The 10 Most Valuable Albums of All Time

Collecting recorded sounds is an esoteric hobby. In whichever direction you categorize these sounds (music, spoken work, novelty, comedy; vinyl, tape, cassette; first pressings, bootlegs, limited edition reissues - the list goes on) there is a gang of devoted enthusiasts ready and willing to correct you.

These are the sounds of a shared history, made into myth over time. The impact of the group, artist, or sound, and the rarity of the artifact creates insane demand. The price of owning a piece of history and taking part in that modern myth can be so inflated it defies logic.

The following is a list compiled by information taken from public auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's, online auctions such as ebay, and data collectors devoted to pop culture such as Popsikes and the Jerry Osborne Record Price Guides.

These are the most expensive recordings in the world (and they aren't ALL by The Beatles):

10. $50,000: The Beatles - Love Me DoEMI one-sided acetate

In 2012, Record Collector magazine issue 404, estimated that the EMI one-sided acetate version of The Beatles "Love Me Do" was worth between $50,000 and $100,000. This version is said to be the only unedited version of the song, with a 4-3-2-1 count-in distinguishing it from other versions.

While it is difficult to confirm the statements of magazine, an ebay auction in 2011 resulted in a well-used copy of the 1962 "Love Me Do" demo, going for $18,570.86, US dollars. The 1962 "Love Me Do" demo was one of 250 sent off to DJs and promoters. The B-side featured the "P.S I Love You" demo, and McCartney was spelled McArtney; a fact which Brian Epstein was apparently furious about.

While the whereabouts of the one-sided acetate version of "Love Me Do" are difficult to determine, it isn’t hard to imagine the high price which people would pay to own it, given the unprecedented price of the demo.

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5 $58,000: The Silver Beatles - The Decca audition tape 

On New Year’s Eve 1961, the Beatles drove from Liverpool to London. On January 2nd ex-Shadows drummer and Decca Records producer Tony Meehan auditioned and recorded the group. The material failed to impress Decca, so manager Brian Epstein held on the 10-track demo tape. Of course, The Beatles went on to sign with EMI subsidiary Parlophone, and Decca’s decision is considered one of the worst in music history.

Eventually Epstein gave the tape to an executive at Capitol when the Beatles signed with EMI. The exec. sold the tape to one of the top buyers for the Hardrock Cafe, who kept it in his personal collection until 2012 when The Fame Bureau auctioned the tape to a Japanese collector for 35,000 British pounds.

There is some controversy surrounding the authenticity of the Decca tape auctioned in 2012. The tape auctioned by The Fame Bureau is said to contain 10 tracks while 15 were recorded. Additionally the tape box is marked with “BSR 1111 A” and “BSR 1111 B”; this is thought to refer to Backstage Records, a company that released a bootleg copy of the Decca tape in 1982. The question regarding the name The Silver Beatles, also remains. The Beatles are said to have dropped the “Silver” in 1960, a full year before recording at Decca. It is curious why the tape would read the "Silver Beatles" when the band was no longer known by the name.

8. $85,000: The Beatles - Yesterday and TodayCapitol Records/ US edition/ in "Butcher Cover"/1966/ stereo

The compilation album Yesterday and Today, released only in Canada, the USA, and eventually in Japan, featured The Beatles dressed in white coats surrounded by doll parts and red meat. Known as the “Butcher Cover,” the photo was taken by Robert Whitaker as part of a conceptual art series called A Somnambulant Adventure. The picture wasn’t intended to be used as the album cover. In a 2002 interview with former Capitol president Alan W. Livingston, he claimed that it was Paul McCartney who pushed to have the photo used on the album, supposedly saying that it was “our comment on the [Vietnam] war.”

About 750,000 albums were printed with the infamous butcher sleeve, with mono copies dominating about ten to one for every stereo copy. Thus the stereo copies are more rare and a mint condition version of this record in stereo comes with a hefty price tag. While a fairly large number were printed, when the advance copies were shipped to dealers and DJs for promotion, adverse reaction to the cover image was immediate. Capitol’s parent company EMI recalled the record, thus increasing its rarity and collectibility.

According to record collector and founder of the collector magazines “Record Digest” “Music World” and “DISCoveries,” Jerry Osborne, the average range for a stereo version of the butcher sleeve is between $10,000 and $15,000. However according to sales results in the Jerry Osbourne, Mr.Music, database, the highest price paid for a factory sealed first state butcher cover is $85,000 for stereo and $47,500 for mono.

