Record Cover Art – It’s Only Partly About the Music!

Whoever thought that records could become valuable? I was recently staggered by the price tags on a couple of records from the 1970s that I saw in a collectors’ record emporium (SEK 16,000 is equivalent to £1,380 or $1,600; SEK 24,000 is almost £2,000 or $2,500!)

Valuable Records
Fantasy’s 1973 Polydor album “Paint a Picture” and The Dog that Bit People’s 1971 Parlophone album of the same name.

I knew, of course, that records by The Beatles could command exorbitant prices–I actually once owned some of the rarest Beatles items including both the stereo and mono versions of “Please Please Me” with the black and gold Parlophone labels, and an autographed copy of “Love Me Do“, signed on the day after its release in October 1962.
LoveMeDo_signed45.jpg

But that albums by bands that I had never heard of could be that expensive was a surprise. Obviously, these albums are in demand for the music they contain. But in recent years prices for records whose cover art is by a famous artist have also rocketed.

Wikipedia has published a list of the “most valuable records of all time” sourcing Record Collector magazine, Popsike, Ebay and others (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_valuable_records). Number one is, to my surprise a copy of The Wu Tang Clan‘s LP “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin“. Only one copy was pressed and it apparently sold to a hedge fund manager for $2 million! The recent sale of Ringo Starr‘s copy of The Beatles‘ “White Album” for a mere $790,000 pales in comparison!

In August 2016 a copy of an obscure EP by a band called Skyline was sold on Ebay for $1,500. The EP was released in France in 1978 and it was only in 2015 that Warhol collectors Guy Minnebach and Raimund Flöck recognised the cover image as a still from one of Warhol’s 1964 screen tests featuring Susanna de Maria, and added it to their lists of Warhol record covers. Apparently, this EP is a cult disco rarity and was expensive even before the Warhol association was recognised.

Skyline-new-fr
Skyline’s 1978 EP “I’m Gonna Fall in Love” with cover picture of Susanne de Maria from a Warhol screen test.

Prices of the records with cover art by Andy Warhol from the 1950s have generally increased considerably in value. I believe that the publication of Paul Maréchal‘s book “Andy Warhol: The Complete Commissioned Record Covers 1949-1987” has played a part in making the early, rarer covers more valuable. It has stimulated interest in this aspect of Andy Warhol‘s work and more collectors searching after a limited number of records means inevitably that prices will rise. However, less scrupulous sellers try to sell records with Warhol art from the 70s and 80s for inflated prices despite the fact that they are generally easy to find quite cheaply if one is prepared to search a bit.

I started collecting record cover art by Banksy in 2008. Covers were then easy to find and not overly expensive. The most expensive covers I bought included a copy of the first pressing of Dirty Funker‘s “Let’s Get Dirty” which cost £100 and two copies of the “Peace Not War” CD that was given away with the February 2008 issue of the magazine The Big Issue for about £40 each. The value of these has more than doubled. CDs with Banksy cover art can still be found at very reasonable prices, it’s the vinyl versions that seem to be most sought after and all have become expensive.

It is still possible to collect a complete collection of records with cover art by Sir Peter Blake for a modest sum. One might have to settle for a modern reissue of the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP to keep costs down, but otherwise it should be possible to collect most of his 24 covers for around £600. The expensive ones being Oasis‘s “Stop the Clocks” triple vinyl set and Paul Weller‘s “Dragonfly” EP. A couple of Peter Blake covers are getting hard to find; “Brand New Boots and Panties: Tribute to Ian Dury“and Paul Weller‘s “Stanley Road” both on LP. Even Brian Wilson‘s “Gettin’ in over My Head” is becoming rare on vinyl. However, if you want to add some of the special, limited editions of Eric Clapton‘s or Paul Weller‘s releases you’ll have to shell out a bit more.

Some art galleries have cottoned on to the fact that artists who are in demand have designed record covers and advertise these as limited edition art works–often calling them “lithographs”. Damien Hirst is one artist’s covers I have seen advertised by galleries. His “Use Money, Cheat Death” 12″ single with his famous Kate Moss portrait was released in a numbered edition of 666 copies. Galleries have been advertising copies for £500+, but I’m not sure anyone buys them.

R-1875335-1249421346.jpeg
Damien Hirst’s “Use Money, Cheat Death” 12″ single, with his portrait of Kate Moss.

Another gallery has advertised two (the yellow and pink covers below) of the five singles Damien Hirst and Jason Beard designed for the group The Hours as limited edition lithographs at an asking price of £133 for the pair.

The yellow version of “Ali in the Jungle” is now difficult to find but the remaining four covers in the series can still be found at reasonable prices.

Probably the most reasonably priced covers in my collection are those by Klaus Voormann. Even his early covers in the “Pioneers of Jazz” series from 1960 are still affordable.

PioneersOfJazz_Complete_1
All twenty of Coral Records series “Pioneers of Jazz” released in 1960 with cover illustrations by a young Klaus Voormann.

His very first official cover–for The Typhoons (“Walk, Don’t Run“, a cover of The Ventures hit)–is impossible to find as is a mythical album of jazz tunes that I have only heard about but never seen.

WalkDontRun
Cover of The Typhoons’ single “Walk Don’t Run”.

It seems there’s no limit to what a record cover with art by a famous artist can cost. So desirable covers seem to be not only beautiful, but are even a good investment.

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4 thoughts on “Record Cover Art – It’s Only Partly About the Music!”

  1. Great post. Did you actually own the signed beatles 45 in the picture? I’ve been offered that same one and was considering purchasing it. Do you know the history behind it?

    1. Hi RH–Yes that was my own copy. I once had a wonderful Beatles collection, now spread to the winds. The story behind the Love Me Do single goes like this. I had been in touch with Tracks a Beatles collectors store even before the Internet made online shopping easy. I bought the Love Me Doftom them in 1994. My parents had given me some shares way back in the 60s andI was’t interested in them so I cashed them in and bought the Love Me Do as a pension insurance. The single was apparently signed at Dawson’s Record shop in Widnes when The Beatles did a signing there the day after it was released. It proved to be a really good investment as Tracks bought it back in 2011 for four to five times what I paid. I can just imagine what they would charge for it now… But, I still think it is a solid investment.

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