WAY BACK IN THE 1990s, a series of price guides for record collectors was published by Goldmine magazine. These books completely changed the way that collectable records were bought, sold, and collected around the world. Those changes remain in effect today, a quarter of a century later.
Those books affected every price guide that followed, regardless of the author or even the country in which the book was published.
Those books affected how collectable vinyl is bought and sold on the internet, the great leveler of regional variations in supply and demand.
I wrote those books.
But my first book was not for Goldmine—my first book was the 1985-1986 Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide. Published by O’Sullivan Woodside in 1985, it was the sixth edition in a series of guides that the company had launched in the 1970s.
The first five editions were more generic in terms of genres included and were published as part of the Record Album Price Guide series. Those books had been compiled by different authors.
Those earlier OW guides had developed a reputation among the cognoscenti for their extraordinarily inaccurate prices or values. And this applied both to common, used records as well as rare and valuable records.
The cover for the 1985-1986 Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide is my favorite of my fourteen books. It is a staged garage sale set up at John and Amicia O’Sullivan’s house in Phoenix, Arizona. I provided the records; the O’Sullivans provided everything and everyone else.
The series of articles about the books I have published have a loose chronology and narrative that makes the most sense if read in this order:
1. Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide (1985)
2. Elvis Presley Record Price Guide (1985)
8. Blues And Rhythm & Blues 45s Of The ’50s (2000)
The cover for the 1985-1986 Elvis Presley Record Price Guide is my second favorite of my fourteen books. It was set up by a photographer in Phoenix and the field is actually quite large, being approximately ten feet high and ten feet deep.
Bible for record collectors
Nonetheless, from the beginning, the OW books were the unofficial bibles for record collectors, if only by default, as there was almost no competition. Aside from the O’Sullivan Woodside books, there was also an annual guide from House of Collectibles. This book was so bad that it made the lackluster OW books shine in comparison!
While the title of my book was Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide, outside of the walls of the publisher it picked up other names. It was often referred to as the “Umphred price guide,” or just the “Umphred book,” for two different reasons:
• It was the only book by me at the time.
• It was very different from the other price guides.
And everybody who knew anything about wheeling and dealing collectable records knew it!
Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide upset the system: the values that I assigned to thousands of records were drastically at odds with what had been the norm in the previous editions. Because of this, my book acquired other nicknames: one of the more colorful was “that f*cking Umphred book.”
THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS was a fabulous concept: the Turtles recorded a dozen tracks in a dozen different styles under a dozen fictional group names! Hence, twelve different bands battling it out on one record! Despite the presence of the delightfully goofy Top 10 hit Elenore, the album sold little and could be found in cut-out bins for years.
My first BIG problem
In 1985, I was hired by John O’Sullivan and Don Woodside to take over their line of record collectors price guides. During my interview for the position, I made it known that I thought their books all but useless. That, in fact, they did a grave disservice to the buying and selling of records with staggeringly inaccurate values and countless pointless discographies.
I made it clear that if hired I would make sweeping changes that would disrupt the flow of information—or, as I argued, the flow of misinformation—of the earlier editions of the OW books. The one concession I would make was to keep their existing format; that way the books would at least look familiar to longtime readers.
Amazingly, I got the gig!
My first project was OW’s best selling books, a new edition of their Record Album Price Guide. Due to previous editorial decisions, many important and highly collectable artists had been pulled from recent editions. This included major figures such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Neil Diamond.
In their place, hundreds of ’70s artists were substituted! With very few exceptions, the records of most contemporary artists had no collectable value. The book suffered mightily from these decisions and it was my job to rectify the mistakes.
So my first BIG problem was that I had to replace thousands of listings of junk records with thousands of listings of money records!
After Tower and Sidewalk went under in 1969, their entire LP catalog was dumped on the market for pennies on the dollar! I bought stacks of rock & roll soundtrack albums like RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, PSYCH-OUT, and THE WILD ANGELS for 50¢ apiece and traded them to my friends for albums that I couldn’t find in the cut-out bins.
My solution to the first problem
My goal with the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide was to focus on rock & roll and rhythm & blues of the ’50s and ’60s. I took three steps to improve the discographical content:
1. I deleted thousands of listings of LPs with little or no collectable value, primarily the ’70s listings mentioned above.
2. I returned thousands of listings of LPs that had been dropped from recent editions of the book.
3. I added thousands of listings of LPs that had never appeared in a price guide before—notably ‘private pressing’ albums in such genres as frat, garage, psych, prog, and early Christian rock.
With these changes, I had a radically different book, at least discographically. But I still had do address the really BIG problem.