4 $95,091: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Live at Woburn Music Festival

On Thursday July 4th 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience flew from New York to London to headline the Woburn Music Festival on Saturday July 6th. Noel Redding, bassist for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, wrote of the day:

Got up at 1 o'clock. Went to Jimi's hotel. Came home. Washed my hair. Collected Pat from Grannies [the King's Road clothes shop ‘Granny Takes A Trip’]. Collected Jimi. Wrote another song. Had a pint on the way down. Loads of photos in the Abbey. Did the gig, went down a bomb. Gerry drove home. Went to Blaises [club]. Saw Mick Avery and Terry Doran. Went to bed about 3:30. 

Forty years later, the ¼ inch reel-to-reel master tape of the “gig” the Experience performed on July 6th 1968, would be worth over $90,000.

The tape includes five tracks by progressive English rock band Family; seven tracks by American R&B singer Geno Washington; seven tracks by The Jimi Hendrix Experience; four tracks by Irish blues rock band Taste; and two tracks by Tim Rose.

The recordings feature banter between Jimi and the band and the MC, as well as the band tuning up. In 2009, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Woburn tracks were released as Live at Woburn, on Dagger Records.

3 $80,586: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards - Earliest known recording

In May of 1995, the earliest known recordings of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was sold by Christie’s in London. The 34 minute mono recording was made by one of Mick Jagger’s classmates at Dartford Grammar School in 1961. The identity of the original owner of the tape was not disclosed, he however provided a wealth of information to music journalist Peter Doggett, telling Doggett that Jagger was always “keen to be seen as a character,” and “Mick took no interest in the way that the music was taught at school.”

While the identities of the other members on the tape is unclear, it has been speculated that the second guitarist was Dick Taylor or the Pretty Things, as well as Dartford Grammar students Allen Etherington and Bob Beckwith.

The ¼ inch reel-to-reel consists of 12 songs, the majority of which are Chuck Berry songs: Around and Around; Little Queenie; Beautiful Delilah; La Bamba; On Your Way to School; You’re Right, I’m Left, She’s Gone; Down the Road Apiece; Don’t Want No Woman; I Ain’t Got You; Johnny B. Goode; Little Queenie (take 2); Beautiful Delilah (take 2).

2 $131,000: The Quarrymen - live performance July 6th 1957 

John Lennon formed The Quarrymen in 1956, taking the name from the Quarry Bank School song titled “The Song of The Quarry.” The first few lines of the song read:

Quarry men old before our birthStraining each muscle and sinewToiling together Mother EarthConquered the Rock that was in you

The Quarrymen played parties and school dances. On July 6th 1957, they played behind the Woolton Parish Church on a moving lorry, and later that evening, in the Woolton Church hall. Between the performances, band member Ivan Vaughan introduced John Lennon to 15 year old Paul McCartney; a historic meeting.

During one of these performances, retired police officer Bob Molyneux, made a recording on his Grundig portable tape recorder. The tape contained a poor quality version of "Puttin’ On the Style," and "Baby, Let’s Play House." While poor in quality, the recording is rich in historical significance and thus, if not invaluable, pretty expensive.

September 15th 1994, EMI Records purchased the Bob Molyneux reel-to-reel of the live performance of The Quarrymen from Sotheby’s for 78,500 British pounds. At the time, the tape was the most expensive ever sold at auction. EMI had purchased the tape to use in Anthology, but decided that the quality was not sufficient.

4. $290,500: The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Autographed

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by The Beatles. It was released in June of 1967 to immediate critical and commercial success. Considered seminal to progressive rock, art rock, and psychedelic music, Sgt. Pepper has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The album came after a whirlwind of success and touring. The band was burnt-out.  In Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, John Lennon was reported to say, “We’re fed up making soft music for soft people, and we’re fed up with playing for them too.” While the more diplomatic McCartney had a different take on their new direction: “Now we can record anything we want… and what we want is to raise the bar a notch, to make our best album ever.”

After a two month holiday, the band reunited and McCartney pitched his idea for the next album. A concept album by Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which each of The Beatles assumes an alter-ego. While the band went for it and the album was a success, both Ringo Starr and John Lennon have said that the “concept” part of the album was loose, with only the first two songs being conceptually connected. It is considered by some, however, to be the first concept album.

