A lot of people seem skeptical when I tell them that the records they’re trying to sell me aren’t worth much. It’s not that I’m trying to lowball them or pull one over on them. In fact, I’m certain that, on average, I’m willing to pay more for them than any other record store in town. They just usually aren’t worth that much. Like art, a record is generally worth what someone is willing to pay for it; however, what factors into that determination of worth is, like any other commodity, the law of supply and demand.
Let’s say you have a great copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. It’s really clean. The cover only has a little sign of wear on it and the record itself doesn’t have any scratches that you can see. Not bad for a 40-year-old record, right? You come in and tell me you have an almost mint condition copy of “Thriller” for sale. Wrong. Unless that thing is wrapped in the original plastic seal or has never been played and it doesn’t have a circular ring worn into the cardboard from the vinyl within, it is not mint condition. This one isn’t even close. I notice some scuffs and surface scratches that you didn’t notice because you can’t see them unless you angle the record a certain way. I determine the record itself is in very good condition and the cardboard jacket is also very good. Now, I’m not just throwing out complimentary adverbs and adjectives. “Very Good” is an actual descriptor used by people who grade records. I’m not going to go into the grading process, but suffice it to say, it’s a very matter of fact procedure.
A quick search online only showed one available copy of the original pressing of this record, and it was going for a little over one thousand dollars. I investigated the band. Hailing from Houston’s Fourth Ward, the drummer and most influential and recognizable member, Bubbha Thomas, formed the jazz group in 1970. “Energy Control Center” is considered their masterpiece. I highly recommend checking it out. Very funky. You can listen to it online with relative ease (i.e., Spotify, YouTube, etc.). Copies of this record, though, are extremely rare, and it makes sense that I was able to find a copy given San Antonio’s proximity to Houston.
Like the Emerson brothers’ “Dreamin’ Wild”, "Energy Control Center" was rediscovered and given a repress by a company called Now Again Records and was brought back into the fold. I’ve done some business with the owner of Now Again, Eothen Alapatt --or as I know him, Egon. Egon is the former manager of the highly regarded record label, Stones Throw Records, and is considered (by me, at least) to be one of the world’s foremost experts on rare grooves. So, I emailed him to confirm that $1000 is a reasonable price for this record. At first, he didn’t believe it wasn’t a repress. It wasn’t until I sent him some pictures that he realized it was a genuine original press. “I haven’t seen or sold any in years,” was the gist of his response. We agreed that although it might be worth $1000, I’d have better luck selling it at $800, which is well over what he last sold it for.
I could say a lot more about this album, but my word count for this article is probably already too high as it is because I wanted the reader to get a clear picture of the variability of value concerning records. That said, I doubt this record will sell anytime soon. The price is nothing to scoff at. Most high dollar records sit around for awhile until they find a home with a serious collector. Some people might think that $1000 or even $800 is a ridiculous amount of money for a record. But people spend much more than that for aesthetic treasures all the time. And just imagine if Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was an obscure oddity that no one really knew about. Let’s say only 100 copies were ever put on vinyl and you found one. Would you be willing to pay $1000 for it if you had it to spend? I would.
What I’m listening to:
Tamar Aphek – All Bets Are Off
Wet Leg – Angelica (EP)
New Age Doom & Lee Scratch Perry – Lee Scratch Perry’s Guide to the Universe
Forthcoming vinyl releases of note:
Father John Misty – Chloe & the Next 20th Century 4-8-22
Tool – Fear Inoculum (Box Set) 4-8-22
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love 4-1-22
The Lightmen Plus One’s, “Energy Control Center”
So, you have a Very Good (VG) copy of “Thriller”. You think, “Well, it’s a popular album. People want it. I mean, it’s Michael Jackson --The King of Pop!” You should be able to get at least 30 or 40 bucks for it, right? I tell you I’ll give you two bucks. You get angry. I tell you I’ll give you four bucks and that I’m being generous. You’re still angry. You take it to another record store. They offer you 50 cents. What’s going on here?
What you might not have considered (I don’t want to be presumptuous) is that Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the best-selling album of all time. Millions of copies of this record are floating around out there. Tens of millions in fact. Supply and demand. The supply far outweighs the demand. In fact, I’d guess that I probably have a copy sitting in a record bin at my shop at this moment. There are some copies of this album that are worth big money, but that’s another story.
Now, to be fair, you can list your album on any number of websites designed for people to buy and sell records and try and sell it for the $15 to $20 dollars that I will sell it for; however, unlike me, you will probably be waiting approximately 6 months to a year for someone to buy it.
So, then, which records are worth big money? You might have already guessed by now that high dollar records are very scarce and in high demand. Take Donnie and Joe Emerson’s album “Dreamin’ Wild”. Donnie and Joe were two brothers who lived on a farm in Washington in the 60’s and 70’s. For reasons of his own, their father built them a $100k recording studio on the farm and let them go wild. They recorded a bunch of material that was mostly undiscovered until 2008 when an esteemed record collector found a copy of “Dreamin’ Wild” and popularized it among collectors. In 2012, the lo-fi artist, Ariel Pink, covered the song “Baby” (both the original and remake are KILLER songs, by the way) from that album. The same year, a record label called Light in the Attic Records decided to repress the album. Due to the newfound popularity and scarcity, an original pressing of “Dreamin’ Wild” currently goes for around $350-$500. Before the rediscovery, you probably could’ve gotten a copy for a dollar if you were able to find one. Supply and demand.
I recently acquired a great collection of about 600 records. They were all popular records that on average sell for around $15-30 apiece. My employee and good friend, Paul “Chacho” Perez, went through the collection and started pricing them. He called me up and said, “Hey man, I think we have a ‘holy grail’ record here in this collection.” He sent me a picture of the cover. It was one I’ve never seen or heard of. The Lightmen Plus One’s, “Energy Control Center”. It was time to do some research.
Tommy Newman is the owner and operator of Southtown Vinyl.
Like art, a record is generally worth what someone is willing to pay for it.