But before I do, I want to give some background on a topic that was important at the time of publication of the original editions of the Record Album Price Guides in the 1970s and ’80s.
Few people remember that for a brief period (1966-1967), The Mamas & The Papas ranked with the Beatles, the Monkees, and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass for sales of LPs in the US. Their fourth studio album PAPAS & MAMAS sold well but nothing like its predecessors. Consequently, this title was a staple of cut-out bins for years after it was deleted from the Dunhill catalog.
The era of the cut-out album
After the American record industry stopped manufacturing albums in both mono and stereo in 1968, they dumped millions of unwanted LPs into department stores such as McCrory’s and Woolworths across the country. These chains, in turn, sold these albums for as little as 49¢, although $1.99 was a more common price.
Needless to say, these prices met with great success with customers! It was a winning situation for the record companies, for the stores, and for the record buyers. And it was the birth of the cut-out bin, as this type of marketing was rare prior to the explosion of album sales in the late ’60s.
Along with the old mono LPs, the record companies also unloaded large stockpiles of stereo albums that had no commercial viability. These included countless no-longer hip psychedelic and flower-power albums.
Consequently, thousands of ’60s titles were available into the ’70s as bargain-priced cut-outs. These titles were all brand new and factory-sealed. You could not be a record collector and be unaware of their presence on the market.
Yet these records were listed in edition after edition of the OW books with values between $10 and $20 as used records! How could used records on the collectors market be worth more than their brand new counterparts on the retail market?
Something was definitely not right with the price guides, and everybody knew it.
Given how well BETWEEN THE BUTTONS sold in 1967, it’s hard to believe that there were endless leftovers to fill the cut-out bins of American department stores. But there were, primarily the deleted mono version, which could be found for $1.99 or less for years after. Oddly, the follow-up album FLOWERS was nigh on impossible to find as a cut-out.
My second BIG problem
By the time that I established myself as a regular seller at record collectors swaps/conventions/shows in California in 1980, there was already a saying about the OW Record Albums Price Guides that every seller and buyer with a few ounces of experience knew: “You take the book value, cut it in half, and work down from there.”
This rule referred to the absurdly inflated values assigned to common, everyday records—which made up the bulk of the listings.
There was a reason for high values being assigned to relatively valueless records: no one buys a price guide to read that their collection is worth less than they paid for it!
People buy price guides to read how smart they are—that their records or comic books or baseball cards or Beanie Babies were smart buys that have multiplied in value over and over, like shares of Microsoft stock.
People bought the O’Sullivan-Woodside books and looked up artists like Paul Revere & The Raiders, the Turtles, Peter & Gordon, the Lovin’ Spoonful, etc., and found their records uniformly listed at $10 to $15 each.
This made the book’s readers feel good about themselves and their collections, despite the fact that many of these LPs were available all over the country as cut-outs for a fraction of what the OW book claimed!
At the same time that the OW Record Album Price Guide overvalued common records, it undervalued thousands of genuinely valuable records!
Consequently, sellers with little real experience with the collectable record market (versus the used record market) who relied on the OW books were regularly selling rare records for far less than their real worth. At the same time, they were left wondering why they were unable to sell their Herman’s Hermits albums for anything resembling book value!
Before the worldwide success of TOMMY in 1969-1970, The Who sold few LPs in the States. Their second album, the brilliant HAPPY JACK, was issued in 1967 and deleted by 1969. It was a staple in budget bins in department stores in both its mono and stereo versions for years.
My solution to the second problem
So, in 1985 I had a book with more than 20,000 listings, almost every one of them incorrect to some degree. I could change every value, but I wanted to maintain some sense of continuity—aside from the book’s look—from the previous five editions to this sixth edition. (My edition.)
If I adjusted the values of all the records in the book to reflect the reality of the then-current market, I would have to lower a lot of records that had been consistently priced at $10-20 to a one-tenth of those values ($1-2).
On the other hand, I would have to raise a lot of records in that same $10-20 range as much as ten times ($100-200).
Any serious change was bound to cause some kind of sticker-shock to the readers who depended on the book and considered the older values to be realistic. So, I settled on a compromise to ease that sticker-shock:
1. I raised the values of approximately one-quarter of the underpriced records by 100%. That is, I doubled their prices.
2. I lowered the values of approximately one-quarter of the overpriced records by 50%. That is, I cut their prices in half.
3. I left the values of approximately one-half of the records essentially intact.
So, my book maintained the value of half of the listings from the previous editions, but rather drastically adjusted the values of the other half.
And what was the general response to these three moves?
• Nobody noticed I had “lowered the prices.”
• Everybody noticed I had “raised the prices.”