On Saturday March 30th 2013, an anonymous buyer at a Heritage auction in Dallas, TX purchased a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band signed by all four members of The Beatles for $290,500. It is believed that the UK Parlophone copy of the record, with high gloss cover and gatefold, was signed around the time of the original release of the record in 1967.

Originally priced at $15,000, with an possible sale price of $35,000, the record far exceeded expectations. Gary Shrum, of Heritage Auctions, has said that the bidding took on a life of its own. 

3. $330,000: The Quarrymen - That’ll Be the Day/In Spite of All the DangerUK 78rpm/acetate in plain sleeve/1958 

Paul McCartney owns the only existing original copy of this record. All other versions are either official replicas or bootlegs.

The record was made in 1958 by The Quarrymen: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Duff Lowe, and Colin Hanton. The song titles have been hand-written by Paul McCartney on the centre label. The ‘A’ side is Buddy Holly’s "That’ll Be the Day" and the ‘B’ side is the only song credited to McCartney/Harrison, "In Spite of All the Danger." The Quarrymen were record by Percy Phillips, at his house in Kensington. Phillips had a small but efficient facility. Artists would record onto tape, Phillips would transfer the recordings to shellac disc then use the same tape to record the next session. For about $2 The Quarrymen left the Phillips studio with an extremely breakable ten inch 78rpm record. Quarrymen pianist John Duff Lowe held on to, and forgot about, the acetate until the early 1980s when he sold it to Paul McCartney for an undisclosed sum.

Record Collector magazine has valued the original recording at $330,000 (200,000 British pounds).

2. $850,000: John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double FantasyAutographed

At 5PM on December 8th, 1980, Mark Chapman stood outside the Dakota Building in Manhattan, waiting for John Lennon. Chapman held out the album Double Fantasy and asked Lennon to sign. Lennon signed the cover ‘John Lennon, December 1980, and asked Chapman, “Is that all you want?” Photographer Paul Goresh took a photo of John Lennon signing the album. Lennon got into his limousine and Chapman continued to wait outside of The Dakota. At about 10:40PM, the Lennon’s returned in their limo. They walked past Chapman and towards the building entrance. From behind them, Chapman fired five shots. Chapman remained at the scene reading JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, in which he had written “This is my statement.”

Maintenance worker Phillip Michael found the album in the front gate planter outside the Dakota Building. Michael gave the album to police. It was used in the trial against Mark Chapman and later returned to Michael. The album had since become famous as the photograph taken by Goresh had appeared on TV and in newspapers around the world. Michael sold the album in 1999 for $150,000 with help from Moments in Time, memorabilia auction house. The record comes with police reports, fingerprint documentation, and letters from the district attorney.

It currently has an asking price of about $850,000. Moments in Time autograph dealer Gary Zimet has said that the record is appropriately valued, “Given the fact that it’s unarguably the most important rock and roll artifact ever.”

1 $5,000,000: The Wu Tang Clan- Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

The Wu Tang Clan is a Hip-Hop group from New York City. They formed in the early 1990s with RZA as producer. The name was chosen in reference to the 1983 Gordon Liu film Shaolin & Wu Tang. They’re infamous for their members, their exploits, their style, and most notably their music.

The Wu Tang Clan has released five studio albums to date. The group is set to release a 20th anniversary album this summer: A Better Tomorrow (set for standard release). Also ready to release this year, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the group’s singularly printed album housed in an engraved silver box crafted by famed artist Yahya. Once Upon A Time In Shaolin consists of 31 new tracks recorded in secret with the entire Wu Tang crew, with guest appearances by Bonnie Jo Mason, Redman, FC Barcelona soccer players, among others. The album was produced by Cilvaringz under the direction of RZA in the original 90s style of the group.

RZA told Forbes, “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” The album will be taken on a high security tour through museums, galleries, and festivals. For a price, and a security check, anyone will be allowed to don the provided headphones and listen to the 128-minute album. After the tour, the album will be available for purchase. RZA told Billboard that offers have already started coming in, saying, “Somebody offered $5 million,” though insisting that this isn’t a stunt for publicity or for money, “The main theme is music being accepted and respected as art and being treated as such.”

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