find inspiration from similar scenes of police out of their depth in Paris’ Left Bank:
‘Yeah, it was a direct inspiration, because by contrast, London was very quiet … It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions … I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; de Gaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.’
The reason this version is so highly sought after is because this U.S. picture sleeve was pulled after their label deemed it too controversial so soon after the furore of the 1968 Democratic convention, released only a week after police and anti Vietnam war protestors clashed violently there. Many radio stations refused to play the song, much to the delight of Jagger who stated ‘I’m rather pleased to hear they have banned (the song). The last time they banned one of our records in America, it sold a million.’
Nevertheless, only 10 to 20 copies of this picture sleeve version are known to exist, with an estimated value of between $7,500 and $17,500.
6. ‘My Bonnie’ / ‘The Saints’ by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers
Though it might sound a little oblique to some listeners, I guarantee you have heard of these boys before (they even feature earlier on this list). Yes, that’s right, the Beat Brothers are none other than the Beatles themselves, with the eponymous Tony Sheridan being one of their first collaborators, here on the first ever major record label release featuring those fab four Liverpudlian boys.
Tony himself was an English rock and roll singer who spent much of his life in Germany, meeting the Beatles during their now legendary residency in Hamburg, though he was originally born in Norwich, Norfolk. A singer songwriter in his own right, he is now best known as one of the earliest collaborators with the Beatles (who are here still debating which name to stick with, labelled in this instance as the Beat Brothers).
He is one of only two non Beatles to receive a label performance credit on a record with the group, the other being Billy Preston years later at the very end of their career. He is also the only non Beatle to appear as a lead singer on a Beatles recording that charted as a single.
And all of that were not enough to make this a legendary and highly sought after release, the fact of its gradually becoming harder and harder to find is going to just about seal the deal. Since it is becoming more of a rarity, you are not likely to find this release anywhere below the estimated value of $15,000.
Any record collectors who own this disc might, after checking and double checking its validity, want to seriously consider investing it into the market and purchasing something they can actually use.
7. ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ / ‘Little Queen of Spades’ by Robert Johnson
This could have been any one of a whole host of singles by Robert Johnson that in the near century since his demise has accrued mythic status. So old is this record that it is even spun at 78 rpm, one of the rarer vinyl record types to come across nowadays.
It is no surprise that record collectors are still chasing after a hit song such as this for prices between $6000 and $12,000 considering the legendary tale behind the artist.
As a young man living in rural Mississipi, Johnson had a great desire to become a famous blues musician and so, upon direction, he went to a crossroad near a local plantation at midnight with his guitar. There he was supposedly met by the devil who took the guitar and tuned it, then played a few songs upon it before returning it to Johnson and bestowing upon him guitar mastery. Thus, in exchange for his soul he was given mastery over his blues, for which he eventually became famous.
Regardless of the apocryphal nature of the tale, Johnson’s influence on the landscape of blues and subsequently on rock and roll is not up for debate. Though unsuccessful in his lifetime, several posthumous compilations of his work were widely influential on Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Robert Plant (just to name a few), who all cite his lyrics and singular musicianship as being key influence on their own work.
Bob Dylan himself said: ‘When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor. I immediately differentiated between him and anyone else I had ever heard. The songs weren’t customary blues songs. They were so utterly fluid.’
8. ‘That’s All Right’ / ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ by Elvis Presley
Record collectors will no doubt already be aware of this legendary first commercial single from the cultural behemoth Elvis Presley, though they might still be surprised to hear that this hit song was not an original composition but was originally written and performed by blues singer Arthur Crudup. What? A white artist stealing the music of a black artist and reaping all the profits? Elvis Presley wrote the rule book on that one.
Many in fact believe that Crudup’s recording on RCA records is arguably the first rock and roll song. Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns even believes that this song might contain the first ever guitar solo break.
Elvis recorded his version seven years later while playing in Sam Phillips’s Sun studio, playing the song twice as fast as the original. Though Arthur Crudup is credited as the composer on the label of Presley’s version, he reportedly never received royalties, despite legal battle that went on well into the 70’s. An out of court settlement was intended to pay Crudup around $60,000 in back royalties though it never materialised.
UK journalistic outfit The Guardian wrote a sharp article in 2004 about this issue, rebutting any claim that Presley’s version of the song was one of the first records in rock and roll, stating that it was simply one of ‘the first white artists’ interpretations of a sound already well established by black musicians almost a decade before.’
Regardless, and after Presley’s pathetic and rather humorous demise on the toilet, the original pressing on Sun Records still fetches between $7500 to $11,000 at least and shows no sign of stopping seeing as Presley is now an internationally regarded and cemented superstar.
