What is it that makes a record collectible? What compels us to seek out these objects, obsess about them, pay exorbitant prices for them, hoard them, display them, hide them, worship them, flaunt them and eventually resell them? I believe that there are a couple of things that make a record collectible. Rarity. Controversy. Beauty. Exclusivity. Novelty. But if you have to ask me what the one thing is that I believe inspires the desire to collect, then it must surely be this: provenance. Nothing beats owning that rare record with a great story. Here are four collectibles with great stories.
1. The Beatles. Yesterday and Today with butchers sleeve.
LP. Capitol Records ST2553 
Essentially an LP of songs previously only released on the UK versions of the Help! and Rubber Soul albums of 1965 and some tracks from their upcoming Revolver album of 1966, this American release initially featured sleeve art by photographer Robert Whitaker. The macabre photograph featured the Fab Four dressed in butcher's overcoats, draped with cuts of meat and dismembered plastic dolls. Capitol Records in the United States printed 750 000 copies of Yesterday and Today. Due to immediate public reaction, the record was recalled almost as soon as advance copies reached disc jockeys and store managers. In some areas, the record did indeed go on sale... for a whole day. Printing plant managers were requested by Capitol to destroy the record sleeves, and several were landfilled. However, to recoup costs, tens of thousands of recalled sleeves were cropped and had a compliant new cover pasted over the old one. First state records, without the new cover pasted onto them, are obviously the most valuable. Second state records, with an intact pasteover on the butcher image are also increasingly rare and valuable. Least valuable are third state records, where previous owners, curious to see the original condemned cover, have defaced their records by steaming or pealing off the pasteover. Twenty pristine, sealed, first state records were recently sold from the personal collection of Alan Livingston, ex-president of Capitol Records. These constitute some of the most valuable records on the planet, the purest crystallization of Beatlemania. Affluent collectors easily fork out $ 40 000 in order to get their hands on a Livingston Butcher.
2. Madonna. Sex.
Book. Warner Books 0-446-51732-1 
Obviously not a record, but rather a visual acompaniment to Madonna's album Erotica. This is one of the most sought-after items spawned by the music industry. Lavishly designed by Baron & Baron, it featured the work of many photographers, most notably Steven Meisel. Inside its mylar wrapper and metal covers nestled an opulent collection of collages, full colour photographs, monochrome prints and stylized snippets of text (ostensibly written by Madonna's persona Mistress Dita) and depicting the erotic adventures of Madonna and such friends as Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini and Vanilla Ice. Although the volume seems quite tame today, it was hugely controversial upon release, with several stores refusing to carry it. The hype worked, though: the first print run of 1.5 million copies completely sold out worldwide in just three days. This makes Madonna the author of the single most successful coffee table book ever published. Included with the book was a CD in packaging styled to look like a condom wrapper, containing an alternate version of the song Erotica, called Erotic. Bound into the back of the book was a photonovella comic book, Dita in "The Chelsea Girl" consisting of photographs taken by Steven Meisel at the Hotel Chelsea in New York. Sealed first editions of Sex easily reach $ 200 with online resellers today.
3. U2. Achtung Baby 'Users Kit'.
Promo. Island Records U28 
A lot of the collectibles from today's musicians take the form of advance items sent out to radio stations and music magazines to promote records before their release. These can range from a simple CD-R containing a radio edit of a new single, to extravagant goodie bags produced in the hope of enticing airplay or a favourable review. The marketing machine behind Irish rockers U2 is quite adept at pimping the band in this way. Some of the most deliciously desirable promos were made for the 1991 album Achtung Baby. One of these took the form of a khaki coloured kit bag, curiously labeled as the U2 Achtung Baby (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) 'Users Kit'. This PVC lined nylon bag rolled out to reveal the Achtung Baby album on CD and cassette, a U2-branded poster showing a Trabant on one side and a map of Berlin on the other, an Achtung Baby/Trabant keyring, a dayglo pink and green pocket torch, a screwdriver and a spanner. How you're supposed to use all these items to further your Achtung Baby experience is unclear, and probably best left to the imagination. Apparently only 200 copies of it were made for lucky-lucky record industry people, and a copy in mint condition will fetch well over £ 500.
4. Tori Amos. Y Kant Tori Read.
CD. Atlantic Records 81845-2 
Very possibly one of the most-often bootlegged recordings out there, the title of this eponymous album by Ms. Amos and her ephemeral band Y Kant Tori Read was inspired by her being expelled from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland for refusing to read sheet music. Atlantic Records fully abandoned promoting the album only two months after its release. The record, released three years before her 'official' debut Little Earthquakes, sold so poorly that most vinyl versions out there take the form of clipped promotional copies that sold for 99 cents. Apparently it truly is atrocious and doesn't remotely sound like anything Tori has recorded since (i.e. think 80's rock chick - the cover says it all). Tori Amos has distanced herself from it, requesting that no material from it ever be re-released, although some of the songs creep into her live performances now and then. The CD version of this bomb is one of the most sought-after of Tori collectibles: unopened CDs in the original American longbox have sold in excess of $ 1000 at the height of her career.
Note: the author does not own any of the items mentioned in this post, nor does the author have any intention to purchase any of the items in this post. The author thanks all the online second-hand record retailers for the pilfering of images without consent, especially Esprit International Ltd.