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.
About that someone once famous once said, “La-di-da.”
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.
Record Album Price Guides
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.
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.
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!
Something was definitely not right with all the other price guides out there,
and everybody knew it.
While the full title of my book was The 1985-1986 Edition of the 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:
1. It was the only book by me at the time.
2. It was very different from the other record collectors price guides out there—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!
All the other price guides out there were causing more harm than good to,
and everybody knew it.
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!
Herman’s Hermits had a string of Top 40 hits in the mid-’60s, with four of their LPs certified for RIAA Gold Record Awards. But by 1985, almost no one wanted any of their records at any price. The bulk of their MGM catalog was available as cut-outs, and collectors rarely paid more than $2 per title for sealed albums. Nonetheless, they were listed in the price guides as used records for $8-12 apiece.
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 McCrorys 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.
In the other price guides, common records were overpriced while rare records were undervalued,
and everybody knew it.
Along with the old monos, 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.
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 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.
The “Umphred book” was different from all the other price guides out there,
and everybody knew it.
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!
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 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 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?
3. No one ever remarked upon this aspect of the book!
2. A few readers noticed this, of which I was thankful!!
1. Everybody noticed I had raised the f*cking prices!!!
My second book was a new Elvis price guide, and the interested reader can find an article devoted to that book by clicking on the cover of the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide on the homepage of this website.
My BIGGEST regret
Due to my raising the values of the rare records, the 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide was known as “that f*cking Umphred book,” and I was known as “the guy who raised the f*cking prices.”
As the Internet has shown, those records that I had deemed common were even more common than my book implied.
Conversely, those records I deemed rare are far rarer than my book implied.
So, my one BIG regret with that first book was that I didn’t raise those f*cking prices enough . . .
About my other books
There are eight articles on this site explaining the various books I published for record collectors. They are best read in the following order, which is roughly chronological:
1. O’Sullivan Woodside’s Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide
2. O’Sullivan Woodside’s Elvis Presley Record Price Guide
3. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Record Albums (1st edition)
4. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Record Albums (5th edition)
5. Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide
6. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Jazz Albums
7. A Touch Of Gold – Elvis Record & Memorabilia Price Guide
8. Blues and R&B 45s of the ’50s Price Guide
C’mon and get it over with!
NEAL UMPHRED DOT COM
and be the first on your block to read my rambling ratiocinations.