9. ‘Lafayette Blues’ / ‘Sugar Never Tasted So Good’ by The White Stripes
Seminal proponents of the last 90’s early 00’s garage rock revival, The White Stripes, can also stake their claim on having a rare 45 rpm record, in this instance ‘Lafayette Blues’ / ‘Sugar Never Tasted So Good’.
This is the second single released by The White Stripes, after ‘Let’s Shake Hands’ which was released earlier that same year. Officially 1000 copies were released on white vinyl in the year of release, 1998. Three years later in 2001 another 1000 copies were printed on black vinyl. These copies have grown scarce as the years have gone by and now fetch considerable sums whenever they do turn up.
An even rarer pressing of this single does exist, however, and it is one that is known to warrant between $5000 and $10,000 whenever it shows its face. This run of pressings was limited to only 15 numbered copies which were sold at an early White Stripes show in 1998. What makes them even more special is the hand painted covers by the founder of Italy Records Dave Buick, the small and independent label’s then owner who signed them as the new addition to their ever burgeoning garage punk roster this side of Detroit.
That is right! Painted by the owner of the very first record label that signed them, and all on white vinyl! What a treat. Both he and Jack White were and still are self confessed music geeks, and so wasted time in getting to business. White himself is present on six of the earliest recordings from the label, either as a musician, or as a producer, or even as both. Clearly has a lot to be thanking him for.
10. ‘Science Friction’ / ‘She’s So Square’ by XTC
And finally, we round things off with legendary English cult rock band, XTC, whose existence has long been marked out by rarities and wonders. Led by the songwriting duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, the band came to popularity during the punk and new wave era in the late 70’s, though later coming to play in a variety of different styles.
Less than 50 copies of this particular release exist with the picture sleeve, owing to the fact that the band quickly decided that they would rather it was released on 12″ so that it could be put forth as an EP. Thus, the 3D EP was born and released in late 1977 by Virgin Records. Nowadays, these 7 inch rarities go for anything between $2000 and $5000, depending on the condition they have been kept in over all these years gone by.
The Dukes of Stratosphear
My favorite XTC release is a record that is not even released under this name. In 1984, they formed the spin off band The Dukes of Stratosphear that was modelled after psychedelic pop groups from the 60’s, and were even publicised on Virgin Records as a long lost band from the original psychedelic era whose recordings were being remastered.
Partridge himself imagined the band to be an amalgamation of his and everyone’s favorite bands from 1967. There were a few rules set into place to make sure that the music adhered to the fairly rigid initial philosophy: songs must follow the conventions of 1967 and 1968 psychedelic from the original summer of love; no more than two takes are allowed per song or individual part; and that vintage equipment should be used wherever possible.
In reflecting on the contemporary punk movement’s antipathy toward pop music, Partridge remembers saying to producer Steve Nye:
‘ ‘Ooh, I’m a bit funny about how this came out, Steve, because it sounds a bit Beatles-esque to me, and I don’t want people to think I’m copying the Beatles.’ He said, ‘Who gives a fuck? That’s how you’ve written it—just do it!’ … I realised that I should not be ashamed about digging them up, and getting them wrong, and using them as my template. … from that moment onward, I started to recognise that those songwriters—the Ray Davieses, the Lennons and McCartneys, the Brian Wilsons—had gone into my head really deeply.’
So, there you have it! Hopefully you are now feeling somewhat the wiser on the topic of rare 7 inches. Who knows – maybe you have even unearthed some dusty gold of your own and have now been validated. Save a piece for me at least!
FAQs Rare 45 RPM Records
Absolutely, there are in fact a whole bunch of 45 rpm records that are worth a considerable amount of money. This can be for a whole host of reasons: they might have only been part of a very select pressing, meaning there are a scarce amount of them around; their rarity might also be coupled with a cultural significance, whether just in the context of an artist and / or society as a whole. The first records from so called ‘King of Rock and Roll’ Elvis Presley (fitted with crown pillaged from the progenitors of the music) go for a heck of a sum nowadays, just as the first major label records from landmark artists like the Beatles are bound to fetch a hefty sum at auction.
There is no single record that could be deemed the rarest, for there are a number of individual concerns that are taken into account when attempting to quantify such a thing, to the point where it is simply not possible. The rarity of a record no doubt has to do with the amount of copies that exist of a particular pressing. And this is all well and good, and you might even suggest putting the stats of any record against any other record in this way. This kind of rarity is relative, however, for it would be a farce to place a record by a relatively unknown artist who would have released fewer records alongside a release by a major artist who likely would have released more, saying that the former is rarer.